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Chiefs Offseason Workouts Preview: Checking Out the Linebackers

Posted May 14, 2018

Here’s a look at the 13 linebackers participating in the Chiefs’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs)

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to have a new look at the linebacker position in 2018. 

For the first time in more than a decade, the Chiefs won’t have the franchise’s all-time leading tackler in Derrick Johnson roaming the middle of their defense, or Tamba Hali, who ranks second in franchise history with 89.5 career sacks, coming off the edge. 

Those duties are now handed over to a multitude of young talented players, who will try to carry on a rich tradition that goes back to the days of Pro Football Hall of Famers like Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell and Derrick Thomas. 

On the inside, it’ll be up to guys like third-year player Reggie Ragland, who is entering his second year with the team after coming over in a trade with the Buffalo Bills at the end of the preseason last year, and Anthony Hitchens, who was a priority free agent signing by Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach earlier this offseason.

Individually, Ragland graded as one of the Top 10 linebackers in the AFC last year against the run, per Pro Football Focus.

And Hitchens’ ability to stop the run was a reason he was such a coveted player by Veach and company this offseason.

The Chiefs also have second-year player Ukeme Eligwe, third-year player Terrance Smith, and a few new additions looking to add depth to the position with this year’s third-round pick Dorian O’Daniel, and a couple of priority college free agents in Ben Niemann (Iowa) and Raymond Davision (California)

On the outside, the Chiefs still possess one of the league’s elite edge rushers in Justin Houston, who ranked fourth in the league last year among 3-4 outside linebackers in pass rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus. He finished with 37 quarterback hurries and 9.5 sacks last year.

Along with Houston, the Chiefs head into the 2018 season with a hopefully-healthy Dee Ford, who missed all but six games last season with a back injury—just a year removed from a breakout season in which he finished with 10 sacks. He has said he’s healthy and ready to go, and Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach has repeatedly said he expects a big year from Ford. 

Joining those two will be Chiefs’ second-round pick from this past year, Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss), who will be used in a variety of ways like a pass-rushing chess piece. He’s big at 6-feet-3 and 285 pounds, and strong, and plays violently with an edge that fits the mold of the defense Veach said he was building this offseason.  

The Chiefs also return veteran Frank Zombo, who hasn’t missed a game in five years with the team and finished last year with 43 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Joining those guys are second-year player and last year’s second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon, who like Speaks, can be moved around and utilized to take advantage of his length and ability, and a number of other young players competing for roster spots.

Here’s a look at all of the linebackers set to compete for the Chiefs during OTAs this year:

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