Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle
Unfortunately, the “Aaron Donald of the FCS” has not even come close to being Aaron Donald of the NFL. Is that surprising? I don’t know. But with that kind of moniker, the sky’s the limit, and the floor is pretty dang high, too. But Khalen Saunders crashed through the floor and might soon find himself permanently in the cellar.
One of the Chiefs most recent draft busts, Kansas City selected Saunders in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the No. 84 overall pick. In two seasons, he’s appeared in 15 games, starting five, in which he’s collected one total sack to go with two quarterback hits and 25 combined tackles.
That ain’t great.
Now, the defensive line–including both EDGE rushers and the interior–boasts 14 players. On the interior, he’s already behind dudes like Chris Jones, offseason acquisition Jarran Reed, and Derrick Nnadi. If he falls too much further behind, he’ll be off the team.
Yet, there’s hope for Saunders as the rest of the guys he’s compositing against aren’t exactly the Purple People Eaters. Of Tim Ward, Demone Harris, Austin Edwards, Tyler Clark, and Malik Herring, I’ve heard of…none of them. If the Chiefs keep eight defensive linemen, he should be one of the eight.
Well, if it’s just between this crop of players, that is.
Dorian O’Daniel, Linebacker
Had I put together this list after the 2018 season, I wouldn’t have dreamed of including Dorian O’Daniel on here. The team’s third-round pick (No. 100 overall) that season out of Clemson, O’Daniel had a fine rookie season.
Appearing in all 16 games with one start, he collected 34 total tackles to go with a fumble recovery, a defended pass, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hit. He was on the field for just over a quarter of the defensive plays and added 282 appearances on special teams–61% of those snaps.
While he appeared more on special teams in 2019, his defensive production plummeted as he played just six snaps. 2020? Nine snaps. More worrisome, his usage on special teams cratered last year, too, as he played just half of those snaps. (He was placed on Injured Reserve before Week 13.)
Now, with the recent signing of Kamalei Correa, O’Daniel is squaring off against quality competition for one of the team’s last linebacker spots. If the Chiefs carry six linebackers, he’s got a shot–but a long one.
DeAndre Baker, Cornerback
We conclude with the DeAndre Baker, the only first-rounder of the five. Of course, the Chiefs didn’t draft Baker in 2019, but rather, the New York Giants spent the 30th overall pick on the young cornerback out of Georgia.
For the Giants, Baker played decently in 2019, defending eight passes while collecting over 60 tackles. He wasn’t the best, but it was clear why the Giants used a first on him. Things went awry for Baker that offseason, though, about which you can read more here. Thankfully for him, he was able to resume his football career, and the Chiefs gave him a shot by signing him last season.
Baker suited up for the Chiefs in Week 17 but suffered a serious injury, breaking his left femur against the Chargers. Should he fully heal from that, he could be one of the team’s better corners.
But if not–if it looks like the injury has sapped his quickness, if he’s a step slower than he was before Week 17 last season–he’d be on the outside looking in, searching for his third NFL team in three years.