Kansas City Chiefs face complex questions about their pass rushing future

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17: Outside linebacker Dee Ford
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17: Outside linebacker Dee Ford /

As Kansas City has struggled to get to the quarterback in 2017, is it time for the team to take a long hard look at a new pass rusher in the upcoming offseason?

With all of the injuries at the outside linebacker position over the last couple years, it would seem that it is time to take another look at what is out there. While the Kansas City Chiefs recently drafted Tanoh Kpassagnon, a second-round pick out of Villanova, they could still use more help at the position going forward.

The Chiefs have struggled with injuries at outside linebacker over the last couple years with outside linebacker Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Dee Ford. We have yet to see a solid duo that can get consistent pressure since 2014 when it was Houston and Hali. Hali is very limited with all the injuries he’s acquired over the years, Houston just came back from injury finally at full strength this season, and Ford has been on and off the field with back injuries this season.

Even when Ford has been healthy, he hasn’t been what many hoped for when the Chiefs drafted him in the first round back in 2014. Ford was expected to go high in the second round by walterfootball.com but the Chiefs took him at the top of the first which to most seemed like a reach. While Ford had his best season in 2016, it was performing on the left side of the defensive line and was still inconsistent game to game.

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Although he played defensive end at Auburn University in college, it was well known that he would have to make the switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 system because he didn’t have the size or strength to play defensive end in the NFL. The Chiefs tend to play their outside pass rushers a lot like a defensive end position making it very difficult for Ford to have much success. He doesn’t have the strength to be able to play the type of linebacker the Chiefs need.

When the Chiefs line up with three down linemen, Ford has better success. The problem is that over the past few years, Ford has not improved enough for what you want from a first-round draft pick. He still tries to rely on bull rushing and overpowering the linemen which rarely works. He has yet to become anything more than a liability in the run game as he fails to set the edge and gets pushed out of the play most of the time. We have yet to see enough improvement since Ford switched positions and sides of the line.

Now you tag on the injuries over the last two years with his hamstring toward the end of the season in 2016 and the back injury that has kept him off the field for numerous games in 2017 and it’s a big wonder if the Chiefs should come to a contract deal with Ford in the future. The team has already picked up his fifth-year option, but they can get out of it before March of 2018. We all saw what back problems have done to players like Dontari Poe, so could this be another situation where the Chiefs have to find an upgrade and let Ford walk?

While I’m not high on Ford by any means, I don’t think the Chiefs have much of a choice for 2018 other than to pay the fifth-year option. Hali will likely be gone and with the unknown of what Kpassagnon will become, it’s most likely the Chiefs keep Ford around for another year. The question is, should the Chiefs seriously look for someone to replace Ford in the next year?

It was well known that Kpassagnon would not see much playing time this year as he needed a significant amount of development. This is not a knock on Kpass, but simply acknowledging that he was very raw coming out of the draft. He had all of the physical attributes that you want to see but he doesn’t have the skill sets quite yet.

Sitting behind some of the best to play the position, he should be in good hands. He has guys like outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to learn from. The transition will still be interesting as he played defensive end in college. I don’t expect Kpass to hit the field other than garbage time plays till next season.

Another prospect fans tend to be excited about is outside linebacker Dadi Nicolas. We have yet to see him do much of anything yet and coming back from a rough injury could make it even harder for Nicolas to be that savior. Nicolas is undersized and would have to put on some major bulk and strength if he wants to succeed in this defense in my opinion. I don’t see Nicolas being more than a special blitz package if he does end up staying on the team.

Depending on what happens this season could be what constitutes how high of a need this position will be in the offseason. If the Chiefs do decide to move on from Smith and cut/trade him, it opens up a lot of cap money and possible draft picks for compensation to build the rest of the team. Could outside linebacker be a big focus for the team going into free agency and the 2018 draft if they have the money or draft picks?

I think it should be up there. While there are other positions many feel are more important like cornerback, finding a significant upgrade at pass rusher could do wonders for this defense that is struggling to generate pressure on the quarterback consistently. While Houston is still a dominant force, he can only do so much with talent around him.

What would be a reasonable draft pick selections or reasonable price to spend in free agency on another rusher opposite of Houston? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.