It is not a controversial statement among Chiefs fans to say that Mitch Morse was a pleasant surprise this season.
When the Chiefs drafted Morse in the second round, there were a lot of surprised questions. Who? What position does he play? What about Eric Kush? Why is Dorsey ruining my mock drafts? Don't we need an immediate contributor? And on it went. I fully confess, I hadn't watched a second of Morse's college tape when his name was called (I rarely have time to watch much college football these days), so I was as confused as everyone else. A lot of people figured Morse would take a year or two to contribute.
Then actual football started, and we said oh.
Starting the Mitch Morse film review tonight. Just throwing blocks 20 yards down the field in space. No big deal. pic.twitter.com/Q7LVsmwnXN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 27, 2016
Uh ... my bad, Dorsey. Guess that'll do.
Morse swooped in, seemingly out of nowhere, and made Chiefs fans forget all about ol' Rodney whats-his-name. Remember when center was an extreme concern after the Chiefs lost their most consistent offensive lineman? Turns out it wasn't such a concern after all.
But you already knew that. Morse played well enough that it was noticed almost immediately by fans and analysts alike. We all know Morse had a solid rookie season.
But... how solid was it? How often did Morse win at the line of scrimmage? And more importantly, how often did he "lose" and negatively affect plays? Our deep delve into offensive linemen continues. We've done this quite a few times now, so here's a link to the articles written on Mitchell Schwartz (here) and Jeff Allen (here). There are plenty of my articles breaking down offensive linemen in similar fashion here.
Basically, I watch every single snap a player took (including plays where a penalty altered the result but the play ran as normal). I then grade whether the OL won, lost, or was neutral in that play. All three terms mean pretty much exactly what they sound like. Loss percentage is the most important factor. If an offensive lineman's loss percentage is under 10 percent, I'm pretty happy. The lower, the better. Most of the time you don't need linemen to dominate (though wins can turn a good performance into a great one), just to not lose and do their job.
In Morse's case, I watched every snap of the season. 881 snaps in all. It took about roughly six hours. I do this because I love you. Let's look at the numbers and discuss the tape so we can finally answer the question of just HOW good Morse was as a rookie.
|Game||PB Win||PB Loss||RB Win||RB Loss||Neutral||Win %||Loss %|
Whoa, that's a lot of numbers!
Don't be intimidated. The most important numbers (generally speaking) are to be found on the far right; win percentage and loss percentage.
A couple of notes. First, Morse had three games where his loss percentage trickled above that 10 percent mark. As you can see, his overall loss percentage (8.1 percent) is quite solid. With regards to those three games ... Denver's talented and powerful interior defenders gave Morse a lot of trouble in the first meeting. The Bengals game was, quite simply, a case where Geno Atkins went all Geno Atkins on Morse 3-4 times.
And finally, the last game of the season ... well, that one was interesting. Re-watching, it certainly seemed that the concussion that eventually sidelined Morse occurred prior to the Oakland game. He seemed a step slow, and his balance wasn't what it normally is. Of course, it could just be a case of a rookie slamming into the rookie wall. We'll never know.
One thing to note? Morse's stats the second time the Chiefs played the Broncos. He was utterly phenomenal that game and had clearly learned a thing or two from his previous matchup against that tough front. I love that he rebounded against tough competition and proceeded to have one of his better games of the year. The same thing happened the second time he went up against the Chargers, interestingly enough (a lowering of loss percentage). It COULD be construed as a sign that though you might beat Morse once, he's not going to let it happen after that.
The tape doesn't always quite reflect the win and loss percentages with offensive linemen, but in this case it definitely holds true. Morse, as a rookie, was very good the majority of time and exceptional at other times.
What really makes Morse special (besides being well-rounded, which we'll get to shortly) is his ability to operate in space. He is a wonderful athlete at center, and it gives the Chiefs all kinds of options in the run game.
Mitch Morse just gets it done in space as a run blocker. Also, Fisher coming all the way across the field. Love it. pic.twitter.com/9E6WQaSP1q— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 19, 2016
It's not just Morse's ability to get into space. It's his ability to get into space FAST and reach the linebacker before he can react to the play. Additionally, Morse is naturally athletic enough that he doesn't need to lunge or dive to try and get to the LB. Because of that, he's got some balance left when he reaches his block and isn't as prone to missing an agile defender.
At times, I think I come down really hard on Morse's replacement at center, Zach Fulton, for not being mobile enough. That could well be due to the fact that Morse is SO athletic he makes an average guy look S-L-O-W. That's not to start the "Fulton vs. Morse and Morse should go to guard etc." debates in the comments (though it certainly will), it's to note that Morse is absolutely elite in terms of his ability to move down the line and to the second level. That's critical for what Andy Reid requires from his centers, and it explains why they like him so much.
Morse is additionally a very technically sound offensive lineman. He has good hand placement and footwork, he consistently sets a good base, his pad level is nearly always on point ... he is remarkably polished for a first year player, particularly a player who is learning a new position.
A common theme you hear from people when talking about Morse is that he's not an especially strong center. At times, I've even heard fans talk about how they prefer Fulton to Morse because Morse lacks strength. I can't quite tell for sure, but I THINK that's become widely believed because of Morse's combination of athleticism and technical prowess. Chiefs fans hear about a center who possesses those qualities and they instantly travel back in time to ol' Casey Wiegmann (whose last name I still have to look up literally every single time to get the spelling correct). Like Morse, Wiegmann was an exceptional athlete and wonderful technician.
However, they are definitely NOT the same player. Wiegmann was listed at 285 pounds. Morse's weight at the NFL combine was 305 pounds. Yes, he's a few inches taller than Wiegmann (which definitely matters when it comes to leverage) and he's no brute out there, but Morse is not a SMALL lineman. He also isn't necessarily lacking in power.
Morse isn't the most powerful center, but he makes up for it with pad level and hand placement most of the time. pic.twitter.com/itx1yrE7bJ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 24, 2016
That's Morse going toe-to-toe with 339-pounder Danny Shelton. Look, Morse is never going to be confused with a mauler at center, but he's not weak by any stretch of the imagination. He shows a solid punch (when he utilizes it) and has at least adequate strength. Additionally, the power he has is aided by the type of thing you see demonstrated in the GIF above. When you've got good hand placement, a wide base, and a low pad level like that it makes a massive difference.
Morse's lack of strength is very much exaggerated. It IS the weakest part of his game, however, that's simply because the rest of his attributes as a lineman are pretty close to exceptional. His strength is average, and he will at times get overpowered by bigger players (Baltimore's NT gave him problems), but it's going way out on a limb to say he's weak. I'm interested in seeing how he develops over the next couple of years in that area. It's the one thing that keeps me from saying he's an elite center.
But aside from physical skills and technical prowess, Morse demonstrates that he just knows what he's doing on the line. A lot of people asked as I was completing the film review whether Morse was calling out protections on the line. The short answer is that I (and anyone else who doesn't play for or coach the Chiefs) don't really know for sure. What I do know is that Morse spent quite a bit of time pre-snap pointing out defenders to other linemen (though Alex Smith did a lot of it too, especially in the second half of the year). He certainly SEEMED to be the guy on the line making sure people knew their assignments.
I can also tell you that, throughout the entire year, I could count only a couple of times where it appeared Morse missed a blitz or a stunt. Now, it's impossible to say for sure without knowing the specific assignments, but you can infer as best you can based on what you see. And what I saw was Morse consistently taking on blitzing defenders and stunts consistently without appearing to leave any holes in the protection. When things DID get missed, it was nearly always LDT or Fulton who appeared to be the culprit (I could be wrong, but that's what it looked like) based on where the gap was created.
Another thing Morse does well is stay busy, or look for work.
Stays busy, looks for work... whatever you want to call it, Morse makes defenders pay for trying to move inside. pic.twitter.com/cmViOZvn2V— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 22, 2016
Generally speaking, a play like this gets a neutral grade from me because Morse isn't beating anyone one-on-one. However, a center providing help like this (and doing it capably) for the guards is a big deal. It changes the way interior pass rushers can get after the quarterback. If you know you're going to get leveled if you go inside, that reduces your options ... which allows the guard to cheat just a bit to the outside ... which gives him an advantage and provides the quarterback with an extra split second. It's a domino effect.
Morse had roughly eleventy billion help snaps as a pass protector this last season. In my opinion, he made the guards look better than they actually were a lot of the time (outside of Jeff Allen, who often succeeded on his own. Hate losing him). Having a center who stays alert to help and is athletic enough to quickly move to where the help is needed makes a big difference along the line.
In short, Morse checks off every box you want to be a Pro Bowl caliber center for a long, long time. His athleticism is utterly elite. He's got exceptional technique and understanding of the game for a young player. His run blocking, especially when he's on the move, is phenomenal. His strength, while not at a high level, was at least average (and again, this is as a rookie. OL nearly always add a little extra strength and weight over the first few years of their career).
There isn't anything Morse is BAD at, and there are a bunch of things he is really, really GOOD at. As a rookie, I'd argue he's already one of the 10 best centers in the league. I look forward to watching him for years to come. This pick was a home run by John Dorsey.