Why isn’t Tanoh Kpassagnon playing for the Chiefs?
By John McCarty
The Chiefs’ inability to consistently rush the quarterback is highlighted by the lack of Tanoh Kpassagnon on the field.
Zero. That is the number of times the Kansas City Chiefs defense was able to knock down Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. A Thursday night game against a division rival saw the Chiefs unable to mount any type of pressure against a backup right tackle (Vadal Alexander subbing for Marshall Newhouse) and a hobbled quarterback (Carr’s recently broken back).
The reasons or excuses are many for the lack of a Chiefs pass rush, but one that’s important is something very few are focused on. Here, we will ask a simple question: where is Tanoh Kpassagnon?
During the 2017 NFL Draft, a draft that appeared to have an eye towards the future, the Chiefs selected Villanova defensive tackle Tanoh Kpassagnon. A phenomenal athlete for his size (6 foot 7, 290 pounds), Kpassagnon appeared to be an ideal developmental defensive end in the Chiefs scheme. He is however, not an edge rusher. The draft proceeded without the team adding any sort of edge rusher, and their apparent willingness to ignore the position is now showing in their inability to get a pass rush going.
When the Chiefs spot came up in the second round, there were two edge rushers that were considered to be of value at that spot able to help in the pass rush. Local product Jordan Willis of Kansas State and Auburn’s Carl Lawson both remained on the board when the 59th selection came up. Kansas City had expressed interest in both players in the process leading up to the draft. Ironically enough, both Willis and Lawson would land in Cincinnati.
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Willis thus far has recorded 12 tackles and a sack through his first six career games. Playing defensive end in the Bengals 4-3 scheme, Willis’s playing style, to relate it to the Chiefs, would resemble Tamba Hali, a rusher good at holding the edge and playing the run on their way to the quarterback. Willis is currently listed as the Bengal’s back-up at the right defensive end spot.
Auburn product Carl Lawson is more of a situational pass rusher at the moment. (Much like Dee Ford was, another Auburn product). Despite only recording 5 tackles at this point through the season, Lawson has recorded 3.5 sacks through his first six games of the season. Cincinnati was able to land Lawson in the fourth round, using the 116th overall selection.
Thus far, Kpassagnon has yet to record a single stat for the Chiefs. The Steelers ran towards the Chiefs right side all day and Derek Carr left the field in Oakland with a clean white jersey, even as Kpassagnon has yet been able to show an ability to get on the field.
Why do I believe this is as big a deal as I’m making it? Because the Chiefs are approaching of point of having no pass rushers. Tamba Hali was mostly ineffective last season recording only a handful of snaps in the playoff game and is likely not with the team after this season. Dee Ford has an $8 million, non-guaranteed option for 2018 left on his contract and Justin Houston will be 30 by the end of the 2018 season and has multiple knee injuries in recent years on his resume. Will the dominant edge defender hold up well approaching this 30s, especially if Bob Sutton continues to ask him to play pass coverage?
The outside linebacker spot, or EDGE position, will be an important and needed position to address this offseason. My guess is multiple draft picks will be used to address the depth at this position. Kpassagnon likely moves back to defensive line next season, and hopefully his production forces me to regret ever writing this piece and question his selection. He’s certainly not a bust, as he hasn’t played. However, for a team that is hoping to compete for a Super Bowl this season, the inability for him to truly contribute at a position of need is frustrating.