Kansas City Chiefs’ Roster Review: Inside Linebacker
The offseason roster review for the Kansas City Chiefs settles on the linebacker spot today, specifically inside linebacker. We’ve already covered the entire offense, the defensive line and the secondary. Links to those posts are below. Let’s move ahead with the format followed in all other posts, to start with Kansas City’s starters and then see what their AFC West rivals have on hand.
The Chiefs’ primary defense is the 3-4, so they have two linebackers on the inside. Derrick Johnson is a top-caliber player, racking up 131 tackles to lead all AFC West linebackers. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. takes note of his tremendous athletic ability, but really zeroes in on his outstanding recognition of blocking schemes and the disciplined angles he takes to the ball. The 29-year old Johnson is both talented and fundamentally sound. Playing alongside him is 24-year old Jovan Belcher, who is a good supporting piece. He wins the scouts praise for his pursuit angles and coverage drops. Combined with position on the inside, it’s enough to make up for a lack of great range.
San Diego also runs the 3-4, and veteran Takeo Spikes is the anchor, posting 106 tackles at the age of 35. His primary strength is defending the run, which is fine at this position and his experience has offset any talent decline in the aging process. On the other side is Donald Butler, who completed a promising rookie season with 96 tackles, a stat that suggests he may be ready to assume Spikes’ role as the top dog when the time comes.
Denver and Oakland both play 4-3 schemes and as a result it’s difficult to draw precise comparisons between the Broncos’ Joe Mays & the Raiders’ Rolando McClain with their counterparts in Kansas City and San Diego. The linebackers playing in the 3-4 have the advantage in making tackles, since the whole premise of the 3-4 funnels plays to the second level. Consequently, neither Mays nor McClain broke 80 tackles this past season.
What we can say is that McClain is clearly the superior of the two 4-3 middle linebackers and we can at least be confident in saying he’d do very well in the 3-4. Scouts grade him just a notch behind Johnson, noting his excellent football instincts, sound technique and sure tackling. Mays is more of a stopgap player, who can defend the run at the point of attack, but has problems in space and in pass coverage.
Kansas City has good players at this spot who compare very favorably to their division rivals and neither one has hit 30. Looks like a good situation from this vantage point.