Monday night marked a professional milestone for Kansas City Chiefs LB Willie Gay Jr., who earned his first career NFL start against the New England Patriots. While the rookie linebacker has consistently played the majority of the special teams snaps through the first four weeks, his 25 defensive snaps in Week 4 more than doubled his season total (40) to date.
Selected in the second round (No. 63 overall) by the Chiefs in April’s NFL Draft, the Mississippi State thumper entered the league with higher expectations than most of his fellow draftees. However, his production through the first quarter of the 2020 campaign has been limited to just four total tackles.
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Gay Limited to Action ‘Against Big Personnel Groupings’
Thankfully, much of Gay’s playing time (or lack thereof) has been by design, in conjunction with two veteran starters at the position, rather than an underlying injury. Earlier this week, Gay shed some light on the situation during his most recent media availability.
“My role right now is just to play against big personnel groupings, and wherever coach wants me other than that.” Gay said on Thursday. “With the Patriots game, it was a perfect scheme to just be in the box and playing the run a lot, because they wanted to run the ball obviously. Each and every week it might change a little bit, so we’ll just see what happens going into next week and the weeks after that.”
It’s noteworthy that Gay is currently being limited to run-stopping duties, considering his coverage skills and awareness were listed among his most highly-rated attributes coming out of college. However, it makes sense that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would slowly integrate the 22-year-old rookie, who has also been known for a frenetic play style, likely a byproduct of his six total starts in college.
Wilson, Hitchens Named Starters on Week 5 Depth Chart
When the Chiefs released their unofficial depth chart for this Sunday’s AFC West rivalry game versus the Las Vegas Raiders earlier in the week, Gay remained listed behind sixth and seventh-year veterans Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens, both of whom started every game they were active for in 2019 (31-of-32 possible combined starts).
While the Raiders currently rank in the middle of the pack in rushing attempts (14th), rushing yards (15th), yards per carry (17th) and rushing first downs (12th), Gay is still likely to have an opportunity to contribute of defense as Kansas City looks to prevent RB Josh Jacobs from finding the end zone for a fourth time in five games.