Khalen Saunders embraces underdog mentality ahead of ‘junior’ season

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Khalen Saunders (99) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Khalen Saunders is ready to backflip into his third year in the NFL, but not literally.

The former third-round pick out of Western Illinois in 2019 is looking at the upcoming season as his junior year in the league.

“It’s been that way for me since middle school,” Saunders said. “Obviously sixth to eighth grade, exponentially better, freshman to senior year so that’s just how it goes. I think it’s a beautiful thing that the league is kind of set up that way too. You can come as a rookie and on a rookie contract is like four years just like college was.”

Saunders was placed on the injured reserve in 2020 when he dislocated his elbow and as he returns to full form, he says his confidence is growing.

“I don’t think the scheme is something I really struggled with. I’ve always been pretty good about learning and picking up a defense. Like you said it’s just about comfortability,” Saunders said. “I knew coming into this year that I kind of had to re-introduce myself as far as on the field and stuff like that so that’s just kind of been my focus this whole offseason and leading into this preseason.”

Saunders is approaching the season with an underdog mentality, something he is familiar with.

“I’m not trying to put any expectations on myself for anybody on me, but just coming from a smaller school in the first place, I’ve always kind of had to go above and beyond as opposed to the guys coming from the FBS schools,” Saunders said. “So, it’s nothing new to me. It’s familiar territory for me to be underrated and kind of just go out and prove what I already know myself to be, and what people want me to be.”

The 320-pound defensive tackle went viral coming out of college as he showed off his backflipping skills.

Saunders said we won’t be seeing him doing any backflips until his “senior” year when he will be playing for a contract.

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