Tanoh Kpassagnon: Is the Contract Year Truly Undefeated?

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Going into last year, the Chiefs defensive end room was reloaded, and full. They traded for Frank Clark, to be their leader and best defensive end against the run and pass rush. Emmanuel Ogbah was traded for, and Alex Okafor were signed to be rotational defensive ends, who could set hard edges and play inside on pass rush downs. Breeland Speaks was Veach’s first pick ever just a season before. Tim Ward and Jeremiah Attaochu were pushing for roster spots. When it came down to it, I didn’t think Tanoh Kpassagnon would be able to make the roster. I thought he would be the odd man out.

Then, Tanoh really surprised me last year. He showed improvements in his all-around game, which was significant from where he was in 2018. He couldn’t even get on the field in 2018. Then, this year, in the AFC Championship, he had two sacks in a crucial game that advanced Kansas City to the Super Bowl. Where was the improvement found? What other things must he work on? And will the contract year prove undefeated once again, and will Tanoh have his best year ever? Come read up on Tanoh.

One part of Tanoh’s game he really struggled with was his leverage. I’m not a huge fan of the general term “leverage”, but for a defensive end, it’s everything. For the way Brendan Daly asks his defensive ends to play, especially as pass rushers, it starts with square shoulders. Keeping the body aligned in the rush will allow you to work. Keeping your shoulders square, head up, feet forward, and using your length to generate space to work their hands and generate power in your rush.

One issue I saw with Tanoh was that he tended to lean one shoulder into the rush, and use that as his force part to generate power. Tanoh had too many reps of leaning that one shoulder directly into a chest of a tackle, and he couldn’t generate leverage there. For reference, go out right now, push some furniture, and put your head down and lean with one shoulder. You won’t move that far, especially when that force is resisting your weight already. Simple physics. This was a frequent thing in all 19 games.

Luckily, this can be fixed. Tanoh will need to learn how to keep his shoulders square to the lineman, keep his feet in a straight-line motion, and keep that head up. I talk a lot about using your hands well off the snap, and going in with an actual rush plan. When I’m grading defensive ends, a lot of time is spent watching their rush plans, and how they utilize it. To reach that stepping point, I need to see the progression with leverage, and keeping that body aligned. This offseason, and upcoming season, that’s where I need to see the biggest progression. If he shows it there, he’ll generate a lot more pressure and push.

A big part of getting that leverage is using your length well. That’s something that Brendan Daly talked about a lot in his press conference a week ago, when asked about the value of length. His response:

“Length is an asset if you use it well. If you don’t use it, it doesn’t serve much of an advantage. In my opinion, it all comes down to technique and fundamentals. There’s a lot of young players who got great size and length, but their pad level is too high, they don’t play with great power, leverage, or strength, and therefore, their length is negated.

It can definitely be an advantage in terms of creating separation and extension in the run game, and creating operating space to locate ball carriers, to get released off of blocks, and put offensive lineman in disadvantageous situations. It’s a huge advantage in pass rush, if you use your hands.”

For Tanoh, this was a major issue in 2019. Standing at 6-7 with 35 5/8″ arms, length should never be an issue, but it was for Tanoh in 2019. Like Daly is alluding to above, Tanoh didn’t play with that length well. As a run defender, he used it well, but pass rush wise, it needs help. He over-relies on using one arm, generally his inside arm, to generate power. The other arm is for deflections, or using it as his chop arm. Unfortunately, it’s super hard to generate power there. Offensive lineman just need to get on the inside chest of him, and Tanoh won’t move.

He also did himself a major disservice as a pass rusher, not using that length to generate space to rush. He went to head-on on offensive lineman, driving his head and shoulder directly into the chest of the OL. His length is rendered useless there, and he lacks the space to work his hands, or really counter. The only way to get out of that situation is to spin, which is a big no-no for me. For Tanoh, he needs to learn to strike more with both arms, keep the shoulders square, and use his hands as counters, not a spin. This can all be developed of course, but that’s a big undertaking to get fixed. It’s a comfortability and hand work issue, and Tanoh has to get that fixed, or he’ll never be a + pass rusher for any team.

Now, when he did use that fantastic length well, he was really hard to stop. There aren’t many 6-7 guards, or even tackles. Tackles will have 35″ arms generally, but guards don’t have 35″ arms. Tanoh would have the length advantage on most players he will face, especially because he gets the worse matchups on the field. So, when his leverage is good, and he uses both arms and shoulders for leverage, he looks very good. He looks more explosive in his rush, his power at 290 lbs is really hard to stop, and being able to work the arm battle with an advantage will create more advantageous opportunities.

That’s the hope for me. While it’s very limited, his best reps using his length are really good. He’ll need to clean up the consistency is his pass rush for sure, but that can be worked on. Already in 2019, he looked worlds better with leverage. If Tanoh can take that next step forward there with leverage, I’ll be super excited. He will become way more valuable to this defensive line, especially with pass rushing. With Emmanuel Ogbah gone, we’ll need Tanoh to take steps forward there. That all starts with his length.

One issue I had with Tanoh in his very limited 2018 tape was his lack of hand usage. To be blunt, he didn’t use his hands at all. It was all really bad corner rushes, and bullrushes with bad leverage. No sense of a rush plan at all. In 2019, with the guidance of Daly as his defensive line coach, there were signs of a more complicated rush plan. His main developed move was his “push/pull” move, which was a common move for guys like Tanoh, Ogbah, and Alex Okafor.

With this move, it starts with a bullrush type of look, to get a tackle to strike your chest. The goal with this “push” phase is to get a tackle to lock his hips and arms on your chest, then using the “pull” or “rip” to get the outside arm off your chest, and working the corner into the strip. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali were masters at this move, and it seriously got them so many pressures and sacks. It’s one of the most commonly developed pass rush moves from a young age, as it takes advantage of tackles with bad leverage and overaggressive hands.

Tanoh showed huge progressions with this move in one season, which was encouraging. He’ll need to start developing more moves to counter this (inside swim, cross chop), but already seeing one solid developed move is a huge sign of development. The “push/pull” move will still need consistency, as he needs to tighten his corner a bit to get a more concise angle, but anything from the 2018 tape is significant. I was so glad to see him use that move well, against some decent tackles as well (Taylor Decker, David Bahktiari). Let’s hope for more in 2020.

Now, I’ve been critical of Tanoh as a pass rusher off the edge. There’s a huge inconsistency in his game, and a lot more question marks than definitive things with his ability to rush there. One thing I will say, was that when he was rushing from the interior, he was much better. His reps weren’t perfect, but his speed and length are very hard to defend for most guards. Generally, guards around the NFL are more stout players, who defend strength, and not speed, well. Tanoh fortunately has good burst to play inside, and that 6-7 frame is super hard to defend inside. He, with Chris Jones, cause a ton of issues inside, which frees single team opportunities for Frank Clark off the edge.

Now, consistency is still key. There’s still plenty of bad reps there. Still, his best play comes from the interior as a pass rusher, which is super encouraging. A huge thing for Steve Spagnuolo is the ability to play inside. Every defensive end on the roster currently has that capability, but none do it as well as Tanoh currently (maybe Frank Clark). For a potential contract extension, that does excite me about his future. Versatility is the name of the game for me, and his versatility should keep him on the field.

Now, during the season, it’s sometimes hard for me to make definitive opinions on players. With my limited time, I’m mainly looking at the schematics of the defense, and what Spagnuolo is doing, particularly in coverage. That is where most of my limited time goes, which can leave me not having fully-fleshed out opinions on players. This came true with Tanoh, particularly in the run game. I honestly thought he was average there, with not any consistency. I didn’t really think he could be trusted there.

Now, I’ll admit this, I was dead wrong there. When I went back and watched all 19 games, I was very much impressed by his ability against the run. That leverage Daly talked about in the run game? Tanoh’s good with it. Daly and Spags ask their defensive ends to use their arms to keep tackles off their chest, keeping the outside shoulder free to locate the ball. Then, they lower their base, or pad level, to become unmovable. That’s why we’ve targeted so many guys with exceptional strength and length; so they can set the edge. Tanoh was honestly our second best defensive end doing it last season, behind Frank Clark. That’s super encouraging for the future, as he gets better.


I’ll admit when I’m wrong. I have no qualms with that. And I was dead wrong on Tanoh Kpassagnon. Last year, I predicted he wouldn’t make the roster. I didn’t think there was hardly anything in his previous two years of work to justify his spot on the team. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. And truthfully, I was so happy to be wrong about him.

Now, there are many inconsistencies on tape still. He still has major issues with leverage, pad level, length and extension, and a rush plan. He’ll have good reps, and awful reps. There isn’t a lot of happy mediums with Tanoh, which can be discouraging. I’m a believer in consistency, not a large variance. But from where Tanoh was in 2018, 2019 was such a step forward.

Luckily for Tanoh, the issues he has can indeed be fixed. It’ll take a lot of time, and won’t suddenly all be fixed. He won’t be a perfect player. But, small improvements to leverage can help in a large way. This staff always commends him for his intelligence, and his effort on the field is very obvious. He should get better. Will he a 8-10 sack guy next year? Probably not. Expect his normal 4-6 sacks a year. That’s not a bad thing though. Improving his consistency will help his tape, and his effort for an extension.

Terez Paylor always says, “the contract year is undefeated”. It was for Emmanuel Ogbah, Frank Clark, and so many others. This year is Tanoh’s contract year. If he shows more consistency and produces just as well as last year, Tanoh could be a candidate for an extension, especially if Chris Jones is gone next year. I’ll keep an eye on Tanoh, and I hope I continue being dead wrong on him. What’s wrong with being wrong?

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06/03/2020 4:15 pm

Well said, Nate, and now I’ll add some thoughts of my own. To set the stage, I called for understanding for Sutton for years, until the end of his last season when I had to admit it was time to go. Last season I got quite vocal about how I was wrong, and Bob deserved a whole lot more blame than I had ever given him, and KPass’ ’19 season is my primary reason. Bob kept him sidelined, but under Spags he could play and have success. What changed? Duh, it’s obvious what the problem was, the thing that changed.
Still, I’m of the opinion that his lack of development prior to that is more likely a matter of neglect than animosity. He couldn’t fit Bob’s scheme, so Bob had little reason to focus on him. Spags adjusted his scheme to fit the player, Bob did not. That’s the background, and I was wrong, too.

Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
06/03/2020 4:23 pm

With that in mind, a lot of the inconsistencies you mention look more to me like bad habits that Team Sutton never bothered to correct, so rather than “learning consistency” IMO it’s more a matter of unlearning bad habits, at least in some cases. The difference may appear to be a minor matter, just a wording difference, but it’s actually a pretty big deal because it affects one’s thinking. It can cause you to say in frustration ‘why can’t he learn?’ when the problem is that he knows, but there are reactions and muscle memory down at the instinctual level that can be harder to change than learn correctly from scratch.
And finally, kinda like Mahomes in ’18 I consider his ’19 to be Tanoh’s effective rookie season, and even that was disrupted by the install of the D. Next season could very well be a breakout season for him, regardless of contract. My confidence may only be moderate, but my optimism’s fairly high until I see where he’s at on the field.
Good work, Nate.

Reply to  Nate Christensen
06/03/2020 5:39 pm

Interesting you bring up Speaks, and because he kinda applies to this as well. Sutton didn’t handle him well, and then last year he went on IR early. This will essentially be his rookie season on the field, presuming.
Lotta people have bagged on him in the past*, but now I think there’s the Sutton factor to consider and the CW that he’s fat and lazy and will bust anyway should be put into its grave so as to give him a fresh start. From there his successes and progress can shovel dirt down. If there’s little dirt at the end of the season, we can send a ladder down for it.

Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
06/03/2020 5:42 pm

*IMO at least some of that bagging was driven by Veach vs Draft narrative, same as his “habit of trading away 1st rounders” after he did it a single time to get a cornerstone player for the D. Who’d he trade that 1st rounder to this year?

Reply to  Nate Christensen
06/03/2020 8:50 pm

Won’t disagree with you about Edge, but that was Sutton’s plan. Spags has had a year to work with him, even if he couldn’t play much, so maybe DT will work.
Or considering Spags and Reid, they may come up with some unexpected hybrid, I dunno, but DE’s an expectation of the past, don’t keep it attached to him. That’s all.

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