I really, really, want to like fourth round pick Parker Ehinger as a guard for the Chiefs.
I do. I want it so much. This team is desperate for increased competition at guard now that Jeff Allen is in Kansas City South (until the Texans do anything but lose to the Chiefs, it's Kansas City South. Just saying....Editor's note by Joel: Give this man a raise!). I like Jah Reid at guard but am much less confident in Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Zach Fulton. Sure, one of them might take a step forward. That's always a possibility, particularly in LDT's case. But it's tough to rely on an unknown.
So I went into Draft Breakdown's available Ehinger games hoping I would have my mind blown like when I watched Ryan Kelly's film (I hate the Colts. I hate them so much). And don't get me wrong, there are some things I really like about Ehinger. But I'm not sure he's a guy who is the answer in the short term or the long term.
(Note: no GIFs today. I am ashamed and shall shun myself for two years as punishment)
Generally, I start off with a player's strengths. To start off, Ehinger appears to have very heavy hands. He's able to jar opposing defenders with his punch and often bench presses defensive linemen off his body. He's often able to gain the upper hand early in trench battles by standing up defenders attempting to get inside his pads. It's a major advantage and one Ehinger uses quite well.
More importantly than that, Ehinger falls into the technician group of offensive linemen. He uses his feet very well, especially in pass protection. He plays like he has a good understanding of angles and where he needs to be. He rarely lunges and has a good base consistently. His hand placement, while not perfect, is generally pretty good. I think his pad level is decent for a guy his height, too.
Overall, Ehinger does everything right. He's also very patient when he's protecting the quarterback. I've talked about this quite a bit lately (first with Mitchell Schwartz, then Cody Whitehair); a lot of offensive linemen try and attack defenders and end up losing their footing after an unsuccessful lunge. Others are patient and allow the defender to show their hand and come to them, using their feet to remain between the rusher and the quarterback.
Ehinger falls into the latter group. He never looks like he's desperate or caught at a disadvantage on the field. You can very much see the wheels turning as he plays. "All right, the end just cut across my face toward the center, which means... yep, here comes the defensive tackle on a stunt. Got him." Seriously, it sounds crazy, but you can practically see the thought bubble over his head.
People think of offensive line as some kind of mud wrestling contest, but the truth is there's way more to it than most fans realize. Here's a fantastic article by Pete Prisco in which he sat down with multiple offensive linemen for a roundtable discussion on the current state of offensive line play and some of the nuances of the position. If you've got time, give it a read. There is much, much, MUCH more going on than a couple of big guys pushing each other at random. A great deal of playing offensive line is mental, particularly in today's NFL where defenses disguise what they're doing so frequently and so well.
Because of this, having an offensive lineman who understands protections, angles, leverage, moves and countermoves, etc. is quite valuable. Give me a technician over a physical freak every time when it comes to linemen. As the linked article discusses, it's difficult for linemen to learn nuances of the game once they get into the league because most practice time is spent installing the playbook (this is discussed in Pat Kirwan's incredible book "Take Your Eye Off the Ball.") There's absolutely no guarantee a lineman will develop advanced skills once he's in the pros because, to use a totally topical quote, ain't nobody got time for that.
Ehinger may be a high floor player, because he already possesses the tools to not suck on the field. That's important, to be sure.
So why aren't I more excited for him? Well, he looks wooden out there to me. He isn't a natural athlete, and doesn't look very comfortable in space (at least the few times I saw him asked to pull to the second level). I just can't picture him being a guy paving the way in Reid's offense.
Additionally, for as strong as his upper body seems, Ehinger doesn't seem to get much push on the line at all. He's difficult to move, but I very rarely saw him move anyone else. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of power there once you get past his arms. When asked to be an earth mover, Ehinger wasn't able to do much from what I saw.
This lack of oomph - technical football term! - affects Ehinger's ability to stick with blocks as well. For as much as he's able to jam guys up with his punch in pass pro, he can't duplicate this when run blocking. Defenders often shrug him off and move toward the ball carrier even as he continues to try and engage.
When you combine those issues it creates a real problem with run blocking. You need to be able to either get out in space and get a hat on someone or put your helmet under someone's chin and MOVE him. If you can't do either, you've kind of run out of run blocking styles. Could Ehinger turn out to be more agile or forceful at the pro level than what I saw him demonstrate in college? Sure, of course. How often does that happen? Well ... that's a more problematic question.
I think where Ehinger could bring value is as a pass blocker. He definitely appeared strong in that area (the whole Cincinnati line did, really. They make life easy on their QBs). I'm just struggling to comprehend what his fit will be when the offense decides to run the ball 45 times a game (which they should, with that RB trio, but I digress).
Again, Ehinger looks to me like a high floor, low ceiling prospect. Because of the technical nature of his game and the fact that he shows really solid understanding of the position means he could perhaps step in sooner than many other players and not be a liability along the line. However, I'm not sure if I see enough strength or athleticism from Ehinger to be considered a long term solution.
Of course, now that I've said that, I fully expect him to make 12 straight Pro Bowls and go to the Hall of Fame. You're welcome, Parker. Now go show me what an idiot I am for doubting you.