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Pre-Camp Breakdown: Examining the Chiefs Linebackers

The Chiefs currently have nine linebackers on the roster heading into training camp

The Kansas City Chiefs are set to kick off training camp in less than a month, and with the annual trek to St. Joseph nearly here, we're going to spend the next few weeks examining every position group on the roster heading into camp.

Here's a look at what we've covered so far: QB | RB | TE

We'll continue with the linebackers, where the Chiefs currently employ nine players. Let's take a look at each, beginning with last year's starters in Nick Bolton, Drue Tranquill and Leo Chenal. The rest of the Chiefs' linebackers are then listed alphabetically.

Nick Bolton

The signal caller of the league's No. 2 scoring defense in 2023, Bolton recorded 60 tackles, three passes defensed and an interception in eight games last season. The former second-round pick missed significant time during the middle of the year due to injuries, but he returned late in the season and managed to record double-digit tackles in three of the Chiefs' four playoff games.

Prior to his injury-shortened season last year, Bolton tallied back-to-back campaigns with triple-digit tackle totals, including a 180-tackle performance in 2022.

At just 24 years old, Bolton is already a two-time Super Bowl champion and one of the many reasons the Chiefs are projected to field a top-flight defense in 2024.

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (32) at practice during day 1 of minicamp on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in Kansas City, MO.

Drue Tranquill

Tranquill re-signed with Kansas City on March 14 after appearing in 16 regular-season games for the Chiefs last year, tallying 79 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He was versatile, too, lining up at multiple spots over the course of the year. In fact, Tranquill took over as the Chiefs' defensive signal-caller when fellow linebacker Nick Bolton missed a handful of games due to injury mid-season.

The five-year veteran was a major component of a Chiefs' defense that yielded the second-fewest points in the league last year, and after a season to remember in 2023, Tranquill will return for Kansas City's title-defense campaign.

Leo Chenal

The Chiefs' top-graded linebacker by Pro Football Focus last season, Chenal recorded 65 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a pass defensed in 17 regular-season games last year. Additionally, his 15 pressures as a pass-rusher trailed only Drue Tranquill (18) among Chiefs' linebackers.

Chenal lined up along the line of scrimmage on 144 of 466 defensive snaps last season – leading all Chiefs' linebackers in that category – where he was particularly effective in short-yardage and pass-rushing situations. He was also a major contributor on special teams, logging the third-most special teams' snaps (306) of any member of the squad.

Now entering his third year as a professional, Chenal will have an opportunity to take on an even larger role in 2024.

Swayze Bozeman

The 6-foot-1, 224-pound Bozeman signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent this past spring after tallying 168 tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in 32 career games at Southern Miss between 2019 and 2023.

Prior to joining the Golden Eagles, Bozeman starred for two seasons at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi.

Jack Cochrane

A prime example of how undrafted free agents can carve out a role despite their humble beginnings, Cochrane – a rookie free agent signee in 2022 – has appeared in 32 games for the Chiefs over the past two seasons. He led the Chiefs in special teams' snaps in 2023 (336) while also contributing double-digit defensive snaps in four games, logging 28 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a pass defensed.

Cochrane also matched the team-lead with 85 special teams' snaps during the postseason.

Cole Christiansen

Christiansen, who originally signed with the Chiefs' practice squad in early September of the 2022 season, has appeared in three games for Kansas City over the past two years. He tallied two appearances last season – playing exclusively on special teams – and also took the field for three of the Chiefs' four postseason games. In fact, Christiansen – along with fellow linebacker Leo Chenal – was credited with stopping a fake punt attempt by the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The 26-year-old linebacker appeared in seven games for the Los Angeles Chargers between the 2020-21 seasons before signing with Kansas City.

Curtis Jacobs

Jacobs – who signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent – was a stalwart on Penn State's defense over the last four seasons, appearing in 45 games with 36 starts. He logged at least 45 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks in each of the last three seasons. He was also a core special teamer for the Nittany Lions, recording 337 special teams snaps over the last three years.

The No. 10 overall linebacker in this year's class according to The Athletic's Dane Brugler, Jacobs was projected in Brugler's draft guide to be a fifth-round selection. Here's more on Jacobs from Brugler's scouting report:

"Jacobs has subpackage value and will earn an immediate role on special-teams coverages."

Cam Jones

Jones is back for his second season with the Chiefs after appearing in all 17 regular-season games last year. Jones was a core contributor on special teams throughout the campaign, logging the fifth-most special teams' snaps of any Chiefs player with 289. He also earned an opportunity to show what he could do defensively in Week 18, when he recorded 79 defensive snaps against Los Angeles and tallied a team-most 12 total tackles.

Prior to joining the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent last year, Jones was the No. 15 overall linebacker in the 2022 draft class according to The Athletic's Dane Brugler. He projected Jones to be selected in the fifth or sixth round in his pre-draft guide, writing the following:

"Overall, Jones' take-on and shed skills require further maintenance, but his instincts and short-area quicks lead him to the football, where he looks to create violent collisions as a tackler. He is a ready-made special teamer with the talent to inch his way up the linebacker depth chart."

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound linebacker racked up 208 tackles, 13.5 tackles-for-loss, 11 passes defensed, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and two interceptions in 47 career games (23 starts) at Indiana from 2018-22. He also played on kick and punt return coverage in all five of his seasons.

Additionally, Brugler wrote that Jones was on his way to a career year in 2022 before suffering a season-ending foot injury midway through the campaign. Prior to the injury, he was leading the Big Ten in tackles-per-game (10.8) through five contests.

Luquay Washington

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Washington – another undrafted free agent signee – recorded 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two pass-breakups and an interception in seven games at Central Connecticut State last season.

He tallied 37 appearances in his career from 2019 though 2023, recording 110 total tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs kept six linebackers for Week 1 last season after keeping just four in 2022 and five in both 2021 and 2020. Notably, five of the six linebackers who made the team last year are still with Kansas City in Nick Bolton, Drue Tranquill, Leo Chenal, Jack Cochrane and Cam Jones.

So, even if all five of those players make the roster in 2024, it's possible that at least one spot could be available between Christiansen, Jacobs, Bozeman and Washington depending on how the Chiefs want to construct their roster.

Additionally, one thing to keep in mind is with the new kickoff format debuting this season, the skillset associated with linebackers could be in even higher demand in 2024. That means the historical precedent of Week 1 position group counts, which is typically a good indicator of what the Chiefs will do from season to season, may be outdated. So, it will be up to the six players behind Bolton, Tranquill and Chenal to demonstrate their worth on special teams – in addition to the defense – as they realistically battle for two to even four spots on the regular-season roster.