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Film review: Drue Tranquill brings coverage ability to Chiefs linebacker room

Let’s learn more about Kansas City’s newest addition to the linebacker room.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the Kansas City Chiefs signed former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill. Tranquill, 27, signed a one-year contract worth "up to $5 million" with a base salary of $3 million.

Tranquill had his best season for the Chargers last season, playing a career-high 978 snaps and 93% of available snaps. Tranquill finished with 144 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and five sacks for the Chargers in 2022.

Film review

Tranquill's best trait as a player is his overall coverage ability. Tranquill's an intelligent player who can execute many different coverage roles. He's rangy and athletic enough to cover running backs or tight ends in man coverage, but he's also a good zone defender. He has enough speed to "run the pole" in Tampa 2 — or be the deep middle-of-the-field defender in zone coverage.

On this play, Tranquill's in zone coverage over Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and he's playing the underneath hook/curl zone. Tranquill can reroute Hill over the middle, jamming his break to the middle of the field and disrupting his timing. He reads the quarterback's eyes to get into the throwing window of Hill and would've had an interception if his other linebacker didn't get in the way.

I watched Hill play for the Chiefs for six seasons, and I can't remember many occurrences where a linebacker could get hands on him over the middle. It's one play, but Tranquill having the range and instincts to wall Hill off isn't common at all.

The Chargers didn't have Tranquill do this often, but he can cover some receivers in the slot. On this play, Tranquill is pushed over the slot receiver due to a communication error by the Chargers, but it doesn't put them in a bind. Tranquill defends this slant route perfectly, breaking on the route and getting a pass breakup. Most linebackers don't have the athletic ability to cover a wide receiver on an underneath slant, but Tranquill flashed the ability to do that last year.

I feel confident saying Tranquill's the best blitzing linebacker defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had since he's been in Kansas City. Tranquill had five sacks and 15 pressures last season. Tranquill is a weapon as a blitzer, which is something Spagnuolo hasn't had.

On this play, Tranquill's going to slant into the A-gap but sets this blitz up well. He's going to fake a blitz through the B-gap, which causes the center's eyes to drop and work toward the defensive tackle. After faking that blitz, Tranquill slants inside to the A-gap, flashing good body control and explosiveness to get pressure. The center can't wrap around quickly enough to cut off Tranquill, whose speed is too much for most centers to recover.

Spagnuolo has had some decent blitzers in his Chiefs tenure, but none as talented as Tranquill. Tranquill can be used in a bunch of different ways as a pass rusher, which should be exciting to see in Spagnuolo's blitz packages.

I wouldn't consider Tranquill a positive run defender. He's not adept at taking on blocks or reading run plays in space. He's a solid tackler with range, but if you ask him to read a run concept out and correctly fill a gap, he's going to struggle.

If Tranquill is going to be on the field on early downs, he'll have to be used as a run blitzer more. He does work downhill and into offensive linemen well, but you have to tell him where to go. There's room for growth from Tranquill as a run defender, but if he has to play the run in Kansas City, it'll need to be on run blitzes primarily.

The bottom line

If I had to guess Tranquill's role on the Chiefs, I would suggest he takes linebacker Darius Harris's role, which means 1-2 series a game behind linebacker Willie Gay Jr., while also handling dime linebacker responsibilities. Gay is a better player than Tranquill, but the Chiefs haven't been willing to task him with a 100% snap workload. They like to rotate another linebacker in for a few series a game. Unlike Harris, Tranquill can provide some of the coverage ability and range Gay delivers, so the dropoff in play should be slimmer.

As a dime linebacker, Tranquill can be fun. He's by far the best coverage linebacker the Chiefs have had in the Spagnuolo era. I would also argue he's the best blitzer at linebacker we've had. If he can pick up the playbook quickly, Tranquill can make an impact as the dime linebacker that we haven't had throughout Spagnuolo's tenure as defensive coordinator.

The Chiefs weren't going to be able to find a dime linebacker in the draft who Spagnuolo could trust to get the defense aligned without a significant draft pick. Most players with Tranquill's coverage ability and range get paid more, but most teams didn't want to pay him, considering his issues against the run. Fortunately, the Chiefs have the depth to where they can limit Tranquill's role. If they restrict his role to dime linebacker, I think this can be a fantastic value signing.

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