Kansas City Chiefs take WIU's Saunders in NFL Draft

Kansas City Chiefs take WIU's Saunders in NFL Draft
Western Illinois defensive tackle Khalen Saunders was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Draft. (Photo by Western Courier)

The Kansas City Chiefs selected Western Illinois defensive lineman Khalen Saunders Friday night in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Saunders, who measured at 6-foot and 324-pounds at the NFL Combine in January, was the 84th overall pick.

Saunders is first Leatherneck drafted since Dallas took linebacker Jason Williams in 2009.  

"Believe in yourself. Take opportunities," Saunders said in an interview with ESPN staff writer Adam Rittenberg. "They may come few and far between, but I took mine from Western, and now I'm here."

WIU head coach Jared Elliott was elated for his player.

"The entire Leatherneck Family has been looking forward to see where Khalen calls his new home," Elliott said. "Everyone that touches our program has known how special this young man is for a long time, it has been a lot of fun to see the country start to recognize that as well. Khalen has worked for everything he has and he will be no different at the next level. He will light up the locker room with his personality and be loved by his teammates because of who he is. We are proud to add Khalen to the extremely lengthy list of NFL players that were built Leatherneck Tough."

Saunders made headlines at the Reese's Senior Bowl and NFL Combine for his athletic prowess and understanding of the game. His backflip video and sack of Will Grier in the Senior Bowl made him an internet sensation. Saunders finished his collegiate career with 204 tackles, 18 sacks and four forced fumbles. He also blocked a field goal, scored a rushing touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. 

Saunders finished the 2018 season as a two-time All-American (Associated Press and STATS FCS) as well as a First All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection. He capped his senior slate third on WIU's roster with 72 tackles - 13 for a loss, which ranked fifth in the MVFC--and concluded his career ranked sixth all-time in sacks.

Reaction to Saunders' selection:

"He is a power player who will fit nicely in their defense. They have to get better against the run and he will play inside with their move to the 4-3 (defense)."

--Pete Prisco, cbsports.com

"Saunders (6-0, 324 pounds) has good athleticism to match his power and will be an asset helping to stuff the run as the team transitions to Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3."

--Vinnie Iyer, sportingnews.com

"Saunders dominated at the FCS level and will help a Chiefs defense that needs to get better at stopping the run. He should be able to play the nose in Kansas City and at least help in the Chiefs' rotation right away."

--Pro Football Weekly

"Saunders is slightly undersized (listed at just over 6-foot) for the defensive tackle position in the NFL, but he makes up for it with motor and want-to. He’s also a stout man at nearly 325 pounds.

"His size lends itself to natural leverage, which makes Saunders a force in the run game. He’ll help out there immediately. He does offer some abilities as a pass rusher given his maximum effort."

--Charles Goldman, Chiefs Wire

"Saunders is a very large man with quick hands and should quickly be a force against the run. He leaves a little to be desired with getting after the quarterback, but with Chris Jones and Frank Clark playing alongside him it’s not that big of a concern.

"The big red flag with Saunders is his conditioning. As I mentioned, he’s a large man, but it’s not all healthy weight. This causes him to get winded quickly and he will need to be subbed out a lot if he doesn’t improve his conditioning."

--Nicolas Roesch, Chiefs Wire

"After what felt like a long wait, the Chiefs made their third-round pick. Day 2 was a need selection type of day. Kansas City selected a very big human, Saunders out of Western Illinois. He may be a 324-pound DT, but he can do cartwheels and backflips. Yes, backflips, and he even sticks the landing.

"My guess is Spags and Daly will want him to stick to landing on QBs.
He’s very strong, sneaky quick, and has fast hands. Saunders will add another dose of nasty inside with Nnadi and give AFC centers fits. The big fella can actually shave down the line and mirror running backs. He’s reminiscent of Warren Sapp and I dig that about him."

--Danilo Di Julio, Chiefs Wire

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