Michael Strahan. Osi Umeniyora. Justin Tuck.
We are all familiar with these names, as they were excellent pass rushers for the New York Giants of the 2000s — a team for which Steve Spganuolo was the defensive coordinator for three years. It doesn’t take long to recognize these three high-profile players as bigger, stronger defensive ends that aren’t classic speed-and-bend edge rushers.
Is this is a pattern worth exploring? Is there really a trend here — or was this just a group of very good players who happened to play for Spagnuolo?
In our now-available KC Draft Guide, I explored this question — looking not only at those well-known players but also guys like Olivier Vernon, C.J. Ah You and Robert Quinn. Deeper digging led to names like Hall Davis, George Selvie, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and others.
While all of these players are technically Steve Spagnuolo defensive ends, in reality, Spagnuolo was handed three of the best-known players: Stahan, Umeniyora and Tuck. So to determine if there really is any kind of pattern to the types of players Spagnuolo likes for defensive end, I went back to the beginning and looked at everything.
A few memorable players — some not the result of his presence — wasn’t near-enough to generate a player profile for a Spagnuolo defensive end. So I looked at the kinds of players that were drafted under Spagnuolo, along with unrestricted free agents signed to his defenses and year-by-year major contributors.
I was most interested in a profile that could help narrow down potential draft or free agent targets at defensive end. Using combine and pro day data — as well as playing weights in the NFL — I was able to create an athletic profile that included their physical measurements, so I could find the traits these players had in common.
These things caught my eye:
- There were three main traits that were emphasized in these defensive ends
- These traits were tied to a players physical characteristics rather than athleticism
- There were two secondary traits that were preferred, but were likely have less impact on a player’s performance, and weren’t used as hard cut-offs
- The only athletic test that appeared to characterize a secondary trait was the bench press; no test of speed, explosiveness or agility seemed to fit a specific trend
- The players acquired in his short time in Kansas City fit these criteria
During his time as a defensive coordinator or head coach, Spags has drafted seven defensive ends. Of these, four of them hit all of the main criteria or traits as well as both secondary criteria. One more player fits in the three main criteria but only one of the secondary traits. Only two of the seven missed out on a primary trait — and it was a single trait.
The only two players drafted on the first two days of the draft — Robert Quinn and Owamagbe Odighizuwa — fit every criteria that I had found.
Free agents signed
Six free agent defensive ends were signed. One of them was resigned twice. Of the six, half display the three main criteria, while two miss on a single primary trait. One was George Selvie, who was also one of the players drafted by Spagnuolo that missed a primary trait.
The only free agent player to miss a primary and secondary trait was Renaldo Wynn, who was signed for a single year when Michael Strahan retired.
Defensive ends that played
Obviously there will be some overlap — we’ll total that up later — but 19 players played significant snaps for Spagnuolo during his tenures as defensive coordinator and head coach. 13 of these 19 hit all three of the primary benchmarks. Four players missed out on just a single primary trait, and two players missed both a primary and secondary trait.
Chris Long and Olivier Vernon are the two players that miss a primary criteria. Vernon had a few proven NFL seasons, and Long was technically not drafted or brought in by Spagnuolo.
|Hit All Crieria||Missed 1 Primary||Missed 2+ Primary||Missed Primary & Secondary|
|Hit All Crieria||Missed 1 Primary||Missed 2+ Primary||Missed Primary & Secondary|
Essentially, players that fit all three of the primary criteria make up the bulk of the defensive ends that were brought in or played for Spagnuolo. The other big takeaway is that players who fail two or more primary traits simply don’t a get a shot in his defenses.
The upcoming draft
This is a nice collection of data points, but what purpose does it serve? So I took all this data and combed through the combine invitees to determine which players fit (and don’t fit) them.
Guys that fit:
First rounders: Most of the defensive ends are slotted as first round picks — which makes sense given that the NFL always covets size and speed. Skilled players that also happen to be larger are often drafted more highly than similarly skilled — but smaller — players.
No idea how you can turn on Clemson vs ND (or anyone) and come away not thinking Clelin Ferrell is a R1 player ♂️
Trying to watch Austin Bryant (arrow) but Ferrell (opposite of the arrow) keeps popping up at the QB constantly. And it’s not just running around nonathletic OTs pic.twitter.com/Y9JS5HUVza
— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) April 9, 2019
Jaylon Ferguson: As poor as the testing was for Jaylon Ferguson, his tape is good. There is a reason he is the NCAA’s all- time sack leader. He has skills for the NFL if his athleticism doesn’t limit his strengths too much.
Zach Allen: Technically, Zach Allen misses a secondary trait, but there appears to be more wiggle room with secondary criteria and the correlation to playing ability seems much lower. Allen does, however, meet all three primary traits.
5) Zach Allen – Boston College
Another inside-outside player that is extremely stout vs the run and makes up for a lack of athleticism with good technique and power from his hips to his hands. pic.twitter.com/InSpDM14Fn
— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 30, 2018
Guys that don’t fit
Chase Winovich: Winovich is a fan favorite for nearly every fan base — and for good reason — but he misses all three primary traits. Drafting Winovich to play defensive end would not only be the first Spagnuolo-drafted player to miss all three primary traits, but also the first to miss two.
Jachai Polite: Polite has resurfaced as a popular pick to the Chiefs in the second round because the value is still good and his tape is unbelievably good. Like Winovich, however, he is missing all three primary traits, which would make him a complete outlier.
Jachai Polite, EDGE #99, has a small false step out of his stance yet proves to be one of the most explosive pass rushers in a few years.
– Get off LoS is dynamic
– Presses up the arc quickly and tight
– Multiple counters off the initial speed rush
– Sets up OTs w/ hands & feet pic.twitter.com/D4EcmRYGs5
— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 6, 2019
Ronheen Bingham: A later-round pick that is appealing because of the pass rushing skills, Bingham is a small-school prospect that has recently caught the eye of evaluators. But Bingham only hits one of the three primary benchmarks. Given his athletic skills, there is potential to use him more as a rushing Sam linebacker — but as a pure DE, he doesn’t fit the mold.
Chiefs offseason moves
There is always a chance that with a new coaching staff — or perhaps an updated philosophy — might move Spagnuolo and away from his past tendencies. So let’s look at the Chiefs offseason moves at defensive end.
Dee Ford – traded: Missed on all three primary traits.
Justin Houston – cut: At the combine, he fit all three primary traits. But his playing weight has dipped since then and he’s listed under the threshold for one of the primary criteria.
Alex Okafor – signed: Hits all the primary criteria and just misses hitting one secondary benchmarks.
Emmanuel Ogbah – traded for: Hits all the primary criteria and — like Okafor — is missing one secondary trait.
It doesn’t appear as if Spagnuolo’s new surroundings have changed tendencies at defensive end. With the addition of defensive line coach Brendan Daly — who at first glance, appears to favor players in a similar mold — may even strengthen them.
These type of players may not be everyone’s preference as pass rushers. They may lack some dynamic traits that Chiefs fans have seen over the past two decades. But the trend is strong, and it only appears to be building.
Knowing what the Chiefs are looking for at defensive end reveals a plan of attack, and shows they are thinking forward with their picks — rather than just selecting players that are less athletic.
KC Draft Guide
You can read the entire article highlighting all the players, the specific criteria and full list of draft prospects that fit this mold — and more — in the first-ever edition of the KC Draft Guide. It is now available for you to read TODAY! You can purchase the fruits of our hard work for only $9.99!
We’ll have over 225 prospect write-ups, with specifics about how prospects fit the Chiefs. There will be big boards, more than 300 grades on players, mock drafts, positional rankings and features — all specific to the Chiefs. You can pre-order the guide for only $7.99 by clicking here or entering ‘countdown’ in the promotional code field below!