Derrick Johnson: Most Irreplaceable Chiefs Defender

by BJ Kissel on Jun 25, 2012 2:00 PM CDT

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The Kansas City Chiefs have had their fair share of 'what if's' over the past 12 months on how their team could handle injuries to their star players. Last year, what some could have argued were their best offensive and defensive players in Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, went down for the season with ACL injuries.
We saw what the offense would look like without Jamaal Charles and for the most part, it wasn't pretty. But defensively, as good as Eric Berry is for this defense, they still managed to finish 11th in the NFL in yards per game (333.3) and 12th in the league in scoring defense (21.1) without him playing safety for basically the entire season.

Berry is one of the best young safeties in the game and Tamba Hali is an elite pass rusher, but Derrick Johnson is the most irreplaceable player on the Chiefs defense.

Johnson finished the 2010 season ranked 15th in the NFL in total tackles (121) and then 10th in the NFL last season (131). He has solidified himself as one of the premier inside linebackers in all of football. When you're giving credit to defenders, particularly in Romeo Crennel's 3/4 defensive scheme, you have to spread the credit around because it takes the whole group doing their job for the individuals to shine the way that Johnson has done over the past two seasons.
While credit can be given to the players surrounding Johnson in helping the Chiefs defense succeed as a whole, there's no denying that the defense would take a step back without Johnson roaming the middle of the field. And probably more so with Johnson than any other individual Chiefs player.
Tamba Hali would obviously be a huge blow to the Chiefs if he weren't out on the field. There is depth behind him though with the possibility of moving Justin Houston over to the weakside and have Andy Studebaker fill in on the strongside where Houston had been, and where Studebaker has experience playing. You also have Cameron Sheffield there who did see time on the field last season in nickel situations.
The Chiefs upgraded their safety situation by signing Abram Elam and drafting DeQuan Menzie during this off-season. It was apparent last season when Berry was gone that the depth at that safety position was sorely lacking, but the Chiefs still managed to hold it together on that side of the ball ranking in the top 12 in the NFL in the two key defensive statistics, yards and points allowed per game.
Demorrio Williams had been a backup inside linebacker for the Chiefs behind Derrick Johnson for the last few seasons, and Johnson's only missed six games in his eight seasons for the Chiefs. So Williams left this off-season and signed with the San Diego Chargers where he has a better shot at regular playing time that's not strictly special teams. But that veteran depth that had been there behind Johnson is gone and that job is now in the hands of Cory Greenwood. The former third overall pick of the Toronto Argonauts in 2010 signed with the Chiefs just a few days after being drafted to the Canadian Football League.
Greenwood has just 24 total tackles in his two seasons in Kansas City, and is next in-line to take over at inside linebacker should anything happen to Johnson. Greenwood has been a good special teams player and could possibly be an adequate fill-in for Johnson, but that play-making ability that Johnson shows at that position would be missed in the heart of the Chiefs defense.
The thought of Justin Houston rushing the quarterback every play (Hali) or Abram Elam starting at strong safety (Berry) is more comforting than the thought of Cory Greenwood out there handling the responsibilities that Derrick Johnson has taken over the past two seasons in Kansas City.
That's why Johnson is the most irreplaceable player on the Chiefs defense.

even though it has taken a few extra seasons DJ HAS become a premier linebacker.