With the draft still a ways off (I hate you NFL for moving the draft. I don't want to hear any lame excuses), the Kansas City Chiefs continue to enthrall fans with their moves in free agency.
Wait, did I say "enthrall?" My bad, I can think of a better word. Mystify? Infuriate? Frustrate? Humiliate? Irritate?
Any or all of those words could likely apply (especially with the whole Emmanuel Sanders fiasco). A great many Chiefs fans have spoken as to their intense frustration with John Dorsey / Andy Reid and their seeming inactivity throughout free agency. After all, isn't this the time of year to upgrade team weaknesses? And almost nowhere has seen more criticism than the lack of activity at guard.
Well, lack of activity isn't exactly a fair way of phrasing things. There's been plenty of movement, it's just been away from Kansas City. Jon Asamoah is not walking through that door anymore. Nor is Geoff Schwartz. Both were lured away with decent contracts from other teams, and the Chiefs seem to be left with no choice but to draft a right guard in the first round to keep the offensive line from having a glaring hole.
At least, that's how it seems to us. Of course, that could very well not be how Dorsey feels about the line. In an interesting comment a short time ago, Dorsey talked about what an opportunity it was to see the Chiefs' depth play against starting-caliber NFL competition in Week 17. I think you all remember that game. You know, the one the Chiefs backups won against a desperate Chargers club.
What's that, you say? They didn't win? Sorry, I refuse to acknowledge that game as a loss. Not gonna happen. Unless you want to try and tell me that a runner "breaking the plane of the first down" stops a play, don't even bother (or unless you want to claim it's OK for teams to line up illegally on game winning kicks. Either way). That game was a win. The Chiefs were 12-4. Your argument is invalid.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Right, depth. I mostly ignored Dorsey's comment, because what else is a GM going to say about a week like that? Then, our dearly departed OL Mr. Schwartz spoke out regarding said depth, in the form of comments about second year (well, now third year I suppose) guard Rishaw Johnson. You can click to see more stuff about Rishaw, but Schwartz said the following:
"Rishaw played really well in the Chargers game. He's a guy that has a lot of talent and he really developed as the year went on. He's strong and explosive off the ball. Sometimes it takes guys a couple of years to get comfortable where they're playing in a game. He did a great job against the Chargers."
That (along with several very vocal members of Arrowhead Pride plugging Rishaw as the guard of the future) was enough to pique my interest. Sure, fans fall in love with unknown guys every year, and they fade into obscurity 99.9 percent of the time. But an established NFL vet giving props? That's a little more rare.
Background and basics
Rishaw Johnson was an undrafted rookie free agent who spent time on and off the Seahawks' practice squad in 2012. He was eventually waived and then picked up by the Chiefs, where he spent his days riding the pine and generally outside the active roster.
Rishaw stands 6'3 and is listed at 313 pounds, so he's got some beef to him (remember, this was his combine weight. He likely weighs more now). Looking at a few scouting reports he was considered very raw technically but with good strength and some athleticism. He was considered better as a run blocker than pass blocker in college.
Several sites projected him to be drafted, one even as high as the fourth round. It should also be noted that multiple sites mentioned potential character issues (he was dismissed from Ole Miss and raised a few eyebrows at the Combine with his behavior, apparently). Of course, I haven't heard a negative peep about him in two years as a pro so that's not much of a concern to me.
All that doesn't really tell me much about Rishaw as a player now, but it lets me know that once upon a time he was considered a guy with upside. With that in mind, let's take a trip through his snaps against the Chargers in Week 17 and see what he looks like against NFL starters fighting for their playoff life.
(As always, please note I'm no expert, especially when it comes to offensive linemen. Everything I know I've learned via people smarter than I am, but this is just one guy's opinion. The best way to know what to think of a player is to go back and watch yourself, forming your own impressions. Also, the amount of detail I give on each snap will vary. We're not looking at whether the play was successful, just at whether Rishaw won his matchup.)
Rishaw vs. the Chargers
Run right. Rishaw gets a clean release and immediately heads to the second level, locking down a linebacker and moving him right away from where Knile Davis is running. Nothing too special, but I do like how quickly he got a hat on someone. That's something young blockers (like Jeff Allen and Rodney Hudson their rookie years) seemed to struggle with when I've done this in the past. It's encouraging to see him make a choice and lock in quickly.
Another run right. This time Rishaw is matched up against the Chargers LDE. He does a very good job walling him off to the right and then moving him far enough backward (well, to the side) so Davis can run right by. Decent gain for a first down, and Rishaw's block had a lot to do with that.
Shotgun formation, pass play. Rishaw alone against the LDE again (Kendall Reyes, in case you're interested). Stands him up and holds him off without any movement backward. Really nice. The rest of the line doesn't do as well and Chase Daniel gets SMACKED right after he throws.
The long passing play to AJ Jenkins. Rishaw again holds off Reyes, although this time it's a lot more of a fight. Still provides a clean pocket for Chase to step into the throw.
Knile Davis's TD run. The whole OL did a pretty nice job here, and Rishaw in particular showed why he was known as a run blocker. He drives Reyes backward and ends up pancaking him to the ground. A really, really, really impressive first drive for Rishaw. Not one time did he fail to win his matchup. To be fair, Reyes isn't very good. But still, great drive.
Daniel scrambles left on a read option play. Rishaw ends up with no one to hit at the line and almost lunges himself off his feet. He recovers and gets to the second level, but isn't able to get a hand on 38 before he gets away. No real impact on the play one way or another.
Daniel gets sacked. However, Rishaw isn't at fault here. He locks up individually with NT Cam Thomas (who is a big, big man) and fights a bull rush. Thomas is able to move Rishaw backward, but slowly enough that Daniel would've had time to throw had the rest of the line not gotten demolished. And as the play ends, Rishaw shoves Thomas to the ground. Which is just fun to see. Play to the whistle!
Screen play out of the shotgun. Rishaw engages the nose tackle briefly and gets into open space, but doesn't do much that I can see. San Diego was ready for the screen and had guys closing before the OL even got into space.
Main job is to sell a play-fake here. He commits, but nothing of note.
Drives left at the snap to sell a play-fake left. Does a good job getting push initially, but was starting to lose the block by the time the play was closing out (it was a pass right). In my opinion, had it been a run left instead of a fake the block would have been maintained long enough for a runner to get by.
Shotgun, pass. Rishaw allows the LDE to get to his side (rushing "half a man"), but recovers quickly and uses some impressive lower body strength to maintain leverage and direct the rusher around the edges of the pocket. Daniel doesn't feel any pressure. Nice recovery, though a faster DL might have made it by him there.
Run up the middle. Rishaw goes to the second level and doesn't lock anyone down. Probably his first "poor" play of the day.
Moves left at the snap, throws a kinda-sorta-OK cut block on the LDE. Nothing too great, but he gets the guy off his feet and out of the play. I'd like to see a cut block with a little less "just lay down in his way," but it got the job done.
The Chargers bring a heavy blitz AND jump offsides. Rishaw holds off the LDE pretty well. He's gotten the better end of that matchup pretty consistently.
Drives a LB back to help sell a fake on the goal line (the Dexter McCluster TD). Nothing to really note here.
Run up the gut. Rishaw, with some initial help from the C (who then moved on to another block), pancakes the NT. Nice!
Quick throw, had his guy walled off.
Shotgun, pass. Rishaw holds his block long enough for the throw to get out, but he definitely was hooking just a little bit to do it, and the DE was definitely closing in. Not one of his better plays, but again, the job was done.
Pass play. Rishaw ends up with no one to block.
Run left, Rishaw throws a cut block that slows the defender down but doesn't take him off his feet. However, the DE didn't get to the run in time to make a difference, so that's a win.
Pulls right on a run and does a great job taking on 50 as he streaks toward the ball carrier. Pretty big collision. No gain on the play as San Diego had several other guys there. I can't tell if Rishaw looks comfortable in space yet or not.
Failed screen, Rishaw has no one to block the entire play.
Run left, destroyed before it could go anywhere. Rishaw had his guy, but Watkins or Kush just ignored Cam Thomas. I believe it was Watkins, but it's tough to be sure.
Run left that Davis cuts back right. Rishaw misses two blocks on a single play, which is impressive ... not in the way I like, but impressive nonetheless.
Shotgun, pass that turns into a long scramble up the guy by Chase. Rishaw is left free, so he helps Eric Kush with the NT. In the end, it's Rishaw who moves the NT enough for Chase to run by. Nice job helping and sticking with the block.
Run basically up the middle. Rishaw hits someone off the line but is in a hurry to get to the second level. He really should have made a better block right up front, as the guy he hit initially gets in on the tackle after a gain of one or two yards. Don't miss the forest for the trees, Rishaw. Getting to the second level doesn't mean a thing if the DL makes the stop.
Pass play. Rishaw keeps his man in front of him and prevents him from crossing his (Rishaw's) face. Chase gets chased out of the pocket anyway but runs for a 1st down.
Run right. Rishaw gets a free release, goes to the second level, and puts a very nice block on a linebacker to help Davis sprint by for a big gain (it's a nice run by Davis too, bouncing off contact). Really nice job there.
Run right. Rishaw manages to plant his guy after allowing him to gain a little penetration, but failures elsewhere along the line cause a loss of yardage.
Shotgun, pass. A weird play for Rishaw. He helps initially with a double team then moves as though he's going to the second level ... but the pass is all the way across the field to the left side. All right, then.
Shotgun, screen right. Rishaw gets to the second level and does a very good job holding off 50 with one arm while swatting at a secondary player to slow down his pursuit of Davis. That's the most comfortable he's looked in space so far.
Run up the gut. Rishaw drives his man back. Can't ask for much more than that.
Touchdown for Knile Davis. Rishaw's second level block right at the goal line is a big part of what allows Davis into the end zone. Nicely done.
Shotgun, screen left. Rishaw engages long enough for Chase to get a clean throw out, then lets his guy by (at least I think it was intentional. Either that or he got worked after a second of being just fine).
Rishaw pulls right and absolutely whiffs on a linebacker. Worst play by far, as his play directly resulted in a short loss.
Shotgun, pass. Doesn't have anyone to block so he helps the C with the NT. Daniel uses the gaping hole created to scramble for a gain of six.
Shotgun, pass. Rishaw again is all by himself, so he helps the C. Together, they pancake the NT, which is fun.
Run left. Rishaw does just fine one-on-one with his man (though he doesn't blow him off the line, he keeps him away from the play), but the rest of the line doesn't get any push.
This play was some sort of "let's see if we can get Chase killed" read option up the middle. Rishaw helps with a double to shove the NT off the line, then whiffs on a LB as he's running by. Some good and bad to this play. The whiff was ugly, but the initial double team was nice.
Shotgun, pass. Rishaw's man goes nowhere. Very good play.
Another passing down, Rishaw does a great job keeping Reyes right in place. Kush kinda / sorta / maybe helps, but it's not really needed or impactful. Chase gets happy feet and takes off. Blech.
Screen pass left. Not much of note from Rishaw. One thing I like about what he does is when he releases a DL on a screen, he doesn't just wave him by. He THROWS the DL to ensure he stays out of the play for good. I like attitude in my offensive linemen.
Helps create a clean pocket on a pass, Daniel has it knocked down with a REALLY low throw. I don't know if you've heard this, but Daniel is kinda short.
Run up the middle. Rishaw helps drive his guy way off the ball and down the field.
Pass play. Rishaw holds up well initially, but doesn't realize that Daniel is taking off to run right, allowing Thomas to run around him (as Thomas can see that Daniel is on the move). Granted, Rishaw has no way of realizing what Chase is doing, but he could have done a better job sensing what Thomas was trying to do and staying in front of him.
Run up the middle. Rishaw locks onto the LDE and walls him off well. Still just a short gain, though. I'd have to go back and watch, but considering the lack of success on some of these running plays where Rishaw has his guy locked down I have to believe the rest of the line isn't getting it done.
Run up the middle. Rishaw gets to the second level quickly and lays a great block on a LB. However, again, failures on the OL (this time Kush and Donald Stephenson are the clear culprits) result in a short loss.
Pass play. Rishaw gets SCHOOLED by a spin move, resulting in a very quick sack of Daniel. Ouch. Hopefully he won't fall for that move again, at least not as badly. Lesson learned for a young player.
Run right. Rishaw doesn't get any push forward on his guy, but does keep him somewhat out of the play and moves him to the right. Knile gets buried by 3 other defenders. No running lanes.
Shotgun, pass. Does a good job keeping his man well away from Daniel on a pretty quick throw.
Another pass, another play keeping his man well away from Daniel.
Run up the middle. Rishaw gets a good push on his man, but the rest of the line is overwhelmed. San Diego is clearly thinking run at this point, and the rest of the line isn't winning their individual battles. Kush in particular displayed his biggest flaw by getting shoved about 3 yards into the backfield by the NT (he's just not strong enough to hold off Thomas alone).
Very quick pass right (one of those "snap and throw" plays) that goes nowhere. Nothing to see along the line. I very, very much dislike that play.
Shotgun, pass. The Chargers drop most into coverage, Rishaw does a good job on his man with a little help from Kush (who had no one else to block). Chase, with a clean pocket, inexplicably throws short and the Chiefs have to punt. Yucky (to put it technically).
Shotgun, pass. Rishaw helps double the NT and they hold him right in place.
Shotgun, pass. No issues keeping his man well away from the play individually.
Pass play, Rishaw again keeps his man far from Chase. Some very good pass blocking being displayed by Rishaw.
Run up the middle. Rishaw helps drive a defender down the field a couple yards, then walls him off and moves him left (with quite a bit of a struggle and just a little bit of hooking) so Davis can go around them. Short pickup, though, as the LBs were keyed in on the run.
Run right. Rishaw gets a good initial push on his man, but the Chargers gain penetration elsewhere. Knile does a good job getting to the edge for a gain, and Rishaw gets away with a little bit of a hold to help him. Hey, call me crazy, but I like when an OL can get away with a little hold here and there. That's part of learning the game.
Run left, with Rishaw pulling. He definitely looks a little slow / tiired on this particular play, but he gets to the hole and makes the block (well, he blocks the defender with his body). He also helps shove Gray across the first down line. Big first down.
Run up the middle. Rishaw gets a good push on his man, but the Chargers full-on run blitz and just outnumber the blockers for a stop.
Rishaw quickly gets to the second level (seems to have gained his wind back) on a run right and gets a hat on a secondary player immediately. The problem is the play is dead in the water behind him. The Chargers are basically ignoring the pass at this point.
Another run up the guy. Rishaw gets his man back a yard or so, but other than that nothing to report. No gain, sets up the Succop miss that should have absolutely been re-kicked after the Chargers lined up illegally. But you know, no bigge. It's not like that travesty of a non-call had an effect on the game or anything. The sad thing is that was only the second worst game-changing call of the day. Now I'm angry all over again.
(Burns a Philip Rivers jersey)
I feel better. Let's get back to it. Actually, nope, hang on a sec...
(Bangs head on desk several times)
OK, I'm good now.
Very quick throw, but Rishaw noticeably misses the DL he's supposed to disrupt. Doesn't get there quickly enough moving to his left. Not a great start to OT
The big OT play to Dex. Rishaw didn't have a whole lot to do on this play.
Play fake left with Daniel rolling right. Rishaw does a good job getting an initial push on his guy and removing him from any chance of making a play.
Pass play, Rishaw is alone against a DL. He loses his anchor initially and starts to get driven back, but shows off some really impressive strength by resetting and stonewalling the DL before they get close enough to spook Chase. Really, really nice recovery in a one-on-one situation.
Well... crap. Remember how the Chiefs got to the 36-yard-line and seemed destined to at least tie the game, and then a TERRIBLE pitch to Davis lost five yards and dug a hole they wouldn't come out of? Well, I hate to say it, but the guy who initially blew his assignment was Rishaw Johnson. He lets Reyes (who he has been mostly owning all day) go completely unblocked as he looks to be heading toward the second level. He tries to make up for it with a lunge but misses entirely. Had he even slowed Reyes down, it's at least no gain on the play rather than a huge loss.
It looked like Rishaw wasn't focusing on Reyes to start the play. But an assignment clearly got missed, and judging by Rishaw's reaction as he went by he was the guy who missed it.
Pass play, Rishaw goes one-on-one and walls off the defender initially. However, he then gets too caught up in handfighting and lets Reyes slip right by him. I re-watched this about 10 times and still can't figure out how he went from locking Reyes down to Reyes running past him so fast. It looks like he took his hands of Reyes's shoulders in an attempt to shove him backward, and just flat-out missed. Chase still had some time, as it wasn't an instant loss, but it still created pressure on him that could be the cause of a poor throw.
Pass play. This time Rishaw keeps his man well away from Chase. He actually ends up blocking two defenders at once for a moment.
The infamous last play, where Daniel is flushed immediately and tries to throw about five yards past the line of scrimmage. The backup backup backup TE and Geoff Schwartz made a CRIMINAL mistake and allowed a rusher to go completely unblocked straight at Daniel. To be fair, Kush didn't do much better, allowing a straight rush up the gut to go right by him. Rishaw lunged over to help Kush, but couldn't get there on time.
Daniel gets a lot of crap for this play, but he didn't have a prayer. A terrible ending to a game that should have been won.
Update: Geoff Schwartz disagrees with the analysis...
@RealMNchiefsfan 1) the formation was wrong 2) on that play, my first assignment isn't the DE— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 24, 2014
@geoffschwartz thanks for the insight! Shows the problem with trying to decipher stuff w/out knowing the calls (and my lack of knowledge).— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 24, 2014
@RealMNchiefsfan you did a good job w/the breakdown.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 24, 2014
I'm going to assume that most of you skipped to this section, and I can't say I blame you (we're coming up on 4,000 words about a backup RG. I mean, wow). So I'll try to sum things up in the best way I can.
Is Rishaw Johnson the future at RG for the Chiefs? After watching every snap of Week 17 multiple times, I can definitively tell you ... I don't know.
I really like how Rishaw played for 95 percent of the game. But when he whiffed, he whiffed BADLY. He also had some of his worst snaps at the worst possible time.
That said, you can definitely see why Schwartz was praising him. He's got very good stength in both his upper and lower body. He can move in space a little bit. He plays until the whistle. He seems to have a mean streak. And he is above average at locking onto defenders at the second level of the defense when asked to do so (at least for a guy at this point in his career).
I can't give my complete vote of confidence to a guy who has played one game. But I will say that after watching Rishaw in action against a desperate group of defenders, I won't be overly surprised if the Chiefs stand pat at guard in the draft. And I won't be terribly upset about it, either.
(And lest anyone think I'm just a huge homer who likes ANY Chief I watch, let me say frankly that I don't feel the same way about Kush (another favorite of some) and Rok Watkins. Both of them looked very overmatched against San Diego's defensive front. If either of them has to see playing time this next year, I believe the Chiefs could be in trouble.)
With all that in mind, I'll keep an eye on the guard situation. If the Chiefs stand pat in the draft or wait until late to take someone at guard, I'll consider it a sign that Dorsey / Reid see the same things I saw in Rishaw Johnson.
I'm going to now go smash a few windshields over that ridiculous fake punt call in overtime. Hopefully Joel bails me out.