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How Ben Niemann beat out Ukeme Eligwe for the final Chiefs linebacker spot

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Two other NFL teams reached out to Chiefs general manager Brett Veach about Ben Niemann

Kansas City Chiefs v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs kept five inside linebackers at the 53-man roster deadline Saturday afternoon.

We knew going in that the Chiefs would obviously keep starters Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens. How the rest would play out remained to be seen.

“That was a tough one ... I thought all those guys had solid camps,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said of the inside linebacker position on his conference all after the deadline.

The Chiefs selected rookie Dorian O’Daniel with the 100th overall pick in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so he was a safe bet.

“Dorian is a guy we’re really excited about,” Veach said. “He’s coming on, he doesn’t really have the playbook down— I think when Dorian’s out there on passing downs, I think Dorian’s speed just jumps out at you.

“He plays at a different speed than anybody that we have out there. He’s a missile. He’s just young, and he’s just got to figure it out and got to get the playbook down. (Inside linebackers coach) Mark DeLeone and our defensive staff is doing a great job with him.”

Then, there was Terrance Smith, who the Chiefs first acquired as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Veach said that he made the team primarily because of his excellent work on special teams.

His special-teams skills had added value at this particular cut with the Chiefs waving goodbye to veteran special-teams ace Frank Zombo.

“Over the last couple of years, [Smith] has been one of our highest point-production players on special teams,” Veach explained, “so it really came down to Dorian, who has a big upside, Terrance, you’re always going to have as our lynchpin on special teams.”

With one eligible spot left, Veach and the Chiefs staff had to choose between undrafted rookie Ben Niemann or 2017 fifth-rounder Ukeme Eligwe.

“You just couldn’t ignore the tape—I mean, that was it,” Veach said of the 23-year-old Niemann. “Actually, we had two teams that called us about Ben Niemann, and we knew that he wasn’t going to get through the waiver-wire claim, and we knew that he was not going to make it to the practice squad.

“In some of these trades that we didn’t do, the guy they wanted was Ben Niemann, so if there was any indecision, I think the dialogue we had with teams told us there’s no we can lose this guy because he’s done so much in such short amount of time.”