Projected Starters: Justin Houston (OLB), Joe Mays (ILB), Derrick Johnson (ILB), Tamba Hali (OLB)
Reserves: Frank Zombo, James-Michael Johnson, Nico Johnson, Dezman Moses, Josh Martin, Ridge Wilson, Alonzo Highsmith
With Hali and Houston stampeding off the corners, Kansas City may have the most fearsome edge-rushing tandem in the NFL. (Although, St. Louis and Carolina would like two minutes for rebuttal.)
Prior to last season, film often revealed Hali to be a liability in run support, frequently overpursuing and opening cutback lanes as a result. The same demons haunted him throughout the 2013 preseason (particularly against San Francisco), but to his credit, he tied the loose ends throughout the regular season.
Predictably, Hali proved to be one of the league's premier quarterback stalkers, finishing the year with 58 hurries to his name—a total that only Minnesota's Brian Robison (61) managed to eclipse.
For my money, a healthy Houston roams the field as the most well-rounded linebacker in the NFL. Despite being sidelined for five games due to a dislocated elbow, the freakishly talented rusher headlined PFF's 3-4 outside linebacker rankings, finishing within the top five in pass rush, run support, coverage and penalties.
Houston's pass rushing is well documented, to say the least. However, one look at film displays the underrated aspects of his game. He processes information and diagnoses intentions in the blink of an eye, resulting in him putting brute strength to use by shedding offensive tackles or pulling guards like he's swatting obese flies.
Kansas City's nightmarish predator will be a perennial Pro Bowler for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of, at age 31, Derrick Johnson showed no hints of slowing down in 2013. Every now and then, a ball-carrier will slip through the three-time Pro Bowler's grasp, and NaVorro Bowman probably lays claim as the best all-around inside linebacker, but one could easily argue that Johnson is the position's biggest playmaker.
Every Sunday, you can bank on the vet firing through the line, leaving ball-carriers, who know they're about to take the brunt of an incoming missile, with a caught-in-the-headlights reaction. Additionally, in terms of coverage, Kansas City's longtime fan favorite graded out as PFF's top inside linebacker, and none of his interior peers amassed more quarterback hits than Johnson's seven.
Mays is a two-down run-stopper. He replaces Akeem Jordan, whose career year eventually gave rise to him signing with Washington, per the team's official Twitter account. However, it's fair to question whether Jordan's leap in production was the byproduct of a scheme switch or the crowd of Pro Bowlers encircling him.
Zombo is an effective run-stuffer, but little more.
As far as the draft is concerned, a handful of weeks ago, I slotted Montana's Jordan Tripp, an immensely athletic but raw inside linebacker, as John Dorsey's fourth-round pick. Judging by Draft Breakdown's Aimal Arsalla's sighting of the Chiefs at Montana's pro day, there's a realistic chance that Kansas Citians will collectively welcome Tripp this summer.
Regardless, the unit's depth is serviceable at best, particularly at the "Jack" and "Mike" positions.