Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s 10 best picks ahead of 2021 NFL Draft: #5 Willie Gay Jr.

Chiefs
Willie Gay

ORCHARD PARK, NY – OCTOBER 19: Willie Gay Jr. #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs blocks Darryl Johnson #92 of the Buffalo Bills on a kickoff during the second half at Bills Stadium on October 19, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. Kansas City beats Buffalo 26-17. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Thanks to the Chiefs trading away their first round pick this year, there are now five days left until Kansas City is on the clock in the 2021 NFL Draft, and in order to prepare for this year’s draft, FOX4 Sports is doing something a little different.

Over the next five days producer Robert Rimpson is counting down Brett Veach’s top 5 draft picks as the Chiefs’ general manager. While the sample is limited to three drafts and 18 picks, this will hopefully not only provide an informative perspective on some of Veach’s best picks, but it may also give a good look at what the Chiefs do in this year’s draft.

The players are evaluated in three areas: Their play on the field, how high their remaining potential is, and their value based on where they (and other players in their class) were drafted. The players get letter grades (‘A+’ being the best, ‘F-‘ being the worst) and at the end he reflects on how the player will impact the Chiefs 2021 draft.

Play on field

Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. has shown a lot of promise on the field when he’s had the opportunities. Gay made appearances in all 16 regular season games for the Chiefs before getting injured in Week 17, and got the start in eight of those games. In 2020, Gay was able to get 39 total tackles, three tackles for loss and three pass deflections while playing in 25% of the Chiefs defensive snaps.

Those numbers aren’t all that impressive on their own, but when you watch Gay play you get an understanding of why Chiefs fans are pounding on the table for him to become a permanent starter at linebacker. Gay makes the most of his opportunities whenever he gets a chance to make a play, and his performance in Week 16 is proof of that.

The Week 16 game against the Atlanta Falcons was Gay’s last game of the season fully healthy, and it was the game where he played the most defensive snaps of his career. In the 49 snaps he played, Gay led the team in tackles with nine, got a tackle for loss and forced a fumble. More important than the numbers though, Gay was able to show off his speed and athleticism. He was constantly using his lateral quickness to meet ball carriers close to the line of scrimmage and using his ridiculous close-out speed to cut plays short, or even make up for miscues on his end.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – DECEMBER 27: Ito Smith #25 of the Atlanta Falcons is brought down by Willie Gay Jr. #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the third quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

If not for his injury in Week 17, I believe Gay would’ve played a bigger role on the Chiefs defense in the playoffs than he did for the regular season. While it’s been frustrating hoping the Chiefs will play Gay more often, his play on the field warrants the optimism fans have about him.

Potential

Gay’s potential is possibly the most interesting thing about him as a player. His athleticism, toughness and man coverage ability alone give him a high ceiling, and now he’s paired that with quality reps in the regular season. He showed a lot of promise when he was given a chance, but despite that the Chiefs were reluctant to give him significant playing time.

I’m tempted to say Gay’s potential could range from a full-time starter to a potential Pro Bowler, but the Chiefs hesitance to play him also gives me pause. With the departure of former Chiefs starting linebacker Damien Wilson, Gay should be getting more opportunities and we should get a clearer picture of what he’s capable of.

Draft context

Gay was drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft with the 63rd overall pick. Many analysts and evaluators projected Gay as an eventual starter in the NFL and he’s well on his way to meeting those expectations. We don’t have that much information on the class of 2020, but for now it doesn’t seem like the Chiefs passed on a player significantly better than Gay at a position of need.

Things could change in another season or two, but for now it seems like the Chiefs picked one of the best players in a position of need in the draft who is well on their way to meeting and possibly surpassing league expectations.

Grade

As I’ve said previously, Rashad Fenton — who is now ranked number 6 on this list — is a fine prospect for the Chiefs and a quintessential example of getting good value out of low round draft pick. In the case of the number 7 ranked player on this list Derrick Nnadi, the value at which Veach was able to get Fenton was so high it made up for how much more of a contributor Nnadi is.

The biggest knock against Nnadi and Fenton are that their ceilings are relatively low. Both players at their best are likely only going to be starters in the NFL, which isn’t bad, but also isn’t great. Gay on the other hand has the potential to be great and is playing a position of greater need than Nnadi.  

The Chiefs needed a young linebacker with Gay’s ability for years, so having him meet that potential would be huge. The Chiefs being hesitant to use him in 2020 gives me pause, but all signs point toward a big year for Gay in 2021 and onward

For those reasons listed above, I’m grading the Willie Gay draft pick at a “B.”

How will this impact2021?

With the departure of Wilson, the Chiefs likely have their starting linebacker core set with Anthony Hitchens, Ben Nieman and Willie Gay. I don’t expect the Chiefs to use a high-tier draft pick on a LB in this year’s draft, and it’s possible they don’t draft a linebacker at all. If they were to use a pick on that position though, it will likely be a replacement for Ben Nieman and have little effect on Gay’s playtime.

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