If the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have a weakness, it’s on defense. They hope to have helped fix that leaky unit by taking Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the second round of this year’s draft. Here are Gay’s odds at Mybookie to win 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as the Chiefs’ over/under win total.
After watching the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos try to imitate them by loading up on fast receivers in the draft, the Chiefs decided they needed to make some defensive moves to keep up. The past few seasons have been rough for the Kansas City Chiefs at the linebacker position.
Mississippi State rarely lands such touted recruits as Gay was coming out of high school, but he’s from Starkville so he didn’t even have to leave home to attend MSU. Gay did see action in every game as a true freshman in 2017, seeing playing time on special teams and as a back-up linebacker … Recorded 23 total tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.
The next year, he started six games and saw action in all 13. Gay had 48 total tackles, ranking sixth on the team. He added 5.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Gay had two interceptions, one fumble recovery and a pass breakup. He was one of the country’s top linebackers in the conference in coverage, earning a 90.6 grade over his 156 coverage snaps. He allowed a passer rating of just 25.8 when targeted and didn’t allow a single touchdown over his 20 targets. He tied for fifth among SEC linebackers in total pressure (17) and only missed five tackles over 455 total snaps played.
Last year he was limited to just five games, suspended for eight due to violation of team rules or he may have been a first-round pick. He was one of 10 players withheld from eight games because of NCAA violations involving an academic tutor.
Gay had 28 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown in his season debut vs. Kentucky on his first play of the season. Gay had either an interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery in seven of his last nine games played and earned a 93.9 Pro Football Focus coverage grade since 2017, which was first among 2020 draft-eligible linebackers.
If he can stay out of trouble, Gay has the on-field ability to be a starter in the NFL based on his athleticism alone. The 6-foot-1, 243-pound Gay Jr. ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which ranked as the second-fastest time of any linebacker behind only Isaiah Simmons. He also tallied the best broad jump (136.0 inches) and the second-highest vertical jump (39.5 inches) of any linebacker at the Combine.
“We’ll probably begin with Willie [Gay Jr.] at one of the outside positions,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of the Chiefs’ second-round rookie. “We think, without knowing right away — We’re hopeful, I should say that he would replace what Reggie Ragland did for us last year. Now again, I preface that by saying we won’t know that until we get him.”
Ragland played the SAM linebacker position for the Chiefs during the 2019 season. Gay’s ability to keep up with several opposing running backs as a weakside linebacker will be a fresh breath of air for the Chiefs.
“We’re hoping that he can come in and as he learns the defense that he can work and be a guy that can actually cover running backs and do a nice job of that, and/or tight ends,” coach Andy Reid said of Gay.
The major concern about Gay is character. Not only did he serve that eight-game suspension last year but he was ejected from two games over his last two seasons for personal fouls. He also reportedly broke the orbital bone of a teammate during a fight after a practice late last year. The Chiefs say they weren’t daunted by those issues.