It would be a complete surprise if the Chiefs linebackers don’t improve in 2019. Well, not completely. It would just be a major blow to expectations and what we have seen so far in the preseason. Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland are both looking for major rebounds. Both linebackers struggled to run downhill, and were blown backwards. We also saw plenty of missed tackles. It’s time for the Chiefs to see some differences made by the linebackers.
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Linebackers on the current roster: Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Damien Wilson, Darron Lee, Ben Niemann, Jeremiah Attaochu, Dorian O’Daniel, Raymond Davison, D’Juan Hines
Rags To Hitches
As mentioned above, both Hitchens and Ragland need to step up for the Chiefs. You can’t judge preseason results. However, both Chiefs linebackers seem a lot quicker and less confused by scheme. In particular, Ragland is playing the fastest I have ever seen him play in a Chiefs uniform. Hitchens was a downhill thumper during his time with the Cowboys. He rarely missed a tackle there, so it was disappointing to see his campaign last year. He looks to be back to playing that thumping kind of style, and Hitchens is also anxious to run downhill.
In the preseason, Ragland has even been used on the edge. I think this is encouraging to see from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The fact players are being given the chance to be interchangeable and try different roles could be beneficial. I think many that watch the Chiefs hope the amount of coverage these two play will be rare. Ragland picked off a few passes last year, but I’m still skeptical about giving either guy too many reps in obvious passing situations.
The depth seems to be greater behind Hitchens and Ragland entering this season. Additions like Darron Lee, Damien Wilson and Jeremiah Attaochu are nice, subtle moves for this defense. Wilson comes over from the Cowboys via free agency. So far in his career, he has had a slim role. Where he shines though, is in coverage. Wilson moves impressively in space. This is especially true, given his size.
Lee may be one of my favorite additions to the defense. General manager Brett Veach loves to take fliers on former top draft picks. That’s the case here, as a new regime for the New York Jets simply didn’t care to retain Lee for this season. Lee has had a ton of tackles so far in the preseason. He is yet another guy who is important in the open field, using the speed to his advantage. Lee provides a strength to cover or run sideline to sideline.
Attaochu is a fringe player. I do think he makes the team, but the role for him seems less clear. At this point, Attaochu is being used more as a down linemen when rotating in. He can provide quickness off the edge. More importantly, his run defense could be a sneaky surprise for this team.
Finally, I believe the other two roster spots will be filled by Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel. Both experienced late season surges in depth roles last year. Niemann is a natural middle linebacker. He can run downhill and play the run, or Niemann has the awareness to play fast and cover.
Meanwhile, O’Daniel looked a bit bigger at training camp this year. He seems to be struggling to adjust to the new scheme. There just has not been too many reps in the preseason where O’Daniel has jumped off the screen. He can still play a linebacker/safety hybrid role, but the tackling still needs to improve. Despite the slow start, I would be surprised if he didn’t make the roster.
Final Depth Chart:
OLB: 1) Anthony Hitchens 2) Darron Lee 3) Dorian O’Daniel
MLB: 1) Reggie Ragland 2) Ben Niemann
OLB: 1) Damien Wilson 2) Jeremiah Attaochu
That will conclude our roster predictions for the Chiefs linebackers. Next time, we will take a look at the Chiefs cornerbacks. For now, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage for more great sports and NFL content.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.