Being on a perennial contender like the Kansas City Chiefs is the opportunity professional athletes dream of: the chance to play meaningful football games with a championship on the line, all while facing off against some of the best players in the world in practice every day.
Advantages and disadvantages
Iron sharpens iron, and for a young linebacker like Leo Chenal who’s looking to break into a full-time starting role in his second year in the NFL, opposing quarterbacks will seem like a junior varsity crew when he has to account for two-time MVP Patrick Mahomes in practice every day.
At the same time, though, having a stacked roster from top to bottom means that players on the Chiefs are always in danger of being replaced. With more than $100 million locked up in standouts like Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and Joe Thuney, Kansas City must be painstaking in how they fill out the rest of their roster. Cheap replacements are a dime a dozen in the draft, and many proven veterans are willing to take a pay cut for the chance at a championship, so most of the Chiefs’ roster has their work cut out for them as they try to secure a place on the team.
Luckily for Chenal, he’s faced adversity throughout his playing career: he’s more than accustomed to making himself stand out in a positive manner.
Badger state standout
Chenal grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, attending Grantsburg High School, a tiny school with less than 220 enrollees as of 2021. That is a challenge. While he may not have had to compete much for playing time on the gridiron (playing both linebacker and running back during his time in high school), it’s exponentially harder to be taken seriously while playing at a small school. With less of a talent pool to draw on, even the standout athletes can receive criticism for playing against alleged worse competition.
That didn’t apply to Chenal, who won the Wisconsin Gatorade High School Player of the Year award, outcompeting even the massive schools in the football-crazed Midwest. From there, he enrolled early at the University of Wisconsin (getting a leg up on the competition as he got up to speed against Division I talent). The gamble paid off, as he ended up starting 11 of 14 games as a true freshman in 2019, including the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. Chenal followed that up with honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2020, before elevating his play to yet another level in 2021, named the Butkus–Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten.
He sacrificed his final two years of eligibility and declared for the NFL Draft, where the Chiefs picked him up in the third round. Kansas City worked him slowly into the rotation in his rookie season last year, with Chenal mostly getting on the field for special team snaps.
He’d carved out a niche for himself by the time the Super Bowl rolled around, though, making six tackles (including a sack) in just 18 snaps in the championship win. With the preseason getting closer and closer, Chiefs fans might be interested in using a specific BetMGM bonus code Kansas as their team looks to engage on another championship run.
What’s next for Chenal?
Chenal bounced around in his rookie year, taking roughly 20 percent of his snaps as an edge rusher. The rest of the time he served as an off-ball linebacker, primarily playing against the run rather than in pass defense (which would be a challenge, as he stands 6-foot-3 and weighs a hulking 250 pounds). The potential is there, though, as he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, and early reports out of training camp say that he’s honing his skills as a pass rusher and in coverage.
Now that Chenal has had a year to get up to speed, he can focus on the details instead of just trying to get used to the rigor of an NFL playbook.
Rather than being worried about making a mistake, he’s playing with more freedom. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo is largely focusing on Chenal’s arsenal as a pass rusher during training camp, while Chenal worked on his mobility and footwork to improve in coverage during the offseason. Those skills translate to rushing the quarterback, so Chenal could be a dangerous asset for the Chiefs as they look to run it back this season.
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