Players Lost and Percentage of 2021 Defensive Snaps:
Anthony Hitchens (53.44%)
Ben Niemann (49.78%)
This position is less about the players added to the group and more about a shift in who is getting the majority of the snaps. Anthony Hitchens (despite some struggles early in his Chiefs career) was a solid, but not spectacular middle linebacker. Ben Niemann was a special teamer and depth player whose physical abilities were limited but was still asked to play significant snaps because of his knowledge of the system. Leo Chenal is physically a lot more gifted player than either Hitchens or Niemann but is going to have a big learning curve adjusting to the NFL game. Elijah Lee might be better than Niemann but isn’t going to be a difference maker in this defense.
If looking at the linebackers was just about comparing Hitchens/Niemann to Chenal/Lee I think it would be a break-even situation at best, but thankfully for the Chiefs that’s not the end of the discussion. Last year Nick Bolton and Willie Gay played 55.76% and 39.05% of the defensive snaps. If the preseason is any indication, they are both going to see significant bumps in those numbers (especially Gay). Bolton and Gay are just flat-out better than anyone else that has played linebacker for the Chiefs since Derrick Johnson retired. If they are healthy and on the field all season, the Chiefs have a chance to have the best linebacker duo we’ve seen in ages. If Chenal can get acclimated to the NFL game sooner rather than later then the sky is the limit for this group.
A young and aggressive linebacker group like this may have a couple of breakdowns, especially early in the season. Still, overall I think most Chiefs fans have to feel really good about this group going into the season.
VERDICT: ROSTER IMPROVED
Finally, let’s talk about the most drastically changed group, the secondary.