The Kansas City Chiefs lost a key piece this offseason that probably isn’t getting enough attention as it should.
The Houston Texans signed offensive lineman Zach Fulton away back in mid-March.
Fulton was never an elite NFL offensive lineman by any means, but his value came in his ability to play any interior position along the offensive line well. Fulton started his rookie season at right guard, and also mixed in center and left guard based upon the Chiefs’ need due to injuries thereafter. At the end of his Chiefs career, Fulton had compiled 40 starts, including playoffs.
Being as versatile as Fulton was at three positions is a lot easier said than done, and the Chiefs will miss him in that regard, especially if an offensive line injury were to occur.
That’s why many felt Chiefs general manager Brett Veach would go in the direction of (a ready) offensive lineman during the NFL Draft.
“I think swing offensive lineman, whether it be guard, center, swingman or guard to tackle, swing guys are always a priority,” Veach said in his pre-draft press conference on April 20. “That is why it is going to be a big loss. Zach was a really good player for us. He did a lot of great things. He can go play guard, he can play center. That will certainly be a direction we go in.”
But the Chiefs didn’t, at least in the draft, selecting five defensive players and one offensive lineman who likely won’t be ready until 2019 at the earliest.
This is where Cam Erving, who started four games for the Chiefs in 2017 (three at right guard and the regular-season finale at left tackle) will have to come in.
“That guy can do a lot of different things,” Veach said of Erving. “I think versatility is a premium and that is why linemen go high and that is why you have to draft a few linemen every year.”
As the Chiefs stand on May 1, who will start this season at the left guard position is still unknown. From left to right otherwise, the lineup will go Eric Fisher (LT), a returning Mitch Morse (C), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (RG) and Mitchell Schwartz (RT).
The LG position is shaping up to be a battle between Bryan Witzmann, Parker Ehinger and Erving.
“[Erving will] get a shot to continue to compete for those interior spots and provide flex at tackle and those guys are very hard to find,” Veach said. “Lineman go off the board quick and when you’re looking at the fifth, sixth round they’re hard to find, so we traded a fifth-round pick for him, but really that skill set is hard to find in the fifth, sixth round. So having two years of him we felt that was advantageous to us.”
However it shakes out between Erving, Witzmann and Ehinger, the two men left out will probably serve the Chiefs in Fulton’s vacant interior swing position.
Witzmann played left tackle all throughout college at South Dakota State, but he has only started at left guard for the Chiefs. Witzmann held the Chiefs’ starting position at left guard last year, playing in 14 games, including the playoffs.
Ehinger had one start at right guard in the Chiefs’ 2017 Week 17 finale after starting four games as a rookie in 2016. Ehinger tore his ACL in 2016, ending his season early.
On a Chiefs offense that may otherwise be set at every other position, left guard and the depth Fulton left behind it are wide open.