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Projecting the 2021 Chiefs offensive line 3.0

Continuing to seek answers to the offseason’s biggest questions.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve now made two projections for how the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line will shake out in Week 1 of the 2021 season. In the first one (published here on April 8), there was a lot of uncertainty about how things would shake out. There was less uncertainty for the second projection on May 4, which followed the first phase of free agency and the NFL Draft.

Now that OTAs and minicamp are behind us, let’s take another look. As before, I’ll rank them from most to least certain:

Left guard: Joe Thuney

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Nothing to see here. The former New England Patriots guard is being paid big money. He’ll most certainly play on the left side of the interior. The only reason this could change would be multiple injuries to other offensive linemen. In such a case, Thuney’s versatility could pay big dividends. But after last season’s smorgasbord of injuries on the line, I doubt any Chiefs fan is interested in learning more about his ability to play elsewhere.

In fact, let’s hope we never learn more about it.

Left tackle: Orlando Brown Jr.

NFL: SEP 22 Ravens at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In my first projection, left tackle was the least-certain position; I said it would be “a player to be named later.” The second time — barely 10 days after the Chiefs traded for him — Brown was the second-most certain starter. He remains so here — but let’s be honest: barring injury, he is no less sure than Thuney to be the Week 1 starter.

This is based not only on the Chiefs bringing him forward for media appearances (and in Twitter videos from the practice field) but also on the national perception of the trade to acquire him. As time has passed, one analyst after another has ranked it among the best moves of the offseason.

To be sure, it will be weird watching a player wearing number 57 play as the team’s left tackle — but once again, barring injury, there’s no doubt about whom it will be.

Center: Creed Humphrey

Iowa State v Oklahoma Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

As I noted last time, one of the reasons the Brown deal was so good for the Chiefs was that it gave them the freedom to address other needs in the draft. Humphrey — taken with the 63rd overall pick in the second round — has seemed like the obvious starter right from the moment he was drafted.

Since then, the perception has only grown stronger. In my second projection — just days after he was drafted — I said it was “his job to lose.” Now it seems clear that it is simply his job. Only the fact that he is a rookie gives this any uncertainty.

And as you’ll see, that leads us to the last two positions on the line.

Right guard: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

NFL: AUG 09 Preseason - Texans at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right from the beginning, I thought there was a better chance that Duvernay-Tardif would come back from his year off than Kyle Long would. Unfortunately for Long — who was injured during OTAs — this has proven to be the case. It appears that Long will be unavailable through training camp, which very likely takes him entirely out of the race to be a Week 1 starter.

At the same time, rookie Trey Smith’s case to be a starter in 2021 continues to improve — most recently with Louis Riddick’s declaration that both he and Humphrey could be starters this season. Riddick’s connections with head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach lend plenty of credence to his reporting; we’d be foolish to ignore it.

Still, I think it’s the French-Canadian doctor’s job to lose; I simply believe Smith will be putting even more pressure on the incumbent starter. To me, it’s starting to look like more of a 50-50 proposition.

Right tackle: Mike Remmers

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

All of which brings us to the right tackle position — and how these position battles have become interdependent.

In each of my previous projections, I have believed the Chiefs would go with Remmers — the experienced veteran — over second-year rookie (yes, that’s how we should think of him) Lucas Niang. But as we have moved forward, it has appeared that Niang has been gaining ground as the Week 1 starter.

So just like at right guard — based strictly on individual ability — a camp battle between Remmers and Niang is also looking more and more like a 50-50 proposition.

Reid and his coaches make a habit of saying that in Kansas City, the best five linemen will become the starters. But in this particular case, I’m not convinced that’s really true. I think the Chiefs will want to avoid beginning the season with three rookies starting on the right side of the line. So right guard and right tackle could well be determined by how much each contending rookie is seen as the better player.

In other words... if Smith is seen as significantly better than Duvernay-Tardif at right guard — while the battle between Remmers and Niang looks like a draw — then that would give Remmers the advantage at the outside. Or if Remmers looks much better than Niang at right tackle, Smith might get an additional advantage in an even matchup with Duvernay-Tardif on the inside.

Does this mean that if both rookies seem substantially better than the veteran options, one of the veterans might still start? I doubt the Chiefs would take it that far. But I think this is one situation where “the best five players” might not always apply.

Just because of his experience in the system, I still think that right tackle is Remmers’ job to lose. But I believe that what happens to his left could have a bearing on how his battle shakes out — and vice versa.


The bottom line

So in this third projection, I’m still picking the same five players. But as time has passed, I’ve become more certain of the three linemen on the left — and less certain of the two linemen on the right. As we discuss this topic on the Arrowhead Pride Editors Show podcast, Pete Sweeney continues to remind me that he believes Andrew Wylie is a dark horse in this competition — and he has a solid point.

That said — whatever else happens this season — I think both Smith and Niang will have the inside track to be the starters at right guard and right tackle in 2022. In addition, even if either fails to win a starting job in September, one (or both) will be likely to see playing time this season; it’s hard to imagine that the Chiefs will get through the season without some injuries on the offensive line.

So when training camp begins in late July, there will still be plenty left to decide on the offensive line. Let’s bring it on!

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