[PUBLISHER’S NOTE, MARCH 1, 2015: Former contributing writer Desmond Bailey wrote this story in 2014.]
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid are strong believers in building the foundation of a perennial championship contender through the draft.
Nov 16, 2013; Newark, DE, USA; Delaware defensive tackle Zach Kerr (94) closes in on Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss (3). Photo courtesy of Mark Campbell, UD Athletics Media Relations
Given their established history as shrewd evaluators, Dorsey and Reid will undoubtedly do their due diligence in mining talented prospects from lesser-known schools to bolster the roster.
Despite the Chiefs recent signing of free agent defensive linemen Vance Walker, the team still lacks depth on the defensive line. One versatile, small-school prospect who could pique their interest during May’s NFL Draft is former Delaware Blue Hens defensive tackle Zach Kerr.
The 6-foot-2, 326-pound Kerr was an All-American and two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association honoree at Delaware. During his senior season, Kerr compiled 57 tackles (28 solo, 5.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Kerr’s outstanding body of work earned him an invitation to showcase his talent in front of NFL scouts and team decision makers at the 2014 East-West Shrine Game. He viewed the week of practice leading to the game as an opportunity to dispel concerns about his ability to perform against a higher level of competition.
“I know one of my weaknesses that people talk about a lot is the level of competition I played against,” Kerr said during a recent phone interview, “So I just tried to do everything to the best of my ability in practice and in the game to show them that I can actually play with the big boys from the big-time programs.”
Based on an excerpt from the Shrine Game practice observations of Paul Guillemette, special scout for the Great Blue North Draft Report, Kerr was impressive while being instructed by former Chiefs defensive line coach Tim Krumrie:
“…I continue to be drawn to the smaller school guys and couldn’t keep my eyes off of the big energizer bunny, Zach Kerr of Delaware. Though lacking a bit in finesse, Kerr displays a high rev motor and great enthusiasm for the game. Krumrie calls him ‘Delaware’ and offers advice and encouragement constantly. In later scrimmage type work Kerr inflicted some big hits on blockers and ball carriers. He has a knack for pushing the middle right into the pocket. He’s not running anyone down from behind, but he will chase.”
Kerr followed his strong showing at the Shrine Game game with an impressive workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was officially timed at 5.08 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which bested all nose tackle prospects by at least two-tenths of a second.
“Kerr had a good combine,” Dan Shonka of Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services said in an email. “We graded him athletically ahead of (Arizona State DT) Will Sutton, (Florida State DT) Timmy Jernigan and (Louisiana Tech DT) Justin Ellis.”
Outside of the onfield drill work at the Combine, Kerr had a chance to speak with all 32 teams in attendance and they apparently came away impressed.
“They liked my motor and the passion I play with,” Kerr said. “They see that I’m a big guy that can move well for my size. A lot of them felt I could play anywhere on the defensive line. In fact, some weren’t sure where they’d put me. I credit that to my athletic ability and the different things I do well on the football field.”
Kerr’s combination of size, power and quickness indicate he’d be an ideal fit for the 3-4 nose tackle position where the Chiefs need quality depth behind starter Dontari Poe.
Fully aware of the Chiefs defensive scheme and personnel, Kerr is confident that it’s one in which he’d thrive at either nose tackle or defensive end.
“I’m definitely familiar with their 3-4,” Kerr proclaimed. “The big fellas up front are allowed to slant, shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. I love that type of defense because at the end of the day everybody is playing ball. I think I could play anywhere on that defensive line from the zero-technique to the five-technique and be successful.”
Eric Galko, director of scouting at OptimumScouting.com, feels Kerr’s skillset makes him an ideal fit for an aggressive 3-4 scheme.
“I think Kerr is a very strong lower-half and upper-half built nose tackle,” Galko explained in a phone interview. “He can take on blocks and hold the point of attack against double teams as well as get that initial upfield penetration if he has a one-on-one situation with a center.”
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, agrees with Galko and adds that Kerr gives teams options.
“He’s a strong guy and a pretty good athlete,” Rang said via phone interview. “He’s pretty light on his feet for a man of his size and strength. I think he’s scheme versatile and it’s that versatility that will intrigue every team in the league.”
Still, more important than a player’s mere physical gifts are his intangibles. Kerr feels his charismatic yet intense personality and approach to the game will suit him well at the next level.
“I really love the game and I bring that passion and effort to work every single day,” Kerr stated. “Whether it’s practice, film study, or lifting and running, I bring that intensity every day. I also hate to lose at anything – arguments, video games – I just hate losing. Lastly, I’m a leader both vocally during games and by example in the film room and practice.”
Nonetheless, despite Kerr’s glowing positives, there remains room for improvement.
“Professional players are going to be able to use his lack of leverage against him,” Rang said. “His brute power was such that he was able to dominate his opponents at Delaware. But without better technique, he’s going to get knocked off the ball by NFL players. That’s the biggest concern I have about him. I see it taking a year for him to get acclimated to the greater speed and technique of the NFL.”
Kerr knows his leverage and pad-level must remain an area of focus in his preparation for the pro game.
“Staying lower and using my hands more consistently is where I need to get better,” Kerr admitted. “Also becoming a better pass rusher and perfecting my pass rush moves. Overall, I feel like I’ve received some good coaching in previous years. But there are still things I need to work on, especially going to the next level because it’s a whole different animal playing there.”
As Kerr continues to ready himself for his Pro Day on March 18th, the scouting community seems mixed on where he will be selected in the draft.
While NFL.com and CBSSports.com predict Kerr coming off the board in the sixth or seventh round, OptimumScouting.com sees him being picked no later than the fifth.
“I know people that I spoke with at the Shrine Game definitely like him as a mid-round prospect,” Galko shared. “Nose tackles that don’t have motor or conditioning concerns are not easy to find. There’s not many guys that big who can move that well and can also play five-tech. I think overall, given his scheme versatility and starter potential, he’s going to be valued somewhere between the early third round and early fifth round as a prospect.”