After a dramatic rebuild of the offensive line, expectations are sky-high for the group. Are the expectations setting up Chiefs fans for disappointment?
The Chiefs have dramatically improved their offensive line in 2021. Let me re-state that just for the comments section on social media “The Chiefs have dramatically improved their offensive line in 2021.”
The depth and the ceiling of the offensive line have been raised dramatically from 2020 which is really saying something considering they had a pro-bowl left tackle and an all-pro right tackle last season. From top to bottom this is the best group Patrick Mahomes has ever had protecting him.
But, I think it’s time we stop raving about the improvements and start setting expectations that are realistic. Keep in mind the Chiefs won 14 games last year and walked to the Super Bowl with below-average line play. Kansas City doesn’t have to have an elite offensive line to be great they just can’t be what they were in the Super Bowl.
It’s so common when analyzing the roster we look in terms of “best-case scenario.” “If Orlando Brown can do here what he did in Baltimore, if Creed Humphry is who the draft experts think he is, if Kyle Long can stay healthy, If what Chase Young said about Lucas Niang is true”.. all of these are big “if’s”.
Unfortunately, there are several paths to the Chiefs’ offensive line being below average to average in 2021. Especially, when you consider that their projected starters from center to right tackle have played a combined 0 snaps in the NFL in the last year.
Breaking Down the Pieces
Orlando Brown – Brown is coming to the Chiefs as a two-time pro-bowler and highly regarded by many. The acquisition of Brown is huge in protecting Mahomes’ blindside and provides the Chiefs with a long-term answer at one of the most important positions on the field.
However, there are still many questions Brown will need to answer for Kansas City. He dropped in the draft because of a dreadful combine performance. When comparing Orlando Brown Jr. to Eric Fisher athletically, it can be difficult to believe they play the same position. All that being said, Brown played an elite right tackle in Baltimore and played well when he moved over and logged over 1000 snaps at left tackle in 2020.
What Brown did in Baltimore couldn’t be more different than what he will be asked to do in Kansas City. Brown thrived in an extremely run-heavy offense that has the most effective play-action game in the league. Moreover, pass-rushing Lamar Jackson is a terrifying concept. He is one of the few quarterbacks that getting upfield on can actually be a determent to the rusher. Brown was PFF’s 25th overall tackle, he is replacing Eric Fisher who was PFF’s 16th overall tackle.
Brown played in a system that compliments pass blockers and emphasizes run blocking. Additionally, the Ravens run-heavy sets with tight ends and extra offensive linemen more than almost any other team in the league. Whereas, in Kansas City Brown will be asked to be on an island 1-on-1 down after down for one of the league’s most pass-happy offenses. Brown has a lot to prove to the Chiefs in 2021.
Joe Thuney-There is virtually no such thing as a “sure thing” in the NFL, but if there was it would be Joe Thuney. The Chiefs new left guard has been a model of consistency and health in his career. Adding him to the Chiefs roster is a huge step towards consistent winning in the trenches. Of the projected starters for the offensive line, Thuney is for sure the one we can count on the most.
One of my favorite things about Thuney is that he has never missed a game in his 5 years as a player. This is a huge benefit when considering the turnover that has occurred within the past seasons along the offensive line.
Even with a rock like Joe Thuney, there are some questions. New England has been the Mecca of offensive line play, for years they have developed great player after great player and let them walk in free agency. Typically, those players regress from their time in NE. Thuney will have to overcome this narrative in Kansas City.
Creed Humphrey and Austin Blythe – For a while, it seemed the Chiefs had effectively switched Austin Reiter out for Austin Blythe. Blythe has been an effective NFL starter for the last 2 years, however, he was more or less a patch job at the position for a year. Blythe graded similarly to Reiter, a little better run blocker and a little worse at pass blocking. Blythe is a classic “low-floor and low-ceiling” addition. Without the addition of Humphrey, it’s hard to say the center position had been upgraded.
Through the draft, the Chiefs were able to add what most analysis believed to be the top center in the draft class in Creed Humphrey. He projects to be the starting center in Kansas City for the next four years. He’s big, physical, smart, and athletic; Humphrey projects to be everything you want in a center. However, until we see him on the field in game action, everything is just a projection. Creed would not be the first rookie to completely disappoint his draft profile. Though there is a path to struggling at center in 2021, it doesn’t seem likely.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kyle Long – Here is where the questions can really begin with the outlook on the offensive line. Kyle Long and LDT have played as many NFL snaps as I have in the last year. When we last saw LDT, he had a down season in 2019, ranking 53rd among starting guards. It’s hard to see him coming back and improving upon his 2019. Similarly, Kyle Long decided he couldn’t take another season of blocking for Mitch Trubisky and retired in 2020. Long certainly has had years of great production as a starter but those were several injury-riddled years ago.
Again, the depth at the right guard position is definitely improved, especially when you include Trey Smith and Nick Allegretti into the mix. However, expecting Smith to walk in and start is a lot to ask of a late-round rookie. All three of the potential starters at right guard are total unknowns at this point.
Lucas Niang and Mike Remmers – You can comfort yourself with Geoff Schwartz tweets all you like but Lucas Niang did not look good in the rookie camp videos. Additionally, the little hype video of him catching tennis balls(??) and taking left tackle snaps with his feet 5 yards apart did not look good.
That’s not to say that he can’t be good in 2021 but any time a head coach comes out and addresses a player’s fitness level in rookie mini-camp; it’s not great… Niang is even more of an unknown cause he barely played his final season at TCU due to a major hip injury.
The Chiefs really want Niang to be the starting right tackle in 2021, if they grab a starting right tackle for 4 years with a third-round pick, it would be incredible value. Certainly, Niang has the pedigree and the accolades from college to be an NFL starter but penciling him in as the starter or even as a good starter is a stretch in May.
Mike Remmers was a fantastic signing for KC last year, yes Jason Pierre-Paul abused him in the Super bowl but Remmers was never meant to be the starting left tackle. Having him on the roster as a backup right tackle and guard is a good value. Remmers ranked 40th among all tackles in 2020 which is perfect for what he was signed as. This brings us back to Niang winning the job, if Remmers is a back up he’s excellent. If he’s a starter it really limits the ceiling of the offensive line.
The Chiefs have drastically raised the floor of their offensive line play, they almost have two lines better than the group of starters that lined up in Tampa. Saying that the Chiefs have dramatically improved their line is a fact. Saying that the Chiefs are top 5 offensive line in the league right now is fiction…There are more paths to the Chiefs being an average offensive line in 2021 than an elite one. This is all just to say that the expectations for the line in 2021 should be managed. Kansas City doesn’t need an elite line to be great they just need enough time to run “wasp.”