Pro Football Focus recently posted an article on “The promising undrafted free agents of 2018 that shouldn’t be overlooked,” and Kansas City Chiefs second-year linebacker Ben Niemann appeared on its list.
LB BEN NIEMANN
Linebacker Ben Niemann forced his way into the Chiefs’ lineup last season after going undrafted out of Iowa. He generated a 59.3 overall grade on only 71 defensive snaps, but he was a major contributor on special teams, where he played 307 snaps and earned an 86.2 special teams grade.
The second-year pro has always been a sure tackler. In his final season with the Hawkeyes, he missed only four tackles on 76 attempts to go along with his 76.3 overall grade. He will continue to play a significant role on special teams while he tries to break his way into an underwhelming linebacking corps.
Niemann made the Chiefs roster last year at the 53-man deadline after a great showing in the preseason, beating out the likes of veteran Frank Zombo and Ukeme Eligwe.
“You just couldn’t ignore the tape—I mean, that was it,” Chiefs GM Brett Veach said of the 23-year-old Niemann at the time. “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.”
With the Chiefs releasing Zombo, they had to have been comfortable with Niemann’s special teams ability, and it showed. Only five Chiefs tallied more snaps on specials teams than Niemann, a four-phase teams player, in 2018.
Much of his limited playing time on offense came Week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals, his only start (29 snaps) of the season with fellow Iowa product Anthony Hitchens out with a rib injury. Niemann had six tackles (five solo) in the game.
Last year, the Chiefs kept six defensive lineman and nine linebackers at the 53-man roster deadline. Those totals should be flipped this season with the Chiefs’ switch to the 4-3 defense, which will make it tougher for Niemann to make the club. Niemann gained experience in the 4-3 in college, playing both outside linebacker positions, as well as middle linebacker when called upon.
Right now, Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Darron Lee and Dorian O’Daniel are probably safe bets to make the team. Based upon his special teams play, tackling ability and experience at multiple linebacker positions, Niemann “shouldn’t be overlooked,” as PFF says, when it comes to those final two presumed linebacker spots on the Chiefs.