Khalen Saunders made good strides during the 2019 season. Could he provide more for the Kansas City Chiefs in his second year?
At the beginning of the 2019 season, Khalen Saunders was a development project along the defensive line. It appeared as if the Kansas City Chiefs planned for his rookie year to sit and develop, and through the first four weeks of the season, Saunders had zero snaps.
Injuries to Chris Jones and Xavier Williams sent Saunders onto the field for the first time in Week 5, and he would start the next four games before moving back to a rotational role. Initially, he played both as a nose tackle and a 3-tech. Once Mike Pennel was signed, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was able to put his rookie into position to have the most success. With Pennel and Derrick Nnadi as stout nose tackles, Saunders would start to get more work as a 3-tech.
On the field, Saunders showed his physical gifts, but his overall technique needed a massive overhaul—not surprising as he made the leap from Western Illinois. He doesn’t possess the elite size and length of Jones (who is six inches taller and only 15 lbs. lighter), so technique becomes even more vital for a player like Saunders. Processing blocking schemes, his timing off of the snap, his consistency with leverage and hand usage, and his pass rush counters were all areas that needed improvement.
Standing at 6-foot, 324 pounds, Saunders is closer to the build of Nnadi. For those that roll their eyes at the measurements during the NFL combine, his arm length of 32 1/4″ lands in the 13 percentile for the position. That means that most linemen that he will be competing against have longer arms, allowing them to have the advantage to gain leverage. However, like any other measurement or trait, there are ways to have success still when one is lacking.
For Saunders, developing his mental processing, hand fighting, and timing off of the snap will go a long way in helping him have success in the NFL. Without that development, it puts the young lineman at an even greater disadvantage.
With one season in the books, we will take a look at how Khalen Saunders performed during his rookie season, starting with his first few games and comparing them to those later in the season to see if there was progression or not. Finally, we will figure out what his role could be in 2020 based on what we saw in his rookie year.