With Akeem Jordan’s recent departure to the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs have a hole to fill alongside Pro Bowl inside linebacker, Derrick Johnson. So which contender is the favorite to take the position for the 2014 season?
In the red corner, we have the returning Chief, Nico Johnson.
Johnson was a fourth-round pick from Alabama in the 2013 draft. He got plenty of playing time and competed well with Akeem Jordan during training camp, but only played in six games last season, mostly on special teams. Johnson’s lack of playing time was largely attributed to an ankle injury he suffered during preseason. His most productive showing came in the final game of the regular season against the San Diego Chargers, where he made seven tackles.
Taking the back seat to Jordan for a year gave Johnson a chance to study Bob Sutton’s 3-4 scheme in more detail as well as give his ankle more than enough time to fully recover. His 6-2, 249 lb frame gives him ample ability to stuff the gap and tie up multiple blockers to free up DJ.
Head coach Andy Reid believes Johnson can be the starter this season if he stays healthy and continues to learn.
“The one thing you get with him is that he’s willing to work hard and wants to be good and will do whatever it takes to do that,” Reid said. “We just need to get him into camp and get him working.”
In the blue corner, we have the newcomer, Joe Mays.
Mays signed a two-year deal with the Chiefs last week. He started 13 games with the Houston Texans in 2013. At inside linebacker, Mays totaled 66 tackles and one sack last season. Kansas City will be the fourth stop of his NFL career.
Mays has the upper hand on Johnson when it comes to experience, entering his 7th season in the NFL. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, so he is no stranger to Andy Reid’s game plan or the 3-4 defense. At 5-11, 245 lbs, Mays relies more on his speed than his size to get the job done.
“The only thing they told me is they’re going to bring me in to compete,” Mays said. “Just come in there and do what I need to do. Hopefully I’ll carve out a role for myself.”
The Chiefs may give Johnson another year to split time with and study under an experienced backer like Mays before giving the sophomore full responsibility alongside DJ. That would also give Mays a chance to prove he’s worthy of keeping around for the full length of his contract.