24-year-old Ole Miss football alumnus Breeland Speaks enters his third year with Kansas City needing to prove his worth in the National Football League. Selected with No. 46 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jackson, Miss. native saw his name called after the Chiefs traded up in the second round to make the pick.
While in Oxford, Speaks was used in a variety of unique ways on defense. Ole Miss used him on the edge, on the interior and off the ball. You name it, he did it, which was really rather bizarre.
I mean, this is just weird usage of a dude with Speaks' size and lack of lateral agility. But you can see he's strong as an ox and can get off blocks (but does he ID where the ball is at the same time, is the question) pic.twitter.com/THIK7ZKatE— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 28, 2018
Even with the ineptitude of defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff calling the shots, Speaks made quite a mark during his four years in Oxford after being recruited as a consensus four-star defensive lineman. He redshirted in 2014, played a prominent role in a dominant 2015 Landshark group, led the team with eight quarterback hurries in 2016 and exploded into a chaos creator in the trenches. In his redshirt junior, and final season, he ranked second on the team in with 67 tackles and seven sacks, earning him second team all-SEC honors from the Associated Press. Those unfamiliar with his in-game prowess may remember him most as an internet sensation for waving at Dan Mullen after recovering a fumble during the Egg Bowl.
Breeland Speaks recovered a fumble, and says “hi.” pic.twitter.com/Ee4i7Pb0wM— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 24, 2017
His 2017 season was only an inclination of the college player he could have been, should Speaks had decided to stay for his final year of eligibility, but he didn’t need to. The tape spoke for itself.
Where Speaks really made his mark as a Rebel was with his raw physicality. At 6-foot-3, 283 pounds, he played with an easy upper-body strength that allowed him to make offensive linemen pay when they didn’t get set. If he couldn’t beat the protection with a pass rush move, he would just power past them and violently rip his hands through.
Speaks reminds me in one way of Houston: he's unnaturally strong. When he gets OL to half a man he's able to run right through them. pic.twitter.com/47Rp66QCqd— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 28, 2018
He was great at shedding blocks, consistently won hand fights by outmuscling his opponent, and leveraged himself into situations where offensive linemen had to over-commit to avoid being run over. Because of the athleticism that compliments his frame and brute strength, he has an uncanny ability to keep on his feet, fluid body control and a great “feel” for the game. Speaks coupled his on-field performance with a solid combine, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. called him “the most underrated defensive player” in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Chiefs bought into the untapped potential and drafted him with the intent to move him to linebacker. He stepped into a crowded defense with a learning curve at a new position and didn’t blossom into a phenom as a rookie. Even still, Speaks still recorded 24 tackles, 1.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits in a rotational role that saw him make four starts in 16 game appearances.
He also recreated his viral fumble recovery celebration.
Clutch play alert.— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 28, 2018
Dee Ford strip sack, Breeland Speaks fumble recovery. pic.twitter.com/vVqvEw1T7K
As year two rolled around, Kansas City believed he would be more valuable in a natural fit position and looked to move him back to the line as a hybrid edge rusher and interior defensive lineman. Speaks showed up to OTAs looking out of shape in 2019 and was criticized by many for not being ready to compete.
Unfortunately, his season was shut down before it began, as Speaks suffered a sprained MCL and a meniscus injury in the preseason that required surgery and put him on the Injured Reserve list for the entire Super Bowl championship season.
The 2020 season will be Speaks’ third year in the NFL, which is a make or break year in general. For him, the expectations for performance are even further elevated. The former Rebel spent the offseason rehabbing his injury and worked with former Vaught-Hemingway Stadium counterpart Isaac Gross.
The Chiefs front office and defensive line coach Brendan Daly have been vocal about how impressed they have been with Speaks’ rehabilitation circuit, and the results speak for themselves. The difference in his physical appearance from OTAs 2019 and his arrival this month in 2020 is astounding, and he looks to be in the best shape of his career.
Should his preparation breed results, Speaks is poised to become a crucial part in the future of the Kansas City defensive front. He played out of position in 2018, and lost the season in 2019, so the league hasn’t even seen him at his best. The defensive line unit was one of the deepest and most talented during the team’s run a year ago. Much of the group remains in tact for 2020, but the team’s rising defensive tackle Chris Jones has threatened to hold out for the year if his contract is not restructured.
Speaks enters the year without a true position and a lot of versatility that will prove valuable if Jones holds out or as a important cog with depth across the line. He could move to the middle and play defensive tackle behind Derrick Nnadi, play along the left side with Emmanuel Ogbah and contribute in the pass rush, or hold down the right side as Frank Clark’s understudy.
The options are endless with an athlete like Speaks, especially if he is as physically fit as the OTA reports show. While clock is ticking and expectations are heightened, he doesn’t need to become a Pro Bowl player this fall. If he can prove capable in the defensive line rotation and play a prominent role of providing depth at multiple positions, Speaks has the talent to rise to the top with time.