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Parker Ehinger film review: The Chiefs future at guard?

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Before we get going, I need to make a full disclosure: I broke my cardinal rule during this particular film review.

What is that cardinal rule? Always bet on black. Just kidding (though if Wesley Snipes says it, that’s good enough for me). The actual rule I try to adhere to when reviewing someone’s tape is simple: don’t start off with an opinion. Even if you’ve already reviewed a guy in the past, go in as though you’ve never watched him before. Otherwise, you’ll inevitably find yourself looking for the things you already believe, and odds are VERY good you’ll find them. That’s how we work as people.

And so I always try to start from scratch every time, especially with guys I don’t have years of experience viewing (it’s tougher with a guy like Alex Smith, when you’ve reviewed several thousand snaps).

For whatever reason, with Parker Ehinger’s review I just wasn’t able to get there. I reviewed some of Ehinger’s college snaps after the Chiefs drafted him (here) and again after a preseason game (here). In both reviews, I roundly criticized Ehinger for his lack of functional strength and expressed a lot of concern about him being the guy at LG moving forward. I wrote that he was clearly the weak spot along the line and stated that if it were me, I’d start Jah Reid or even Zach Fulton above the rookie.

Flash forward to this film review. I’ll be completely honest; I walked into the review expecting something just shy of a total disaster. I knew from my casual watching of the games that he hadn’t been totally horrendous as I’d feared, but I fully expected Ehinger’s warts to be glaring under the harsh light of an all 22 review. And so I went into this less than objective, waiting to see things go wrong.

However, something weird happened.

Look, I’m not here to tell you that Parker Ehinger was great (or even good) in the 226 snaps that I reviewed before he went down to injury. What I AM here to tell you is that he was surprisingly not bad the majority of the time, and actually had one exceptional game.

If you don’t know how I review offensive linemen, take a look here. The basic premise is that I go through every snap on all-22 (utilizing the wonderful Madden Camera view especially) and grade wins, losses, and neutral snaps. This is the only way to separate what a lineman does from everything else, and gives a much more comprehensive picture than pressures allowed, etc.

Let’s do some numbers, then talk about Ehinger’s tape.

For frame of reference, here’s a film review of LDT after the 2015 season (in which he really struggled), and here’s his film review from 2016 (in which he played quite well).

As always, the magic number is the loss percentage. You can win all day as an offensive lineman, but if you lose on 20 percent of the snaps your’e killing the offense. Wins on the OL don’t guarantee success, but losses often ensure failure. I set my line at 10 percent. If you’re losing that much or more, I’m not comfortable with you as a starter (with some variation depending on how quick the losses are and how often you win).

As you can see, Ehinger falls over my (completely personal, by the way) line of competence. However ... it’s not nearly as far as I would’ve thought. In LDT’s second season his loss percentage was over 14 percent. Ehinger managed to stay below that in every game he played (though his overall average is dropped by a very, very good game against the Raiders).

Again, I went into this fully expecting Ehinger to have a loss percentage of 15 percent or higher. The game I graded in the preseason that’s linked above had a loss rate of over 17 percent. I was thoroughly convinced that Ehinger was going to be torpedoing every one in five plays or so with quick, brutal losses due to a lack of strength.

But again, that’s not what happened. While Ehinger didn’t reach the level I needed to see for a starter, he was within spitting distance. Which leads us into what Ehinger does well. Let’s talk some film. As usual, let’s start with positives because that’s way more fun.

If I had to sum up Ehinger’s game in one word, I’d probably use the word technical ... or technically sound, because one-word answers are impossible and for the weak.

Ehinger, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, just seems to know what an offensive lineman is supposed to do. He handles stunts and blitzes better than many veterans I’ve reviewed, which is borderline astounding. Most rookies really struggle with the increased movement along the line at the pro level and give up some quick sacks (and run stuffs) because of it. Not so with Ehinger.

Ehinger’s knowledge of the game extends to his alertness when he’s not directly blocking someone. Unlike some young linemen, he seems to understand the concept of staying busy. His head is almost always up (though he’s not as fast as Mitch Morse, my best friend in my imagination, in this department) and he tries to help anywhere he can in those situations.

The above play is a very heads-up one by Ehinger. He sees his man stunting wide around the left tackle, and rather than chasing him he (without hesitation) barrels into the player Fisher is engaged with. This serves two purposes. First, it completely knocks Fisher’s guy out of the play. Second, the flying bodies serve as a natural barrier to the rusher who was looping around the outside. Again, a very heads-up play.

Ehinger’s apparent knowledge of the game extends to his feet and hand usage as well. Technically, he does as good a job as any lineman the Chiefs have not named Mitch. He almost always punches without lunging, keeps his base wide, and tends to strike first rather than “catching.” While the overall snap I’m about to show you ends in a loss after a few seconds (due to a spin move. Those gave him all sorts of problems), what you see in the first several seconds is what you often get from Ehinger.

I really thought that Ehinger’s strength (which is lacking. We’ll discuss that in the cons section a little later) would be a big issue in pass protection, leading to Ehinger getting bull rushed into the quarterback snap after snap. However, that fear never came to fruition. He seems to make up for that lack of ideal strength the same way Morse does (though Morse is stronger in my opinion): by being technically proficient enough to mask that weakness.

Much like a guy with a weak arm can compensate by having great footwork and a perfect release to generate the maximum amount of power, an offensive lineman can compensate for a lack of strength with good footwork and handwork. Ehinger often does so. His punch is surprisingly effective for a guy who just isn’t a mauler, and that comes from timing and placement more than brute strength. That ability to do things right and always have a response when you start losing ground keeps him from getting worked over on a lot of snaps that start off poorly. That and solid lateral agility can do wonders for a guy.

While I wouldn’t say Ehinger was a strength of the pass protection (and the numbers indicate that he wasn’t), he managed to be competent enough to keep from being a weakness most of the time. Given my low expectations going in, I was pleasantly surprised.

Where Ehinger really brings value to the table, though, is the run game.

When it comes to run blocking, Ehinger clearly fits the mold Andy Reid and John Dorsey are looking for in interior linemen. He’s got quick feet and is able to get into space or the edge very quickly (I’d say even a shade quicker than LDT, whose athleticism is well-known). Once he’s out there, he’s pretty good (though not perfect) at finding guys to lock onto and taking the proper angles.

Speaking of angles, that might be where Ehinger shines the most as a run blocker. Much like with his ability to handle stunts, Ehinger just seems to GET how spacing and angles work in run blocking. You can tell watching him that he knows where the runner is supposed to be and is always trying to set up in the best place possible to maximize their space. He’s also very good at using defenders’ movement and momentum against them, like he does here.

Ehinger is asked to make a tough reach block here, getting across the face of his defender. He’s not QUITE able to get there all the way, and so is fighting with the DT to try and keep him of the running back. I love what he does here, though. He feels when the defender is attempting to move away to his right (Ehinger’s left) to try and get in front of the running back.

Without hesitation, Ehinger uses that exact moment to give the lineman a shove that sends him sprawling to the turf and out of harm’s way. There’s only a split second there when the defender is moving away from Ehinger but is still within reach for a shove, and Ehinger times it perfectly. That’s a vet move, and yet again demonstrates Ehinger’s grasp of how to play offensive line.

In addition, Ehinger actually showed a little bit of power as a run blocker.

I don’t think Ehinger is every going to be confused with LDT or Eric Fisher when it comes to strength, but he really surprised me throughout the review. As I say in the tweet above, nothing about his college film or what I saw in preseason made me thing he could handle a bigger interior defender one-on-one and hold him off, let alone move the guy backwards a bit.

Ehinger does it the way you’d expect: the right way. He’s low, gets his hands inside the pads of the defender, and never stops firing with his legs. The defender is eventually able to toss him, but by then the play is far out of reach.

Ehinger’s ability to play stronger than he is (due to technique), along with his quickness, allowed him to perform some of the reach blocks that are so necessary in the running scheme the Chiefs employ.

These blocks are very difficult to execute. LDT has become a valuable asset because he sticks those blocks routinely and is able to move defenders backwards doing it. Ehinger doesn’t often get movement on those blocks, but he walls off well and is consistently able to buy space and time for the runner.

So right now, you’re likely thinking, “man, Seth, this all sounds great. How’d he lose more than 10 percent of the time then?” Well, a couple reasons.

First, Ehinger has a MAJOR weakness for spin moves.

I didn’t keep track (though I should have), but I’m comfortable saying that of Ehinger’s 15 losses in pass blocking, almost half of those were due to a spin move. I find that odd, since he’s good with his balance against every other type of move, but for whatever reason that just seems to flummox him. Obviously, Ehinger will have to work on that, as teams will see it on film and exploit it until he figures it out. In the meantime, it’s a little quirk that works against his effectiveness as a pass blocker.

The real issue for Ehinger at times is, unsurprisingly, strength (or lack thereof).

There are times as a run blocker where Ehinger just isn’t able to get the kind of movement you want. It just feels like he’s playing about 10 pounds lighter than what you’d want to see. It’s not as frequent as a feared, but it IS frequent enough to result in some losses and prevent him from being a very good run blocker.

In pass protection the issue shows up at times as well.

While that snap isn’t particularly awful (Ehinger recovers well), it’s very evident that Ehinger isn’t close to as strong as the tackle he’s trying to block. You never want to see your interior linemen just get knocked backwards. Again, it’s like he’s playing a bit lighter than the opponents are.

Technical prowess and attitude can go a long way towards hiding a strength issue, but it’s not going to be perfect and that problem will always be there. It’s going to be especially noticeable in the wrong matchup. For example, imagine if you had a guy with Chris Jones’s brute strength lined up across from Ehinger. I don’t think there’d be a single snap I’d be comfortable with Ehinger on his own, especially in pass protection.

Another issue Ehinger wants to work on if he wants to go from not bad to good is his handfighting. Again, he’s generally very technically sound. But I noticed against defenders with more active hands, there was a tendency for Ehinger’s hands to get displaced and he wasn’t always able to recover. There’s another step that needs to be taken from a good initial punch, and that’s the ability to fire those hands off again immediately when they get swatted.

So where do I land on Ehinger? Right now, he still hasn’t shown me as good of film as I’ve seen from Jah Reid at guard in limited snaps (though I’ve let that one go, since it’s clear they aren’t going to pull the trigger on it), but he was good enough as a rookie that I’m OK seeing how he does in his second year.

I haven’t reviewed Zach Fulton’s snaps at guard in 2016, but Ehinger’s numbers are a bit better than Fulton’s were in 2015 (that film review can be found here), and Ehinger also had a tendency to be better in his losses than Fulton was (meaning he didn’t lose quite as quickly). Additionally, from what I saw then (and I’ll confirm this when I review Fulton’s film), it appeared Ehinger was more capable against stunts and blitzes, despite being a newer player. He’s also a better fit at guard in Reid’s system, able to execute pull and reach blocks more consistently than Fulton (again, based on what I’ve seen).

Ehinger’s ceiling may be lower than I’d like, given his lack of strength. However, he’s a young player. Odds are he’ll get stronger every year over the next few years. And really, a guy who does so many things the “right” way has a pretty high floor and the capability of bringing a lot of consistency from one game to the next. And that just might be enough to win the day for him.

For now, it’s enough to make me eat just a little bit of crow for thinking he’d be a disaster. I hope that, now that the expectations have raised from “please don’t be awful” to “let’s be a contributor,” he’s able to exceed them once again.