The Kansas City Chiefs ended the month of December 2019 with an unblemished 5-0 record, outscoring their opponents 143-52. While the final month of the regular season was beneficial in the win column, the team suffered two significant losses on defense. In Week 17, rookie safety Juan Thornhill suffered a non-contact knee injury in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers, later confirmed to be a season-ending torn ACL diagnosis. Two weeks earlier versus the Denver Broncos, DE Alex Okafor suffered a torn pectoral muscle that cut his first season with the Chiefs short.
While speaking to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach provided some promising updates on the progress of both Thornhill and Okafor.
The 24-year-old safety underwent surgery to repair his knee on January 14, about two weeks after the devastating injury occurred. While an exact date of return remains an unknown right now, the team is expecting their 2019 PFWA All-Rookie selection to be ready to play in the first meaningful game of 2020.
Last year, Chiefs players were required to report to training camp between July 23-26. Assuming the 2020 timeline remains in close proximity, that gives Thornhill six-plus months of recovery time. In the unlikely event that he is ready to go on day one of camp, Kansas City will have the option to place the 2019 second-round pick on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and activate him on a better timeline further into August.
Alex Okafor Progressing Ahead of Thornhill
On Tuesday, Veach acknowledged that Okafor, who suffered his season-ending pectoral injury two weeks prior to Thornhill going down, is also progressing well and remains ahead of the safety’s current recovery timeline.
The recently turned 29-year-old was having a revival season in 2019. Starting opposite of DE Frank Clark, Okafor posted 22 total tackles and 5.0 sacks in 10 games – his highest total since posting 8.0 sacks in his second NFL season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.
In a February 21 interview with KVUE in Austin, Texas, the seventh-year defensive end confirmed his playing status for the upcoming 2020 season.
“I don’t have a timeline, but I’ll definitely be ready by next season,” Okafor said. “I mean, I won’t have any setbacks.”
Okafor, who signed a three-year, $17.9 million contract with the Chiefs last March, remains under team control for two more seasons. The former fourth-round pick carries respective salary cap hits of $6.9 million and $7.8 million in 2020 and 2021. With fellow edge defenders Emmanuel Ogbah and Terrell Suggs scheduled to hit the free agent market on March 18, Okafor could once again be counted on to fill a large role along Kansas City’s front line.
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