Headed into night two of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs needed a linebacker, particularly one with pass coverage skills and lateral mobility. With pick number 63, they came away with a player who fit that criteria and then some. Willie Gay Jr. is the LB prospect that Chiefs fans have been longing for and a player that could have an immediate impact on the team.
At 6ft1 and 243 pounds, Gay is a phenomenal athlete. He is someone that stood out at the combine but who you can also see all the ability to translate over to on-field play. He ran a 4.46 40 yard dash, which is blazing for an LB and every bit of the speed translates to the field.
He absolutely comes out of nowhere to, not only save a touchdown, but also strip the ball to give it back toMississippi State. He is phenomenal athlete that displays phenomenal effort. He is like lightning on the field; blink and you may miss him. Below, we can see how Gay will be able to use his athletic ability to fit into defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s various blitz packages.
Gay has 11 career sacks in 3 seasons played and was used several times a game to rush from the edge or middle. Not only is he a good player to have blitz the edge and play the perimeter, but he is an adequate in the box player with solid tackling fundamentals.
While Gay Jr. does a good job in the blitz game and is solid in playing between the tackles where he really excels in pass coverage. The combination of speed, ball skills, and closing burst helped him play as one of the best cover LB’s in college football.
He has three career interceptions because of his ability to see the play develop and know his responsibility.
For the Chiefs to be able to pick up a player with his ability at the 63rd pick in the draft is an absolute steal. Pro Football Focus’ best cover LB in the draft falling all the way to KC is extraordinary.
Gay also possess the attitude that the Chiefs defense is looking for in their starting caliber defensive players. Gay reads the options play below perfectly. He knows where the ball is headed and takes a good track to get there. When a player with the ability of Gay is confident, it can make them aggressive. When fast football players are aggressive, it can lead to some big collisions.
Like many young players Gay does have some work to do on his game and has a few fundamental errors that he will need to iron out if he wants to be a contributor in Kansas City. I spoke about them in the video above but he should have the coaching and resources in Kansas City to get his mistakes ironed out.
Based on his tape, athletic ability, and on-field effort one would assume that Willie Gay Jr. would be a first round pick, and potentially a high one at that. The reason that he wasn’t selected that high was, more than likely, due to a few off the field issues that happened to him during his time at Mississippi State. One involved some off the field academic issues and another involved an altercation with a teammate. I’m not going to get much into specifics but the past is the past. Gay has since then stated in an interview by Todd Palmer of 41 KSHB Kansas City, “I’ve grown from off the field issues and am ready to embrace my NFL opportunity.” He couldn’t’ be in a better atmosphere to grow, not only a player, but a person. Since Andy Reid has been here, KC has been the land of second chances and a team that has started to closely resemble a family. Andy Reid has created this amazing atmosphere and it has trickled down through the team. Gay will have help from his own room, with LB coach Matt House, as well as a veteran leader and team captain, Anthony Hitchens. He will also have to answer to the voices and faces of the defensive revolution in Kansas City: Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, and Frank Clark. The culture of accountability runs strong in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. When the faces of the team are ready to sell out for the culture, it can trickle down. For a player with the talent of Willie Gay Jr., it can be what moves him past his potential and into the player the culture needs him to be.