THE PICK: Nico Johnson, inside linebacker, Alabama
With the second pick in the fourth round the Chiefs found their “fullback” for Derrick Johnson in Nico Johnson. A tough, physical, hard-hitting middle linebacker from Alabama, Johnson becomes the inside, run-stuffing linebacker the Chiefs have been looking for since they moved to the 3-4 defense.
Coming into the season Johnson will be considered a two-down linebacker, focusing on running plays and occupying blockers for Derrick Johnson so he can run around and make plays. But Nico has the tools to become a three-down linebacker over time and should be a mainstay in the Chiefs lineup for a long time.
The downside of Nico is that he is not necessarily a playmaker and isn’t dripping with athletic tools like some of the Chiefs first few picks. Johnson can fall behind in coverage if he is beaten and can struggle with angles in one-on-one situations. He’s at his best in the trenches, occupying blockers, and stuffing the inside run.
The good news is the Chiefs already have their playmaking middle linebacker in Derrick, and don’t need Nico to make plays in pass coverage. The Chiefs were one of the worst teams in football at stopping the run up the middle because they were not getting the physical play inside that they needed. With the additions of defensive tackle Mike DeVito in free agency and Nico, the Chiefs should be much improved up the middle in the run game.
Moves like these are not sexy but they are critical in winning games. If the Chiefs believe they have the talent on defense to be success – the did have four Pro Bowlers on the defensive side of the ball – then glue players like Nico are going to be key to the Chiefs success.
OTHER CHIEFS DRAFT GRADES
First Round – Eric Fisher: B
Third Round – Travis Kelce: B+
Third Round – Knile Davis: B-