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In-house options for Kansas City Chiefs: LB Nico Johnson

The Kansas City Chiefs saw little on-field production from their former fourth-round pick, which makes it easy to overlook what he might offer for 2014.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs are, like every other team in the NFL, currently taking stock of their own roster as well as the list of available options coming in free agency and the NFL Draft. Typically the focus of the media and fans is on new acquisitions, but the phrase "next man up" exists for a reason.

To that end, let's shift our focus to some potentially forgotten players on the team's roster.

Nico Johnson was one of the first draft picks under general manager John Dorsey, the team's fourth round choice in 2013. The inside linebacker won multiple national championships under Nick Saban's tutelage at Alabama, and came into the NFL with a strong reputation for stopping the run.

Unfortunately for Johnson, who started the season hurt, Reid also brought in other inside linebacker candidates to play next to Derrick Johnson in the middle and he failed to gain any real playing time. Akeem Jordan grabbed nearly every snap in the base 3-4 and both sat in sub packages. In the Chiefs' final game against the San Diego Chargers, Johnson was third on the team with seven tackles, but it was also a game where the starters rested. Even James-Michael Johnson, a waiver claim from the Cleveland Browns, earned more playing time than Nico Johnson.

In the end, Pro Football Focus has only 17 total plays for Johnson in 2013. It's hard to gauge, then, what the team can expect from Johnson in 2014. Ourlads has Johnson as the team's starter heading into 2014, given that Jordan is an unrestricted free agent, but any roster projection at this point is likely an exercise in futility.

Can Johnson grow into a starter in the team's base defense next to DJ? Let's get a quick recap at what scouts and draft analysts were saying about Nico when the Chiefs drafted him.'s scouting report:

A tough-nosed, assignment-sure linebacker, Johnson is a strong run defender who has been overshadowed as a part-time starter on a star-studded Alabama defense. However, his unselfish play has been noticed, and he will likely be a mid-round selection for a 34 team in need of a middle linebacker.

ESPN's scouting report:

Johnson is physical run-stopper who possesses above-average point-of-attack skills. He plays with leverage and flashes active hands to disengage from blocks. While he has just average athleticism and may have restrictions in coverage, he makes a quick diagnosis and takes proper angles in pursuit to maximize his range as a run defender.

Other responses from Twitter:

Bottom Line: The scouting report on Nico Johnson reads the same from several sources. Johnson started a handful of games each season for Alabama, and the Chiefs knew they were getting a run-oriented defender with a strong reputation for tackling who came from college football's best program. With a full offseason, Johnson could impress enough to keep the team focused on other positions. The investment is already there, so that's likely what Dorsey and Reid are hoping for next season.

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