In today’s NFL, offense takes all the headlines. Yet there is the old adage that “defense wins championships.” Today, we have a look at some of the best Chiefs defensive players.
Neil Smith and Buck Buchanan
Neil Smith is one of the polarizing figures in Chiefs history. Most of that stems from where Smith chose to spend the twilight of his career, yet there is no doubt of how dominant was on the field. Smith tallied 85.5 sacks in his Chiefs career including a career-high of 15 in 1993, all finished with his signature home run swing. He was a six-time Pro-Bowler and an All-Pro in 1993. Personally, Smith is one of my favorite Chiefs of all time and was responsible for my belief that a band-aid over the nose would help in sacking the quarterback.
Buck Buchanan is listed mostly as right defensive tackle according to PFF, but for my All-Time team, I feel he would best fit as the right defensive end. Listed at 6’7 270 he would be a monster in today’s NFL and he was more than that when drafted number one overall in the 1963 AFL draft out Grambling. Playing his entire career in Kansas City he played 182 games including a stretch of 166 straight, had 70.5 career sacks, was a 4-time All-AFL player, and won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs. He is now a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
Chris Jones and Dan Saleaumua
Chris Jones is one the most versatile and intimidating defensive linemen in all the NFL currently. Since coming into the league he has accumulated 40.5 sacks, most of that from the interior. Jones requires almost constant double teams which takes pressure off the outside rushers which in whole makes the defense better. When he is not pressuring the quarterback he is smart with quick hands and is consistently near the top of the league in batted balls. His infectious smile and his willingness to engage with fans make him a favorite in Kansas City.
Dan Saleaumua was an integral cog on those fierce Chiefs defenses of the early to mid-’90s. Never one to put up huge stats, the giant of a man did an amazing job of clogging up the middle for his teammates on the outside. A born-run stuffer that led the charge as the anchor in the middle. He put up 24 sacks from the nose tackle position in his 8-year tenure as a Chief. He is in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
Derrick Johnson, Derrick Thomas, and Bobby Bell
The Chiefs’ all-time leading tackler Derrick Johnson was the defensive leader for more than a decade in Kansas City. The 2005 first-round draft selection, had a knack for finding the football. His career stat line includes 1154 tackles, 103 TFL, 24.5 sacks, 77 passes defended, 14 interceptions, 22 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, and 4 touchdowns. Though the Chiefs only won one playoff game during his career, no one can argue that the effort DJ put on the field was that of a winner.
Outside of Patrick Mahomes, no one who has donned the Red and Gold has had as much pure talent as Derrick Thomas. For this writer, Derrick Thomas is responsible for my love of Chiefs football. Drafted fourth overall out of Alabama in 1989, he put his stamp on the franchise from the get-go. The most feared pass rusher of the 1990’s DT teamed up with Neil Smith to put the fear of God in every quarterback that took snaps against the Chiefs. A nine-time pro bowler, two-time All-Pro, and the NFL single game sack leader with seven against the Seahawks in 1990. I have little doubt that if his life was not cut tragically short in 2000, Derrick Thomas would be the NFL’s all-time sack leader. His 126.5 sacks and 41 forced fumbles are Chiefs records. He was posthumously enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2009.
Bobby Bell began his Chiefs career in 1963 as a defensive end and transitioned to outside linebacker after an All-AFL selection in 1965. He only had six straight All-Pro seasons at outside linebacker after that. Along with Buck Buchanan, he helped anchor a defense that led the Chiefs to their Super Bowl IV victory. He finished his 12-year career with 40 sacks and 26 interceptions and 9 total touchdowns. He was a 1983 NFL Hall of Fame inductee.
Emmitt Thomas and Albert Lewis
Emmitt Thomas is the third key defensive cog from Chiefs first Super Bowl victory on this list. Thomas came to the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie from a small now-defunct HBCU, Bishop College, in 1966. He would record interceptions in 12 of his 13 NFL seasons, resulting in 58 career interceptions. Those 58 are currently 12th all-time in NFL history and still the most in Chiefs history. Three of those interceptions were in the 1969 AFL Championship game against the Raiders and in Super Bowl IV. Thomas was a 5-time pro bowler and second-team All-Pro player. He would go on to have a long coaching career and was named the Falcons interim head coach in 2007. In 2008 he was selected to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Albert Lewis is the second former Grambling Tiger on this list. At 6’2 Lewis was a big corner in any era especially the mid to late 1980s. Great in man-to-man coverage, he would end his Chiefs career with 38 interceptions. Along with being a lockdown corner, he was a special teams ace blocking a team record 10 punts in his 11 season tenure in Kansas City. Lewis is a four-time pro bowler and twice named an All-Pro. He is also a member of the Chiefs’ Ring of Honor.
Deron Cherry and Tyrann Mathieu
Deron Cherry was another undrafted defensive back that went on to have an unbelievable career in Kansas City. Playing his entire career in Kansas City, Deron anchored some bad Chiefs teams but like Derrick Johnson, he played all out for more than a decade. His 50 interceptions are third-most in Chiefs history. He was a 6-time pro bowler 3 times named to All-Pro teams and is another current member of the Chiefs Ring of Honor.
It doesn’t matter if you call him the Honey Badger or the Landlord, Tyrann Mathieu is the best free-agent signing in Chiefs history. In the complete defensive overhaul of the 2019 Chiefs defense, Tyrann Mathieu was the first big-name signed. In his two years as a Chief, he has been the heartbeat of the defense. He brings a toughness and an attitude that is unmatched. Patrick Mahomes personally contacted him before his signing and pleaded that he comes to Kansas City and be the quarterback of the defense. He has answered the bell with back-to-back first-team All-Pro performances. We don’t know how the story will end with Mathieu but regardless his time here thus far has been memorable. Let’s hope Brett Veach and company can lock the Landlord long term before the rent is due.