The Kansas City Chiefs have built an AFC powerhouse, drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and assembled an electric offense with the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Derrick Nnadi landed in Kansas City at just the right time.
A star at Florida State from 2014-17, Nnadi is in his third NFL season and is looking to claim back-to-back Super Bowl titles with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
“It’s really crazy,” Nnadi said in a Super Bowl conference call via Zoom with reporters on Thursday. “Honestly, I didn’t think my first three years would be like this. It was just to keep working and things will come out the way they are depending on how much work you put into it. And being with the type of guys that are in our corner, the type of guys that are on this team, the type of attitude, the type of mindset we go into practice, things just came out the way they are supposed to.”
Nnadi arrived at FSU as a four-star prospect from Virginia Beach, Va., one of the prized pieces of a signing class and continuing the Seminoles’ run in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. He had 165 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks with the Seminoles.
He credits longtime FSU defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins for helping refine his technique and helping him develop into the Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2018.
“A lot of props goes to my D-line coach, Coach Odell Haggins,” Nnadi said. “Him playing in the league and him being also the toughest coach I have ever met, honestly. He really pushed me, from my rookie year all the way to my senior year. It took me a couple years to really click, all the things he was doing making sense.”
Nnadi saw some playing time in his freshman year, recording 18 tackles, but he became a fixture on the interior of the defensive line and made the All-ACC team in 2015-17. In his junior and senior seasons, he combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
“From my first day there he always had me stuck on just following the technique because your techniques are really going to help you play in the league for a longer time. You can play well with just raw talent, but it’s that technique that makes sure everything stays fine. A lot of props to him. He kind of helped mold me into the player I am today.”
Nnadi is taking on the form of a defensive tackle who could be a big part of the Chiefs for years to come. While he has just one career sack, Nnadi has 130 tackles and has proven to be an effective run-stopper in his three seasons.
Most defensive players will say stopping the run and making an offense one-dimensional is a critical piece to victory. Nnadi is no different.
“Every type of team, if they can’t stop the run, it really takes a punch in the gut for the whole game plan,” Nnadi said. “And if I stop (the run) then that’s one more step to victory.”
The Chiefs defeated the Bucs 27-24 on Nov. 29 in the regular season but rematches are always intriguing for the adjustments each coaching staff could make. And the Chiefs will again be facing one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, Tom Brady.
“You know he’s studying every single thing, especially our last game,” Nnadi said. “He’s going to try to key in to pretty much anything he can get advantage of. It will be difficult trying to fool the goat. It’s Tom Brady. We just going have to stay on our P’s and Q’s. Stop the run. Let the pass rush rush the passer.”
Off the field, Nnadi has settled into the Kansas City community and given back through the Derrick Nnadi Foundation. He is the proud owner of two dogs, one of which, Rocky, he got when he was at FSU. When the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in Feb. 2020, Nnadi paid for the adoption fees for more than 100 dogs in Kansas City. He’s not hinting at what he will do if the Chiefs win again but his passion for dogs is to give them a home and provide happiness for those who adopt as well as their new additions.
“I’ve always been a dog person,” Nnadi said. “When I got into college, I got my first dog, Rocky, and I kind of kept him hidden from my parents. Every time they came to visit, my mom was scared of dogs. My dad didn’t care for them. Initially, when I first got him, it taught me responsibility. It helped me have a schedule and helped me make sure everything is staying on task with everything I had going on in college. And it carried on to me in the NFL right now.
“Just having a dog, a pet, it kind of gives you someone to bond with. As soon as I park my car I can hear them barking, excited to see me. It’s just having that partner in crime that’s going to be there for you through good times and bad.”