It seems that a clip from The Chiefs rookie mini-camp got out into social media and the eyes of the world were drawn to rookie right tackle Lucas Niang. Some harsh opinions were thrown around, to say the least, as he had put on a little bit of weight in the off-season and was way out of shape to play NFL, according to some fans on Twitter.
The naysayer tweets started piling up as they do and even here at Arrowhead Live, where we are generally supportive of all things to do with the team, we tweeted.
“I don’t want to make a judgment off of a 30-second video shot from a hundred yards away, but I don’t feel too…..encouraged”
How bad were some of the discouraging comments? Well, when you Google search Niang here in the UK, the results come back with adverts for weight loss programs. All of a sudden, this shining prospect on the offensive line was being widely touted by the fan base as a potential bust.
So, let’s talk a bit about Niang prior to the mini-camp. He was drafted in the third round of the 2020 draft at pick 96 from the TCU Horned Frogs. He was, even then, a big man standing 6 foot 6 inches tall, weighing 315 pounds, 32 ¼ inch arm length, and 10 ½ inch hands.
The scouting reports on him were unanimously favorable. At right tackle, even playing hurt, he gave up no sacks at all in three seasons. He has unusually quick feet for such a big man with the dancing bear comparison much in evidence. He can stop edge rushers. He was a gift to a run offense being able to neutralize and move linemen and linebackers.
His thing at TCU was very much punching holes and opening lanes for runners. His weaknesses such as they were, were balance and poise on passing sets. I’m betting that KC thought that they could work on the passing given what he potentially brings to the run game and special teams.
Back then he was also coming into the draft off hip labrum surgery. For those of you not of a medical disposition, the labrum is kind of like an oil seal of cartilage around the hip joint that keeps the lubricating fluids in the joint and also keeps the hip socket properly lined up. Damaging the hip labrum is a relatively common sports injury and surgery on it is highly successful. It can take up to 6 weeks to get off crutches and maybe 6 months of recovery time but the prognosis is good if you let it heal and settle down.
We could conceivably have had a rookie tackle starting the last season in rehab although interestingly he would likely have come good for the Super Bowl. We’ll never know how that would have worked out though because Lucas took a year out on the Covid exemption and opted out of the 2020 season entirely. That was entirely his decision and perhaps understandable with a deadly disease that nobody knew very much about last year.
The big question is, did he then spend that season off sat on the couch mainlining Twinkies as his appearance would suggest and the answer is no he did not. He appears to have set about making himself better at his position with specialist movement coaches particularly in the area of improving his movement for protecting the passer. Valuing the best QB in the league as I do, I like that a lot.
When the scouting reports said he had very few issues on the running sets for the Horned Frogs but needed to improve his passing sets, he seems to have listened, understood, and taken it upon himself to get better in that area. His off-season coaches report him as training 4 sessions a week which is admirable. This is a young man who has taken his professional responsibilities seriously.
I guess we should leave the final grading up to the opinion that matters most, namely Coach Andy Reid who says:
“He’s done a nice job in this camp. He’s a big man, like a really big man, that has these beautiful feet, So I look forward to getting him back in the pads in training camp, moving around, doing what offensive linemen do, the real football part of it”
“He actually came in better shape than he probably was last year…That’s a plus. You know he’s been doing stuff. So he came in and it looked like he got right back into it. For what we asked him to do, he was fine”
”He looked tremendous for what we’re doing.”
Let’s put an end to this storm in a teacup. We have a rookie that has not only had the time to let that torn labrum recover but who has also put in some hard yards patching the holes in his game. I look forward to seeing Lucas Niang competing for his starting spot in training camp and to him becoming another key ingredient in our greatly improved offensive line depth chart.