Willie Gay Jr. could be a star in the making for the Chiefs.
Think of a player with blazing fast speed who makes up for his lack of height with power and on-field intelligence. Coming out of the SEC, the Kansas City Chiefs took him early in the 2020 NFL Draft and put him in a position to quickly earn a starting position on the roster.
Most of Chiefs’ Kingdom would immediately start to think of the Kansas City Chiefs’ first round pick: former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. However, I am referring to the Chiefs’ second round pick of Willie Gay Jr.
General manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs are high on the linebacker out of Mississippi State, even going as far as to claim that he could have been a first-round pick next season. The only reason that Gay fell as far as he did in the draft was over academic issues that plagued him throughout the his college career and an incident during practice that resulted in the injury of the team’s quarterback. Not only were these issues concerning, but they also resulted in a lack of film to properly evaluate.
Thankfully for Gay, there is enough film of his play to go along with his NFL combine measurements for him to not only secure a spot on the Chiefs roster, but also to get fans pumped about his potential.
Gay ran a 4.46 second time in the 40-yard dash time (average 40 time for a linebacker is about 4.76), which is faster than every single one the Chiefs’ defensive starters in the Super Bowl except for Charvarius Ward. He was the second-fastest linebacker at this year’s NFL Combine, only slightly behind Isaiah Simmons, who is essentially a safety.
He also managed to maintain his speed when showing off his steady footwork and body control in the Combine’s drills. Combine that with 240 pounds of almost straight muscle—good enough for 21 straight reps at the bench—and the numbers suggest that the Chiefs added a high-caliber linebacker who can rush the passer. In the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnoulo’s blitz-heavy defense, this will be extremely concerning for any opposing quarterback.
Gay’s measurables also point to how he will fare when dropping into pass coverage. His 7.08 second time in the three cone drill shows the hip control and ability to accelerate while changing direction that is ideal for man coverage. His broad jump comes in at 136 inches (the longest broad jump is Byron Jones at 147 inches, less then a foot more than Gay) and his vertical jump measured in at 39.5 inches, giving him vertical and horizontal movement options when lined up in in the middle of the field during zone coverage.
Gay Jr. also has the film to back up his measurables and feed into his potential.
His speed is often on display during blitz packages, which results in him getting to the quarterback before he can even finish his dropback. His hip control and vertical movement makes him dangerous underneath zones, and gives him opportunities to make a play on the ball with his massive hands that serve as pillows for the pass to land on.
When wrapping up ball carriers, his overall strength allows him to keep the ball carrier right where there are, where he proceeds to use his hands as hammers to pound the ball out. His on-field IQ is actually quite notable, as he is able to diagnose plays quickly and then react, whether it be by reading the play action from ten yards away, staying back and covering the check down when the quarterback is scrambling, or refusing to be juked out.
Does Gay have some issues? Sure. His academic problems brings up questions about his ability to learn the playbook. He has a tendency to go for arm tackles that will get exposed in the league, and his block shedding is quite inconsistent. However, he is stepping into a Chiefs’ team with great veterans and coaches, an environment in which the 22-year-old can learn and develop.
As early as this September, Willie Gay Jr. has the potential to be one of the league’s most dangerous defensive players and make a serious impact on the Chiefs’ season.