ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. is heading into his third year in the NFL and has high expectations as he takes on a leadership role.

“I got goals to lead linebackers in the NFL in interceptions this year,” Gay said. “So when Pat[rick Mahomes] throws me some, I know other quarterbacks will, because they not as good as him.”

Though Gay jokingly said he isn’t cocky enough to talk smack when picking off Mahomes, he said working against him and tight end Travis Kelce are making the linebacker room stronger.

“Nobody runs routes like Travis, nobody can throw the ball like Pat, so we gettin’ better over there,” Gay said.

Gay tied for second on the team with two interceptions last season, one in a loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 and one against the New York Giants in Week 8. His two picks were tied for third amongst linebackers.

  • Darius Leonard; Indianapolis Colts – 4
  • Logan Wilson; Cincinnati Bengals – 4
  • Foyesade Oluokun; Atlanta Falcons – 3
  • Anthony Barr; Minnesota Vikings – 3

“Coming out of college, I feel like I was a guy that was drafted because of my coverage ability,” Gay said. “I feel like I dropped four of them last year; Cowboys, Broncos, a couple other teams. I feel like if I make those that’s like 5 or 6 interceptions last year. This year really can take it to the next level. I know that for a fact.”

Coupled with the departure of veteran Anthony Hitchens, Gay and second-year linebacker Nick Bolton are part of a youthful movement at the position. Add the departure of veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu, the two young linebackers are rising to leadership roles.

“I definitely feel like my role has increased those two guys were big parts of this defense, of this team,” Gay said. “Now man, I feel like me and Nick both have bigger roles to fill, to lead this defense and lead this team on the defensive side and just do what we need to do.”

Now as leaders in the defensive locker room, Gay is using his experience to help rookies and undrafted free agents keep their focus.

“When I see the guys, the undrafted guys, struggling a little bit, I tell them, ‘We gonna get it. Don’t cram your mind right before practice. Just stay focused, do your part, do what you need to do. You’re gonna mess up. You can’t be perfect in this game. We got one of the most complex defenses in this league.'”