Chiefs defensive line adding quality, underappreciated depth
Taco Charlton has been declared a bust by two different teams. Tanoh Kpassagnon was considered the same for a while as he moved between linebacker and defensive end.
Breeland Speaks is still trying to live up to expectations as a second-round pick after injuries scrapped his second season in the league.
Yet those three could provide the depth that turns the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line into one of the best in the NFL.
Of course, it helps that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones has just signed a long-term deal to remain the anchor of their four-man front. It also helps that Derrick Nnadi flourished alongside him last season and that fearsome defensive end Frank Clark made good on the promise that he showed before the Seahawks traded him to Kansas City.
There is work still to be done during training camp. But the pieces are there for a much better bunch than a year ago.
"We've got a lot of ways to go," Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said, "but it's nice to have so many options. Any time you can get a lot of competition at one spot, that's good for us. You get to pick the best players. We'll see how it all shakes out. TK was key for us last year. We didn't have Breeland but he's back. Taco is new. Just keep them in the mix."
Keep them healthy, too. Jones has been sitting out the first padded practices of training camp with a groin injury. Nnadi is slowly getting up to speed after offseason surgery on his ankle. Defensive end Alex Okafor was starting to blossom in the first year of his three-year deal before a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him during the Super Bowl run.
All of those guys in the mix have shown promise at some point in their careers. Even if they haven't lived up to it.
Charlton was a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, but he began falling out of favor with the coaching staff the next year and was subsequently released early last season. The Miami Dolphins picked him up and he made a handful of starts, but he was inactive three of the final four games for a team that finished last in the AFC East.
Perhaps a change of scenery (again) will finally unlock his potential.
Kpassgnon was a second-round pick who was initially moved to linebacker when the Chiefs ran a 3-4 scheme under former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. He moved back to defensive end in the 4-3 system of Spagnuolo and began to show some promise. He wound up playing meaningful snaps as the Chiefs won their first title in 50 years.
"I'm always looking to grow," Kpassgnon said, "and especially making those key sacks or key plays. And being able to play in the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl, it just boosted my confidence. Boosts the team's confidence."
Then there is Speaks, who was widely considered a reach when the Chiefs selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft. He played quite a bit with mixed reviews as a rookie, but a season-ending injury in training camp a year ago means he is still trying to learn Spagnuolo's system as he gets onto the practice field this fall.
"We got him in training camp and he got hurt, so he at least had that background. But you have to do it," Spagnuolo said. "It is one thing to do it in a meeting room and another to get out and do it."
The Chiefs are taking their first day off of training camp Tuesday, so his next chance won't come until Wednesday.
NOTES: TE Ricky Seals-Jones was carted off with a right leg injury during special teams drills Monday. The extent wasn't immediately known. The Chiefs are thin at the position after losing Blake Bell in free agency and with Deon Yelder out with a groin injury. They did claim former 49er Daniel Helm off waivers Sunday. ... LT Eric Fisher (concussion), CBs Antonio Hamilton (groin) and Lavert Hill (hamstring) and WRs Sammy Watkins (groin) and Byron Pringle (knee) did not practice Monday. ... Spagnuolo let slip that DT Mike Pennel could be facing a suspension for the start of the season, though the reason is unclear. A team spokesman declined to provide any additional details.