Anthony Hitchens had always been one of the “other” linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Lee, the former All-Pro, grabbed a lot of headlines. So did Jaylon Smith, a former No. 1 overall draft prospect before he suffered an ACL injury in his final collegiate game.
But Hitchens was always a steady presence for the Cowboys, playing all 48 games through his first three seasons and 12 last season, which was shortened after missing the first four weeks recovering from a knee injury Dallas thought would keep him out up to eight. On top of his durability, Hitchens also showed an ability to be incredibly versatile, playing all three linebacker positions for the Cowboys at different times.
Those attributes, along with a number of other STATS X-Info metrics we will get into, are why the Kansas City Chiefs signed Hitchens to a five-year, $45 million contract this offseason.
In a series of short articles that started with a look at Albert Wilson and has included the signings of Andrew Norwell and Aaron Colvin, STATS will highlight some free agent signings that didn’t blow the top off the industry – ones that are a tad under-the-radar involving underrated players who have performed well in STATS-unique metrics.
Hitchens was on the field for 306 pass attempts in 2017 and was targeted on 33 of those. He was burned on only 14 and gave up just one big play all season. As we’ve explained in previous free agency posts, a burn occurs when a covered receiver is targeted and makes a positive play, excluding screen passes.
The fifth-year linebacker out of Iowa had a comparative burn percentage of 3.3, meaning he gave up a burn on 3.3 percent fewer plays than his positional average. And when Hitchens did give up a burn, he gave up 1.8 fewer yards on average than the rest of the players in his position group.
Hitchens has never made a Pro Bowl, but the five-year contract the Chiefs gave him obviously shows they believe in his ability to be an impact player for them.
He rarely misses time, so he checks that box. He moves around, with the ability to play all three linebacker spots. He checks that box. And while linebackers are being asked to be more and more versatile in the passing game, he grades very well in STATS-unique metrics. The Chiefs got a good one.