The Kansas City Chiefs have appeared in the AFC Championship in four consecutive seasons, and almost all of the credit is due to their historically high-powered offense over that period. The defense—while seeming to catch a second wind down the stretch in each year—has been near equivalently historic, but for all the wrong reasons.
Given the youth that has been infused into the group through this offseason—both in free agency and the draft—there are a ton of “what ifs” when discussing potential defensive improvement in 2022.
Any and all concerns in regards to what is to come can be justified. This is the dawn of an entirely new era in Kansas City, both offensively and defensively, but what the Chiefs are going through this season was entirely inevitable and only feels abrupt because of how unexpectedly some of the changes have come on. Let’s assume that everything will go well, and the winning will continue on. If that is to be the case, there will be a massive identity shift through all three levels of the defense.
Improving sack totals for the defensive line
The depth of the defensive line is a point of concern for many because the list of rotational players is proven to be either unreliable on the field or in regard to health and availability. Chris Jones is an all-class tackle, and his counterpart, Derrick Nnadi, led the DL in tackles in 2021. However, behind those two is the likes of Tershawn Wharton, Taylor Stallworth, Khalen Saunders, and Cortez Broughton who have combined for a total of 5 starts since 2020. Needless to say, inexperience is a concern, and even among the brightest and most shining potential on the line, there is no peace of mind offered in terms of consistency or projection for a rookie, because you just can’t know what you’ll get until the season starts.
What can be looked forward to is how the rest of the defense will create opportunities for this DL group. On paper, the linebacker and defensive back rooms are as talented as they’ve been in recent memory, and if they can both be successful, the defensive line will be able to increase production dramatically. Frank Clark, while he has fielded endless hate through his tenure in Kansas City, is a seasoned veteran who still possesses the ability to win. His new counterpart, George Karlaftis, was arguably the most polished bull rusher in the 2022 draft; he has the ability to make an impact in year oneds and possesses an incredibly high ceiling for growth in this first year. If the coverage offered in the second and third levels of the defense is significantly improved from last year, Clark has as good a chance at “bouncing back” as anyone in the league in 2022, and Karlaftis could absolutely emerge as a DROY candidate.
Should everything click in coverage and create a bigger window of time for pass rushers to pursue opposing quarterbacks, the biggest identity shift for the defensive line in 2022 would be its emergence as a more notable sack threat. The defensive line was only credited for 23.5 sacks in 2021, and the team recorded a total of 31 (29th overall). If the opportunity is improved for Jones, Nnadi, and the edge rushers, the D-line could absolutely create a greater number than last year’s team total.