Kansas City Chiefs: Position needs in 2021 NFL Draft, free agency

Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /
4 of 4
Kansas City Chiefs, 2021 NFL Draft
Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

Edge defenders

Just as the trenches on the opposite side of the roster are going to be depleted this offseason, the Chiefs’ defensive line is also expected to see a talent exodus as well. They have three edge defenders that are unrestricted free agents this offseason, two of which will want bigger contracts while the third has failed to live up to their first-round draft pick.

The biggest loss will be Alex Okafor, who the team has already indicated it will release during free agency. A solid free-agent pick-up for the Chiefs in 2019, Okafor has had trouble staying healthy, playing in less than 38 percent of defensive snaps two seasons in a row, according to Pro-Football-Reference. With just eight sacks in two seasons, letting Okafor collect another $6 million on his three-year contract doesn’t make sense from a cap space perspective.

Tanoh Kpassagnon and Taco Charlton are also two defensive ends that are leaving in 2021. A second-rounder drafted by the Chiefs in 2017, Kpassagnon has been a solid rotational piece for the Chiefs, filling in on key downs and providing relief to starters. But just like Okafor, seven sacks in four seasons just isn’t enough production to warrant a new contract.

And what of Charlton? Well, poor Charlton was just never able to find a good groove in the NFL after being drafted 28th overall in 2017. The fact that three teams in four years have shown a recent first-rounder the door in such quick succession should be enough to tell you something isn’t working for him.

The only holdovers from the 2020 edge group in Kansas City will be Frank Clark and Michael Danna, a fifth-rounder from last year’s draft. The Kansas City Chiefs will need to move quickly in both free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft if they hope to field an effective pass-rush this upcoming season.

Free Agency

With pass-rushing duties mostly covered on the right side of the defensive line with Clark, we’ll focus on edge defenders in free agency that have predominately rushed from the left side in the past. While most defensive ends can typically rush from both sides of the line, it’s better to find a player that specifically focuses on one side or the other.

With an elite edge defender like Clark focusing on the right side (with rookie Danna serving as his primary backup), the Chiefs should focus on adding veterans who are experts at safeguarding the left side of the defensive line. Even if the front office opts to pick up an edge during the 2021 NFL Draft, they should still try and bring in veteran help for 2021.

Former Atlanta Falcons edge rusher Takkarist McKinley might be a worthwhile addition to the roster in the offseason. Although never quite living up to the hype of his 2017 first-round bill, McKinley has shown flashes of greatness when healthy. He hasn’t finished a full 16-game season since his rookie year, but the sacks and tackles he puts up on the box score might be tempting for a general manager looking at a short-term fix.

But the Chiefs should be warned to go into this with the expectation of signing McKinley as a potential restoration project on the cheap. McKinley certainly has the size and speed to be an elite edge defender one day. But so far, he has proven to be inconsistent as an every-down defender. But for the low low price of….$8.645 million a year (market value, according to Spotrac) McKinley could be a Chief.

That may seem expensive. But if the coaching staff in Kansas City thinks it can refurbish McKinley’s career and maximize his potential, then it’s a bargain. At just 25-years-old, McKinley could have several years of quality production to give the Chiefs’ defensive line. At the end of the day, Clark is going to be the big hitter coming off the edge in 2021. So the Chiefs can probably afford to go a little cheaper on the other side if Clark is going to be the one bringing the heat to opposing quarterbacks.

Related Story. NFL Mocks: Kansas City Chiefs seven-round mock draft. light

Former Baltimore Ravens free agent Tyus Bowser would make an excellent addition as well, although whether he’d be a regular starter or a depth piece is hard to say. He was drafted in 2017 in the second round and has been a reliable rotation piece for the Ravens, missing only one game in four seasons. An outside linebacker with the Ravens, at 6-foot-3, 242-pounds, Bowser could easily take over as the main edge defender.

It’ll depend on how much the Chiefs’ front office thinks of Bowser play. While he’s showcased a solid showing as a pass-rusher in Baltimore, his stats aren’t anything to write home about. It’ll largely depend on how much other teams are willing to pay Bowser. The Kansas City Chiefs shouldn’t get into a bidding war for him but if he is available for a reasonable price, he’d be well worth the contract.

2021 NFL Draft options

Should the Chiefs elect to build out the defensive end position in the draft, then their first stop on the 2021 NFL Draft Pro Day circuit should be the University of Houston to see Payton Turner. Before an injury sidelined him halfway through the 2020 season, Turner was looking to have a career-best season, while building off the success of 2019. With 10 tackles for a loss in the first five games last season, Turner was proving to be a valuable asset in Houston and looking like a future NFL starter.

At 6-foot-6, 270-pounds, Turner has a lot to offer any team looking to lock down a long-term option at the edge position on a rookie deal. He looks solid as both a pass-rusher and run defender. A bit of a jack of all trades on the defensive line, with a mean streak against opposing tackles to boot.

The biggest knock against Turner will be the level of opposition he faced, which is admittedly weak in AAC. If the Chiefs are looking for someone with a proven record against the big SEC schools, then they should head down to Athens, Georgia and see Azeez Ojulari. A two-year starter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Ojulari has become a big name in the 2021 NFL Draft discussion after logging in 13 tackles for a loss,10 sacks, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery last season, per Sports-Reference.

Although it is very probable the Chiefs would need to use a first-rounder to snag Ojulari, it might be worth using the draft capital here to shore up a diminished depth-chart. He has the speed and tenacity to reach opposing quarterbacks as a pure pass-rusher, who can be counted on to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His 2020 highlight reel shows an incredible athlete who uses his quick burst off the line of scrimmage, combined with solid hand movements and cagey feet to keep offensive tackles guessing.

Nominally an outside linebacker by trade, the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder would need to put on some weight to convert to a 4-3 defense in Kansas City. He also took advantage of predominately lining up as a 9-technique pass rusher at Georgia, getting leverage over tackles by lining up well outside their formation.

But with the Chiefs, it’s likely he’d be tasked with becoming a 6-technique or 7-technique edge defender, which requires a very different skillset to directly shadow tackles and tight ends. But the recent success of outside pass-rushers like Nick Bosa and Chase Young shows 9-technique pass-rushers can succeed in a 4-3 defense. Locking down a player of Ojulari’s abilities would be a big boon for the Chiefs in the 2021 NFL Draft and would provide long-term insurance for the defensive line.