Right off the bat, let’s discuss the obvious issue about the Kansas City Chiefs 2019 NFL Draft pick (84th overall), Khalen Saunders. His name! How do we pronounce it? The answer to that is simple Chiefs fans. How so? Well, if you look up Mr. Saunders on Twitter, his user name immediately solves that problem: @khalenNOTkaylen.
What? Okay, perhaps it’s not that ‘easy peasy rice and cheesy‘ to destroy the destiny of that enunciation situation. To arrive there, we have to be a little bit more phonetically direct as we all ‘Meet the Saunders’. Simply put, Khalen is phonated vocally as COLIN [ kol-in ]. So Khalen all Chiefs fans, it’s said out loud in the same way that one former 49ers quarterback the Chiefs didn’t make their quarterback of the future (Colin Kaepernick) does.
With that one pun thrown in, just know that this edition of Blinders On, Blinders Off is going to take a knee on puns. That’s right, in respect of the years of mispronunciation of KHALEN for Mr. Saunders. We’ll be calling this one straight, no more puns, no matter the obvious opening. Why? Because like the first edition of BLINDERS featuring my very close-distant relative: Armani Watts. Khalen Saunders is also practically family as our individual journeys around the Sun started on the same day. That’s right Arrowhead Guys; CBO and Mr. Saunders were both born on August 9th, a mere 16 years apart. A time just long enough to legally drive this article to the point: Is my birthday brother Khalen Saunders defensive line depth or is he Chris Jones’ future replacement?
Now, before we dive into that like Khalen into an unsuspecting running back, let’s head back over to Twitter to learn a little bit more about @khalenNOTkaylen. First up, let’s look at some highlights from our new 3rd round pick:
Even before you watch the footage, the one thing that stands out about this tweet is that the title from YouTube is AWESOME. Referring to Saunders as “The Aaron Donald of The FCS” is king-size praise indeed. That nickname is as enormous as the talent that Saunders himself possesses. Number 99 made plays all over the field for the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Special teams, defense and even some offense, (Saunders was alleged to have some of the best hands on the team) it didn’t matter. Khalen was a Leatherneck game changer, a playmaker and a defensive wrecking ball. In fact, according to this next tweet ‘The Wrecking Ball’ was a nickname Chiefs fans coined for Saunders that Khalen himself insisted that he liked on Twitter:
Just because we’re not being super punny in this edition of BLINDERS doesn’t mean that it can’t be funny. When Arrowhead Guys own Podcast STAR of the Mitko Show noticed me retweet that tidbit from Saunders he decided to chime in like only Mitko can (and will) do. How? By recreating the lyrics to the Achy Breaky Junior song, Wrecking Ball, … You’ll just have to see for yourself AG, click on the link if you’ve never heard it before for reference and a refreshing hangover style headache. Take it away Mitko Cyrus:
♪♪ He pushed, He pulled, his holds in vain.
99 jumped, but never offsides.
They slip, they fell under his hell.
A pass rush no one could deny.
Olines always say, I’ll just walk away.
I will always lose to you.
I can’t live a lie, QB running for his life.
I will always lose to you…
Khalen came in like a wrecking ball!
Line’s never been hit so hard.
Just wanted to sack them all.
And his run stopping, you’ll see.
Yeah, it’s ga-ame breaking! ♪♪
How about the Arrowhead Guys get out of a music genre that Weird Al has dominated for decades and get back to genuine football for a long-winded spell, shall we? Let’s talk about Khalen Saunders the football player. On the field, as the nicknames suggest, Saunders is an absolute monster! He’s brawny, powerfully-built, athletically meaty–yet Herculean in force. Saunders hits opposing offenders like he’s personally offended by their existence and their pesky ability to hold onto the pigskin through tackles.
Besides tackling ability, one thing to understand about Saunders the Kansas City Chiefs player, is that he’s not the tallest guy in the world. Standing at 6’0″ ft, weighing 324 lbs, Saunders is more of a compact tornado (visualize a more devastating cartoon Tasmanian Devil) that’s just itching to rip through the National Football League. At the combine, Saunders achieved 27 repetitions on the bench press, which is impressive enough by itself. However, it doesn’t do his strength as much justice as this next quote from the ESPN article posted on 4-20 titled, Backflips, basketball and a baby: The legend of Khalen Saunders:
An unblockable lineman, he consistently beat double-teams to record 14 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 9 quarterback pressures and 129 tackles the past two seasons. Last season, he earned second-team AP All-America honors.
He also played situational fullback and rushed for a touchdown while catching another. At practice, Saunders would pick up the ball and punt it 55 yards. His weight-room displays were mythical.
“You felt like you had every 45-pound plate in the weight room on the bar,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said. “On the field, there’s so many things he does that wow you. We would stand him up at outside defensive end at 320 pounds — no one does that — and Khalen would beat people off the edge. He’s got a unique skill set with such athleticism in a big man’s body, combined with elite strength.”Source
Every 45-pound plate in the weight room? Wow! 55 yard punt? Wow! (Watch your back, Colquitt!) Saunders might not have the height you crave in your defensive linemen, and he might not be the fastest guy with this 5.01 forty yard dash speed. But as the article from ESPN suggests, Saunders can do backflips. Don’t believe me? Think that the Arrowhead Guys would steer you down the wrong path like a 4-20 edition Dwayne Bowe on his way to Sonic? That’s fine, but Twitter has not one, but two (or MOAR) tweets on Saunders that prove that this seemingly mythological claim is actually factual:
On and on we could go about Saunders’ athletic ability, but we know that’s not the point of these articles. The point is to look at a player like Khalen Saunders and backflip between positive and negative stances in front of the Arrowhead Guys community like they were populating a parallel crowd line, like the players at the above Senior Bowl. Trying to determine what to expect from Saunders now that the Saunders family members are done expecting and are anxiously awaiting (just like all of us) the Kansas City Chiefs’ season to begin.
Is Khalen Saunders going to simply be depth for the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line, or is he going to dominate and eventually become the replacement for Stone Cold himself, Chris Jones?
If someone had the power to throw Khalen Saunders into a pool, due to his 324 lbs weight, he might sink to the depths of the pool. However, because of this athletic ability, he’d eventually rise to the top (because he came from the basement!). So my answer is both. Saunders will come into training camp having to battle. The Chiefs have a new defensive scheme, they have a lot of new talent in the front seven. They have a couple of the best defenders in football in that group with Chris Jones and Frank Clark. They possess a couple young unheralded guys like Derrick Nnadi (23) and Xavier Williams (27) that showed a ton of improvement over the course of last season. Justin Hamilton and Cavon Walker are both there to compete for a spot on and provide depth for the final roster. But that will only be Saunders’ responsibility for ‘A’ time much like his perceived-by-the-NFL height: short.
Once Saunders gets rolling (like a snowball down a hill), he’s going to pick up the defense and make plays. He’s too big, quick, talented, hungry and way too powerful to be depth for an extensive period of time. Even with blinders on, it’s hard to see Saunders not needing some time to transition to the NFL. As a Leatherneck, he was facing competition that is undeniably less than what he will face against the stalwart OL’s of the league on Sundays in the fall. Nevertheless, Saunders will figure it out sooner rather than later. When he does, it’s going to be on like Donkey Kong (Suh).
That’s who Saunders reminds me of. Sure, he’s nicknamed “The Aaron Donald of the FCS”. However, to me, he plays like Suh played at Nebraska. Lining up all over the field, being used in multiple ways and showing unparalleled dominance against his competition. Saunders is Suh, if Suh got crushed and compacted (just enough to make him 6’0″) by the machine that took out Arnold in the first Terminator movie. Important to note: he’s collegian Suh, not step on your face NFL Suh.
Keeping that in mind, realize Saunders has a special talent. He can defend the run, force fumbles, bulldoze QB’s, seal the edge, and as an added bonus, score touchdowns on offense like he’s the illegitimate lovechild of Vrabel and Poe. Saunders is a football weapon like an NFL legitimate Kris Wilson (for the kids: please explain that reference in the comments section AG).
After Saunders learns his role with the Chiefs, the training wheels will begin to come off. And like children on their bicycles with no training wheels, Saunders will wreak havoc on the paved green street of Arrowhead. Number 99 may not be the eventual replacement for Chris Jones, but his ceiling is just as high. It’s my belief that Chris Jones will be re-signed and that (Arrowhead) guys like Saunders, Jones, Clark, Okafor, Williams, Ogbah and Nnadi will become the most dominant front in the NFL. This defensive Chiefs front will become something special with the gridiron energy that Jones and Saunders possess and will propel the Chiefs to multiple Super Bowls as they do more than compliment SHOWTIME MVPat and the Kansas City offense.
If you have any sense in your brain at all, the answer is depth. To sit there on your keyboard and type about Super Bowls and compare a 6’0″ defender to a collegiate and NFL great (that’s 6’4″ – 313 lbs) like Suh is beyond stupid. It’s a pile of words like asinine, absurd, ignorant, idiotic, moronic, weak-minded, unintelligent, obtuse and simple all rolled into a ball and hurled into the Internet for anyone with eyes to read. Only they can’t read it because it’s a flaming dumba$$ ball that disintegrates the flesh into uselessness, like the content itself.
Let’s all at least be a little objective shall we? Khalen Saunders, by all accounts, isn’t ready for the NFL. He went to Western Illinois, a small college and put up some great numbers, as a few minutes of impressive play the highlights included in this article show. All of that is wonderful, but it leaves out the big picture and questions. Questions like, what did Saunders do the rest of those games? Who did he struggle against? Did he disappear at times? What are the weaknesses in his game? Sure he’s great at doing backflips, but can he play football for the Kansas City Chiefs?
Answering those questions is essential. Khalen Saunders has a lot of strengths, no doubt about that. He’s big, squatty, athletic and can even play some offense or punt the ball in a pinch. All of that stuff is great. However, let’s not pretend that he never had issues at a small school college on the gridiron. He did! Luckily, for anyone that actually wants to be objective, the people at NFL.com exist. Saunders went to the combine and had a draft profile which makes it easy for anyone with eyes to see and made it through that garbage above to read some honest truths about his abilities:
- Lacks sustained effort throughout game due to conditioning
- Needs greater urgency to get off blocks more consistently
- Squatty frame with short arms
- Can be engulfed by size and power
- Gets walked out of his gap against down blocks
- Unlikely to control point of attack in the pros Lacks desired pass-rush attributes to transfer college sack production to NFL.
The sustained effort and consistency in play are Saunders weaknesses that I’ve seen in more places than just his draft profile. Why? Because it’s obvious. Take out the flash plays from his highlight videos and Saunders is a football player that struggles often on the football field. Yes, he can do backflips, but can he do 30 in a row? Because an NFL game is a marathon, not a flippin’ sprint. Saunders will have to prove that he has more stamina before I’ll ever deem him worthy of the constant praise he’s been receiving from the media and Chiefs Kingdom.
It’s like, take a breath fanatics! Saunders has T-Rex arms, he’s short and can be engulfed by size and power. Keep in mind, that the size and power that was engulfing him was not even NFL level talent. It was OL players that were going to places like Friends University. Maybe you’re impressed by the victory over Youngstown State (they gave up 38 points in that game), but I’m more concerned about how he played when the team gave up 33 and 34 points to Illinois State and North Dakota State. Because the players Saunders will face with the Chiefs in the NFL will be much more skilled and professional than anyone on the teams he faced in college.
Saunders gets walked out of his blocks? How? I thought he had strength like Hercules and power like electricity. But I digress. The point is that Khalen Saunders has a tough NFL road ahead of him. There is very little chance the Kansas City Chiefs see him as a replacement for Chris Jones. Jones just needs to get to camp so that question isn’t even a part of the minds of the fanatical. With Saunders, the depth question is much more relevant. Can Saunders come in and provide depth?
The answer to that is, maybe! If, and it’s a big IF! If Saunders works hard to get his conditioning up to NFL par, if Saunders outworks everyone on the field and in the weight room (the Chiefs have more than eight 45 pound plates in their gym). If Saunders learns the new defense, if Saunders listens to his coaches and focuses on learning that more than playing the piano and making the media laugh, then maybe he’ll have a shot. Otherwise he’ll be a third round version of Junior Siavii and the only flipping he’ll be doing will be at the McDonald’s in St. Louis, because he won’t be able to make it in the NFL unless he improves drastically.
Well, which is it? Super Bowl MVP level defender or future employee of the month at Mickey D’s? That’s not even really a tough call. Khalen Saunders has all the potential in the world. He’s only going to be 23 years old (on my birthday no less), and he’s attended everything that the Chiefs have asked of him this offseason. Unlike some other Chiefs DL we all know (and love), he’s been available. And as the old saying goes, “the best ability is availability”, Khalen Saunders is signed to the Chiefs and available.
While Saunders might not come out the gates ready to hoist the MVP of the Super Bowl. He will come in and bring energy to the team. If and when Chris Jones makes his appearance, Saunders should be an amazing combo with Jones in terms of between-play energy, to pump up Arrowhead on game day. I’m looking forward to that a lot. Khalen Saunders has an opportunity to come in and make an instant difference on a team that had the worst defense in the league last season. I believe he will make that difference from day one and improve each day after.
Will Khalen Saunders be depth or the eventual replacement for Chris Jones? Quite frankly, I think the answer is sort of both. That’s not taking the easy way out, either. Starting out, it’s my belief that Saunders will be depth and the Chiefs coaching staff will make him earn his keep to even be on the 53-man roster. After he proves his worth with his on-field merit, I think Saunders will develop into a solid starter. After awhile, he may displace a Chiefs player like Xavier Williams and be a great three down weapon next to Derrick Nnadi.
It might take some time, but I’d watch the Chiefs roster moves. If they cut guys like Walker, Williams or Hamilton, that might speak volumes about the success Saunders is reaching on a day-to-day basis. If Chris Jones never signs long-term with the Kansas City Chiefs, I can see Saunders taking on a role to be the man they build around, to stop the run while Frank Clark gets to the quarterback. Saunders has a wonderful personality, a plethora of NFL skills and a drive to be the best.
What more can you ask for as a fan dissecting a third round pick? Well, you can ask for Super Bowls! But never fear, I believe someone named Patrick Lavon Mahomes II has us all covered on that subject. For Khalen Saunders, all he needs to do is come in and practice like there’s no tomorrow. Become the player all of our delusions envision, and help guide our defense to a Super Bowl caliber level. Starting as depth, ending someday as a perennial All-Pro candidate on his way to Canton. That may be too much hope Arrowhead Guys, but don’t worry, it’s simply his true Khalen.