6. Ramik Wilson/Justin March-Lillard – Inside Linebacker
First up on our list we have a pair of second year inside linebackers in Ramik Wilson and Justin March-Lillard. The Chiefs don’t really need both players to step up this season (although that would be great) but if the Chiefs want the kind of elite defense that wins Super Bowls they need someone playing next to Derrick Johnson that’s better than Josh Mauga. Mauga was better in 2015 than he was in 2014, but just about anything would have been better than that. The other problem with Mauga is that he offers little to know coverage ability and in today’s NFL that just doesn’t fly. It also means that Mauga always has to come off the field in the sub package. If the Chiefs can get one of these young linebackers to step up and unseat Mauga not only in the base defense but be able to contribute in coverage and possibly play some in the sub package it would be a huge boost to the KC defense.
These two young linebackers enter this competition from two very different places. Ramik Wilson was a fourth round draft pick last year out of Georgia. He was healthy last season and appeared in 10 games for KC. Justin March-Lillard was an undrafted rookie out of Akron who got hurt and missed the entire season. When you add to that the fact that March is undersized for most 3-4 ILBs at 6-foot-0 and 222 pounds (a good two inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Wilson is listed) and it would be easy to assume Wilson is the player with the best chance to unseat Mauga. That may not be the case though.
While Wilson has the size, the major college program pedigree, and the investment of a mid round draft pick it was March that seems to have put himself in position to win the spot. He was running ahead of Wilson by the end of training camp last year (before he got injured) and reportedly got some first team reps in OTAs last week. I remember watching March at training camp last year and being thoroughly impressed. He’s like a heat seeking missile against the run and has some natural coverage instincts as well. He’s one of the returning players I’m most excited to see in camp this year and if he (or Wilson) can take snaps away from Mauga and offer some coverage abilities in the process it will upgrade the Chiefs defense and put them in better shape in 2016.
Next up, the forgotten cornerback.
Next: Steven Nelson