Drue Tranquill may be partial response to Willie Gay’s injury history
By Matt Conner
Willie Gay’s history of availability (or not) might be partially responsible for the signing of Drue Tranquill for the Chifes.
Three years into his NFL career and Willie Gay Jr. has developed a penchant for a slow start. While injuries are to blame for two of those years, it’s interesting just how much more healthy and productive he becomes once the first third of the season is over. Perhaps that’s why the Kansas City Chiefs called in reinforcements at linebacker this offseason with the signing of Drue Tranquill.
Gay has been the Chiefs’ best coverage linebacker by a country mile—a testament to both Gay’s talent and the deficiency of the rest of the unit—since he was drafted back in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. That’s given him a natural spot in the starting lineup as the team’s Will LB in the base defense, but it’s also been difficult to go for long stretches without him.
Gay’s first season featured spotty play simply due to a lack of playing time. The Chiefs had Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson eating up significant reps as Gay learned the position, which kept Gay from ever starting until Week 4 of that season. Even then, he’d only start a game on occasion through Week 11 and his snap count would be minimal (playing only 33 percent in his first start) in many of those contests.
In his second season, Gay injured his toe during the team’s final preseason game and started the year on injured reserve. He would return in Week 5 and start in Week 6, but he wouldn’t play more than half of a game’s defensive snaps until Week 7.
This past year, Gay played the first two games but was suspended for the following four games due to a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. Fortunately, Gay came right back to start every other game including all three postseason games, but it was another missed quarter season for the talented linebacker.
As the Chiefs prepare for another long run to defend their Super Bowl title, depth is once again going to be of primary importance for a team expected to play up to 20 games. That’s why the Tranquill signing was so important in the heart of the defense. But beyond “depth” or “talent”, it also could be in response to Gay’s history in particular.
Tranquill has put up solid coverage grades from Pro Football Focus in each of the last two seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers. Last year he was No. 12 overall per PFF (one above Willie Gay) with a 75.4 score while playing over 1,000 snaps, showing durability and reliability that should prove quite valuable for the Chiefs.
Should anything happen to Gay, who should be quite motivated in a contract season, by the way, the Chiefs finally have another player in the second level to make defenses pay in coverage. Before, it was a place for opposing coaches to find obvious mismatches away from Gay and/or when he was off of the field. Now with Tranquill and Gay, the Chiefs are going to be stronger than ever in coverage in the heart of the defense.