Position evaluation: Chiefs face uncertainty at outside linebacker

Nov. 1, 2015; London; Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston (50) and Tamba Hali (91) during pregame warmups against the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Nov. 1, 2015; London; Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston (50) and Tamba Hali (91) during pregame warmups against the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The outside linebacker position produced 21 of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 47 sacks in 2015. This number is down from the prior season when Justin Houston had 22 of the position’s 28 sacks.

Houston, who signed a six-year, $101 million deal last offseason, anchors the position. But the Chiefs could experience a transition with Tamba Hali’s future remaining uncertain. Additionally, Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses scheduled to hit free agency on March 9.

JUSTIN HOUSON: The fifth-year veteran reached 900 snaps in two of the past four seasons while dealing with a knee injury in 2015 and an elbow injury in 2013.

Houston missed the final four games of the past season, but is a consistent force on the right side when he is on the field by being stout against the run and providing consistent pressure off the edge.

He is a very strong individual in standing up his blockers while reading the play in the backfield. Houston has a very good bull rush, negates the pass protectors hands well and can counter off the tackle’s set.

TAMBA HALI: The 10-year veteran was listed many times on the injury report with a knee issue the past season and the Chiefs gave Hali time off in practices while he dealt with inflammation.

The rest from practice showed in his 838 defensive snaps, where he arguably looked just as quick as he did his first few years in the league. Hali, who also missed Week 16 after undergoing thumb surgery, finished with 6 ½ sacks and was strong against the run and quicker on his edge rush around the corner.

Hali would benefit from having his snaps cut in half if he were to return in 2016.

DEE FORD: The former first-round pick showed flashes in 2015, capped off with a three-sack game against the Chargers in Week 14.

Ford has a quick first step, but doesn’t appear to disengage from blocks once he becomes engaged on the play. The second-year veteran still lacks the counter moves to go with his speed and is unable to set up tackles with his speed, then utilize a club and rip or a spin move when the offensive tackle sets too far. Ford arguably makes it easier on opposing blockers because they know where to set and just engage Ford or deliver a punch and his rush will be over.

The Chiefs would be wise to bring in additional competition at the position.

FRANK ZOMBO: Zombo has been a consistent presence on special teams and ranked second on the team in special team snaps with 361. He saw 202 snaps on defense im 2015 and showed a good bull rush off the edge against the Oakland Raiders in Week 13.

The sixth-year veteran is stout against the run and maintains leverage on the edge, but lacks speed on the edge to be a consistently effective pass rusher. Zombo provides the team quality snaps on special teams, but lacks the athletic ability to be a consistent presence on defense.

DEZMAN MOSES: Moses was arguably the Chiefs third-best pass rusher at training camp in 2015, showing quick counter moves to reach the quarterback.

The fourth-year veteran saw 151 snaps on special teams, but was unable to see much time behind Dee Ford and Frank Zombo as an edge rusher, playing just 55 snaps on defense while the starters were hurt. Moses was inactive three games in 2015 and it is likely a stretch to expect him to make a significant jump in his fifth season.

ALSO ON ROSTER: Cameron Gordon

OUTLOOK: The Chiefs would benefit from bringing in multiple pass rushers at the position to help reduce the snaps of their starters and keep the pass rush fresh. The position saw injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali during the postseason in 2013 and 2015 that limited effectiveness. The Chiefs need to get more from the position late in the season.


Nick Jacobs is a contributing writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @Jacobs71.