Ben Niemann is a popular punching bag around Kansas City but the truth is that he’s often involved in frustrating plays on defense because he’s being tasked with punching above his weight. Instead of placing him in situations in which he’s a clear fit (special teams duty, a la Dorian O’Daniel), Niemann has earned the trust of coaches with his intelligence, instincts, and toughness.
Those are great traits in any football player, but there’s also a clear discrepancy between the targets often found around Niemann on the field and the linebacker himself. The former rookie free agent is often at odds athletically speaking with more gifted players around him, leading to many plays in which Niemann is giving up the first down (or more) when tasked with covering a particular player.
So far this season, Niemann has never played less than half of the Chiefs total defensive snaps (and as many as 70 percent in one game). Why the Chiefs continue to insist Niemann should play so often is beyond us. While Willie Gay’s hopeful return in Week 4 from a toe injury will help out, the reality is that the Chiefs have other young linebackers who could shine if given the chance.
At the very least, it’s hard to believe Darius Harris wouldn’t look better at times, even if he’s simultaneously making mistakes while learning as he plays. Harris has ascended the depth chart since signing with the Chiefs as a rookie free agent out of MTSU (Middle Tennessee State) in 2019 and was even active for a start in Week 16 of last season. He also showed some pass rushing prowess in the preseason.
Would it really be so wrong to give Harris a chance to showcase how he can grow with more experience on defense? At this point, Niemann is a known quantity (and liability) on the defense that quarterbacks will automatically attack. At the very least, Harris could be tested out in his place to see what is there.