With the Kansas City Chiefs' selection of Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton at No. 58 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected a linebacker in the second round for the second consecutive season.
Kansas City selected Willie Gay Jr. 63rd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and with one NFL season under his belt, Gay's role for 2021 is still a bit up-in-the-air. How will the two young linebackers play together in 2021 and beyond?
Seth Keysor of The Chief in the North Newsletter and The Athletic joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to discuss the selection of Bolton and how he fits in with the defense now and for the future.
Keysor said the selection of Bolton shouldn't take anything away from Gay this season or beyond because the two would play different roles.
"I think it's more an issue of being able to fill different linebacker roles in [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's] defense," Keysor said. "Gay doesn't seem like that MIKE linebacker, that quarterback of the defense, calling out everyone's stuff, having to take on blockers more often."
Keysor further explained that Kansas City has used Gay in the SAM role before but he doesn't see him filling that vacancy long-term.
When it comes to how Bolton will see the field this season, Gay won't be getting in the way. Bolton is known as a MIKE linebacker and a smart player. Keysor said that attribute is important for the Chiefs coaching staff as they value high football IQ.
"I think the idea there is, I know the Chiefs value smart linebackers," Keysor said. "There's a reason they like Anthony Hitchens more than the fanbase does. There's a reason they liked Damien Wilson so much. There's a reason they like Ben Niemann even more than the fan base does. As much as people hate hearing that, they like smart linebackers. I'm not saying Willie Gay Jr. isn't a smart linebacker, I think he's a very natural fit for the game. But that's not what his calling card was coming out, whereas Bolton's calling card is, 'I understand defense. I understand the offense. I understand everything that's going on here. I'm the guy that you want telling Willie Gay Jr. what to do on the field.' You want him calling that stuff out. And it is his calling card, similar to Anthony Hitchens."
The selection of Bolton gives the Chiefs an out if they chose to move on from Hitchens next offseason. While both Gay and Bolton will likely play different roles for the defense this season and beyond, Keysor said they can have similar playstyles at times.
"I think they just provide two very different roles there in terms of I think they both can play downhill," Keysor said. "I think Gay showed that last year. They both show good downhill, closing speed and sideline-to-sideline [speed, but] I think Bolton flashes a little more of that than Hitchens. But I think it's mostly going to be in the specific roles that your primary MIKE linebacker and then your secondary guy, who's probably WILL in the base defense and then stays on the field in nickel sets. I think that it's more the role in the defense specifically, as opposed to the two of them playing particularly differently."