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Projecting the 2021 Chiefs offensive line 2.0

Trying to answer one of the offseason’s biggest questions.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In my first projection for the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line (published here on April 8), there was a lot of uncertainty about how it would shake out. Now that the first phase of free agency and the NFL Draft has run its course, there’s much less.

Let’s take another look at each position — once again ranked from most to least certain:

Left guard: Joe Thuney

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Nothing has changed here. In fact, it’s even more certain than before. The former New England Patriots guard is being paid like a starter, so he will top the depth chart at the most important interior position on the left side. But now, the only reason he could be tasked to play either left tackle or center is some kind of extreme emergency. An example of such a crisis would be... I don’t know... maybe something like a Super Bowl game where all of the other Week 1 starters are unavailable? That should tell you everything you need to know about how much the Chiefs have improved the offensive line since last season.

Left tackle: Orlando Brown, Jr.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The last time around, this was the least-certain position; I described the left tackle as “a player to be named later.” But now, it’s going to be Orlando Brown, Jr — for whom the Chiefs traded on April 23.

My previous assumption had been that the Chiefs would take the best available offensive tackle with the 31st pick in the draft — and if they went another way at the end of the first round, they’d later select a developmental tackle to play behind a stopgap veteran signed after the draft. (The anonymous photo I posted in the article — which looked a little like the dad in Disney’s “The Incredibles” — was actually a silhouette of Texas tackle Samuel Cosmi).

That, of course, turned out to be wrong. Like many others, I was figuring that a trade for Brown would require more draft capital than the Chiefs wanted to spend. But depending on which draft value chart you use, the multi-pick trade worked out like this: Kansas City gave up somewhere between a mid-first to mid-second draft selection for Brown — less than most outlets had been reporting as the Ravens’ asking price.

In the end, the Chiefs got a proven player at price consistent with an unproven draft selection — and were able to go into the draft knowing they could simply draft the best available player. Meanwhile, the Ravens got three solid seasons out of a third-round player — one whom they were able to trade for a better draft selection.

Everybody won.

Center: Creed Humphrey

Oklahoma v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Before, I thought Austin Blythe would edge out Nick Allegretti for the starting job. Now, I’m wondering if Blythe will edge Allegretti out of a roster spot.

The Brown trade gave the Chiefs the option to use the 63rd overall pick to select one of the draft’s best interior offensive linemen. In our consensus ranking of the draft’s top prospects, Humphrey was ranked third behind Alijah Vera-Tucker and Landon Dickerson. The Chiefs even got a bit of a break: the San Francisco 49ers took seventh-ranked Aaron Banks with the 48th pick, while the Green Bay Packers selected eighth-ranked Josh Myers at 62.

It’s hard to imagine that Kansas City isn’t already penciling him in as the starter. As a rookie, you can never assume he’ll win the starting job — but I have to think it’s his job to lose.

Right guard: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-San Francisco 49ers vs Kansas City Chiefs John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The last time around, I said I thought there was a better chance that Duvernay-Tardif would come back from his year off than Kyle Long would. I still believe that. If it was just between those two players, I’d just stick with Dr. Larry. His contract still has a no-trade clause — and he remains more expensive to release than to play. It’s still his job to lose.

But now, there’s an additional player in the mix: former Tennessee guard Trey Smith, whom the Chiefs drafted after he fell to the sixth round because of medical issues. Without those issues, I’d already been thinking he’ll be pushing Duvernay-Tardif for the starting job — and have a chance to beat him out; he was a terrific player for the Volunteers. But with those issues — even though the Chiefs have done their due diligence and say they are satisfied he will be in a position to play — I can’t predict with confidence that he will put a well-paid former starter on the bench.

By the end of training camp, my opinion could easily change. But a year from now, I see Smith as the starter.

Right tackle: Mike Remmers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I still believe Remmers — whose $3.3 contract to return to the Chiefs included a $1.8 million signing bonus — has a good chance to become the team’s starter on the right edge of the line. Up until the Super Bowl — where he was clearly overmatched in a position where he had little experience — I think the job he did in 2020 made a very good impression on the coaches.

But there’s one thing that’s true now that wasn’t true at the time of my last projection: the rest of the line is likely to consist of Brown, Thuney, Humphrey and Duvernay-Tardif. I think that gives redshirt freshman Lucas Niang a better shot for playing time. And I think the Chiefs want him to have that shot.

Still, I think the Chiefs will try and get the season underway with Remmers starting on the right. By midseason, however, I think they will want to get Niang on the field. Just the same... with three experienced veterans elsewhere on the line, the team may feel comfortable enough to have both Humphrey and Niang in the Week 1 starting lineup.

The bottom line

When I made my last projection, the Chiefs had done a good job of finding mid-level offensive linemen with enough versatility that they could — if necessary — start the season with a rookie left tackle. But when they traded for Brown, everything changed. By itself, the trade opened the door for the Chiefs to make improvements across the entire line — without having to put players in less-than-ideal positions — and may even allow them to get Niang on the field this season.

Meanwhile, these mid-level players will still be available to back up the starters I have projected. After last season’s experience, that’s welcome news.

With late-round draft picks — and operating with a ridiculously low salary cap — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach found ways to completely re-tool the line that played the biggest part in the team’s Super Bowl LV loss. Some have suggested that this was an unprecedented accomplishment. I’m not willing to go that far — to me, “unprecedented” is a pretty big word to use about something that is as difficult to quantify as comparing an offensive line from one season to the next — but it’s definitely worth our notice.


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