The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019 but showed glaring weaknesses on defense. They made a significant addition in the draft that should make an instant impact.
The 2020 draft has come and gone and there were some significant selections made. There were numerous IDP selections in the first round but the biggest producer may have been selected in the second round, 63rd overall. The Chiefs traded up to pick 63 to select linebacker Willie Gay Jr. The Chiefs showed that their linebacker corps was incredibly susceptible in coverage and Gay Jr. fills a glaring need.
Willie Gay Jr. Stats: 28 games, 99 tackles (46 solo), 11 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 4 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown
From a statistical standpoint, Willie Gay Jr. underwhelmed as a player. He never held down a starting role and his numbers were never eye-popping. What he did do was show his elite potential in quick glimpses. It was these glimpses that made Gay Jr. such an intriguing prospect.
Willie Gay Jr. was a top 50 recruit coming out of high school and led his team to a state championship. In order to stay close to home, Gay Jr. committed to his hometown college Mississippi St. As a freshman he played sparingly coming up with 23 total tackles, 2 for a loss, and a sack. It was not until his sophomore year where we saw the true 3 down potential from Willie Gay Jr. During his sophomore season he totaled 48 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass defended, and 2 interceptions. All this was done while playing in a reserve role, only making six starts. Every time Gay Jr. was on the field his name was around the ball. His 5 sacks and 2 interceptions showed a great ability to blitz while also dropping in coverage with great instincts.
His junior year followed with great disappointment. Gay Jr. was limited to just 5 games due to NCAA violations in regards to a tutor. In those 5 games, he posted 28 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 1 pass defended, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown. Some may see this as a character concern but it was purely academic-based which to me is not a knock on his character. Here is a highlight reel of Gay Jr.’s of the type of plays he made during his college career:
Willie Gay Jr. is going to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year 🏆🔥 pic.twitter.com/VSbbvYqGUc
— Chiefs Highlights (@ChiefsHighlight) April 29, 2020
What Willie Gay Jr. Does Well
Willie Gay Jr. is a true sideline to sideline 3-down linebacker. As a tackler Gay Jr. plays downhill with true ferocity. He does a great job of making tackles through contact and plays with incredible balance. He is incredibly rangy and can cover a lot of space. His first step is explosive and gets outside quickly, not allowing running backs to get the corner. Watch him get to the running back in the backfield here:
Welcome to the Kingdom, Willie Gay Jr.! 😈
— Chiefs Daily (@chiefsdaily15) April 25, 2020
Gay Jr. shows great short-area quickness and great fluidity in his frame that aids him in man coverage on tight ends and running backs. He has shown a keen ability to mirror better than many linebackers that came out in 2020. His short-area quickness is also shown in his zone coverage ability. He reads quarterback’s eyes well and makes quick breaks on the football. Watch him jump the route here to come up with the pick-six:
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) April 25, 2020
Willie Gay Jr. is an incredibly urgent player and is super athletic. His scouting combine numbers were outrageous where he posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, 21 bench press reps, 39.5-inch vertical jump, 136-inch broad jump, 7.08 second 3 cone drill and a 4.3-second 20-yard shuttle. He has ideal traits to excel in coverage and fits today’s NFL perfectly.
What Willie Gay Jr. Needs To Work On
His character concerns will always come into question having served multiple suspensions. Due to these suspensions, he has a lack of production in his career. You love his aggressiveness but it gets him into trouble at times where he is caught in over pursuit of the ball carrier. His mental processing is not the greatest and takes poor angles to the football, though his athleticism usually masks it.
Where Willie Gay Jr. Fits In Kansas City
The Chiefs sport a very thin and one-dimensional linebacker corps. Before the 2020 draft, they put out a combination of Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Reggie Ragland. All of those guys were good in run defense but none of them showed any bit of ability in coverage. All three linebackers were a liability and forced the Chiefs into sets with extra defensive backs. Willie Gay Jr. provides the Chiefs with the sort of athletic side to side, a multi-dimensional linebacker that they are lacking. Gay Jr. comes into the season as the team’s most athletic linebacker and best coverage linebacker from day 1. It may take a couple of games for him to take over the starting role but his athleticism and versatility are too great for him to play a reserve role for long. The Chiefs traded up and spend a 2nd round pick on an inside linebacker.
The Chiefs were Super Bowl champions but still showed holes that they needed to fill, most noticeably on defense. The linebacker position was a glaring weakness for the team and they addressed this with a strong choice in the draft. Willie Gay Jr. was quiet during his time at Mississippi St. though it was not due to skill level, but because of suspension. Gay Jr. instantly becomes the Chiefs’ most versatile linebacker and should be thrust into a starting role in no time.
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