How important will 2nd-round draft Willie Gay Jr. be for the Chiefs in 2020?

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr.

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. #6 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs runs the ball downfield after an interception during the first quarter of their game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs drafted Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the second round of the NFL draft, which is fairly valuable spot for a team looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

A pick that high would ideally contribute early and often in the upcoming season. However, comments from Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo suggest that may not be the case for Gay Jr.

“First, I think we’ll probably begin with Willie at one of the outside positions,” Spagnuolo said in a Zoom call Tuesday.

“We think without knowing right away, or we’re hopeful I should say, that he would replace what Reggie Ragland did for us last year. I preface that by saying we won’t know that until we get him in.”

Former Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland mostly played right linebacker for the Chiefs in 2019. He only started seven of the 14 games he played in last season only played in 21% of the defensive snaps.

If Gay Jr. is going to serve as a replacement for Ragland, it could mean that he doesn’t see much of the field in 2020.

The Chief’s hardly played in packages that included Ragland in 2019, as the team mostly played with an extra defensive back to help them in the passing game. The middle linebacker position is much more crucial in pass protection and has a lot more responsibility.

Damien Wilson who mostly played MLB in 2019, started in every game for the Chiefs last season and played in 64% of the defensive snaps.

With Gay Jr’s athletic ability, it would seem like he’d be a better fit at MLB, where he can use his speed and athleticism to chase running backs and improve pass coverage at the second level of the defense.

But the plan seems to be to start him in a less important position for now and allow him to earn a bigger role and playing time down the road.

Things can change though, as Spagnuolo also mentioned that he doesn’t know what Gay Jr. will be capable of until he sees him play in the NFL.

“I think Willie Gay will begin there (at RLB), and whatever else we can do with him, we’ll build on that,” Spagnuolo said.

“We’re glad we have him. We’re excited for what we think he can do. But until we get him out there, we won’t really know. I mean, things jump off the chart with regards to speed. He’s a violent hitter — which we love. Hopefully all of those things will translate to this league.”

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