Chiefs roster evaluation: Defensive line brought the pressure in 2020

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Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Chiefs defensive line changes helped the defense go from liability to strength during the Super Bowl run in 2019.

At the end of every season, we take a look back at the Kansas City Chiefs, breaking down position groups. While most teams have moved on from the 2019 season, we are late to the party, but for a good reason. We won the Super Bowl! That seems like a good enough excuse. Today we will look at the Chiefs defensive line.

We’ve already discussed the offensive side of the ball, and today we begin looking at the defensive line. Today, we will discuss: 1.) What we thought would happen? 2.) What actually happened? and 3.) What have we learned going forward?

What we thought would happen?

Heading into the 2019 season, questions were circling the Kansas City Chiefs defense. After a tough overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, it was time to make some changes on the defensive side of the ball. Turnover began not only with the players but the coaching staff as well.

Steve Spagnuolo came to Kansas City to take over as the defensive coordinator. Brendan Daly would come from New England to take over as the defensive line coach, Matt House left Kentucky to be the linebackers coach, and Sam Madison took over the defensive backs.

Longtime fan favorites, including Justin Houston and Dee Ford, were released and traded. General manager Brett Veach traded for Seattle Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark in hopes of bringing some aggressive attitude to the group. Other additions included Emmanuel Ogbah, who the Chiefs acquired by trading safety Eric Murray to the Cleveland Browns and Alex Okafor. Kansas City selected defensive tackle Khalen Saunders in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

The starting lineup was expected to be Frank Clark and Alex Okafor at the defensive end positions with Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi along the interior. Former second-round picks Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks were question marks on whether they would see much playing time. Speaks ended up getting injured prior to Week 1, sending him to Injured Reserve.

Outside of the starting lineup, there was a cloud of unknown surrounding the defensive line. Players that had been here had seen little playing time under the former coaching staff, and new additions in rotational roles had yet to have a breakout season showing what they could provide. The only thing that Chiefs fans knew about the defensive line was that Spagnuolo and Daly were aggressive.

The two were expected to bring more blitzes, stunts, and twists along with moving players around the defensive line to keep offenses on their toes. Coming off a season where the Chiefs had 52 total sacks in 2018, a regression in that category was expected. The main focus centered around the run defense taking a step forward.

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