There is almost nothing in Tanoh Kpassgnon’s story that portends NFL excellence.
His parents were raised in the Ivory Coast and Uganda, where football is about as foreign as it can get. He didn’t start playing until later in life, preferring soccer instead. And he hardly got a sniff from big-name schools, instead spending four years at Villanova.
Yet what he accomplished for the Wildcats, and what he showcased during the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, ran counter to that upbringing. And it was enough to intrigue the Kansas City Chiefs enough to choose the raw defensive end in the second round of the draft Friday night.
“I might have had a couple of interviews with them, but I didn’t have any private workouts,” said Kpassgnon, the first Villanova player chosen since offensive lineman Ben Ijalana in 2001.
“They didn’t show as much interest as other teams,” he added, “so it was kind of a surprise.”
In the third round, the Chiefs traded with the Minnesota Vikings to move up to the 86th overall pick and grab prolific Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, giving them a big-play threat to join running backs Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller in their backfield.
The Chiefs struggled to run the ball last year, when Jamaal Charles failed to come back from a devastating knee injury, and that made finding a playmaker in this year’s draft a priority.
“I feel like I’ll fit in just fine,” Hunt said. “I feel like Jamaal Charles, I can fit into his role and play his role a little bit. I know he was a great back, but I’m excited to get out there and show them what I can do, and fill his spot hopefully, if they need me to right away.”
Kansas City boldly moved up in the first round Thursday night to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes II with the 10th overall choice, making the Texas Tech standout the heir apparent to Alex Smith.
Much like Mahomes, who will be given time to develop behind Smith, the Chiefs expect a certain learning curve for their new edge rusher. Kpassgnon didn’t play organized football until sixth grade, and even then his mother was set against him participating in such a brutal sport. But when she saw how much he loved it, and that Villanova was offering him a scholarship, she grew to accept him.
Now, the game is poised to make Kpassgnon a millionaire several times over.
He’ll certainly know what to do with his cash. Kpassagnon earned degrees in finance and accounting from Villanova’s acclaimed business school, all while becoming one of the game’s top pass rushers.
The 6-foot-6, 289-pound Kpassgnon evolved from that lightly recruited prospect who got a late start in the game into a ferocious sack artist. He piled up 45 tackles, 11 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for a loss during his senior season with the Wildcats.
“The biggest transition is that everybody is going to be good. There’s no bad players in the NFL,” he said. “Just put me out there and I’ll make some plays. I’m ready.”
Kansas City also had needs at running back and middle linebacker, where Derrick Johnson is coming off a second ruptured Achilles tendon. But when Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan went to Miami and fellow linebacker Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt was chosen by Houston just ahead of the Chiefs’ only third-round selection, the Chiefs decided to fill address another of their glaring holes.
They recently released starter Jaye Howard, who missed much of last season with a hip injury, and offseason signing Bennie Logan could become a free agent after next season.
“I might have and a couple of interviews with them, but I didn’t have any private workouts,” he said. “They didn’t show as much interest as other teams. It was kind of a surprise.”
The only surprising part of Hunt’s selection is that he was still around at No. 86.
The Chiefs swapped third-round picks with Minnesota and gave up fourth- and seventh-round picks to move up and grab him. In doing so, they captured an elusive running back that had a school-record 4,945 yards rushing along with 44 touchdowns during his career with Toledo.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s good blocking, bad blocking, missed blocking,” Hunt said, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
The Chiefs will try to address their remaining needs when the draft resumes Saturday. They do not have a fourth-round pick, but they do have two in the fifth and two more in the sixth.