The Kansas City Chiefs signed former New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor. What does he show on film that makes him a fit for this defense?
The Kansas City Chiefs have made a significant amount of changes to their defense this off-season following the signing of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Between the changes in the defensive scheme and culture to finding ways to better manage the salary cap, the Chiefs are moving in a new direction in 2019.
Cutting ties to former edge rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford is one of the biggest topics of the off-season. Many suspected that the team would move on from one, but not both. So far, Kansas City has only brought in one new defensive end to replace those edge rushers and that is former New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor.
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Okafor is not the kind of player that Chiefs fans are used to when talking about edge rushers. Given the last decade of pass rushers consisting of guys like Houston, Ford, and Tamba Hali, fans have grown accustomed to high-quality sack numbers. Okafor is not that kind of rusher. He’s more of the guy who will do the dirty work in the trenches and open up holes for other players to get into the backfield.
Since making the move to defensive end in 2017 with the Saints, formerly a linebacker, Okafor has hung around the four sacks a season mark. He put together his best of the two seasons in 2017 before suffering a torn ACL. As the 2018 season went along, you could see Okafor regaining trust in that knee and getting back to his normal aggressive self.
The first thing I noticed when watching the film on Okafor was his power. There’s no question that his bullrush is his best pass rushing move. His ability to manhandle offensive linemen back into the quarterback is something else. If he can get his hands underneath the shoulder pads of the tackle, it seems to come easy for Okafor to place him into the lap of the quarterback.
Given a lack of other pass rushing moves, overpowering the tackle with his bull rush was the only way to the quarterback for most of the early part of 2018. I mentioned that he was the kind of player that does the dirty work earlier. Here he marches the left tackle back into Andy Dalton‘s lap which forces him to escape the pocket and right into a sack. Okafor doesn’t get any credit but is a major part of the team getting a sack in this situation.
The only problem is his consistency with the bull rush. He’s not the most explosive player off the line of scrimmage. Given that he doesn’t have an electrifying first step, tackles often get their hands on him first. Okafor has to get the first contact, or he will tend to get washed out of the play. An area that the Chiefs defensive staff can help him is teaching him how to disengage from offensive linemen.
Another issue I saw when watching Okafor was the lack of a plan when rushing the passer. Too often I would see tackles get the first contact and he didn’t know how to react which led to him just kind of bouncing around for the rest of the play. I would like to see defensive line coach Brendan Daly work on this with him and teach him how to counter.
As the season went along in 2018, Okafor seemed to get better which is expected when returning from an ACL injury. He was a bit slow out of the gate, but towards the end of the season, I noticed more of a variety of pass rushing moves. Instead of bull rushing every play, I noticed him attempting to bend around the edge and use his hand fighting techniques to get after the quarterback and disengage from the tackle.
Much like Dee Ford before the 2018 season, Okafor could use some work when it comes to bending around the edge. A great deal of the time he tends to take very wide angles when bending around the edge getting him pushed out of the play. This was something that Ford was notorious for before 2018. However, we saw more successful bends around the edge towards the later part of the season.
I know there are a lot of ups and downs throughout all of this when it comes to his pass rushing skills. If I were to grade Okafor on pass rushing alone I would say that he was average or slightly above average. He won’t be the guy that you hear about a lot on Sunday afternoons when you’re watching the game. My hopes are that Daly and Spagnuolo can work with him on becoming a better pass rusher. The only problem is he’s not the most athletic or fast guy. Often that slow jump off the line of scrimmage allows tackles to get the first impact so that’s something that will need to be worked on.
The good thing is that the Chiefs didn’t bring in Okafor to be the next team sack leader. Over the past few seasons, Kansas City has had the ball run down their throats. The most evident reason for signing Okafor is his aggressive play against the running game. I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t take anymore 170 rushing games during the playoffs.
When attacking the run, Okafor has some great instincts and tracks the ball carrier well. Unlike Ford, Okafor does a great job at setting the edge in the running game. He also does a great job forcing runners to take a specific run lane in order for another defender to make the play. Once again, he’s doing the dirty work. Here is a prime example of Okafor forcing a one-on-one matchup out of the play in order to keep the linebackers clean and to develop a hole to penetrate into the backfield.
In today’s NFL, offenses ask their tight ends to handle edge rushers in the running game. Given Okafor’s power and awareness in the running game, he easily moves tight ends and throws them out of the way like rag dolls to get to the running back.
At the end of the day, I believe Okafor will be a solid signing for Kansas City. His variety of abilities in the passing game whether it was lining up in a wide nine, right or left side of the line, or even in a three-tech shows that he can play from any position. He displayed the ability to execute multiple stunts which will be essential in the Spagnuolo defense.
Although the Chiefs aren’t getting a new star edge rusher to replace the two that just left town, they are getting a solid contributor on defense. He is a slightly above average pass rusher that will help significantly in the running game which has been the Achilles heel for the Chiefs defense in recent seasons.
Given that Spagnuolo likes to generate pressure from stunts and blitz packages, I think Okafor will fit in well with the new defense. I still expect them to find more talent via the draft in the early rounds, but Okafor will be a good contributor in the rotation in 2019.