It was only a few years ago that the second level of the Kansas City Chiefs' defense was the team's weakest position group on the entire roster. It's quite a turnaround then to note that the Chiefs now have one of the most celebrated linebacker corps in the entire NFL—and they should only get better.
Coming into the 2023 NFL season, the Chiefs are hoping that a completely rebuilt linebacking corps, which includes three consecutive Day 2 selections from three of the last four drafts, will carry a defense forward to the next level as they grow together and continue to develop at the pro level.
The transition started with the selection of Willie Gay back in the 2020 NFL Draft, a beast of an athlete out of Mississippi State. From there, the Chiefs added Nick Bolton out of Missouri in 2021, offering them an elite run thumper to place next to a better overall athlete in Gay. In 2022, the Chiefs added a third-round pick to the mix with Leo Chenal, a situational pass rusher and run stopper whose overall toughness could become a real trademark in the heart of the Chiefs defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs have assembled one of the league's youngest and most talented linebacker units, per Pro Football Focus.
Last season, the unit really turned a corner into an elite one as they won their second Super Bowl in the last four seasons. Bolton seems like he's on the verge of making his first Pro Bowl in '23, and Gay has always held that potential as a big, physical defender with sideline-to-sideline speed and agility.
Gay, Bolton, and Chenal already formed one of the league's best young units, but this offseason, the Chiefs added Drue Tranquill in free agency in a sort of surprise move that no one saw coming. Even in his own comments after the signing, general manager Brett Veach stated he didn't expect Tranquill to be there at a desirable price tag in free agency, so the Chiefs shifted priorities to allow room for Tranquill's well-rounded skill set.
Given Tranquill's addition, the Chiefs will not only have even more ascending young talent, but they have some overlap for the first time, meaning that opposing coordinators won't be able to tell exactly how the team is deploying a particular player at any given time in the second level.
All of this talent is why Pro Football Focus decided to name the Chiefs' linebackers as the sixth-best in the NFL coming into this season. While there are superstars on other teams who are already well-known commodities, the truth is that the Chiefs are good and young and deep.