Forgive the horrible joke, but you can almost hear Dylan singing the words, "Oh the lines, they are a-changin'".
Stupid openers aside, the truth is that there is no single position that will experience a greater shift in personnel from one season to the next than offensive line for the Kansas City Chiefs. Branden Albert is a free agent and is likely out the door (despite cursory nods to talks-in-process). Jon Asamoah is going to hit the open market and Geoff Schwartz is an unrestricted free agent, too.
That's two-plus starters, and those aren't the only changes. Depending on how Albert's contract plays out, the team could shift Donald Stephenson into the starting line-up on the right side and potentially reverse Eric Fisher to the left side. Only Rodney Hudson and Jeff Allen -- or 40 percent -- could line up at the same positions they started in 2013.
The Chiefs will likely do some shopping this offseason to either bring back one or more of their own players along with a veteran or two. Perhaps even a draft pick will be used at some point to develop and bolster the depth chart. But since we're interested in exploring in-house options for help at various positions, G Rishaw Johnson presents a very interesting case for conversation.
If you're unfamiliar with Johnson's background, you're likely not alone. On the surface, Johnson looks like a journeyman practice squad player and nothing more, the kind of name that floats between rosters for a few years at unimportant points in the season. But the very fact that Johnson remained on the Chiefs roster this season could mean that Johnson has turned the corner. And if you're familiar with the former Ole Miss player, you know that's very good news.
Johnson has taken the long road to get here, even going back to high school playing at three different schools to finish his career due to Hurricane Katrina. He redshirted his first year in 2007, but then played in five games in 2008 and even earned a starting role his sophomore year. Unfortunately, character issues plagued him throughout his short tenure in Oxford, including alleged credit card fraud. He was dismissed from the team.
Johnson then went to California (Pa.) where he obviously dominated as a big fish in a much smaller pond. Became a full-time starter at right guard and D-II All-American while also serving as team captain (alongside fellow Chiefs lineman Eric Kush). In short, he thrived in the new environment and settled into the football prospect that he could be. He was only one of two players invited to the Senior Bowl that season and he also earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Throughout the NFL Draft process, Johnson earned grades ranging between the fourth and sixth round from analysts, but he went undrafted and signed with the Seattle Seahawks shortly thereafter. He remained on the team's practice squad for a year and signed with the Chiefs last September. He earned a bit of playing time in Week 5 and Week 12 before starting with other reserves against the Chargers in Week 17. He even earned a couple of snaps in the team's playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Johnson earned praise from quarterback Chase Daniel for his efforts in the Chargers game, where he started alongside Rokevious Watkins and Eric Kush.
"Those guys are some young pups and to get thrown into the fire, on the road in a playoff environment ... the way they played, to give up only (two) sacks ... was unbelievable. Coach Reid called some downfield throws at the end of the game when we needed it. We needed them to step up, we needed them in the run game, and I think they did that."
Johnson came into the league highly-regarded as a run blocker who needed to continue to work on his passing game and earn experience against stronger competition. He also needed to distance himself from the poor decisions he'd made to this point. Johnson played every single offensive snap that game, so the team's coaching staff will be able to see quite a bit of tape on Johnson as he's developed in their system. And given the lack of any drama, so far, so good on the latter.
Let's get a quick look at what scouts were saying before the NFL Draft.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler noted:
Offensive guard Rishaw Johnson (California, Pa.) has shown why some feel he could be a top-120 pick. He has good thickness throughout his body and moves very well for his 309-pound frame with large, 11-inch mitts. Johnson, who has been practicing at right guard, spent a little too much time on the ground and is a bit of a bull in a china shop, but he stays balanced off the snap and looks to finish. He has some off-field questions, but showcased the raw skills in practice to develop into a pro backup, at worst.
Pro Football Weekly highlighted the wide spectrum of possibilities with Johnson:
A former SEC recruit, Johnson is a raw, inconsistent, physically talented blocker with starter-caliber athletic ability and a marginal makeup that could wear thin on the mushroom club. Measurements are much more appealing than he plays.
Brad Clark of NFLs Future like Johnson enough for a 4th or 5th round grade:
Rishaw Johnson is a work in progress with some upside. He was dismissed from Ole Miss for violating team rules and isn't noted to be the hardest of workers. He has a lot to prove but could be worth the risk.
Johnson's NFL.com profile also graded him as a fourth rounder coming out of college:
Rishaw has been a tough and consistent starter for small-school Cal U in Pennsylvania. He is a transfer from Ole Miss, and there are questions that arise from his departure there. He is a reliable backup option early as an athletic big body, and he has fourth-round value.
Bottom Line: Johnson will earn $570,000 this year and the Chiefs can bring back Johnson with a minimum deal in 2015 as well, given that Johnson will be an exclusive rights free agent (which simply means that the Chiefs have exclusive rights to keep Johnson). If Johnson can play well and earn valuable minutes, that means he's a bargain on the roster. If the Chiefs let Asamoah and / or Schwartz go and seem to do very little to replace him, it might show just how much confidence they have in Johnson as a player and not prospect.