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Film review: OT Lucas Niang was a steal in the third round of the draft

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The big TCU tackle falling to 96th may go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2020 NFL draft.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas Christian Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When the Kansas City Chiefs went on the clock for the 96th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, they had already filled needs at running back and linebacker, but had missed out on getting cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Kristian Fulton. So there was some hope the Chiefs would continue to draft for need by going after another corner.

But instead, the Chiefs threw a curve ball, selecting TCU offensive tackle Lucas Niang.

Entering the 2019 season, Niang was a highly-touted offensive tackle prospect, but a hip labrum injury affected his play, shortened his season — and thankfully for the Chiefs — allowed him to fall the all the way to the third round. There has been speculation he could play at guard — but Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck seems rather infatuated with his movement skills at tackle.

With all of that in mind, let’s go down to the dusty basement at Arrowhead Pride Headquarters and settle into the AP Laboratory. It’s time to break out the burners and beakers — and take a look at Niang’s film.

Lucas Niang

Offensive Lineman | TCU | 6’6” 315 pounds

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Pass protection

Perhaps the most important part being an NFL offensive tackle is blocking for the quarterback. Being a large human with long arms who creates a natural barrier, Niang starts off with an advantage — but it’s how you can move that large frame that separates okay from good.

Even against his stiffest competition — Chase Young and Nick Bosa at Ohio State — Niang’s athleticism and ability were great. Young has even gone on record saying Niang he was one of the best tackles he faced in college, forcing him to focus on his technique rather than his athleticism. Niang looks natural during his kick-slide — and had no difficulty matching one of college football’s explosive players up the arc.

On this play — starting in the drive-catch phase — Niang gets good depth on his initial step but also lands lightly on his feet. That nimble landing allows him to quickly get his foot back off the ground so he can continue sliding up the arc.

While working in his pass set, he throws out a fake jab — which I wish he would do more often, but we’ll get to that — which forces Young into his rush plan before getting any space on Niang’s edge. When Young transitions into a power rush, Niang has him perfectly framed — and is able to get both of his hands right into Young’s armpits. To brace for the power — and avoiding being walked back — Niang pops his feet back but extends his hips, stalling out the rush.

In overall pass protection, Niang fares quite well, utilizing his length, power and athleticism to be a great blocker. So here’s the elevator pitch: he’s a long, strong and athletic blocker who mirrors rushers incredibly well.

Run blocking

A facet of tackle play that has descreased in importance — especially to teams like the Chiefs, who throw a lot of passes — is the ability to block in the running game. Besides... in many spread and zone concepts, a lot of run blocking can be accomplished by simply being in a defender’s way — rather than dominating them.

But with his athletic profile, Niang is more than capable of doing just that — but also has the traits to dominate at the point of attack. He gets out of the blocks quickly — and even when not attacking vertically, his length allows him to quickly land his hands on a defender.

Here we see that even without forward momentum from his first step, Niang has enough power to dig the defensive end up and start driving him back as he starts churning his feet. But what’s more impressive is that whether he’s chasing him forward or sliding to either side, he’s able to match the defensive end’s movements as he tries to shake Niang’s block.

On outside zone plays, Niang’s lateral agility and length allow him to be highly efficient on reaching blocks — and when uncovered, he shows the burst to climb to the second level. His raw power and intelligence also make him effective as an inside-zone and gap-scheme blocker; he knows when to help a teammate, replace a gap or just fire off to the second level.

While coming into blocks in space, Niang does have to work on his control — as well as latching onto his blocks and maintaining them. He does a great job making contact consistently — but too frequently, Niang is a little off balance (or is unable to latch on), allowing defenders to slide off the block after the initial punch.

Explosion

Niang able to jump out of his stance in any direction with ease, covering a lots of ground while maintaining control.

On this read-option, Niang is leaving the defensive end — but has to make sure to get to the crashing linebacker trying to shoot the B-gap. No problem.

Since Niang gets out to him so quickly, the two meet on the linebacker’s second step. Then, Niang is able to roll that explosion into power and movement, driving the linebacker through the face of another one — slowing him down as well — before discarding the original defender on the far hash.

Whether climbing to the second level, sliding out into pass protection or jumping laterally to land a reach block, Niang shows exceptional explosiveness.

Balance

Niang can sometimes struggle with balance — specifically with blocks in space or his pad level in pass protection. The high pad placement — which allows him to be knocked off balance — is the larger concern, but is also correctable with some knee bend during his sets. But his balance really shines when framing blocks.

This skip step to shut down the B-gap — while simultaneously framing the linebacker — may not look like much, but is an incredibly useful trait. At his size, the ability to skip one direction, land completely balanced and then be able to immediately explode vertically isn’t as easy at is looks.

Reading and reacting

Here we’re looking for a combination of mental processing and reactive athleticism. Niang is good at processing stunts, twists and blitzes — but with the Big 12’s Tite 3-4 fronts, he wasn’t challenged much. Where he did shine, however, was in his ability to identify a pass rushing plan — and then know how to handle it.

Again working against Chase Young, Niang initially frames the block well out of his stance — but Young throws out a stutter step. This forces Niang to stop his feet and prepare for a potential inside rush, but Young continues back outside. Niang doesn’t miss a beat. He is able to quickly restart his slide up the arc, continuing to mirror Young. Landing his inside hand under Young’s armpit gives him full control — and at the end, the ability to throw Young beyond the pocket.

It’s this ability to quickly identify what’s happening — and then react with his athleticism — that allows Niang to play at such a quick pace.

Hand technique

At the next level, Niang’s hand technique may where he needs the most work. Once he lands them, his hand placement and leverage are good, but a lack of refinement can get him into trouble. There are occasional flashes of high-end hand technique — but most of the time, he uses a wide catch technique. You’d like him use more jabs, compact punches and trap techniques — especially because his body position is almost always in a good spot to use them.

The inconsistencies with his hand technique are pretty evident in these two clips. In the first one, Niang short sets to protect the B-gap and then has to work out to the defensive end. He does so effortlessly. While working out later, he lands a straight two-hand punch in the chest — and then every time one hand is slapped away, he quickly works in the other hand to dominate the rep. A+.

On the second play, Niang is in perfect body position from the get-go — but his hand technique is much more relaxed, trying to catch the defender rather than attack him.

In itself, a patient catch technique for an athletic tackle isn’t bad at all — but the wide path to contact Niang’s hands do allow defensive ends to get into his chest — and can sometimes put him on his heels. With his movement skills and length, Niang could be a deadly NFL offensive tackle — if can work a trap technique into his arsenal.

Feet

In this pass set, Niang’s feet are just so smooth and quick. He covers about seven yards during his slide — mirror/shuffling another two yards — before finally extending and driving the rusher a grand total of thirteen yards behind the line of scrimmage. At no point did he look labored doing so.

The bottom line

The more of his tape I see, the more Lucas Niang looks like a steal. His hip injury simply didn’t allow him to move in the same way in 2019 as he did in 2018 — which allowed the Chiefs to grab him while no one was looking.

Niang has a full list of the skills and traits that make up a good NFL offensive tackle; his length, athleticism and quick reaction time allow him to play as a finesse tackle — but he has the power and size of a mauler. While there are some aspects with his pad level and hand technique that need to be cleaned up, we must remember his injury robbed him of his full development.

There is some talk of Niang kicking inside to the interior — and while I think he absolutely can do that (and excel), I’d rather see him simply develop as a tackle. The list of college tackles who play inside for an extended period — and then move back to tackle — is very, very short. And Niang’s strengths best align on the outside.

He’ll find success wherever he plays. But with Niang, I’d just opt to play the future card, playing him at the position where he can make the most impact: offensive tackle.