Christian became the third 25-year-old free agent Kansas City has signed in the past week. Originally entering the NFL as a third-round draft choice for the Washington Commanders in 2018 — taken right before the Chiefs drafted defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (who was re-signed on Sunday) — Christian spent three less-than-stellar seasons in Washington before turning in his best performances with the Texans in 2021.
16 career starts, including 8 for the Texans last year — all the ’21 starts were at left tackle, but he had right tackle snaps Week 1. https://t.co/BCarYrVYsY— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) March 20, 2022
Early indications suggest this is more of a depth move, getting the kind of player who can serve as an adequate backup at both left and right tackle. Let’s go to the film, finding the on-field strengths (and weaknesses) that add up to make Christian an intriguing player.
Christian’s biggest strength is most certainly as a pass blocker — and when we are talking about linemen who protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes, that’s never a bad thing.
Specifically, Christian shows a really good understanding of how to position his body and helmet between the defender and his quarterback. More importantly, he possesses the foot quickness to do it. This means that pass rushers who rely purely on physical attributes — rather than a good pass-rushing plan — will not often be very successful against him.
Christian’s size and strength — 6 foot 6 and 315 pounds, with a bench press in just the 12th percentile among offensive tackles at the 2018 NFL Combine — could lead you to believe he would have issues in pass protection. But his playing strength in that area is still pretty solid.
When a lineman understands where their quarterback is located — and what the defender might be trying to do in order to win before the ball is snapped — that knowledge can help them play just a tick faster (and more efficiently) prior to contact. Christian can do that — and having 35-inch arms doesn’t hurt, either.
Would say in my initial looks, Christian’s anchor has surprised me in a good way for a player who seems to have questions re: play strength.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
Seems his technique/pad level makes up for some of that. pic.twitter.com/sZfR36EkK6
Impressive rep here vs. SF’s twist and Arden Key who is a salty interior rusher - that foot drive after contact is pretttttty. pic.twitter.com/RhOro0V2eu— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
It appears that strong defensive linemen who are especially skilled with their hands can do the most harm against Christian. If he shoots his hands a smidge early — which does occasionally happen — it leaves him vulnerable against players who can then get on his back hip and corner towards the quarterback.
The adjustment is there body positioning wise for Christian, but the punch lacks requisite strength on this play and the DT is able to rip right through. pic.twitter.com/6ziHjlocoK— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
As a team, Houston was largely a disaster in 2021. So determining how the problems along its offensive line can be attributed to the different factors involved is both difficult and important.
When defenses threw varied — sometimes complex — pre-snap looks at Houston, it was too common to see free rushers racing towards the quarterback. If those issues were largely the fault of individual players for not showing better anticipation — or understanding how to play within a blocking scheme — that’s problematic. But it usually isn’t just one guy’s fault — and typically, the NFL’s best offensive lines can communicate very well on the field.
The good news is that with the Chiefs, Christian will be part of one of those lines.
Lot of factors could answer the why on a play like this - important thing becomes how much of it is to blame on 72’s mental/play speed, how much of it was coaching, and how often did this sort of confusion occur up front? pic.twitter.com/npRlGHUoOf— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
Against the run, Christian is not exactly the same kind of body-mover like we see on the rest of the Kansas City offensive line. But if he’s playing next to a guy like Trey Smith, that would likely be less problematic for Christian than it might be in other situations.
What’s important, however, is that he can do just enough in the running game to get by. He can lower his pad level and sync up contact timing with the nearest offensive guard to help move defensive linemen. He’s quick enough to be somewhat effective both laterally and out in space — and the effort needed to be a serviceable run blocker is there.
DB or not, this is a phenomenal job sustaining a block out at the 2nd level by Christian. pic.twitter.com/3ORxMTOZPK— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
On tape, there are moments where technical lapses occur late in a rep — apparently out of fear of being beaten. On running plays, there’s no doubt that Christian is not an all-powerful tackle who will drive stout defensive ends backwards on his own.
1-on-1 with a DT is going to be a tough ask in the run game. Pretty clear those body types are going to be able to punch and extend consistently. pic.twitter.com/71OrhGO9XY— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
Gotta be careful grabbin on like that with the right arm extended — DE didn’t fan upfield and that is what it is, don’t compound it w/ a potential hold. pic.twitter.com/rvR7c3cktv— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) March 20, 2022
But in his defense, there aren’t many NFL offensive tackles who can run-block and pass-protect at a high level. When they do — like Chiefs’ left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. — they require a massive financial investment. With several other key holes to fill, Kansas City simply cannot afford to commit more resources to its offensive line.
If there’s a single reason that Christian was signed for just one year at his young age, it’s likely to be his run-blocking deficiencies. So the question is simple: if Christian should find himself on the field, how well can Kansas City mask them?
The bottom line
Christian’s first stop in Washington didn’t work out. Things got better in Houston, but it still wasn’t perfect — nor was it ever likely to be that way.
But now, he’s heading to Kansas City, where he will play a role in the best offense he’s ever seen. Much like the signings of Justin Reid and Juju Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs are betting they can squeeze out a year (or more) out of Christian’s prime.
At right tackle, veteran Andrew Wylie is currently leading the way — but Christian shows the pass-blocking prowess that should position him to provide competition to be the starter. While Wylie is clearly the superior run blocker— and was easily good enough to get by in 2021 — there is a strong argument that Christian is a better pass protector. Still recovering from a torn patellar tendon, Lucas Niang may also be part of the picture in 2022 — especially as the season progresses.
In what is now a brutal AFC West, it is important that the Chiefs find a solid starter on the right side — someone who can avoid being a reason Kansas City loses games. If the team can do it, that will solidify what should be a top-five NFL offensive line.