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What is the potential for Chiefs LB Ukeme Eligwe?

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Louisiana Monroe v Georgia Southern Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

With the Chiefs coaching staff raving about rookie ILB, Ukeme Eligwe, it might be time to take a deeper look at what he brings to the table.

As Joel pointed out, this quote speaks volumes about what Eligwe is showing thus far at Chiefs camp:

“Eligwe is a linebacker,” Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said via quotes from the Chiefs. “No question. I have already got him started on punting, so that says a lot about him. I really see a bright future for him. He may not be with me for a long time because he may be on defense because he is that good.”

We’ve speculated a bit on Twitter that the trade of DJ Alexander to the Seahawks was a hint that the Chiefs thought they could replace his special teams production with a player already on the roster and that they wanted to take a chance on finding more upside on defense. In the early days of camp, Eligwe appears to have a shot on the special teams role and at least an outside shot at earning a role on defense.

Read and watch for yourself here:

Likely Position and role with KC: WILB

With the exception of the incomparable Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs have more depth at the ILB positions than they have starters. Eligwe finds himself in a crowd of six or seven guys competing for jobs and hoping to stand out. As with most mid-to-late round draft picks, special teams is the most likely route to making the 53. We’ve yet to see what he can do on defense and whether he’ll be able to separate from the pack.

Where he wins

Speed: “The first thing you notice when you watch his tape, the kid can run,” said (Chiefs scout Ryne) Nutt.” Eligwe’s tested speed was great, and his film speed is very good. His long speed was on display in one highlight where he picks up a fumble on a botched kick attempt, stiff arms the kicker, and outruns the pack for a TD. His ability to chase a running back across the field or stay with a back or tight end in coverage can be impactful.

Ability to slip off of blockers to make plays: He’s not the biggest guy, and he’s not running over blockers. But he displays the ability to get skinny, not let linemen get their hands on him, and get to the football. He can sift through the mess of bodies and make tackles sideline to sideline. I like how he flows to the football on outside zone runs. For many of this type of linebacker, you see them making highlight reel plays when they are unblocked. For Eligwe, this doesn’t happen by accident. He’s able to use his speed along with his ability to elude blockers to get free into the backfield.

Coverage ability: Chiefs scout Ryne Nutt said: “You put the tape on you see him covering tight ends down the seam.” From what I saw, Eligwe isn’t the most fluid guy, and he won’t be mistaken for a safety anytime soon. He can, however, get the proper depth in zone drops, and has the speed to stick with backs and tight ends to avoid big plays.

Tackling form: Wraps up clean, doesn’t typically sell out for the highlight reel hit, but consistently secures the ballcarrier and doesn’t allow too many extra yards. He’s got long arms, strong hands and uses them to wrap up and doesn’t let go.

Instincts: Shows pretty good ability to recognize and diagnose plays and get to the right spot. Shoots gaps, blows up screens, anticipates run vs pass.

Blitz: Shows good anticipation and closing speed when asked to blitz, gets to the QB and finishes. Terrorized Chad Kelly vs Ole Miss with multiple pressures and hits.

Length: He’s tall with long arms, and appears to use his arms well to keep blockers away and wrap up ballcarriers.

Concerns

Level of play: Georgia Southern isn’t exactly a SEC team. He’s often playing against Sun Belt offenses that won’t send many players to the NFL. Eligwe is going to have to prove he can beat NFL blockers and bring down NFL backs. With small school players, you want to see a player dominate his competition. While Eligwe was productive, I’m not sure he was consistently dominant.

Tackles high: I saw more than a few plays where he hit a ballcarrier too high. He was able to bring down guys in college, but on Sundays backs will shake him off or run him over if he tries to take them on head-to-shoulder pads.

Off field: Failed drug tests led to a dismissal from Florida State in 2014, but the Chiefs were comfortable with the fact that he’s put that behind him, and hasn’t had trouble since then. Because of his dismissal and year off, he came into the draft a one-year starter so his inexperience may be a hurdle as well.

Quickness and change of direction: While Eligwe was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, his short shuttle and 3-cone were good not great. From what I saw, he didn’t display elite short area quickness on the field.

In his own words

“I’m a relentless linebacker,” said Eligwe, who played outside linebacker in a 3-4 at Florida State and middle linebacker in a 4-3 at Georgia Southern. “You’ll see me do many things -- cover, rush the quarterback, do whatever. I believe I’m very versatile. If no one’s ever seen me play, I think that’s what they’ll see -- a linebacker who can do it all.”

Bottom line

If this was another attempt at getting DJ’s future replacement, Eligwe at least has some of the traits you’d want to see. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he’s probably more of a DJ Alexander replacement than the next DJ ... at least in the near term. There wasn’t a ton of Georgia Southern tape readily available, but from what I did see, he didn’t jump off the screen. Eligwe is yet another potential diamond in the rough that the Chiefs scouting department saw something they felt would translate. Early returns from the coaching staff are notably positive, which puts him near the top of the list of players to watch in the preseason games this year.