The case for the Chiefs to draft an early-round offensive lineman

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts -- JD

Reading and analyzing offensive line play is not for everyone.

These guys are not the ones running sub 4.40 times in the 40. They are rarely the sleek, svelte athletic specimens. Rather, they tend to be...well, let's face it: pudgy. They're the fatties -- the big uglies. They do the grunt work. and most fans rarely acknowledge it.

And when it comes to the NFL Draft, suggesting the Chiefs take an offensive lineman before the fourth round will get one berated by multitudes of Arrowhead Pride commenters. If you are one of those fans, thanks for reading this far.

I started out intending to write my first-ever AP FanPost advocating the idea that the Kansas City Chiefs need to bring in a plug-and-play free agent center or guard.

But as MNChiefsfan (God rest his avatar) taught us, you do your research to see what is really going on -- regardless of whether it supports your theory or not. So Seth... these words are for you, buddy.

I started by looking into Andy Reid's player/personnel history with the Chiefs offensive line.

Offensive Line 2013-18

Year Drafted FA In FA Out Longshot Weakness Developmental
2013 Fisher (1)
Kush (170)
G Schwartz Stephenson Kush
2014 Fulton (193)
LDT (200)
McGlynn Albert,
Harris RT Fulton
2015 Morse (49) Grubbs Harris,
Reid LG, RG, RT
2016 Ehinger (105) M Schwartz Grubbs,
Devey LG, RT
2017 Erving Witzmann LG
2018 McKenzie (198) Reiter Ehinger,
Wylie LG McKenzie

The last six years show that Reid, Dorsey and Veach have used the draft to replace starters -- Fisher for Albert, Morse for Hudson, Ehinger for Grubbs -- and all have filled in admirably for at least their first year.

Those chosen in the first 100 picks (Morse and Fisher) were able to plug in to the line and do well. Even Parker Ehinger -- who fell only slightly outside the first 100 -- was able to plug in and play well until he was injured.

It stands to reason that the higher the a lineman's draft position, the more athletic and NFL-ready they are. So depending on the depth of the draft class, you're probably going to need a pick from the first three rounds if you want them to start right away.

Some fans are expecting us to sign a replacement center. I explored that possibility, and for a while, I was beating that drum as well. For me, Pittsburgh Steelers center BJ Finney was a possible option — young, behind too much talent at starter positions, injury-free, PFF grade of 71.5, local boy and K-State product.

But spending a large amount of cap space for a short-term rental didn't seem seem prudent -- especially when only about one-third of higher-end free agent signings by the Chiefs have panned out; there is a high rist/low reward ratio with free agents, and good free agent contracts are not cheap.

Some would tell you that we should continue to bring in waiver-wire options, or guys from other team's practice squads. While that makes sense when you're looking for potential backups, I would argue that there is no sense in bringing in a prove-it interior lineman. Even as backups, longshot free agents have panned out at half of the rate of high-profile free agents -- one-sixth in my book. Going this direction gambles on the hope of finding a decent backup, and playing one of the known backups we now have.

Developmental draft picks have been more successful; all three of the developmental offensive line picks the Chiefs have made since 2013 are current starters in the NFL: Eric Kush (Chicago Bears), Zach Fulton (Houston Texans) and our own right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

The Chiefs have done well in picking athleticism over experience, and it seems to have paid off. But going this route takes time. The pattern for a developmental pick is that they have two years of shelf life in Kansas City. By that point you are either in the lineup or out the door.

And we are already in the midst of another development project in Khalil McKenzie.

I've read comments from other AP users suggesting that McKenzie is the answer, but the fact he had zero snaps (let alone any starts) last season leads me to believe that he is still not ready for primetime; I believe they will likely need to give him another year to develop into a starter or backup guard.

I'm not saying I don't think this is a great plan. I think it is another example of Chiefs coaches developing a day three pick -- just as they have done with others. But to count on McKenzie to suddenly be an above-average left guard seems unrealistic. But just think of a future where the offensive line is crowded with superior players the Chiefs have developed. Bring that on!

So that brings us to consider the draft.

Many fans are thinking the Chiefs will draft a center or guard this year, and I think that is a reasonable assumption. Last year's draft seemed to be a direct reaction to the heartbreaking loss at the hands of a defense that couldn't stop the Tennessee Titans running game. The draft showed the resolve of the front office to fix that. I would contend that the past year's playoff loss will bring a similar reaction.

Re-watching the first half of last year's playoff loss to the New England Patriots showed an offen-sieve line (yes... I spelled it that way on purpose) that couldn't stop the Patriots' stunts and blitzes. Erving got beat. Fisher got beat. Wylie got beat. Then Erving got beat multiple times again.

If this year's draft is in direct response to what is on that tape, I believe there will be resolve to fix that in the coming draft. Especially in the AFC Championship game, the Chiefs' weakness at left guard was exposed. When you add the loss of Mitch Morse, it suddenly feels like there may be gaping holes in the middle of the offensive line.

This is who we have and how they fit:

Left tackle Eric Fisher: Fisher went to his first Pro Bowl in February. Was he the shining star of the Chiefs offensive line? No. But he was definitely good enough, with an above-average PFF grade of 73.4. Fisher is getting it done -- and a little more.

Left guard Cameron Erving: Erving was the de facto starter for the last games of the season. With a below-average grade of 42.9, I see him as a backup with versatility. My own eye test left me feeling like he underwhelmed too many times. He is a stopgap offensive lineman, but not a starter.

Center Austin Reiter: Mitch Morse is gone. Initially, I would have said this is the top need to replace on the line. But Austin Reiter has already been plugged in when Morse and Devey went down -- and get this: his PFF grade was second-highest on the line with an above average grade of 74.2! For those hoping for a free agent move at center, Reiter was the free agent move. Kudos to Veach for knowing he wouldn't be able to keep Morse, and then signing (and extending) Reiter to a team-friendly contract : $1.4 million in 2019 and $2.7 million in 2020, with minimal dead money against the cap.

Left guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: Dr. Moose is one of my all-time favorites. He has become an anchor in pass protection and a stud road grader in run blocking. He had a slightly down year (especially with injuries), but PFF graded him out as average with a grade of 63.2.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz: Schwartz is the blue collar go-to-work-everyday stud you want at right tackle. And he may have a chip on his shoulder for not getting a Pro Bowl invite, as he was PFF's Lineman of the Year with a whopping 83.5 grade.

Other notable offensive linemen: Andrew Wylie (with a solid 64.0 PFF grade) is someone to watch for as a swing guard. With Erving as a potential swing tackle, I think there is room (and rationale) to look for a day three draft pick to come in and push Erving for the swing tackle position.

So I contend that that the starting lineup would be Fisher, an early draft pick, Reiter, Duvernay-Tardif and Schwartz, with Wylie and Erving as the swing guards and tackles.

Some will argue that offensive line play is really not that important. But consider this: according to Football Outsiders, these were the top eight teams in pass protection in 2018:

  1. New England Patriots

  2. Indianapolis Colts

  3. New Orleans Saints

  4. Pittsburgh Steelers

  5. Kansas City Chiefs

  6. Los Angeles Rams

  7. Chicago Bears

  8. Baltimore Ravens

Notice anything about this list? All of those teams (except Pittsburgh) were in the playoffs. All four teams in AFC and NFC Championship games are there, too.

There are two other reasons I think we need to consider an early-round Interior offensive pick.

First is what I call the Patrick Mahomes Effect. I would argue that Mahomes mades the Chiefs offensive line look better than it really was. How many times did he scramble out of the pocket to avoid a sack -- and complete some crazy pass on top of that? How many times did he take a shot while uncorking a huge throw? Mahomes -- being an incredible athlete -- kept the offensive line from being dragged down with sacks, pressures and hurries. The offensive line needs to be as good in reality as Mahomes made them look on paper .

Second is what I believe is the most valid argument for investing in an early round lineman: Mahomes himself. You don't keep the Ferrari in a shed that's about to fall down. The Chiefs know they have a generational talent in Mahomes. They should do whatever they can to put an iron curtain around him. And I believe they can (and should) do that with a pick in the early rounds of this year's draft.

I feel there is a real need to improve the left guard position, and making that improvement is a prudent and wise investment in our franchise quarterback. (Boy... that feels good to say!) This is a proven strategy of perennial Super Bowl contenders. The early rounds of the NFL draft have a quantifiable history of being the place where Andy Reid's Chiefs have been able to find quality starting linemen. This strategy can complement the development of late-round picks and better quality back-ups, and do it in a way that saves cap space for years into the future.

So for me, if late in the evening on April 25, Roger Goodell announces, "With the 29th pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs select offensive lineman..." this is one Chiefs fan who will be glad -- and totally understand why they would invest that kind of capital on a big ugly.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.