One of the fascinating images of the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas was captured during Saturday’s fifth-round — when retired U.S. Army veteran (and passionate Kansas City Chiefs fan) John Brunson announced his favorite team had traded up to get Kentucky offensive tackle Darian Kinnard with the 145th overall pick.
As an excited Brunson waved the card over his head, Getty Images photographer David Becker managed to catch a clear image of it. Despite the fact that Kinnard had been the Wildcats’ starting right tackle for three seasons, the NFL (and most pre-draft big boards) had listed him as a guard. But the “guard” was crossed out on the printed card, replaced with a “T.”
It was just the first clue.
When Chiefs area scout Pat Sperduto spoke with reporters later that day, he made it clear that from his perspective, Kinnard was going to be a tackle for the Chiefs.
And when general manager Brett Veach met with reporters for his post-draft Zoom press conference on Tuesday, he left no doubt that the team had specifically targeted him as a right tackle.
“That was our plan when we drafted him,” acknowledged Veach. “There’s been a lot of talk: ‘Is he a tackle? Is he a guard?’ I think we feel confident that he can play guard, but you’re talking about a guy who logged a ton of starts at right tackle.”
Veach said that one of the things that attracted them to the 6-foot-6, 322-pound native of Knoxville, Tennessee, was his experience playing in one of college football’s toughest conferences.
“I think any time that you can go in and play right tackle successfully at the SEC level,” observed Veach, “more often than not, that’ll translate to the pro level. Now, it’ll be a jump — just like all of these colleges are when you’re moving up to the NFL; it’s not like it’s going to be easier — but I think that [the SEC is] one conference that gives you a sense of hope and a sense of encouragement. I think we all saw that Georgia defensive line last year. If you can line up and play against defensive fronts of that caliber, you’re going to have a shot.”
While Veach said that while Kinnard would have some “cleanup work” to do, the team’s coaching staff (and the experienced offensive linemen already on the team) would be up to the task.
“It might be rough at the beginning,” he allowed. “But I certainly think he’s athletic enough. He’s certainly long enough; we love his length. People thought Orlando Brown wasn’t athletic enough to play tackle. But I think that if you have size and length — and you’re wired the right way — you put [guys like that] in front of the right coaching, they can become very successful. And I think that’s kind of where we’re going with Darian.”
We don’t yet know if Kansas City has made this move because the team doesn’t fully believe that presumed starting right tackle Lucas Niang will be fully recovered from his torn patellar tendon — or because they think even a healthy Niang isn’t up to the task of facing the AFC West’s fearsome new pass rushers.
Either way, as the offseason continues, it will be one of the position battles to watch closely.