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KC_Guy

2020 KC Chiefs Roster Analysis - The Linebackers

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The final batch!

An Overview:

The Chiefs invested heavily into this unit in recent years. A big free agent signing in Hitchens, trades for Ragland and Lee, a draft pick in O'Daniel and Eligwe. However, the results did not really show so far. So it seems we will see another shake-up here - despite improved play towards the end of the season. This may even be more important if Jones walks or is traded off.

The Players:

Anthony Hitchens was the big acquistion here. A huge contract paired with high expectations. He badly disappointed early on but seemed to improve towards season's end. Most expected him to play outside, at least to me it came as a surprise when the Chiefs moved him to the inside. Looking back I just wonder if the outside would have been the better position for him with ...

Reggie Ragland manning the middle. His playing time was limited, and seemed to drop even further during the Super Bowl run. As a free agent I think there's a limited very limited possibility of him returning - and if so it better be in a backup role.

Damien Wilson may have been flying under the radar but I consider him one of the better acquisitions this year. He'll be back - and will probably man the stron side again.

Darron Lee was expected to be the coverage guy due to his speed. Well, that trade flopped mightly. He wasn't even an afterthought during the final weeks of the season.

Ben Niemann to the contrary earned more playing time on defense towards the end of the year. He may be someone to watch taking on a bigger role next year. At this stage of his career I consider him a suitable backup on the inside at minimum - if not more. 

Dorian O'Daniel entered the team with high expectations. His speed was considered a strength, especially in coverage. However, so far he didn't see much playing time on defense. He'd be an afterthought for the unit during offseason.

Darius Harris went on IR early on. As an unproven undrafted rookie last year .. well, he's probably a name on the roster for now. Same is true for Practice Squad player Emmanuel Smith.

Terrell Suggs as another big name signing for the final stretch should be out. He really helped, but is up there in age and nevertheless probably too pricey to keep during the regular season.

The Outlook:

I think we wil see significant change here. The only fix I see right now is Wilson at SLB. I don't expect Ragland, Lee, and Suggs to be back. (On second thought: each of them could net the team a comp pick in 2021 ...). Hitchens ... I'm not siure where to line him up to maximize his potential. Niemann could be an (not optimal) option in the middle.

What I would like to see here is someone who brings the same swagger to the unit the Honeybadger did to the DBs (or as DJ did a while ago). Someone to kick a*s*s. I don't think the team will be able to find a player like that in FA due to cap limitations. So this should be a high priority unit during the draft. I expect a pick somewhere between round 1 and 3.

How about something like:

WLB - Hitchens, O'Daniel
MLB - draft pick, Niemann
SLB - WilsonDar. Harris

?????

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We could benefit greatly from finding a starting quality MLB in the draft this year or next. Spotrac says Hitchens has 12M in dead cap this season and 8M next, so we're unfortunately stuck with that contract for 2 more years. Next year might be a better time to draft his replacement.

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Niemann is the thinking man's LB in the middle. He was excellent in the Super Bowl. Some here think we need to draft a starting LB. I don't.

Wilson, Niemann and Hichens will do well enough. O'Daniel will definitely be back. He and Niemann are anchors of the ST. If Niemann takes on a bigger role in the regular defense, Do'D will likely get more responsibility on ST. He may be on our roster for another decade. Ragland has value as a situational player and could be back if cheap. Lee, in contrast, looks toasty. 

Fortunately, history has shown that very good MLB are available on the second and third day. Look closely, but no rush.

J

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Posted (edited)

I liked Niemann. He's a lunchpail kinda guy. He really laid a lick on Garrapalo in the SB, under the helmet.  On the other hand, i'd be please if we drafted Zach Baun. I think our LB's could rally around him

Edited by mayanfootball

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It seems clear that the FO expects Willie Gay to step in and play. He brings the sort of pursuit speed the Chiefs have lacked since the heyday of Derrick Johnson.

For those that don't remember that far back, prior to DJ we sometimes referred to our LB corpse. We had a couple of marginal starting players, Scott Fujita and Kawika Mitchell, backed up by nothing. It was bad and things did not change overnight. DJ's speed and athleticism was felt as a rookie, tied for second on the team in tackles, but too many were from behind. He diidn't come into his own until his third year, when he had 4 sacks, 18 TFL and 2 Int for a bad team. 

So, while it looks like Gay will probably get starting minutes immediately, don't look for a big immediate impact. That said, the playoffs count as not immediate. Gay could be an important player in our defense of the title.

J

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I just wonder where he would play .. MLB or WLB (if there is a thing like that left). I'm not sure Hitchens is the best fit at MLB. Wilson I really can't imagine as anything else than SLB. Niemann played some decent ball towards the end of the season. DOD probably will have to continue making his life as a core ST player.

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I also want to see who plays what and when. Our most consistent LB was Wilson. He's the biggest and most physical of the bunch. Niemann came on late in the season and had a big run in the playoffs and an important QB hurry in the SB. Hitchens has the big contract and he was still playing starter snaps in the SB. There is no obvious hole, so what does give? 

J

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I think the ideal goal would be for him to wind up being the 3 down MLB. Maybe spelled occasionally by Niemann or Hitchens. I don't think Niemann is a guy you want getting consistent snaps long term, personally. He's just so....okay. I think he pulled snaps because he was less likely to get straight up torched in coverage than Hitchens or Ragland, but it isn't like he was particularly good at it. The drive that almost was before half started with a pass he allowed to Mostert in the superbowl. He still couldn't really handle RBs in coverage, and he was less useful at the point of attack than Ragland. I think Wilson is a perfect like 2 down SLB, and Hitchens is good in a part time WLB role as well. Any of them leave a lot to be desired as the main guy at MLB though, so I think that's the hope for Gay. Might be a slow transition though, just as you might want Niemann or Hitchens in to help with setting the D early on, unless that just goes to Mathieu. Can't remember fully how we ran that end of year last year.

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20 hours ago, onejayhawk said:

It seems clear that the FO expects Willie Gay to step in and play. He brings the sort of pursuit speed the Chiefs have lacked since the heyday of Derrick Johnson.

For those that don't remember that far back, prior to DJ we sometimes referred to our LB corpse. We had a couple of marginal starting players, Scott Fujita and Kawika Mitchell, backed up by nothing. It was bad and things did not change overnight. DJ's speed and athleticism was felt as a rookie, tied for second on the team in tackles, but too many were from behind. He diidn't come into his own until his third year, when he had 4 sacks, 18 TFL and 2 Int for a bad team. 

So, while it looks like Gay will probably get starting minutes immediately, don't look for a big immediate impact. That said, the playoffs count as not immediate. Gay could be an important player in our defense of the title.

J

Honestly, I'd argue it took even longer for DJ to become the DJ we remember. He was benched as late as year 5. The 4-3 to 3-4 transition set him back as he was starting to settle. I remember the week 17 game against Denver in his 5th year, feeling like that was the first time we really got the DJ we all saw on film in college. It was the most snaps he'd seen in awhile, after sitting behind Williams, Mays, and Belcher at various points in the year, and he just absolutely dominated that game. Just all over the field in pass coverage.

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There it is.

We may have something in Gay. His speed and pursuit ability will be felt this season. But, don't start building the defense around him yet. 

J

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I would guess Gay is the 3rd LB.  Whether he starts or not doesn’t matter as we run only 2 LB’s a good majority of the time.  Early downs we’d just run Hitchens and Wilson.   
 

I think Darius Harris eventually replaces Niemann as the guy who spells Hitchens in the 2 LB sets,  Gay or Harris both have the quickness we sorely lacked at LB last year.   DOD is going to have a pretty good battle to make the roster this year 

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Do'D will make the roster. He's too good at ST not to. Will he ever see non kicking plays is unclear.

Harris is a bit of an enigma. He was UDFA last year and they redshirted him. I haven't seen anything recent on his play weight and play speed. However, everything we said above about DJ goes in spades for Harris. Why, for example, would he be any better than Do'D turned out to be?

J

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Just a hunch,  imo DOD is the 6th LB and doesn’t have much value outside of ST’s.   Eric Murray was in a similar spot,  excellent ST’er but just got bypassed by too many who performed better on D.   
 

Spot on with Harris,  I just really liked his tape. Excellent feet and hips,  physical tackler, struggles mightily getting off blocks.  It’s all projection, but he skills no other guy on the roster has(sans Gay)

 

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Gay looks like he needs a lot of development. Very athletic though so House/Reid Jr. have a lot to work with there. Just Raw as Sushi.

I don’t think he sniffs the field outside of obvious passing plays and special teams to start out. And I don’t think he ever becomes a MLB. Good WLB or SLB I hope.
 

Hitchens/Niemann/Wilson is solid enough with our three great Nose Tackles up front.

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More on one of our favorite topics. There is a rumor floating that Do'D's time may be short. Part of that is the improved play of Daius Harris. Part of that is that Do'D is too much of a ST specialist, and we brought in a large raft of potential ST players with better upside. 

In any event, here is an article on how the LB corps breaks out in camp.
https://www.arrowheadpride.com/2020/7/28/21341183/chiefs-linebacker-preview-more-of-the-same-in-2020-but-change-coming-soon-nfl-willie-gay-jr

J

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