From the FanPosts -Joel
As the end of the 2013 season gets closer and closer,
the numerous draftniks, free agent watch dogs, and coaching fanboys here on AP are gearing up for the endless debates about who should be targeted in the upcoming offseason. Intense strategies, that will never be heard by anyone of any importance, will be drawn up on the best ways for the Chiefs to improve moving forward. Terms like "Quarterback of the future (QBOTF)", "natural position", "ceiling/floor", "injury concerns", "fits the scheme", "for what we do", and "sleeper" will be thrown around all over AP ... to the point that many of the more casual readers will probably get sick of it. But what can I say? Some of us absolutely love the schemes, planning, and intricacies associated with running an NFL franchise.
Rather than break down each individual position along the offensive line, I decided to take this on as a unit. There aren't a lot of "holes" on our front 5, but there are enough concerns and uncertainties that it warrants attention. We saw struggles this year at just about every single position along the line. There were also a number of injuries that set us back. And now we have some expiring contracts. All of this creates questions, and the Chiefs may not have all the answers in house.
We know what we have, and there are some concerns.
Branden Albert - The lone Pro Bowler from our offensive line had, arguably, one of his worst seasons this year. Some penalty and injury issues overshadowed a lot of Albert's play, but he had some other hiccups along the way as well. He didn't perform terribly, but I think it's hard to argue that he played so much better than the rest of the LTs in the league. However, all of that is likely a moot point for the Chiefs anyways. The simple truth is that Albert wants a lot of money and the Chiefs aren't willing to give it to him. You can point at any stat you want, but the facts are the facts. The Chiefs drafted an OT with the No. 1 overall pick last year and were actively shopping Albert to any team that showed interest (and not many did). Albert will likely want to test the market this year, and I don't see any way that the Dolphins don't outbid any and all offers for him.
Jeff Allen - Before the season started, there were a lot of calls to have Jeff Allen off the roster. However, as the season went on, Allen showed some dramatic improvement. That really shouldn't be too surprising when you consider this is only his second season and he is playing a different position than what he did in college. Allen has shown some promise of being a decent player moving forward. He will most certainly be on the roster next year, and hopefully he continues to improve.
Rodney Hudson - Rodney Hudson is another player that showed improvement this year. He's also another player who was brought in to play a different position than what he did in college. After sitting behind Casey Wiegmann for a year, and then having an injury-shortened campaign last year, this was really Hudson's first shot at showing what he had. He's another player that we need to hope will improve for next year, but his spot on the roster could be in contention depending on whether or not Eric Kush can develop.
Jon Asamoah - Before the season, many Chiefs fans were arguing that Big Jon was the best player on our OL. He may still be the best lineman ... just not in Andy Reid's system. Asamoah looked lost for a significant portion of his playing time, and may be the best example of how certain players are better suited for different schemes. I would say that it is unlikely that he will be brought back considering that Geoff Schwartz seemingly took his job at the end of the year.
Eric Fisher - Our No. 1 overall pick was certainly given a trial by fire this year. JJ Watt, Von Miller, George Selvie, Jason Pierre-Paul, Connor Barwin, and Fletcher Cox are just some of the defenders that he had to cut his teeth against. On top of this, he was playing a new position and dealing with injury issues. However, despite all this, Fisher really didn't play that poorly. The Chiefs were able to run to his side, and his pass protection got much better as the year went on. Fisher will be one of the more critiqued players over the next couple of years simply because he was the #1 overall pick in the draft. But, as for year one...I think he outplayed most of his peers from the 2013 class. He will be in a Chiefs uniform for the next couple of years, and I predict a move to the left side in 2014.
Donald Stephenson - I doubt there are many folks who would disagree that Donald Stephenson was the most pleasant surprise on our offensive line. He made a strong case for himself as a starter in 2014 by playing well at both LT and RT this season. His versatility makes him an ideal player to have on the roster. I see him starting at RT in 2014 and hope that the Chiefs would look at retaining him long-term beyond that.
Geoff Schwartz - Simply put, Geoff Schwartz did what anyone who knew about him expected him to do. He came in and gave a solid performance as a backup, but struggled some when asked to take on full-time duties. This is who Schwartz is. He could start for some teams, but not for others. Many people wanted him to take Jeff Allen's job at LG, but it was eventually Jon Asamoah at RG that he replaced. That should be a telling sign as to the status of our line right now. Schwartz should certainly be given an offer to stay with the Chiefs, and hopefully he wants to be here. But we do not want to overpay for him. Schwartz is good in spot duty, and can be called upon to start from time to time, but we don't want him out there for all 16 games.
Eric Kush - A player who was easy for a lot of fans to love ... if for nothing else than his name. Kush seems to have all of the natural talents you want in a Center, but there are still some technique issues to iron out. It's really hard to say whether or not he will develop into a starting caliber Center. Center is really one of those positions where you can actually find quality talent deep in the draft, so his being a 6th rd pick isn't much of a concern. If nothing else, I expect him to at least keep Rodney Hudson from getting to confident in his own job security. For now, and probably moving forward, Kush seems like a decent option to have on the depth chart.
Rishawn Johnson - I'll go ahead and say that I'm probably more optimistic about Rishawn Johnson than anyone else here. Originally an UDFA of the Seahawks, Johnson is one of those "character concern" guys that may have turned the corner. The Chiefs brought him to camp and eventually stuck him on the Practice Squad. He stuck with the team throughout the year and eventually got himself a chance to play against the Chargers. He has a very good size and athleticism combination. I won't say that he has a future as a starter, but I do expect him to be back in 2014 and in the mix to fill out our depth chart. If he continues to improve, he may be a surprising player for us next year.
Rokevious Watkins - I have just about the exact opposite opinion of the big man from South Carolina. A lot of fans were excited when we added Watkins, but I just had to laugh. Simply put, Watkins has always been the biggest and strongest ... so he never had to actually learn how to play football. Now that he's in the NFL, that doesn't work anymore. Watkins is outmatched by almost everyone he goes up against. He isn't the biggest and strongest anymore, so he can't rely on that. And even when he can, guys who are either quicker or smarter (and most players are one or the other) have little problem in figuring out how to beat him. Watkins should be an easy cut in next year's camp.
So looking at our offensive line group, I see three to four openings on the 2014 roster, with the only starting position really in question at RG. And, fortunately for the Chiefs, there are a lot of options out there which means we should be able to get a good production/cost player in either Free Agency or the Draft.
First Stop: Free Agency
Rodger Saffold - OT/G - St Louis Rams: Saffold never lived up to his billing as a top prospect, and it's now unlikely that the Rams retain him. Injury concerns are definitely an issue here, but can also help the Chiefs if they do target him by limiting the market. Saffold is unlikely to receive any kind of big offer, but his versatility as an o-lineman makes him ideal for a team that needs competition at several spots. He could challenge Donald Stephenson or Geoff Schwartz for either spot on the right side and the Chiefs would be none the worse for having the loser of those competitions as a backup.
John Jerry - OG - Miami Dolphins: Much like Asamoah, Jerry just seems out of place on his current team. This is the kind of situation that might see two teams essentially exchange players without making a trade. John Jerry does have talent. A good combination of size, strength, and athleticism, he has experience at both OG spots, and that kind of versatility can make him an ideal signing for depth purposes alone. Jerry may or may not be a fit for the Chiefs, but I think he's worth a shot as long as we retain Schwartz for insurance.
Richie Incognito - OG - Miami Dolphins: I did a FanPost about Richie a few months back, and most Chiefs fans were pretty much against the idea of bringing him in. That's understandable. The guy is a thug and should probably be castrated to prevent further pollution of the gene pool. But he can also be a force on the offensive line. Incognito has received constant praise from almost everyone he has ever played with. He has been popular everywhere he has played, but has also been trouble everywhere he has played. This is a high risk/high reward chance for the Chiefs. However, I don't know that there is enough leadership in the locker room to counteract his negative influence. Any contract that he signs will have to be completely void of guaranteed money to make him worth the investment. That way, we can cut him if he gets to be too much.
Brian Waters - OG - Dallas Cowboys: That's right, the old man could be an option. He is still playing at a relatively high level, though certainly not the player he once was. With the Chiefs looking to be poised to become a major contender, Waters may be enticed to come back and give it one last shot. His leadership would be a huge boost to our line, and with all the young players we have, there is plenty that he can teach them. There is the obvious concern about his age, and he finished this past season with an injury to his triceps. He's another free agent signing that we would want to be sure to hedge our bet with.
So there is certainly some talent available, and just about all of these players can be had at a very reasonable price while providing the Chiefs with some kind of upgrade or asset. However, I can't say that I see any of these guys as long-term answers, so at some point, the Chiefs will need to turn to the draft to truly stabilize the offensive line.
Next Stop: The Draft
Antonio Richardson - OT - Tennessee - 1st Rd: He's fallen on most boards recently, but Antonio Richardson has the tools and ability to be a solid player in the NFL. A great combination of size, strength, and athleticism plus a good understanding of the game. He does tend to get a little sloppy in some of his technique at times, and he struggled against some of the better talent he faced. Drafting him in the 1st rd may be a reach, and given the rest of the Chiefs' needs, I don't see it as much of an option. But, Andy Reid does like drafting offensive linemen, so he should certainly be watched as an option.
Morgan Moses - OT - Virginia - 3rd Rd: At 325 pounds, the man is just big. But he carries the weight well and has surprising athleticism. A RT prospect who can finish most anybody once he gets his hands on them. Like a lot of the bigger offensive linemen prospects, Moses struggles some with his technique, often relying on his physical abilities to get the job done. He does have the ability to shift inside to OG which could make him a very attractive target for Andy Reid.
Gabe Jackson - OG - Ole Miss - 3rd Rd: Another giant, Jackson is an example of the mid-round talent you can find for interior o-linemen. He is a solid athlete and plays with some very good technique. The biggest drawback on him is that he plays a little timid and doesn't seek to dominate his opponent. It's almost odd to think that a 340 pound guy is more of a technician than a mauler, but that seems to describe his playing style. He needs to find that aggression to be effective at the next level.
Dakota Dozier - OG - Furman - 4th Rd: A small school prospect, Dozier is athletic and strong. He was a relative unknown until the Shrine Game (enough so that I had to go back and edit this because people know who he is now). He played OT, but is projected as an OG in the NFL, and showcased some excellent ability to make that transition. Dozier won just about every award he could with the Paladins, and his mid-round draft grade is solely a result of being from an FCS school. This would be a prime opportunity for the Chiefs to capitalize. He may even be worth that 3rd rd pick.
Russell Bodine - OG/C - North Carolina - 6th Rd: Bodine has a complete skill set that will make him a target of any team needing interior OL depth. He's strong, quick, explosive, and versatile. Watching him on tape, you almost wonder why he is rated so low by a number of draft sites. Well, the answer is his short arms. Bodine simply doesn't have the length that is needed to be a successful, full-time, starter in the NFL. However, in spot duty and as a temporary option, he provides enough talent that there shouldn't be a noticeable drop off. Very much like Geoff Schwartz in that regard.
Spencer Long - OG - Nebraska - 7th Rd: Expect his round projection to jump up when scouts see how he has recovered from his knee injury. My guess is that he eventually goes in the 5th rd. Long was one of the best o-linemen in the country in 2012, and had a strong start to the 2013 season. However, his season was cut short due to injury. Long has just about every attribute you could want in an OG. He's big, strong, quick, athletic, smart, and a hard worker. A former walk on and an Academic All-Big Ten player, as well as a 2nd Team All-American, there really isn't much not to like about him.
I tried to avoid diving into the 1st round talent in the draft because I just don't see us going offensive line that early given our other needs. However, there are a number of other players who are likely going to be options for us as well. There is plenty of mid-to-late round talent out there as well as a large list of free agents. And most of the guys we bring in will be players who don't even really stand a chance of playing a down for the Chiefs anyways. That's the way it is for every team when it comes to the offensive line. You bring in a bunch of players just to see if there is something there. But there is talent to be had, and it can come at a very reasonable price. I see a lot of potential to find guys who are not only good options for the short term, but can also develop into possible fixtures along our offensive front. With Andy Reid's emphasis on the offensive line, it is very likely that we make a couple of moves in this area. I would be surprised if we don't add at least one well-known free agent along with a draft pick or two.
For more coverage, check out the previously published editions of "Looking Ahead"
And read NN's breakdown of some of the more top tier players in the draft, as well some other potential later round steals.