The spotlight in Kansas City usually falls on the Chiefs’ young talent, but linebacker Leo Chenal isn’t always the first name that comes to mind when thinking about pivotal players.
Yet, in a surprising turn of events, Bleacher Report’s Ryan Fowler labeled him as the team’s “most promising young building block” in an article highlighting standout performers in the first half of the 2023 season.
Fowler commended Chenal’s remarkable improvement from his rookie season to his sophomore year, describing him as an essential piece for the Chiefs’ future. “The improvement shown from Leo Chenal from year one to year two has been fantastic,” Fowler noted.
“He’s been excellent in Nick Bolton’s absence, and he looks to be a cornerstone piece for the Chiefs moving down the line as an impact playmaker on both defense and special teams.”
Even with other notable talents on the roster, such as running back Isiah Pacheco, Chenal has emerged as a key figure for the Chiefs.
Leo Chenal’s Remarkable Growth in 2023
Chenal’s second season has been marked by significant strides. Notably, he has seen increased playing time, already accumulating 245 defensive snaps compared to 296 as a rookie. Pro Football Focus grades reflect his across-the-board improvement:
Rookie Season: 70.3 (overall), 72.0 (run defense), 57.6 (tackling), 63.6 (pass rush), 62.6 (pass coverage).
Year Two: 73.2 (overall), 72.7 (run defense), 67.3 (tackling), 72.0 (pass rush), 62.6 (pass coverage).
Delving into the statistics reveals impressive growth. Chenal has more than doubled his quarterback pressures, reduced his missed tackle percentage, and surpassed his rookie number of key defensive stops over the first nine games.
Strengths and Areas for Improvement
As a run defender, Chenal has excelled, boasting an average depth of tackle at 1.9 yards per stop in 2023, ranking him among the top three on the team.
While his pass coverage remains an area for improvement, with all 11 of his targets completed this season, there are positive signs, such as a decreased yards-per-reception average and a lower NFL passer rating against.
The Future Role of Leo Chenal
With Willie Gay Jr. facing free agency in 2024, speculation arises about Chenal potentially stepping into a starting role in his third year.
The primary concern revolves around Chenal’s coverage abilities, but strategic substitutions on passing downs could mitigate this potential weakness.
As the Chiefs evaluate their needs for the upcoming offseason, Chenal’s emergence, coupled with a deep and youthful linebacker room, could influence decisions about the future of Willie Gay Jr. in Kansas City. The next crucial step is for Chenal to continue his impressive performance in the latter half of the 2023 campaign.