Breeland Speaks, Allen Bailey and a confusing defensive experiment for the Chiefs

The implementation of Breeland Speaks and Allen Bailey along the Kansas City Chiefs defensive front has created a confusing situation.

Breeland Speaks is an imposing figure.

At 6’3, 283 lbs., Speaks is a beast of a man who played all over the defensive front for Ole Miss prior to 2018, switching from defensive tackle to end over his years as a starter for the Rebels. In his final season, he finished with 7 sacks in 11 games and was named second-team All-SEC.

When selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, however, the Kansas City Chiefs made it clear they had a plan for Speaks to play as a heavy edge—that Speaks was capable of playing immediately in the NFL but that he’d be employed as an outside linebacker at the next level.

Let’s pause Speaks’ narrative here for a second. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.

Allen Bailey is also an imposing figure.

Bailey is nearly the exact same size as Speaks, outweighing him officially on the Chiefs roster by three pounds. Seven years ago, Kansas City selected Bailey in the third round out of Miami (Fl.), a linebacker turned defensive end who developed into a fearsome pass rusher in his collegiate tenure, to the tune of 19 career sacks for the Hurricanes.

When selected in the third round in 2011, Bailey was a long, athletic marvel who was considered a “tweener.” Scott Pioli, then the Chiefs general manager, selected him and the Chiefs have used him as a defensive end ever since. Including this season, he’s performed admirably in 94 career games, starting over 50 in his career and largely making good on the team’s initial investment.

The Assumption for Speaks

When new general manager Brett Veach traded up in the 2018 draft to get Speaks, the narrative seemed fairly simple to understand. The Chiefs needed help in the front seven to get after the passer at a number of positions and Speaks had some versatility and a high motor that could be coached up.

Looking at the Chiefs long-term plans, Speaks made even more sense as a long-term substitute for Bailey. After all, Bailey was entering the final deal of his second contract with the team, a full eight years along the line for the team that drafted him. Bailey was now 29-years-old, and Veach had preached about getting younger on defense. Plus Bailey was also getting more expensive—this year’s cap hit is nearly $8 million, which is the most he’s ever cost the Chiefs.

Even at 29, Bailey has put on a clinic this season against several opponents and with four sacks in eight games, he’s already only one off of his career high. He’s earning himself another nice payday this offseason. But the assumption that it won’t be the Chiefs paying him is now in question. Speaks isn’t the answer for Bailey, at least the way he’s currently being used. And the whole thing is a bit confusing.

A Confusion of Positions

Here’s where the confusion sets in, at least for me.

The Chiefs are insistent on using Breeland Speaks as an outside linebacker. Unfortunately what’s been painfully obvious at times is that Speaks doesn’t have the athleticism required at the position—or at least the burst and athleticism you’d like to see from the role in the Chiefs set-up. Dee Ford owns that burst. Speaks, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like he’ll ever have it.

Hear this clearly: that’s not a knock on Speaks. It’s a knock on the way Speaks is being used. With his non-stop motor, strength, frame and experience, it makes sense to play him along the defensive line. Get him closer to the ball. Allow him to learn to disrupt from the very place he was growing in college. He’s proven versatile all across the defensive front in the SEC, but now he’s being tasked with relying on speed over strength and it’s just not there.

Why Not Bailey?

Here’s what’s even more confusing: if the Chiefs insist that a player like Speaks should be able to play outside linebacker, then why haven’t they employed Bailey there.

Bailey as outside linebacker? If Speaks can supposedly pull it off, then Bailey should be an All-Pro. Let’s compare the measureables of each. Bailey’s stats entering the NFL will be listed first and Speaks will be in parentheses.

  • Arms: 34 inches (33.75 inches)
  • Hands: 10.25 inches (9.875 inches)
  • 40-yard Dash: 4.77 seconds (4.87 seconds)
  • Vertical Leap: 36.5 inches (32.5 inches)
  • Broad Jump: 117 inches (110 inches)
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.43 seconds (7.63 seconds)
  • 20-yard Shuttle: 4.56 seconds (4.65 seconds)

Bailey is better length and bigger hands. Bailey is faster and more athletic. Bailey has better hips, greater burst and even came in with stronger experience as a pass rusher. Plus Bailey even played linebacker at Miami for two seasons.

The Bottom Line

I am not advocating in any way that Bailey should be an outside linebacker for the Chiefs. At age 29, Bailey now has experience along the defensive front that serves the Chiefs very well, plus it’s doubtful he could reach those same measurables after eight NFL seasons.

Here’s what I am advocating: why are the Chiefs looking at one player who is 6’3, 285 lbs. and obviously lacking the requisite athleticism and insisting he can play outside linebacker when they’ve had a better option in house for eight years and never once tried it? Andy Reid is in his sixth season, so it’s not as if they couldn’t have tried to pull Bailey after a couple years to let him learn alongside Tamba Hali as a rotational linebacker.

I’d love some better insight as to why the Chiefs are insisting on this course for Speaks for at least his first half season in the NFL. It’s easy to fall in love with his effort, his strength and his personality, and I think he could be a valuable piece for this defense over time. I just hope he’s being used correctly.