On Monday, the football analytics site Pro Football Focus continued its NFL position rankings for 2021, publishing separate articles regarding offensive tackles, guards and centers. Several Kansas City Chiefs players made these lists.
First up: Anthony Treash’s list of the league’s top 32 tackles, in which Green Bay Packers David Bakhtiari was ranked first, followed by Trent Williams of the San Francisco 49ers.
17. Orlando Brown Jr., Kansas City Chiefs
After a dreadful offensive line performance cost Kansas City a shot at winning Super Bowl 55, the team made a power play for Orlando Brown Jr., trading away its 2021 first-round pick, among others. The Chiefs will eventually have to pay Brown handsomely, as he is still on a rookie contract. Was the juice really worth the squeeze for the Chiefs? Not really, but it does solve the problem to an extent, as Brown is a reliable and quality tackle.
Brown demanded a trade from the Ravens after filling in for Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and expressing his desire to stay there. Brown did have the best season of his short three-year NFL career in 2020. His grade at left tackle ranked 16th among those with at least 350 snaps at the position. He was consistent week after week throughout the season. In fact, Brown was the only tackle overall in 2020 to start all 16 games and not once record a single-game PFF grade below 60.0. Yet, he also never cracked a single-game PFF grade above 80.0.
A year ago, Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz topped this list. Left tackle Eric Fisher was ranked 24th (of 25). Both Chiefs ended the 2020 season on injured reserve and were released before free agency began. Treash was careful to note that Schwartz — who is not yet signed to a team and whose availability to play — was not considered for the tackle list. Fisher was recently signed to the Indianapolis Colts, but does not appear in this season’s top 32.
3. Joe Thuney, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs loaded up the Brinks truck for Joe Thuney in free agency this season, but at least they got one of the best guards in the league with all of that money. Thuney isn’t coming off his best season, but he has still allowed just three sacks in three seasons and has been a consistently good run-blocker.
In 2020, PFF lumped guards and tackles together as “interior offensive linemen.” (This writer, for one, is glad to see PFF come to its senses about this). In the combined list a year ago, Thuney ranked 12th (of 25). No Chiefs were listed.
Then Ben Linsey handled the league’s top 32 centers, in which Rodney Hudson (a former Chief who is now with the Arizona Cardinals) ranked first and Corey Linsley of the Los Angeles Chargers was listed second.
16. Creed Humphrey, Kansas City Chiefs
Humphrey is the first rookie to find his way onto the list. He’ll have to compete with former Rams center Austin Blythe for the job, but I expect Humphrey will win that competition. Humphrey isn’t lacking for experience, seeing nearly 2,500 snaps at Oklahoma. He does a good job of using his hands and leverage to move interior defenders and is coming off a career-high 80.9 overall grade in 2020. He’s just one part of an overhauled offensive line in Kansas City, clearly a priority after how the team’s 2020 campaign ended.
Another former Chiefs center — the Buffalo Bills’ Mitch Morse — was listed just ahead of Humphrey at 15th. And Linsey noted another former Chief who has yet to find work in 2021.
Free agent of note: Austin Reiter (Would be 14th)
Reiter, who is still available in free agency, probably would have found his way onto the top half of this list if he was on a roster. He isn’t going to be a difference-maker in the run game, but he has been one of the more reliable pass protectors at center over his past two seasons as the Chiefs’ starter. He ranks in the 91st percentile of all players at the position in pass-blocking grade since 2019.
So here’s the question everyone is asking: have the Chiefs improved their offensive line?
Based on these rankings, the answer is unclear. It’s not news that Thuney comes to the Chiefs as one of the league’s best guards — or that Brown was a reliable and solid (if unspectacular) tackle over his three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. And while I’ve previously criticized PFF for including players who have never taken an NFL snap in these rankings, it’s interesting that within his position group, Kansas City’s second-round pick Creed Humphrey is ranked more highly than seventh-overall pick Penei Sewell — the only member of the supposedly tackle-rich 2021 class who was ranked among the league’s best. Even then, Sewell was only ranked 31st.
Based only on this information, it’s possible to argue that the Chiefs’ offensive line has taken a step sideways — or perhaps even half a step back. But you can also contend that based on the situation (salary cap space, draft position and so on), the Chiefs may have improved their offensive line as well as anyone could have reasonably expected.
Those arguments, however, only cover the quality of the starters. They will also be substantially younger — an important long-term issue. Furthermore, almost no matter who the offensive line’s starters turn out to be, depth should be substantially improved.
If the 2020 season taught us anything, those two things definitely count for something.