Chiefs’ Budding Star Projected to Breakout as Replacement for 47-Game Starter

The Kansas City Chiefs’ season is still very much alive, but it’s also fun to try and project a 2024 breakout campaign for some of the teams’ budding stars. Take second-year linebacker Leo Chenal, for example, who PFF believes will break out as a replacement for veteran Willie Gay Jr. next season.

“Chenal has spent the last two seasons lower on the Chiefs depth chart, playing fewer than 500 defensive snaps in each year, while quietly producing strong grades and effective play,” PFF’s Jonathon Macri wrote on January 26. “With both Willie Gay and Drue Tranquill pending free agents, there could be an opportunity for Chenal to see a larger role in 2024. Chenal ranked among the top-20 linebackers in overall grade (76.5) and run-defense grade (79.2) during the regular season and an increase in snaps next season could allow him to be a nice secondary linebacker option next to Nick Bolton in the starting lineup.”

Chenal, a 2022 third-round pick, has two years remaining on his rookie deal. Meanwhile, Gay, a 2020 second-round pick, is set to take to free agency this offseason and has already made it publicly known that all signs are pointing toward a departure from Kansas City.

“It’s looking like Ive probably played my last game in arrowhead,” Gay wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on January 15. “Damn I’m going to miss that place. Nothing like it lets go get this Ring to end it the right way.”

Tranquill, who signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs last offseason, is also slated to be a free agent this upcoming offseason, which puts Chenal in position to potentially be a starter alongside third-year veteran Nick Bolton next season.

Leo Chenal Could See Uptick in Snaps in AFC Championship

Chenal could see an uptick in snaps as early as the AFC Championship due to Gay’s uncertain status.

Gay suffered a neck injury during Kansas City’s 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round. The veteran LB was a limited participant during the first two practices leading up to the AFC Title Game but did not participate in Friday’s practice and was deemed questionable for Sunday as a result.

“His neck is stiff. He just can’t turn right now,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said of Gay’s injury on January 25. “He’s getting better, but that’s what happened in the game.”

Big Red was also asked about the importance of having Gay in the lineup against a running quarterback like Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, to which Reid praised Gay and Tranquill.

“Willie (Gay) is a big part of our defense. However, I would not slight Drue (Tranquill) for the job he did coming in,” Reid said. “Willie is a good player, he’s part of the success that we’ve had.”

The inactives list that is released 90 minutes before kickoff will tell us whether Gay will be in the lineup versus the No.1-seeded Ravens.

What to Know About AFC Championship

The Chiefs-Ravens AFC Championship Game will take place at 2 p.m. Central time on Sunday and will be available to watch on CBS.

According to Heavy’s projections, which are powered by Quarter4, the Chiefs (+3) have a 41% chance of defeating the Ravens.

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