Kansas City is entering crunch time to decide who makes the roster for opening day. That means more projections, and this time we will take a look at the Chiefs linebackers. Let’s get it started.
Linebackers on the current roster: Justin Houston, Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens, Dee Ford, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Breeland Speaks, Frank Zombo, Ukeme Eligwe, Terrance Smith, Dorian O’Daniel, Ben Niemann, Robert McCray, Raymond Davison, Otha Peters
The Chiefs made plenty of moves to get younger and faster for the future. In keeping with that, Kansas City released longtime veteran Derrick Johnson in the offseason. Now, the Chiefs are looking to change the perception of their run defense with sure tacklers and new leaders.
Houston is coming off one of his most healthy seasons in a long time. His production in the pass rush is going to be huge for the Chiefs. Houston once had a campaign where he generated 22 total sacks, and it seems like that has been forever ago. Houston also does so many other things in Bob Sutton‘s defense though, like dropping into coverage more than other pass rushers. Therefore, a sack total like that may be near impossible to reach ever again.
In the middle with the duo of Ragland and Hitchens, the run defense already seems significantly improved. Ragland showed what he had last season, his first as a Chief, ensuring that his pursuit and ability to fill every hole up the middle was as good as advertised. Ragland arguably had one of the better late-season surges of anyone on the Chiefs defense in the second half of last season.
Anthony Hitchens was signed by the Chiefs this offseason, and he’s a guy that general manager Brett Veach was high on prior to last season. Veach had Hitchens at the top of his list for offseason acquisitions and a deal got done quickly for both sides. Hitchens played a bunch of different positions for the Dallas Cowboys and showed that he doesn’t let many runners get by. Hitchens will have to do a good job of communicating in a defense like Sutton’s, but that is something that can be improved on as the season rolls on.
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The fourth starting linebacker spot could likely be more of a constant rotation, rather than a spot locked down by one guy. Dee Ford is entering a make or break season and has to perform well as the season goes on. Ford would be the other starter on the edge, opposite of Houston right now, but other pass rushers are right on his tail.
This includes Kansas City’s top draft choice, Breeland Speaks, along with Tanoh Kpassagnon. One thing Andy Reid said that he wanted to see develop in camp was better pass rush moves by Speaks. Speaks has had a so-so run at that in preseason games. But his ability to force quarterbacks to step up in the pocket can be something to look towards right now. Speaks is a raw athlete and the pass rush will be a constant development this season.
Kpassagnon may be one of the best-built athletes in the league. He will likely get a lot more reps this season, due to the amount of positional rotation. Kpassagnon has nice speed for his size. If he is able to find a way to make plays consistently, then the Chiefs should be in good shape.
The other role players that I see making the roster are Ukeme Eligwe, Dorian O’Daniel and Ben Niemann. Both Eligwe and O’Daniel can help tremendously in special teams and pass defense. Niemann has performed unbelievably well after signing with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. He can provide stability at both inside and outside linebacker, as well. I also believe that veterans like Frank Zombo and Terrance Smith will simply be either cap casualties or won’t be placed above these three.
Final depth chart:
ROLB: 1) Dee Ford 2) Tanoh Kpassagnon
RILB: 1) Reggie Ragland 2) Ukeme Eligwe 3) Ben Niemann
LILB: 1) Anthony Hitchens 2) Dorian O’Daniel
LOLB: 1) Justin Houston 2) Breeland Speaks
Thank you for reading this article on the Kansas City linebacking corps. With the season approaching, it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs linebackers will perform. You can follow along all year at Going for 2.