The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t wait long to fill the roster void left by Laurent Duvernay-Tardif’s opt-out for the 2020 season.
Late on Saturday night, the Chiefs agreed to a one-year deal for guard Kelechi Osemele. An eight-year veteran of the league, Osemele was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, signed a big second contract with the Oakland Raiders and was traded to the New York Jets for the 2019 season.
Osemele has primarily played left guard for his previous teams — although he did play a little bit of tackle in Baltimore. So for the Chiefs, he will switch sides — or the team is counting on competition at left guard to flip the right side of the line. Osemele is coming off two consecutive injury-plagued years; his 2019 season was cut short after he opted to have a shoulder surgery the Jets didn’t think he needed.
With the Chiefs needing help on the interior of the offensive line, Osemele should move the needle in 2020. But just how much will he move it?
Let’s take a look into the positives that a healthy Osemele could bring to the Chiefs offense — and what fans could expect from the veteran guard.
Osemele isn't the fluid mover into space that has become Andy Reid's hallmark, but he can CLIMB.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
He exhibits a good initial burst when firing up to the second level, and he takes terrific angles to close down the block. Uses his strength well to finish the play. pic.twitter.com/1Z9dJ03NSB
Osemele isn’t what most would consider a traditional Andy Reid lineman. But lately, the Chiefs offense hasn’t been relying as heavily on fluid, fleet-of-foot offensive linemen. That’s a positive for Osemele, who is more reliant on power than movement.
But that doesn’t mean that he can’t attack linearly. Osemele possesses a good linear burst, taking excellent angles to the second level. There he can do some serious damage to linebackers and safeties. When Osemele is asked to climb uncovered during an inside zone blocking rep, he can really make his presence felt, blowing open big gains.
For Osemele, the job's not through until it's through -- regardless of the opponent.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
Here he is matched up against Aaron Donald on a delayed shotgun draw. Gives the RB the time to sell and take the handoff, then chases down Donald to finish as the OL push the RB in for a TD. pic.twitter.com/7YAoH1sn1e
As these two plays show, Osemele likes to finish the job as a blocker. He plays through the echo of the whistle; typically he doesn’t let up until the job is done. So late in games, that can create some chippy situations with angry defensive tackles who are looking for an easy rep.
Osemele’s 2018 season — which is where the rest of the Raiders clips come from — was very, very good before he was injured. The Raiders trusted Osemele to go up against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh one-on-one for most of the game shown here — and he held his own for the majority of the snaps.
While he may not have been on the same All-Pro tear he was on earlier in his career, he was still playing like a top-15 guard. If he’s not fully recovered, recapturing that form may be difficult — but obtaining a player with that kind of potential this late in the offseason could be a boon for the Chiefs offense.
The name of Osemele's game is power, and he tosses around players on the regular.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
Combo block with the C. As Osemele is disengaging, he extends the inside arm and completely turns the DT, helping put him in the dirt. Eyes up, climbs to the second level, taking out the pursuit LB pic.twitter.com/x07gKSEGVd
Osemele’s strength is his most dominant trait; it’s how he wins he wins reps most easily. As we see in this play, he has regular blocking reps with single-arm control of the defender. He can do things that other linemen can’t.
Osemele’s ability to turn the nose tackle on a combo block with a single arm while moving to climb to the linebacker is a rare feat for an offensive lineman. That strength gives him the ability to make blocks that other players simply can’t make.
Osemele’s shoulder injury would be the only thing preventing him from bringing that power to Kansas City. If he’s fully recovered from the surgery he underwent last October, there’s no reason to think this level of dominance isn’t still a part of Osemele’s game.
Osemele's pass pro isn't passive, and there are a multitude of reps where he drives the DT back to the original line of scrimmage, re-expanding the pocket.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
Stepping up into the pocket for the quarterback is significantly easier and makes life for OT's vs speed rushers better. pic.twitter.com/HhVopNIC72
With a healthy Osemele, the Chiefs should expect the run game to improve. But what about the pass? Well, short of some exceptionally quick three-techniques — like the Chiefs’ Chris Jones — Osemele can lock down most of the defensive tackles he’ll see.
Osemele’s pass protection reps showcase good strength; he re-sets the pass rusher back to the original line of scrimmage fairly often. This allows for more room in the pocket for the quarterback to step into, helping to nullify deep speed rushers who try to bend to meet the quarterback deep in his drop.
We know that Patrick Mahomes likes to drift and take longer drops in the pocket — but fairly often in his career, he’s had to deal with interior pressure. If Osemele gets the starting nod, he should be able to help keep Mahomes comfortable, allowing him to pick the opposition apart from the pocket.
Osemele's grip strength is a massive plus as well. Once he gets the clamps on a defender, he usually stays locked.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
LB twist behind his DT, and Osemele gets wrenched by the blocker/DT. Good job resetting his base, but staying clamped and not losing ground. pic.twitter.com/9uEk9xYuCz
An underrated part of good offensive line play is grip strength. If an offensive lineman can latch on and (legally) prevent the defender from disengaging, the blocker typically wins the rep. Osemele possesses this ability in spades.
For Osemele, pass-rushing reps sometimes look boring — because sometimes, they’re over before they start. If the defender is controlled — even elite ones like Donald — they tend to shut down their rush to conserve energy.
Osemele's 2019 was marred with injuries and a poor surrounding cast, but he still showed quality reps.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
Good combo of strength and grip in pass pro here. Defender with the good swat to clear Osemele's outside hand, but keeps inside in the chest and keeps pocket integrity. pic.twitter.com/sdZHIAZN51
When Osemele does encounter an altered base or a disengaged arm — like in these two plays — he showcases this excellent grip to keep the defender within his frame. Paired with his strength, Osemele does well to keep his position, keeping the pocket from collapsing.
Osemele played only three games in 2019 — but in those games, he showed himself to be the Jets best offensive lineman. The Jets lost Sam Darnold and Trevor Siemian by the middle of the second game of the season, thereafter relying on a third-string quarterback to set protections. Aside from Osemele, the offensive line was poor; they didn’t handle blitzes or games up front particularly well, which led to some trust issues in the blocking scheme. Even before the injury debacle, it wasn’t a great situation for Osemele.
Osemele's a smart player that processes quickly, which helps him to diagnose and pick up games from the DL.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
Frames the DT well, then peeks outside as he feels the disengagement. DE cuts underneath the DT and Osemele picks him up with ease, keeping a solid pocket. pic.twitter.com/EkialfaWwz
Osemele possesses the awareness that one would expect from an eight-year veteran. There’s little that he hasn’t seen — and it shows up when defending games from the defensive line. As we see here, he is a quick processor who feels the rush well and makes adjustments. This quick processing allows him to make adjustments sooner, which helps make up for his lack of athleticism.
Finally, Osemele is always looking for work and has fantastic situational awareness.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) July 26, 2020
One of his best plays in 2019 came in the first preseason game. He engages the DT, but knows he has the double team coming from the OC. Osemele peels off to help the LT and decleats the rusher. pic.twitter.com/iXaTTnJaHI
Much like other good offensive linemen, Osemele is always looking for work. Unlike some other linemen, he’ll disengage from a block to find that help. His awareness — seeing interior help coming or a defender slowing his rush — helps him to recognize a situation where he can abandon a prior block to help a struggling tackle.
Few other linemen feel comfortable making that exchange — especially with the poor supporting cast Osemele had in New York. But Osemele’s feel for the game is so solid that even in his “down” years, he can make plays like these.
The bottom line
There’s a lot to like about Osemele’s game. I found myself continually surprised at how well he played when he was healthy.
So in Kansas City, his health will absolutely be the biggest question. He possesses the strength, technique and awareness to play at a very high level. If healthy, he will be an incredibly valuable asset — and certainly an upgrade at left guard.
He would likely be that kind of an asset to any NFL team — and yet, he was still available in late July. It’s possible that during this crazy offseason, teams’ inability to get Osemele in for in-person physicals led to his availability this late in the process; teams may have felt he was too much of an injury risk.
To a team like the Chiefs, however, Osemele is worth that risk. They already had in-house options like Martinas Rankin, Mike Remmers, and Andrew Wylie; even if Osemele isn’t fully healthy, I would expect the Chiefs to still feel comfortable with their group. But if Osemele is healthy, his signing made the Chiefs offensive line better. He could help stabilize the pocket for Mahomes — while still helping to blast open some running lanes to close out games.
For the Chiefs, it’s a calculated risk — and a potentially big payoff.