The Chiefs decided to move on from their stalwart tackles this week. Here are some replacement options.
The Kansas City Chiefs made news on Thursday when it was announced that they released both their starting tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. The news sent shockwaves around the league and made it clear that the Chiefs will be looking for new players on the offensive line this next season.
Fisher and Schwartz were both great in their time in KC, but serious injuries to each of them ended their seasons and put their future in jeopardy. Brett Veach made a team-first move by releasing both of them, but it opens up two crucial spots on the Chiefs’ offensive line that will need to be filled. The team will have some options to explore, both inside the team, in free agency, and in the draft.
Niang is the obvious choice to be one of the replacements at tackle considering he was a top 100 pick a year ago for the Chiefs in the NFL draft. Niang opted out of the 2020 season, but it was unlikely that he would have been ready to play given that he was still recovering from a hip injury that he suffered and played through in 2019.
Niang brings power, as well as athletic ability to the position. He has a massive frame, long arms, and is crafty enough with his hands to work good counter moves on pass rushers. His vertical pass set with his drive and catch out of his stance are his biggest strength. He is light on his feet and can redirect in his protection, but when he makes contact he is able to anchor himself into the ground and fight off power rushers.
This pick might not be on the radar of many, but it’s one that could turn into a possibility as the Chiefs get closer to training camp. Martinas Rankin played in just one game in 2020, after missing most of the season due to an ACL injury that he suffered in week eleven of 2019. That being said, in his limited time playing Rankin has played well.
He played at guard in the five games he started in 2019, but his start at left tackle in week 17 of 2020 was intriguing. He played well against a Chargers unit (without Nick Bosa), but a good performance was what he left on the field for the Chiefs staff. Rankin would be a right tackle, and his best asset is his heavy hands, strike in pass protection, and athletic ability to reach block and cut off the backside of zone blocks. His vertical pass set is only average, but if healthy he would be a decent fill-in for a season for the Chiefs.
The Minnesota Vikings released Reiff on Thursday in what was somewhat of a surprise move. The eight-year NFL Pro had spent the last four seasons in Minnesota and has been a reliable starter at a premium position.
Nothing about his game is flashy, and he wouldn’t be able to fully replace players of the same caliber as Fisher and Schwartz, but he is a savvy veteran and is physical enough to still get the job done consistently. He is a technically sound player and plays the game with a high motor. His base is strong, his frame is large, and he has enough left in the tank to give the Chiefs a boost for 2021. It would likely only be a one-year rental, but it could help take a ton of pressure off the team.
The Steelers released their long-time tackle Villanueva on Friday, but he still has football left in him despite being 33 years old and could be a player who would be looking to win a ring to cap what has been a good NFL career.
Villanueva is still a monster and had a good 2020 NFL season by anyone’s standard. He uses his huge 6-foot-9 320-pound frame to wall off defenders in pass pro and makes them take the long way to get to the QB. This allows him to oftentimes just push them past the quarterback like in the clip above. He did a lot of pass blocking for the Steelers and this would fit KC great. The grizzled two-time Pro Bowl veteran could give the Chiefs what they are looking for in a one-year fill-in at tackle.
In my opinion, Liam Eichenberg is one of the most pro-ready players in the NFL draft and could come in and start at left tackle for any team on day one. Notre Dame has had some great offensive linemen in the NFL the last few seasons including Ronnie Stanley, Zach Martin, Quentin Nelson, and Mike McGlinchey. Eichenberg would fit right in with this group, and with his tools and experience he looks to be a great pick no matter where he goes.
With size, strength, smarts, and physicality, he is the full package for a lineman and reminds me of Mitchell Schwartz in a lot of ways. From his drive and catch, which is always flawless, to his ability to use his hands to win every battle, he makes up for his average athletic ability with fundamentals and aggression. He plays to the echo of the whistle every play and isn’t afraid to mix it up. This is what the Chiefs upfront.
Spencer Brown has the potential to be a very special player in the NFL, even if it takes a year of him sitting to get used to the NFL game. I wrote about him in my prospect film review How Spencer Brown could fit on the Chiefs – Arrowhead Live. He has physical tools and a mentality that very few humans live with.
Brown dominated the FCS the past two seasons but was robbed of playing much in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the FCS decision to postpone football. In the limited time, he did get he re-assured people he was the monster he portrayed himself as on film in 2019. A monster. He needs about a year to adjust to the NFL game, but this guy will make multiple All-Pro teams in his NFL career, and no better player to protect for than Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs can go multiple different directions with how they choose to select their tackles in the 2021 NFL season. To me, the most likely is to start Niang at right, sign either Villanueva or Reiff, and drat a guy like Brown in the late second round where he should still be available. Niang was a top 100 pick at a position that Andy Reid has valued greatly, and before his injury was seen as a top prospect in 2020. He is ready to play.
Villanueva or Reiff will cost less than Fisher and Schwartz did for one season, and one of them will be able to provide quality protection for one season, which could be another Super Bowl year for KC. Brown would then have time to develop for a year, and then become the guy at LT for the rest of Patrick Mahomes NFL career.
The other way to look at it is the Chiefs would draft Eichenberg and start and Niang at RT, and let them roll through the growing pains knowing that Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce could overcome early on. This would be more of a gamble and is also where Rankin could come in. If he could start a few games at tackle while a younger guy like Eichenberg was being acclimated it would help the team immensely. Rankin will likely end up playing guard in 2021 for the majority of the season, but any time he could fill in at tackle would be greatly appreciated.
Ultimately Niang will be playing and the Chiefs will be picking up a new tackle in the draft. Whether it will be a play right away pick or play later pick is yet to be determined. Andy Reid values tackles, it’s the only position the Chiefs have seriously invested in along the offensive line since Reid has been in town and it seems that is what he will go with moving forward. Protecting the franchise is the priority, let’s see if the Chiefs make it happen.