Khalen Saunders has found himself inactive for several weeks this season after the emergence of Tershawn Wharton. The Chiefs have been using a rotation of Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Mike Pennel, and Wharton for much of the season, and that has left many wondering about the future of Saunders in K.C.
While Saunders may not have filled out a stat sheet on Sunday, he did a few things that stuck out to me that gave me some hope that he may be able to carve out a role for himself next season. Pennel is a free agent again at the end of this year, and that leaves the possibility of an open spot in the rotation for Saunders.
Saunders was the main guy who stopped Justin Herbert on fourth-and-goal in K.C.’s goal line stand while the game was still competitive. That was a big play and showed good power and effort on his part. His effort was really what stood out to me the most. Defensive tackles sometimes aren’t big on chasing after the football, yet Saunders was fighting towards the ball all game. He looked like a guy who was trying to make the most of his opportunity.
I remember early in Saunders’ rookie year, it looked like his conditioning wasn’t up for being an every down player yet. I wondered if all that time inactive this year could have caused some conditioning issues, but he looked good in that regard and that speaks well to the work he’s been putting in while not playing.
The really crazy part of this game for Saunders came when he was basically asked to play a makeshift middle linebacker for parts of the game because of the severe shortage of healthy linebackers the Chiefs had in this game. While I don’t think there’s any chance of a permanent position change, I do think it says something that the Chiefs think enough of his athleticism as a defensive tackle to even try that as an emergency in a game situation.
While Saunders long term fit in Kansas City is still up in the air, I think this game was a step in the right direction. Next up I’m giving credit to an entire group.