2017 NFL Draft Preview: The Case for an Inside Linebacker

Breaking down the Chiefs inside linebackers and looking at a handful of prospects

If you've been following mock drafts over the past several weeks, the most consistent position connected with the Kansas City Chiefs is inside linebacker.

That's what many experts believe the Chiefs will do with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round, which takes place Thursday, April 27, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Most of these analysts connect inside linebacker to the Chiefs because of the injuries sustained there last year, beginning with veteran Josh Mauga before the season even began, followed by his replacement, Justin March-Lillard, breaking his hand early in the season and finally with the season-ending injury to veteran Derrick Johnson.

While looking through these mock drafts and going through the exercise of familiarizing yourself with the available prospects, it's important to note the distinction between the two different positions on the inside at linebacker.

Generally speaking, there are two inside linebackers on the field in a 3-4 defense, and each carries their necessary skillset, and not every player can handle playing both of those spots and being interchangeable.

For example, Derrick Johnson and Ramik Wilson do not play the same position within the Chiefs' defense, even though they're both listed as inside linebackers.

Johnson plays on the weak-side, which requires a more athletic player who can chase down plays from the back side of a play. Wilson is on the strong-side of a formation and is generally asked to take on more blocks and is more of a "thumper," although it's special when a player can do both.

For example, both Mauga and second-year player Justin March-Lillard have spent time at both spots for the Chiefs over the past few years.

Here's a look at the current inside linebackers on the Chiefs' roster:

Kansas City Chiefs - Current Inside Linebackers

NAME

AGE

EXP

COLLEGE

Alexander, D.J.

25

2

Oregon State

Johnson, Derrick

34

12

Texas

March-Lillard, Justin

23

2

Akron

Smith, Terrance

23

R

Florida State

Wilson, Ramik

24

2

Georgia

  • Veteran Frank Zombo, who is predominantly an OLB, has also played on the inside
  • Victor Ochi (6'1", 242 pounds), who was signed off the Jets practice squad in January, hasn't yet been categorized by the Chiefs (ILB or OLB)

With those injuries, the Chiefs saw plenty of action from a couple of second-year players who stepped up in Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander, as well as undrafted rookie Terrance Smith.

Wilson, who began the season on the practice squad, stepped up and finished third on the team in tackles last year, including a career-high of 15 in the playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Alexander was named to the Pro Bowl as one of the league's elite special teams players. 

It's easy to see there's not a shortage of young talent at the spot, but Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey and his staff will need to determine if there's a need to add to a position that saw plenty of turnover last season with any of their 10 picks in this draft.

The Chiefs' Recent History Selecting Inside Linebackers

With both March-Lillard (2015) and Smith (2016) signing as undrafted college free agents in their respective years, Dorsey has selected just three inside linebackers in four drafts with the Chiefs.

Two of those three players are Wilson and Alexander, who helped lead one of the most impactful draft classes of any team in the NFL over the past couple of years (2015).

Here's a look at what Dorsey and company have done at inside linebacker.

Chiefs Draft History Under John Dorsey - Inside Linebackers

Year

Round

Pick

Player

Games

College

2015

4

118

22

2015

5

172

32

2013

4

99

18

The Best Linebackers Ever Drafted by the Chiefs (Pro Bowlers)

Pro Bowl LBs Drafted by Chiefs (Includes OLBs)

Year

Rnd

Pick

Player

Pro Bowls

College

1

4

9

7

56

9

2

50

8

1

6

5

1

20

5

3

70

4

1

15

4

3

21

4

4

98

1

2

35

1

2

47

1

5

172

1

What Do the Experts Think?

NFL Draft Experts Rank Their Top 5 Inside Linebackers in 2017 NFL Draft

Rank

1

Reuben Foster - Alabama

Reuben Foster - Alabama

Reuben Foster - Alabama

Reuben Foster - Alabama

Reuben Foster - Alabama

2

Haason Reddick - Temple

Raekwon McMillan - Ohio State

Haason Reddick - Temple

Haason Reddick - Temple

Jarrad Davis - Florida

3

Jarrad Davis - Florida

Jarrad Davis - Florida

Jarrad Davis - Florida

Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt

Raekwon McMillan - Ohio State

4

Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt

Kendell Beckwith - LSU

Raekwon McMillan - Ohio State

Jarrad Davis - Florida

Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt

5

Alex Anzalone - Florida

Anthony Walker - Northwestern

Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt

Raekwon McMillan - Ohio State

Kendell Beckwith - LSU

Foster, who is considered the top available inside linebacker in this draft, is thought to be long gone by the time the Chiefs select at No. 27 overall.

Reddick has a phenomenal story and has a connection with Chiefs defensive line coach Britt Reid, who spent a year (2012) with him at Temple.

Cunningham has been one of the most popular players mocked to the Chiefs since January.  

Five More Intriguing Prospects You Should Know

The players in the chart above are considered the best in this year's class by those analysts, but here are a few other names to keep in mind as the draft draws closer:

(Analysis via NFL.com's draft profiles, click name to see full scouting report)

[Northwestern's Anthony Walker Jr.](http://www.nfl.com/combine/profiles/Anthony-Walker Jr.?id=2558015) (6'1", 238 pounds)

"Has packed muscle onto his frame that looks good in the uniform but might be limiting his flexibility and athletic ability. A productive, downhill linebacker who misses too many tackles and struggles as a take-on player. He checks all the desired boxes for football and personal character and can be counted on to do what it takes to improve his game. He could become a decent starting linebacker within his first few years."

Lot of talk about the ILBs at the top of this draft, here's a look at Northwestern's Anthony Walker Jr., who is projected as mid-round pick. pic.twitter.com/wl112lSSZc — BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) March 29, 2017

LSU's Kendell Beckwith (6'2", 243 pounds)

"Productive full-time starter over last two and a half seasons on talented LSU defenses. Has the size and spirit to play for teams expecting physicality from their inside linebacker, but his game comes with some athletic and coverage limitations. Before his injury, he could have come off the board on Day 2 but may see his stock fall into the third day now. He has starter's ability when healthy."

Lindenwood's Connor Harris (5'11", 242 pounds)

"Rock 'em, sock 'em linebacker with an inextinguishable motor and the instant quickness and burst to thrust himself into tackle after tackle. Harris is a willing chance-taker who fires downhill and into creases looking to make the impact play, but his lack of length and straight-line style of play could limit his effectiveness on the next level. With his instincts, quickness, and nose for the ball as a tackler, Harris should find a spot on the linebacker depth chart and has a chance to be a kick-coverage winner."

Tennessee's Jalen-Reeves Maybin (6'0", 230 pounds)

"Early responder after the snap. Loves to play downhill and will not hesitate to take a chance and shoot a gap. Uniquely instinctive. Easy, fluid chaser with desired flexibility in lower body for sudden change of direction. Runs well and can chase in coverage. Has burst to ball carrier as tackler. Productive special-teams tackler…In a vacuum, he has the instincts, athletic ability and cover talent of a starting, three-down linebacker. If he regains full health, he could be a steal, but he might need another year of rehab work and working with strength coaches to bulk up to NFL standards."

Here's another one in Tennessee's Jalen Reeves-Maybin (6'0", 230 pounds), who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. pic.twitter.com/DKpLPQqqJc — BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) March 29, 2017

Florida's Alex Anzalone (6'3", 241 pounds)

"Anzalone's size, speed, and athleticism will be tempting for teams looking for a linebacker who can play all three spots. However, concerns about his durability could cause some teams to shy away from him on the first two days of the draft. If he can stay healthy, he has the talent to become a solid three-down starter in the league."

Why Adding a (position) Makes Sense for the Chiefs:

The Chiefs have young talent on the roster at inside linebacker, which can be lost upon some of the members of the national media when they're putting together their mock drafts.

That said, there were plenty of injuries to that spot last year and the unquestioned leader of that group, Derrick Johnson, will turn 35 years old next season

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