How does the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker corps stack up against the rest of the AFC West?
The next position up in our series evaluating the defenses of the AFC West (and how they stack up against each other) is that of linebacker. We’ve already explored interior defensive linemen and edge rushers.
AFC West linebackers had a lot less of an interesting offseason than edge rushers. For the Broncos, Alexander Johnson was replaced by Alex Singleton. The Chargers remained the same. The Raiders brought on board Jayon Brown at MLB. And, the Chiefs added Jermaine Carter Jr. as well as Leo Chenal at MLB.
DENVER BRONCOS (BASE 3-4)
Josey Jewell (RILB) — PFF LB RANK: N/A
In 2021, Jewell only played in Weeks 1 and 2 before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. He was a pretty good tackler in 2020, recording 86 solo tackles and 27 assists. He also recorded two sacks. We’ll see if he can continue with that success in 2022.
Alex Singleton (LILB) — PFF LB RANK: 44/87
Singleton played for the Eagles in 2020 and 2021. He’s not bad at all. In 2021, he recorded 94 solo tackles, 39 assists, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. This was an improvement over his 2020 rookie year, in which he recorded 83 solo tackles, 31 assists, and 1 interception. However, he had two sacks in 2020 as compared to zero in 2021. I am, however, partial to Singleton as a player due to having him on my fantasy team the past two seasons. Our commissioner ran individual defensive players instead of D/ST. Strange, I know.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (BASE 3-4)
Drue Tranquill (RILB) – PFF LB RANK: 25/87
Statistically, Tranquill is not good. In 2021, he recorded 52 solo tackles, 12 assists, and 2 sacks on 560 snaps. In Week 1 of 2020, he suffered an ankle fracture and missed the rest of the season. I don’t see him ever being any more than average.
Kenneth Murray (LILB) — PFF LB RANK: 83/87
Kenneth Murray is bad. In 2021, he only recorded 22 solo tackles and 7 assists on 363 snaps. That was a massive drop-off from his rookie season, in which he recorded 79 solo tackles, 25 assists, and a sack. Honestly, linebacker is the only position on the Chargers defense that I can confidently say is bad.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (BASE 4-3)
Denzel Perryman (WLB) — PFF LB RANK: 27/87
Perryman is pretty good, all things considered. In 2021, he put up 121 solo tackles, 33 assists, and 1 forced fumble. He didn’t play a lot in 2020, only being on the field for 317 snaps. However, in that time, he still put up 33 solo tackles, 13 assists, 1 forced fumble, and 1 sack.
Jayon Brown (MLB) — PFF LB RANK: 51/87
Brown peaked in 2018 and had his worst season in 2021. Last season, he only recorded 38 solo tackles, 14 assists, and 1 interception. This was a regression from the 2020 season. That year, he put up 51 solo tackles, 24 assists, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 sack. I expect further regression in the 2022 season as he adjusts to new coaching.
Divine Diablo (SLB) — PFF LB RANK: 35/87
Diablo is decent, but not great. In his rookie season, he put up 28 solo tackles and 9 assists on 297 snaps. This is more than I expected when they drafted him because I was one of the large group of people that laughed at the Raiders for picking him.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (BASE 4-3)
Willie Gay (WLB) — PFF LB RANK: 20/87
Willie Gay is pretty good. On 432 snaps in 2021, he recorded 32 solo tackles, 14 assists, and 2 interceptions. He also recorded one sack. He improved in 2021 from his 2020 season, so I am hopeful to see more improvement from him in the 2022 season.
Jermaine Carter Jr. (MLB) — PFF LB RANK: 74/87
Carter isn’t great. On 852 snaps in 2021, he only recorded 64 solo tackles and 24 assists. 2021 was the first season he had where he played enough snaps to be ranked by PFF. Prior to 2021, the most snaps he’d played in a season was 284. To be completely honest, I fully expect him to be replaced by Leo Chenal before the bye in Week 8.
Nick Bolton (SLB) — PFF LB RANK: 13/87
Nick Bolton was a pleasant surprise to me. As a Mizzou fan, I pleaded for the Chiefs to take him. I didn’t expect him to be super impactful, but he actually was. In his first season, he recorded 83 solo tackles, 33 assists, and even had one 86-yard fumble return for a TD in week 18 against the Broncos.
The Best: Chiefs
This one was a close battle between the Chiefs and the Raiders. The Chiefs have two top-20 LBs and one bottom-15 (by rank). Meanwhile, the Raiders are relatively balanced.
With only two defensive positions left to evaluate, the standings are as follows:
- Chiefs (9)
- Chargers (8)
- Raiders (7)
- Broncos (6)