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Pre-Camp Breakdown: Looking at the Chiefs’ Defensive Line


By: Matt McMullen, Chiefs Reporter


ST. JOSEPH, Mo. ( – The Kansas City Chiefs’ veterans report to training camp in just a few days, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we’re examining every position group on the roster heading into camp.

Here’s a look at what we’ve covered so far: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | LB | DB

We’ll wrap up this series with the defensive line, where the Chiefs currently employ 17 players. Here’s a closer look at every defensive linemen on the roster, sorted by defensive ends and defensive tackles. Many of these players have the versatility to play both spots, but for the purpose of this breakdown, each member of the defensive line is categorized by his primary role.

Defensive End (beginning with last year’s starters, then sorted alphabetically)

George Karlaftis

A first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Karlaftis tallied the second-most pressures (48) and the third-most sacks (6) among all rookies last season. He was particularly effective late in the year, recording at least a half sack in six of the Chiefs’ final seven regular-season games.

Karlaftis logged the most snaps of any defensive end on the Chiefs’ roster last season with 730, and with former edge rusher Frank Clark no longer in town, the 22-year-old Karlaftis will likely have an even larger role in 2023.

Mike Danna

The 25-year-old Danna racked up a career-best 35 pressures and five sacks in 2022, the latter of which ranked third on the team behind only Chris Jones (15.5 sacks) and George Karlaftis (6 sacks).

Danna’s 35 pressures ranked fourth on the squad, and it’s worth pointing out that he amassed those numbers while logging only 310 pass-rushing snaps. For context, only 11 players recorded more pressures last season on fewer pass-rushing snaps than Danna.

He’ll aim to continue that upward trajectory this upcoming season with a larger role likely in store.

Felix Anudike-Uzomah

An alum of nearby Lee’s Summit High School and Kansas State, Anudike-Uzomah was immensely productive over the last two seasons for the Wildcats, racking up 25.5 tackles-for-loss, 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 27 games. He recorded at least eight sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss in each of the last two seasons while leading the FBS in forced fumbles in 2021.

Additionally, Anudike-Uzomah’s efforts this past season – which included 11 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks – earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and a Second-Team All-America nod.

Anudike-Uzomah brings a varied skillset to the table that should make him a versatile and capable contributor early in his professional career. For example, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote the following about Anudike-Uzomah’s play style in his annual draft guide:

“Anudike-Uzomah plays hard and mixes up his rush to keep his pursuit alive, which is what he does best. He projects as a physical, face-up power rusher with the impact potential to compete for an NFL starting role as a rookie.”

The 21-year-old Anudike-Uzomah brings more than just power and strength to his game, however, as Pro Football Focus called him one of the “bendiest” defensive linemen in this class.

Here’s more from PFF:

“Bend is one of the most coveted traits for an edge rusher for a reason. Being able to consistently get underneath offensive tackles the way Anudike-Uzomah can makes life a lot easier…He’s one of the best edge benders in the draft class, and he’s the type of edge rusher that’s going to convert a lot of pressures to sacks because of that. Of his 89 pressures the past two seasons, 21 ended up as sacks.”

Malik Herring

Herring earned a spot on the Chiefs’ initial 53-man roster following training camp last season and went on to appear in seven games, recording 86 total defensive snaps. He logged significant time on the field in Week 5 (18 snaps) and Week 7 (26 snaps), tallying at least 30 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive plays in each contest.

It was a major step in the right direction for Herring, who signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent the previous offseason. The University of Georgia product was rehabbing a knee injury throughout his rookie campaign, but once healthy, he didn’t waste the opportunity. He’ll look to build on that progress heading into his third season as a professional.

Truman Jones

An undrafted free agent signee, Jones earned Second-Team All-America honors in 2022 after leading the Ivy League with 13 tackles-for-loss last season. He was also a menace on special teams, blocking three kicks last year alone.

Here’s more on Jones from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:

“Overall, Jones needs to expand his hand usage and learn how to string moves together for the next level, but his athletic tools and energy are a nice start for a developmental guy.”

Jones – a former linebacker who made the switch to defensive end as a redshirt freshman – checks in at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.

Joshua Kaindoh

Kaindoh is entering his third season with the Chiefs in 2023, and while he made the initial 53-man roster following training camp last year, the former fourth-round pick didn’t appear in a game last season.

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Kaindoh – who appeared in three games during his rookie season in 2021 – will have a chance to earn a role along the Chiefs’ defensive line during training camp.

Charles Omenihu

One of the Chiefs’ marquee free agent signings of the offseason, Omenihu racked up 54 pressures, 16 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks in 17 games for the San Francisco 49ers last season, recording (or matching, in the case of quarterback hits) career-bests in each category. He recorded at least three pressures in nine games.

His 54 pressures ranked second on the 49ers and would have ranked second on the Chiefs behind only defensive lineman Chris Jones (77). He ranked 27th league-wide in that category overall.

A versatile defender, the 25-year-old Omenihu is a perfect fit for Chiefs’ Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who often likes to deploy his defensive linemen at various spots along the line of scrimmage. In fact, Omenihu logged significant snaps last season as an outside edge rusher (310 snaps), lined up over the opposing tackle (127 snaps) and along the interior of the defensive line (133 snaps).

A major reason that Omenihu is able to play those different positions is his tremendous size. He’s a big man at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds with 36-inch arms. For context, his arm length would have been the second-longest of any edge rusher at the NFL Scouting Combine this year.

BJ Thompson

The Chiefs selected Thompson in the fifth-round of the 2023 NFL Draft after he recorded 33.5 tackles-for-loss, 24.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and five passes defensed in 52 career games (34 starts) between Baylor and Stephen F. Austin. The 24-year-old Thompson checks in at 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds with nearly 35-inch arms to go along with impressive speed.

Here’s more on Thompson’s physical profile from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:

“…His speed and length make him a tough guy to keep blocked when he stays under controlled mid-rush. He is a developmental subpackage rusher (reminiscent of Arden Key).”

Thompson wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he still had an opportunity to demonstrate his athletic skills during Stephen F. Austin’s pro day. Here’s a quick look at some of his results and how they compared with those in his position group who were at the Combine:

Vertical Jump: 37.5 inches (would have tied for third among defensive ends at the Combine)

Three-Cone Drill: 7.06 seconds (would have ranked third among defensive ends at the Combine)

Broad Jump: 10 feet, five inches (would have ranked seventh among defensive ends at the Combine)

It’s also worth mentioning that Thompson landed on The Athletic’s “College Football Freaks List” back in August due to his incredible physical traits.

Defensive Tackles (beginning with last year’s starters, then sorted alphabetically)

Chris Jones

One of the best players in all of football, Jones racked up 77 total pressures, 29 quarterback hits, 17 tackles-for-loss and 15.5 sacks in 2022. His 77 pressures led all defensive tackles and ranked fifth among all players, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons (90), the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa (90), the Las Vegas Raiders’ Maxx Crosby (81) and the Minnesota Vikings’ Za’Darius Smith (78).

Jones finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting following the campaign, and at still only 29 years old, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Jones remains one of the most dominant defensive players in the league.

Derrick Nnadi

The 27-year-old Nnadi re-signed with the Chiefs this offseason after appearing in all 17 games in 2022, tallying 25 tackles. The five-year veteran was on the field for 388 defensive snaps last season, and with former defensive tackle Khalen Saunders no longer on the team, it’s reasonable to expect Nnadi to take on a larger role in 2023.

In fact, perhaps Nnadi’s best trait during his career in Kansas City has been his availability. The former third-round pick has appeared in 81 of 82 possible games as a professional.

Keondre Coburn

A sixth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft out of the University of Texas, Coburn is a big man with impressive strength and power, as the 22-year-old Coburn checks in at 6-foot-2 and 332 pounds to go along with immense size and power throughout his frame. Here’s more from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:

“With his low, leveraged position, Coburn creates power at contact to walk blockers backward or reestablish the line of scrimmage. He’s strong, stout and athletic to hold the point or create pressure. He projects as a sawed-off, early down nose tackle in the NFL.”

A five-year player for the Longhorns, Coburn tallied 96 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed in 51 games (45 starts) from 2018-22. He saved his best work for last, too, recording 31 pressures in 13 games (12 starts) this past season. Those 31 pressures exceeded his totals from the previous three seasons combined (28), according to Pro Football Focus.

Matt Dickerson

Dickerson re-joined the Chiefs as a free agent signee in May after spending a portion of training camp with Kansas City last August. The Chiefs waived the 27-year-old Dickerson on August 30 as part of final roster cuts, but he eventually went on to appear in six games with the Atlanta Falcons over the course of the 2022 season.

Phil Hoskins

A veteran free agent signee in late March, Hoskins spent the last several weeks of the 2022-23 season on Kansas City’s practice squad. A seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2021, Hoskins appeared in eight games for Carolina over the last two seasons before signing with the Chiefs.

Danny Shelton

A first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Shelton joined the Chiefs as a free agent during training camp last year. He went on to spend much of the season on Kansas City’s practice squad, appearing in one game (Week 16 vs. Seattle). Shelton recorded nine defensive snaps and two special teams’ snaps in the game.

A big man at 6-foot-2 and 345-pounds, Shelton brings a veteran presence to the Chiefs’ defensive line entering training camp.

Tershawn Wharton

Wharton was on his way to a solid season in 2022 before tearing his ACL in Week 5. Prior to the injury, the 25-year-old defensive tackle had recorded five pressures, four quarterback hits and a sack in a limited role as a rotational piece along the defensive front.

The former undrafted free agent signee tallied at least 20 pressures in each of the previous two seasons, and while he’ll start training camp on the “Physically Unable to Perform” (PUP) list, his rehab will be something to follow.

Chris Williams

Williams signed with Kansas City as a veteran free agent during the offseason following two years with the Indianapolis Colts. The 6-foot-2, 302-pound defensive tackle logged 13 appearances for Indianapolis in that time after joining the Colts as an undrafted free agent.

Daniel Wise

A University of Kansas product, Wise spent the last two seasons with the Washington Commanders after going undrafted in 2021. He logged 17 appearances (2 starts) during that time, recording 11 tackles and one quarterback hit.

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Wise spent some time on the Chiefs’ practice squad in January and chose to remain in town by agreeing to a “Reserve/Future” deal in early February.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs elected to employ 10 defensive linemen for the Week 1 roster last season, keeping six defensive ends and four defensive tackles. That trend has been fairly steady in recent seasons, too, as Kansas City kept nine defensive linemen in 2021, 10 in 2020 and nine in 2019. The Chiefs have kept more defensive ends than defensive tackles in each of the last three years, but it’s worth noting that they held onto five of each group in 2019.

With all of that in mind, it’s reasonable to assume that Karlaftis, Omenihu, Danna and Anudike-Uzomah will each have a place on the team in 2023, leaving potentially one or two spots for the other four defensive ends currently on the roster. As for defensive tackle, there will be two to three spots up for grabs behind Jones and Nnadi depending on if Wharton is activated from the PUP list during camp. Players can remain on the PUP list at the beginning of the season and not count against the roster, so Wharton’s progress will be something to watch as it relates to how many roster spots will be available at the end of August.

Regardless, this year’s camp will feature plenty of competition along the defensive line as numerous players battle for only a handful of roster spots.