However, that’s exactly what Bleacher Report writer Ryan Fowler dubbed him on November 10, during an article highlighting the “most promising young building block” over the first half of the 2023 season for each team.
“The improvement shown from Leo Chenal from year one to year two has been fantastic,” Fowler explained. “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.”
The Bleacher Report analyst also noted running back Isiah Pacheco as a sort of honorable mention.
Chiefs LB Leo Chenal Has Improved in Almost Every Area in 2023
It’s nice to see Chenal get some recognition because he has had a really strong second season.
First off, he’s played more snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Chenal has already been on the field for 245 defensive snaps in 2023. He only logged 296 as a rookie.
More importantly, the third-round selection has improved in just about every area in year two.
Here are his PFF grades so far in 2023, compared to 2022:
- Rookie- 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).
Diving deeper into those statistics, Chenal has already more-than-doubled his amount of quarterback pressures (nine compared to four), lowered his missed tackle percentage (8.8% compared to 11.8%) and broken his rookie number of key defensive stops (17 compared to 16) over his first nine games.
As a run defender, Chenal has been phenomenal. His average depth of tackle is only 1.9 yards per stop in 2023, which ranks third on the team behind Chris Jones and Malik Herring — but keep in mind that linebackers typically have a higher average depth of tackle than linemen because of their position.
Obviously, Chenal ranks first for all Chiefs linebackers in this area.
The one aspect of the youngster’s game that still needs fine-tuning is his pass coverage. Chenal has allowed all 11 of his targets to be completed in 2023 according to PFF.
Having said that, his yards per reception has decreased a fair amount since his rookie year (from a 13.9-yard average to 9.3) and his NFL passer rating against has also lowered from 118.8 to 105.3.
Is Leo Chenal Being Groomed to Replace Willie Gay Jr.?
The only real concern would be his coverage ability.
As a third linebacker that mostly acts as a run defender, Chenal is perfect. As a starter that’s always on the field, he could be exposed on passing downs.
The Chiefs can get around that by subbing Chenal out for someone like Drue Tranquill on passing downs though — assuming he’s re-signed.
The point is that Kansas City may conclude that they can get by without Gay. They have more important needs next offseason, including extending Jones, finding a new left tackle and signing another wide receiver for Patrick Mahomes II.
With a deep linebacker room that already has plenty of youth, those factors — plus Chenal’s emergence — could all add up to Gay walking in NFL free agency. The first step is for the second-year linebacker to continue his ascendance over the second half of the 2023 campaign.