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Khalen Saunders Offers Starter Potential at Defensive Tackle. Should a High Draft Pick Be Used on Him?

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Hogs Haven takes a look at 2019 NFL Draft prospects who could contribute to the Redskins

NCAA Football: Western Illinois at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Khalen Saunders, DT
School: Western Illinois University | Conference: Missouri Valley Football Conference
College Experience: RS Senior | Age: 22
Height / Weight: 6’0” / 324 lbs
Projected Draft Status: 3rd - 4th Round
Player Comparison: Poona Ford

College Statistics

Data courtesy of HERO Sports.

Player Overview

It wasn’t necessarily football that put Khalen Saunders on the map. It was a video of him, a 320-pound man, doing a backflip that went viral. However, Saunders deserves attention on the football field. The high school football player, wrestler, and shot putter from St. Louis made an immediate impact at Western Illinois in his redshirt freshman year by playing in all 13 games. After a productive junior year with 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, Saunders saw a ton of double teams his senior year. No matter, Saunders was still named an FCS All-American this past season. Invited to the Senior Bowl, Saunders held his own against superior competition and was named a Defensive Player of the Week. Spending the week in Mobile meant missing the birth of his first child, but family is important to Saunders. He sees football as his opportunity to take care of his family. Though his combine numbers aren’t eye-popping, Saunders has a rare blend of power, quickness, and agility for a man his size.

Strengths

  • Great athleticism that he uses it to exploit gaps or beat blockers in space. Western Illinois even rushed him off the edge from a two point stance, ran him on the goal line, and threw him a touchdown pass.
  • Powerful upper body. Can be seen throwing offensive lineman aside to pursue the ball carrier or quarterback.
  • Shows good burst to close on ball carriers.
  • Has a high motor and chases plays sideline to sideline and down the field.

Weaknesses

  • Technique needs work. Can win with swim move, but doesn’t have a feel for how to use moves. Becomes ineffective if he can’t win with power or quickness.
  • Despite being short, can play too high, lose leverage, and allow blockers to get there hands on him. Couple that with short arms and he has trouble getting off those blocks.
  • Has trouble anchoring and needs use his lower body to generate more power. Doesn’t snap his hips and drive through offensive linemen.
  • Looks fatigued late in games. Could be conditioning, but it might be because coaches don’t take him off the field given his impact.

Let’s go to the video tape

How He Fits On The Redskins

It’s easy to look at the defensive line and think it’s set: two first rounders in Johnathan Allen and Da’ron Payne and a gem of a 5th round pick in Matt Ioannidis. But, the depth behind them can be improved. Settle showed promise in the preseason, but did not have much impact during the regular season. McGee and Brantley are both expendable. It’s possible we look for a veteran in free agency to add to the group or target a prospect in the draft, maybe both. Saunders is short for the position and needs to be better and more consistent with his technique. But if there is a coach out there that can marry his physical abilities with proper technique, it’s Jim Tomsula. If we continue to play nickel the majority of the time and have a one-gap front, Saunders could fit the scheme nicely. His athleticism would be complementary to our starters and allow them to come off the field and stay fresh. Not too mention that if he can master the fundamentals of the position, he could become a starter. Because of that, some project he’ll be drafted in Round 2. To answer the question in the title, Round 2 is early for me and while I think he’ll go in Round 3, I think we have too many holes in the roster to draft defensive line before Day 3. If the team believes in a true best player available philosophy, Saunders is a prospect to consider to enhance the defensive line.