It appears the Chiefs will be exploring linebackers in this year’s NFL Draft.
Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence and Virginia Tech outside linebacker Dadi Nicolas all told The Star on Friday that they have had, or are scheduled to have, formal interviews with the Chiefs.
Two inside linebackers — Notre Dame star Jaylon Smith and Stanford’s Blake Martinez — also told The Star on Friday they will interview with the Chiefs. Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas also said he has a formal interview with the Chiefs on Friday.
Smith, who checked in at 6 feet 3 and 229 pounds, is projected to be a first-round pick by CBS Sports. He tore his ACL and MCL in Notre Dame’s bowl game in January, but was expected to go in the top half of the first round. Smith won the Butkus Award during a 2015 season in which he recorded 113 tackles, but NFL.com reported that teams believe Smith could miss the entire 2016 season with ankle and knee nerve issues, thus hurting his potential stock.
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Spence, who checks in at 6 feet 2 and 254 pounds, is projected to be a first-round pick by CBS Sports. He had 22 1/2 tackles for loss and 13 1/2 sacks in 2015. He originally attended Ohio State, but transferred to Eastern Kentucky after failing two drug tests.
Lawson, 6-3 and 270 pounds, is projected to be a first-round pick by CBS Sports. He finished the 2015 season with 24 1/2 tackles for loss and 12 1/2 sacks, and he elected to enter the NFL Draft after his junior campaign.
Nicolas, 6-3 and 235 pounds, is projected to be a fifth-round pick by CBS Sports. He finished the 2015 season with seven tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks as an undersized end. He was more productive as a junior in 2014, compiling 18 1/2 tackles for loss and nine sacks as an outside linebacker.
Martinez, who is listed at 6 feet 1 and 239 pounds, is projected to be a fifth- or sixth-round pick by CBS Sports. Martinez ranked 14th nationally with 10.1 tackles a game in 2016, and was a team captain in Stanford’s 3-4 defense.
The Chiefs have Pro Bowler Justin Houston under contract at outside linebacker for 2016, but another Pro Bowler, Tamba Hali, could hit free agency. The Chiefs also have 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford in the fold, but backups Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo are both slated to be free agents.
The Chiefs’ best inside linebacker, Derrick Johnson, is set to hit free agency in March. The Chiefs do have some promising youngsters in the fold, including 2015 fourth-round pick Ramik Wilson, 2015 fifth-round pick D.J. Alexander and undrafted free agent Justin March. The Chiefs also have two-year starter Josh Mauga under contract for 2016.
Thomas, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 209 pounds, is projected to be a first- or second-round pick by CBS Sports. He caught 56 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015.
The Chiefs have a number of young receivers who are expected to compete for the No. 2 receiver job, including 2015 starter Albert Wilson and 2015 third-round pick Chris Conley, but veteran receiver Jason Avant — who was a regular in the rotation — is slated to be a free agent.