4. Have we seen the last of Khalen Saunders?
Defensive tackle is a position where the Chiefs have excellent depth. All-Pro Chris Jones gets the headlines, but the Chiefs also boast veterans Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel, two excellent role players who might be the Chiefs’ two best run defenders. Rounding out the unit is rookie Tershawn Wharton and second-year veteran Khalen Saunders. The former made the roster as an undrafted free agent, and has made the most of his opportunity. Without Jones for one game, Pennel for two games, and Saunders for most of this season, Wharton has been active for most of 2020 and has turned heads with his lightning-quick first step.
Saunders returned from his Week 1 elbow injury in October, but he appears to have lost his job to Wharton for the time being. While the former Western Illinois Leatherneck still has potential in this league, one has to wonder if we’ll see him in uniform again this season.
Barring injury, the short answer is “no.” Saunders was a healthy scratch in Week 9 against the Panthers, and there’s no reason to think this won’t continue. The follow-up question there is whether or not Saunders still has potential in the eyes of the Chiefs’ coaching staff.
Some speculate that Jones could play some defensive end this season, but out on the edge, he is not the same dominant force that he presents on the interior. And despite multiple games in which Steve Spagnuolo and Brendan Daly could have used Jones in this way, they have not done it, in the face of depth concerns at defensive end. Jones is staying inside.
Pennel is a free agent after this season, and that is Saunders’ shot at getting back into the Chiefs’ rotation on the defensive line. With Jones, Nnadi, Wharton and Saunders all under contract in 2021, the Chiefs may opt to let Pennel walk next spring.
So, have we seen the last of Saunders? Probably not, but it could be 2021 before we see him taking meaningful snaps again.