As I work through the Offensive Line series, this question came to mind, so I put it out there on Twitter:
@stagdsp Remember that RGs are often on an island in pass pro and also generally fuel the run game.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 8, 2015
Nice point by Citadelchief there (who is doing some great work on Arrowhead Addict by the way).
Terez Paylor used this question in his mailbag, and his rankings would agree with mine:
I'd largely agree with Matt Miller. A bad offensive tackle can ruin a passing game, while the center sets the tempo for the line, for better or worse. For the Chiefs, however, I'd flip right guard and left guard in terms of importance. With Eric Fisher entering a make-or-break year at left tackle, having a solid veteran they could stick next to him and protect Alex Smith's blindside (which turned out to be Ben Grubbs) was crucial.
Left Tackle is most important for obvious reasons: protects the QB's blindside, works "on an island" quite often against the defense's best pass rusher. I'd also argue that Eric Fisher is the most important lineman on the Chiefs. Because of his pedigree as a No. 1 overall pick, it's absolutely critical that he makes it. Between the huge investment of the top pick and the decision to let a very good LT in Branden Albert go, John Dorsey is all in on Fisher.
Center is second on the list, largely because of the protection calls he's required to make ... but as the man responsible for taking on the nose tackle on many snaps, the integrity of the pocket starts in the middle. QBs need to be able to step up into the pocket to make throws, and RBs obviously need to avoid being hit in the backfield by a penetrating defensive lineman. The center position is also critical for the Chiefs as they'll be going with a largely unproven player in either Eric Kush or Mitch Morse.
Right Tackle comes in third because of the perception that tackles are more important than guards. A good RT not only helps keep the QB clean but is also vitally important as a run blocker. Many teams choose a "road grader" as their RT and scheme plenty of runs to the right side. The Chiefs have a couple of veteran players competing at RT, including Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, with Derek Sherrod as a long shot. Whoever wins the RT job will clearly have plenty to prove in 2015.
Left Guard ranks fourth on my list, but I was tempted to put it much higher for two reasons. First: the LG position was SO bad for the Chiefs last year that I truly believe it hurt the performance of the entire line and the offense as a whole. Secondly, I could (and will) make the case that Eric Fisher's performance looked worse last year partially because of the left guard, and that he will look MUCH better this year with Ben Grubbs next to him.
Right Guard comes in last on the list for me. As Matt Miller noted above, the RG is important in the run game, teams generally want a "road grader" at this position as well. However, from what I have seen on film, the right guard might be the least involved of the five offensive lineman in pass blocking.
I also asked Matt Miller about the Right Guard anomaly I noticed above:
@stagdsp Vs 3 man fronts the RG is going to look to help and then maintain a lot to catch stunts or delayed pressure.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 8, 2015
Especially with "odd" (three man) fronts, the interior offensive linemen may not have a defender lined up directly across from them to block head-to-head. In these cases, both guards and the center spend a lot of their time with "combo" blocks, where they will double team a defensive lineman. The o-linemen have specific assignments to combo with each other, at least until one or the other has the defender blocked and then look to get to the second level (on screens or runs) or wait for a delayed blitz (in pass protection)
Last year, from what I saw on tape, Chiefs center Rodney Hudson often did a pretty good job of handling these blocks himself, which left Zach Fulton available to help, but not really needed ... so he was frequently left standing around with no one to block. I noticed the same on Paul Fanaika's film, so I watched a couple of other veterans to confirm what I was seeing. I've come to the conclusion that it's part of the nature of the guard position, and that for whatever reason it happens more often on the right side. Thus, the right guard is at the bottom of my offensive line position rankings. Of course, all positions along the line are important, but for guards, it's most important that they are able to work together, and understand their assignments .... and less important that they are dominant individual blockers.
The Chiefs will have competition at RG this year, with Zach Fulton, Jeff Allen, Paul Fanaika competing for the starting job. Based on what teams typically prefer in their RGs, I would think that any of the three fit the profile, so it will be a matter of who is able to master their assignments and win the trust of the coaches in camp.