Well, it finally happened: the Kansas City Chiefs significantly invested in the interior offensive line for the first time since drafting Mitch Morse in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Chiefs signed offensive guard Joe Thuney, formerly of the New England Patriots to a massive five-year, $80 million dollar deal, making him the highest-paid offensive guard in the NFL.
During the first stage of the tampering period, rumors were swirling that the Chiefs were in a bidding war for offensive tackle Trent Williams — and they still could be — but the first news for the Chiefs to drop was the addition of Thuney.
From a personal perspective, I’m not head over heels with jumping out to set the new “top market value” at the guard position. It’s one of the few positions on the field that can be consistently helped by other players without changing the scheme in any major fashion. That being said, Thuney is an absolute stud that deserves to be paid at the top of his positional market.
The Chiefs have desperately been missing an interior offensive lineman to build their unit around, and he provides a blue-chip player along the interior. The most impressive part of the whole ordeal is that the Chiefs were able to work his first-year cap hit down to $4.5 million, which leaves them completely open for the rest of the free agency period.
With that said, enough of my talk about my personal valuation of the position — let’s dive into Joe Thuney’s film and see exactly why he’s worth $16 million.
Joe Thuney film review
Thuney is as technically sound as they come, from his processing of the game to his versatility (he can play all five positions), his technique and more. Players with elite physical traits can put him into recovery mode relatively quickly but the thing is, Thuney has the technical skill to remain calm and recover. He’s rarely going to dominate a rep from start to finish, and you’ll often find yourself saying, “Thuney is in the way just enough there.”
At some point, when plays like continue to add up into the double or even triple digits before the major gaffe occurs, you realize he’s just a really steady football player. I don’t use “steady” in a demeaning way, but rather, he consistently does exactly what he was taught to do.
At the end of the day, I came away from watching Thuney with the same feeling I did watching Mitchell Schwartz when the Chiefs first signed him in free agency.
This is where Thuney separates himself from a lot more physically talented offensive linemen. He plays very patient and technical football, and while it doesn’t lead to many highlight-worthy victories, it does lead to very few pressures allowed.
Joe Thuney pass pro:— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 15, 2021
- Elite hands; has them ready and fires a quick punch as soon as the defender shows his. Immediately re-fits his hands to clear the outside hand and get under the inside arm.
Clears cross body then rides the DT up the pocket not allowing a corner. pic.twitter.com/Jk4YtZJESn
His hand technique is always changing but never lacking in skill. He has some of the quickest hands in the NFL — both on the initial punch and when following up to re-fit his hands into a better location. The hand quickness allows him to attack high-low, with a single hand or with a staunch double-punch to the chest, which keeps pass rushers off-kilter the entire time.
Thuney understands how pass-rush moves work and how to attack rushers’ weak points with his hands incredibly well. As soon as he sees the long arm incoming on the rep above, he immediately fires his hands out to slow down the initial lean-in by the defensive tackle. After first contact, he drops his inside hand and goes up and under the defensive tackle’s arm. The defensive tackle is still balanced, making a trap technique dangerous — and Thuney clears the arm across his body. This angles the defensive tackle away from the quarterback and allows Thuney to easily run him up the arc.
Looking at this mirror ability by Thuney to get out and frame the DT, mirror back inside on the counter, and then handle the spin back outside... I can see why Pats fans often asked if he should kick out to OT.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 15, 2021
He has such good feet and lateral agility to keep rushers framed up pic.twitter.com/NIJa2DpLef
The footwork is equally as impressive out of Thuney, as he’s constantly in a position to mirror the rusher. It doesn’t matter if the defensive tackle is trying to club him in one direction or spin him in another. Thuney stays balanced and maintains a good base. This allows him to effortlessly re-direct and follow the rusher through a series of pass-rush moves and never give him an easy path off his shoulder.
Thuney has a variety of pass sets from the quick-set, a jump-set, vertical set and has even been utilized as a puller in pass protection. His footwork remains consistent in all of these to maintain his center of gravity and allow him to react to anything a pass rusher will do. In the NFL, you can’t always play reactive and sometimes have to get out in front of the opponent. Thuney does that well given his understanding of a pass rusher’s plan and his footwork to cut him off.
- Nice quick set out of Thuney vs a big DT. He's not a mauler but does a good job working with his leverage and getting his feet back under him.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 15, 2021
Great grip strength to latch and just control while mirroring everything with a great base. pic.twitter.com/5rsmE2GOW4
Here is another good quick-set out of Thuney. This time, he’s showing off his ability to anchor and play with fantastic grip strength. He’s not going to be confused for a mauler in pass protection. He’s not pancaking defenders routinely or throwing them out of the play.
What Thuney does do really well is keep his knees bent and his hips under him, so when players do try to overpower him, he has a counter ready. A quick pop of the feet back, and he’s got leverage. Rinse and repeat until the rusher is out of steam.
Where Thuney may be the most impressive in regard to strength is his grip. We’ve already seen how quick and accurate his hands can be, but here, we see him get both hands inside on the defensive tackle and just lock on like vice grips. No amount of swiping, ripping or clubbing is going to break him away, and the more he struggles, the more momentum Thuney has to pull him in closer and closer to maintain leverage.
The “weaker” part of Thuney’s game comes in the run game but I’m using the term, “weaker,” very loosely. There are just some moments in which you’d like to see him create a little more displacement or meet a player out in space and completely wipe him out rather than just seal the defender off in both instances.
It’s still a highly successful block that gets the job done, but he can leave you with a little more to be desired, at times.
Joe Thuney run blocking— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 15, 2021
- Fantastic job on Power working with the combo block with the quick skip step to close the gap and the generate vertical movement.
Love how the eyes stay active and he sees the LB trying to slip under the block. Catches the LB w/ 1 hand b4 peeling off pic.twitter.com/C1BpYHjFBo
This doesn’t mean Thuney can’t block in a gap scheme — as we all know, the New England Patriots ran plenty of man-gap blocking scheme designs. He works wonders on this combo block up to the second level from the start. A quick skip-step to close the distance to his blocking mate, and then they take the defender for a ride. As they reach the second level, Thuney’s eyes never stop working, and he identifies the linebacker trying to slip under them rather than over. He knows it’s now his job to pick him off, but rather than clean releasing from the defensive tackle to chase the linebacker, he reaches out with one hand to slow down the pursuit. Once the offensive tackle can take over the initial block, Thuney’s peeling off to seal off the run lane.
It’s highly technical and exactly how the play is drawn up. This is how Thuney treats Power, Outside Zone, Inside Zone, Counter and any other run play you can think of. He will hum right through all the coaching points and give you film to use at a clinic.
- Natural in space, whether working on pulls, laterally on zone, or at the second level he is quick to the second level and clean on his pathing.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) March 15, 2021
Impressive job on this pull to work around the trash and still get up to the 2nd level.. AND get it framed up well. pic.twitter.com/KrLiPtYvhE
Thuney is slightly better suited for zone blocking or getting out into space than he is mauling in a power scheme. He’s explosive off the snap and has great body control when pulling around the horn or working up to the second level. Similar to the lateral agility he shows in pass protection, he does a great job adjusting on the move to frame blockers in space even when other obstacles present themselves.
There will be times that Thuney can’t fully make a long reach block or get out on a quick, outside pull and seal a defender. He does a good job identifying this early and either driving the player even further outside and offering a cutback lane or trying to transition to a legal cut block. Constantly thinking, Thuney is always looking to accomplish the job as a run blocker.
The bottom line
The Chiefs came crashing in on day one of free agency — well, the “legal tampering” period — and they agreed to terms with one of the best two offensive linemen in free agency. They went out and signed Joe Thuney to be a stalwart on the interior for the next three to five seasons. It’s understandable to have reservations about being the team employing the league's highest-paid offensive guard.
Depending on the school of thought, it’s not a position that everyone agrees should get massive paychecks and be a cornerstone of your team. With that said, there is zero doubt the Chiefs improved on Monday.
Thuney is easily one of the best five offensive guards in the entire NFL. His ability to play an unbelievably technically sound brand of football is rare, and he is not limited by any scheme or playstyle in the NFL. He may not be the most dominant player snap in and snap out, but he can start at any position along the offensive line and provide elite play across the board.
There is good chance that by the end this contract, Thuney is remembered in the same light as Mitchell Schartz currently is in Kansas City.