“I didn’t really have NFL aspirations in high school,” Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Andrew Wylie told his hometown newspaper in November of 2017. “I was just hoping to get a Division I scholarship. Once that happened, I realized I could make a living out of this. It’s good to finally be in this position, but I know that there’s still room to grow.”
At the time, Wylie was signed to the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns, where he spent his time playing with the scout team against the first-team defense.
After starting 44 games for the Eastern Michigan Eagles in Ypsilanti, Michigan — just miles away from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — he had joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent signed by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2017 NFL Draft. Released by the Ravens, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts and stayed with them through training camp and preseason — only to be placed on the practice squad at the final cutdown.
Weeks later, the Colts released him and he was signed to the Browns practice squad.
”I really want to make a 53-man roster some time soon,” Wylie told the Midland Daily News, which has carefully followed his career since he played in the blue and gold of the Midland Chemics in high school. “But this is a good position to be in, and I’m happy to be a part of the NFL.”
But Wylie’s new dream was still a little bit down the road.
The Browns cut him in December. A week later, he was signed to the practice squad of the Los Angeles Chargers, where he would spend just eight days. On December 29 — just two days before quarterback Patrick Mahomes would make his first start against the Denver Broncos in the final game of the 2017 regular season — the Chiefs signed Wylie to their practice squad.
Two days after the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans that ended their season, the Chiefs signed Wylie to a reserve/futures contract for 2018.
By late August — after Wylie had begun turning heads at Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri — there was a chance he could not only make the roster, but start at left guard; even in the week leading up to the final cutdown, the position was in flux. In a film review of Wylie published in these pages, our Matt Lane laid out the case.
At this point, everything we’ve seen from Wylie should at least give us the confidence that he wouldn’t be any worse than Bryan Witzmann, who started at left guard last year.
Wylie is still an incredibly raw player, so there is also a higher ceiling to be had from what we saw last year. If we were looking at this position battle as of last year, Wylie should have been the easy choice to get starting reps along the offensive line.
But standing in Wylie’s way was former first-round draft pick Cam Erving, whom the Chiefs had acquired in a trade from the Browns in 2017.
This year, however, Erving seems to have the trust of the coaching staff and appears to have a grip on the starting role. When comparing the players directly, they have a lot of similarities in that their raw traits are pretty good, but their skills are rather unrefined and can generate some bad losses far too often.
Erving — thought to be a swing lineman as preseason wound down — would end up winning the left guard position, and signed a contract extension just as the season began.
But as Matt noted, Wylie — while raw — had potential as a starter.
Looking forward to 2019, however, Wylie could very much be in play as a starting offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs — bordering even on a favorite.
The Chiefs thought so too, and on his fifth attempt, Wylie finally made a 53-man NFL roster.
”This year, with the Chiefs, having been here since the beginning for workouts and OTAs and camps, they really worked with me and really gave me a legitimate shot,” Wylie told the folks back home in the Daily News. “They took their time with me, and it has paid off a lot. The front office and the O-line coaches and the offensive coordinator, everyone, really worked with me and gave me time to develop, and it’s been great.”
In our first take on the 53-man roster, Pete Sweeney saw Wylie as a swing lineman.
The Chiefs kept nine offensive linemen, and they must have felt like they needed to in order to protect long-term offensive line project Kahlil McKenzie. Putting McKenzie on the practice squad would have made him eligible to be signed by any other team. Andrew Wylie makes the team in the “Zach Fulton” honorary sixth-man position, with Bryan Witzmann and Jordan Devey providing more depth.
Wylie didn’t know exactly what his role would be, but he told the Daily News he was ready for it.
“My role being on the active roster is just to help the team in any way I can and to continue to work toward being a starter,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a significant role on game day on the offensive line, and I just want to always be ready if somebody goes down or if they need me to fill in for a drive to switch things up. I’ve just got to always be ready.”
And he was.
Witzmann lasted just another day on the Chiefs roster. In Week 5, starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif suffered a season-ending injury. In Week 6, center Mitch Morse suffered a concussion that kept him out for five weeks. And in Week 7, Wylie made his first NFL start at right guard.
“We had a lot of highs and some lows,” Wylie told the Daily News, which by then must have had his cell phone number on speed-dial. “Winning our division and winning a playoff game, which is something that hadn’t been done here in a while. We didn’t get the win against the Patriots and get to go to the Super Bowl, so, obviously, that was very disappointing. But for me personally, it was a great year. I did a lot of great things and learned a lot about the game of football and had a lot of fun.”
But even before he suited up to play the Patriots, Wylie had already received a high honor from the Chiefs: the Mack Lee Hill award, given annually to the best rookie on the Chiefs roster.
Even though he was a second-year NFL player, Wylie’s circuitous route to the team had never included being on an active roster. That meant he was still classified as a rookie, so he leapfrogged other Chiefs rookies like Ben Niemann, Derrick Nnadi and Charvarius Ward to win the award — whose previous four winners had been Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Marcus Peters and De’Anthony Thomas.
“It was a real surprise,” Wylie told readers back in Midland, “and I think the thing that means the most to me is that it’s an award that your teammates and coaches vote on. These are guys who I’m with every single day. After being around guys for a while, you get a real sense of their character, and that’s just huge that my teammates and coaches think that highly of me.”
When former wide receiver Dwayne Bowe signed a one-day contract to retire from the Chiefs just over a week ago, Bowe was given a chance to catch one more pass from current Chiefs starters. Sharp-eyed observers immediately noted that Wylie was lined up at left guard in the video of the ceremonial catch, raising speculation that Wylie was currently considered the starter at the position.
Such a move would make sense. Not only did Wylie gain valuable experience at the right guard position last season, Erving’s stock is down; analytical web site Pro Football Focus had Erving as one of the lowest-rated Chiefs offensive linemen last season. And after Erving was briefly sidelined with a knee injury late in the year, the Chiefs kept former starter Jeff Allen — who had been brought back to the team after two years with the Houston Texans — playing at left guard through the remainder of the season.
So after Thursday’s OTA session — in which the media was able to see that Wylie was taking reps with the first-team offense at left guard, it was inevitable that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid would be asked about it.
“You know he’s one of the better athletes we have up front there — and that’s a good question because I don’t think people know that,” Reid said of Wylie. “He’s really a good athlete; he gets out and he runs. You see him do that, you see him lock on to people, kind of glue on to people in the screen game and on pulls.”
Wylie will face competition as the Chiefs offseason program continues. Even though they didn’t activate him for a single game, the Chiefs kept guard Kahlil McKenzie on the roster for all of 2018. That was a clear sign that they believe the converted defensive lineman is not only worth keeping, but would be snatched off their practice-squad roster if they tried to stash him there. Wylie will also face competition from seventh-round pick Nick Allegretti and undrafted free agent Zack Golditch.
Right now, though, the left guard position on the Chiefs roster is Wylie’s to lose — a dream that probably didn’t even occur to him when he was playing in the shadow of the University of Michigan, or taking scout-team reps for the Cleveland Browns just 17 months ago.
If he has the job when the season begins, one thing is certain: the folks back home in Midland, Michigan will be anxious to hear all about it
And they will.