KC Chiefs' investment in Felix Anudike-Uzomah needs to start yielding dividends

It was very nice that the Chiefs were able to give FAU a year of development but now is the time for that development to pay off.
Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

Few teams can afford to get nothing out of their first-round pick and still make the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. The Kansas City Chiefs were fortunate enough to not have to ask much from 2023 1st-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah.

A key question to be asked is why did he not play. Optimistically, you could look at the depth chart and argue he was playing a deep position and needed development. Pessimistically, he logged only 6 pressures and a single half-sack in 103 snaps before Charles Omenihu returned from suspension in week 7.

Anudike-Uzomah is a total wild card for the 2024 season. Another quiet season from the former Kansas State defensive end could lead to some tough questions about his selection. On the other hand, "FAU" was a developmental prospect coming from a college system that has not developed edge rushers quickly at the next level.

What does success look like for him in 2024? And how can he achieve it?

How Felix Anudike-Uzomah landed in Kansas City

The 2023 draft was over a year ago now, so it's easy to forget what helped the Chiefs select Anudike-Uzomah with the 31st pick. With 20.5 sacks, 26.5 TFL, and a resume boasting a win for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, FAU was a highly decorated college prospect. He exhibited a high motor, with power on the edge for the Wildcats. After transforming his body from 220 lbs. to 255 lbs. during his final year, the thought was he could make the transition from the 3-3-5 defense to the NFL.

Anudike-Uzomah was a slightly undersized prospect compared to the traditional Steve Spagnuolo thresholds. At 6'3", 255 lbs. with 33 1/2 inch arms. Spags has traditionally liked larger edges with greater length (height and arms). The Chiefs looked at his power off the edge and hoped to develop it along with improving his first step as he lined up on the outside of shoulder or head up on the tackle rather than guards at the collegiate level.

The Chiefs were certainly excited to add FAU's traits to the defense, but they also recognized that his development would be a long-term plan.

Looking back at Anudike-Uzomah's rookie campaign

Felix's start to his rookie year was impacted by a wrist injury that held him out of rookie camp and into OTAs. Once fully healed in camp, he was able to start mixing into the pass rush rotation. He showed some flashes in the preseason and was thrust into a larger role to start the season due to Charles Omenihu's suspension.

"Flashes" is definitely the best way to describe his 2023. At times you could see the speed and power combo that made him a 1st round pick but those moments were inconsistent and came with struggles in the run game. PFF scored him with a 51.5 run defense which might be generous. The final game of the year against the Chargers saw him get over 60% of the defensive snaps against All-Pro Rashawn Slater and Trey Pipkins. He logged 2 TFL but no QB pressures or sacks. This was the closest glimpse we've gotten to him as a finished product.

Anudike-Uzomah was active for the Super Bowl after the injury to Charles Omenihu. He logged just 7 defensive snaps but made the most out of the opportunity by having a big tackle for loss to hold the 49ers to a field goal to begin the second quarter.

What to expect from Felix Anudike-Uzomah in 2024?

It's hard to not look across the line at George Karlaftis and wonder if that's the upside for FAU. Karlaftis came out of college in a much different place when it came to scheme and body composition. Also, Karlaftis came into a line that needed him to play meaningful snaps right away. His production reflected that he might not have been ready at the start of the year. He didn't log his first full sack until Week 11. Also, getting a double-digit sack edge at pick 30 isn't really all that common.

A major part of Anudike-Uzomah's production is going to be tied to his ability to stay on the field on running downs. Since Spagnuolo has come to Kansas City, the Chiefs haven't really used a "pass rush specialist" role. While there are certain roles and packages that are used in those scenarios, most of their contributors are asked to earn the right to rush the passer as run defenders. FAU's size and lack of experience made him a liability in the run game last year. That has to improve for him to grow.

As far as the team's pass rush goes, the Chiefs can always use someone who can win quickly off the edge. Despite being 2nd in the NFL in sacks the last two years, they don't really have a quick winner off the edge. Jones, Karlaftis. Omenihu, and Danna have all benefited from a great scheme as well as great coverage behind them-that doesn't make them lesser players it just means they win a certain way.

FAU could be the quickest and bendiest edge the Chiefs have if he develops well. Karlaftis broke through with 6 sacks and 21 pressures in his rookie year. These numbers might be a reasonable target for FAU in 2024 as long as the snap counts are trending towards the 40-50% rate.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs need Felix Anudike-Uzomah to have a promising year to feel good about the defensive line going forward. As a whole the Chiefs defensive line needs an infusion of youth. Chris Jones will be 30 in a few days, Charles Omenihu is 26 coming off an ACL injury and is in the last year of his deal. Karlaftis had a great year but without the development of FAU the Chiefs could be right back to needing an edge rusher early in the draft again.

It was very nice that the Chiefs were able to give him a year of development but now is the time for that development to pay off. Getting meaningful contributions from Anudike-Uzomah would almost feel like an extra pick from the 2024 class rather than 2023. And any threat they add to the defensive line just takes more pressure off of Chris Jones as he begins to age. 2024 looms large for FAU.