Chiefs Sign Second-Year Linebacker With Checkered Past: Report

Justin Hilliard

Getty Kansas City Chiefs new linebacker Justin Hilliard with Ohio State in January of 2021.

Fresh off five free agent tryouts on December 27, the Kansas City Chiefs have announced a signing.

Chiefs Digest reporter Matt Derrick shared the news, tweeting: “Chiefs have signed former Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard to the practice squad. He worked out with the team yesterday and he’s also spent time with the [New York] Giants and [San Francisco] 49ers.”

Chiefs Replace Elijah Lee With Linebacker Justin Hilliard

Four of the Kansas City workouts were at linebacker — and special teams — on Tuesday, and that has to do with the franchise losing Elijah Lee just before the holidays.

Lee was poached from the practice squad by the Chicago Bears on December 21. The reserve linebacker was originally brought in for his special teams acumen, and that’s the role Hilliard will look to fill moving forward.

Aside from 15 special teams snaps with the Giants, the only thing that stands out about Hilliard’s brief NFL career was his 2022 suspension for performance enhancing drugs. The NFL came down on the youngster with a two-game penalty in June, and Big Blue ended up releasing the former Buckeye because of his lack of availability.

“I have been informed by the NFL that I tested positive for a banned diuretic — Spironolactone (Canrenone),” Hilliard explained on Twitter at the time. “After investigation, it became clear that I mistakenly took my partner’s prescription medication instead of my own anti-inflammatory prescription. I am well aware of the NFL’s zero-tolerance policy, and I take full responsibility for having a banned substance in my body.”

The Chiefs have always been willing to give players a second chance in the past and Hilliard will get one here. Ironically, he’ll take the practice squad spot of another PED-user, running back/returner Jerrion Ealy.

Scouting Report on Justin Hilliard Out of Ohio State

Hilliard was a sixth-year senior at Ohio State, practically redshirting two seasons before playing 11 games in 2017. In only six outings, the linebacker had his best campaign during his final year of college ball, racking up 33 total tackles (five for a loss) and two turnovers forced (one fumble, one interception). He had 84 total tackles (nine for a loss) in 36 career appearances as a Buckeye.

There appears to have been a fall from grace for Hilliard as a prospect. NFL Network draft expert Lance Zierlein described him as a “former five-star recruit who saw portions of his career derailed by injury” ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.

“Hilliard is beloved by his teammates and is a great example of resilience and perseverance through adversity,” Zierlein continued. “He possesses quality football character and did a very nice job of stepping up at the end of the 2020 season when injuries struck. Unfortunately, he lacks the athletic and skill components needed as a position player on the NFL level.”

As a rookie, he ended up joining the 49ers organization as an undrafted free agent. After falling victim to roster cuts in August, Hilliard was picked up by the Giants and you already heard the rest.

A couple of traits from Zierlein do stand out, and perhaps Hilliard can turn those qualities into a career in Kansas City. “Motor is cranked up to 100 at all times,” the draft scout noted as a strength, as well as “major factor as [a] core special-teamer” and “19 career tackles on kick and punt [return] coverage.”

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