Offseason needs: Potential depth improvements
This might be one of the few positions on the team that doesn’t see too much turnover this offseason. Locked-in starters are returning at four of the five positions along the offensive line, and the fifth position (left guard) appears to be a competition between two guys that have started there over the last two seasons.
Many fans and media believe that left guard position is a huge problem or a desperate need. However, the Chiefs appear mostly content with their in-house options and have worked to upgrade the roster elsewhere.
If the Chiefs make additional moves along the offensive line moving forward, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’ll be to bolster depth after losing Zach Fulton. They could add a mid-to-late-round draft pick or a cheap veteran at any position along the line for depth or future development. But, expect to see some continuity on the field for 2018, which could very well be a good thing.
Returning: Eric Fisher, Bryan Witzmann, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (MD), Mitchell Schwartz, Parker Ehinger, Jordan Devey, Cameron Erving
The Chiefs return bookend tackles in Schwartz and Fisher. Schwartz is among the best in the NFL at right tackle. Fisher is a competent left tackle, who has all the physical tools but can be a bit inconsistent. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s pretty safe to think the team feels good about both of their tackles.
Inside, LDT has established himself among the better guards in the league, and Morse has shown signs of greatness when on the field. Injuries have been a bit of an issue for the Chiefs interior offensive line, as Ehinger, Morse and LDT have each missed significant time over the past couple of seasons.
When healthy, the starting five are all guys that can execute this offense. They haven’t been dominant, especially in the run game, but they can certainly be good enough. Andy Reid’s offense requires offensive linemen that can get out and move in space, whether on outside zone runs or any number of screen plays he likes to call. The theme for Chiefs offensive linemen is athleticism, and they are returning plenty of good athletes. Watch the competition between Ehinger and Witzmann for the only position up for grabs, Left Guard.
Additions: Andrew Wylie, Kaleb Johnson
Subtractions: Zach Fulton
Fulton has played a ton of (mostly) quality snaps for this Chiefs team over the past few years and is well deserving of a starting job and the contract that goes along with it. That said, his style of play was a bit of an outlier on this line from day one.
As a relatively slow-footed mauler type, Fulton may find his new team, the Houston Texans, a better fit. The Chiefs will need to figure out who their backup center is for 2018, with the in-house options being Erving and Devey.
Unknowns: Cam Erving
I think Erving might just be the wildcard for this unit, so I’m listing him here, even though he’s also in the returning category. Veach invested a draft pick in a player with some ability who was off to a miserable start in Cleveland. He clearly saw enough potential to get Erving on board early last season and let the Chiefs coaches work with him.
If there’s anything the league values about a guy like Erving, it’s versatility. He came into the league as a center, played guard and was brought to KC as a swing tackle. Many have thought he should transition into a blocking tight end role.
At this point in his career, Erving’s versatility may be hurting his development. Without the ability to stick at one position and get better, he’s constantly moving around.
Hopefully, Erving is hard at work this offseason developing strength and technique and the Chiefs will have a plan for him. We’ll know more about where Erving fits when we see if and where the team looks for upgrades in the draft.
Comparison to 2017: Slightly better
Even if the personnel doesn’t change much up front, there are reasons to believe this group will perform better this season than last. Like everything with the Chiefs, it starts with Pat Mahomes. This team will be led by a dynamic quarterback that has a knack for avoiding pressure and delivering strikes downfield even when conditions around him are less than ideal.
This could mean that the offensive line will give up fewer sacks than in prior years. Also, the newly aggressive offense with elite downfield threats abound could open up the running game, as defenses leave more players outside the box to prevent big passing plays. The offensive line could benefit from better matchups and situations simply because defenses will be on their heels.
Additionally, this is still a relatively young group of linemen that have some potential to develop. Morse, Erving, Witzmann and Ehinger have (hopefully) not hit their ceilings yet.
Even as important as individual development is for this team, continuity may be even more important for the offensive line. As each of these guys gets more experience as a unit, they’ll know the tendencies of the man next to him, and should be able to communicate and perform at a higher level than a newly assembled squad.
According to Pro Football Focus, they were right at league average last season. Another year together for this group could allow them to gel into a top-10 NFL offensive line.