Among the players the Kansas City Chiefs kept for their initial 53-man roster on Tuesday was former Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard, whom the team had selected in the fifth round (145th overall) in last April’s NFL Draft.
At the time, there was a belief that Kinnard had been taken later in the draft than he (and some others) had anticipated.
“All the feedback I got was second round — maybe, at best, squeezing to the bottom of the first — and the lowest would be the third round,” Kinnard told reporters in a Zoom call after being selected. “But at the end of the day, man? It’s just another Trey Smith situation.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff to prove — and a big chip on my shoulder.”
Kinnard’s reference to Smith — whom the Chiefs had been able to select in the sixth round of the 2021 draft primarily because they had determined his medical situation was less serious than had generally been believed — was probably unfortunate. Smith had not only become a starter in 2021, but also a player to be reckoned with.
Given that background, it was easy to have high expectations for Kinnard. But during training camp, the 6-foot-5, 345-pound tackle was largely playing with the third string. It appeared that instead of competing with Andrew Wylie to become the starting right tackle, he might even have difficulty making the team.
“I believe the Chiefs trust [Geron] Christian and Prince Tega Wanogho more than Kinnard, who may need a year of seasoning — if not a switch to an inside position,” wrote Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney in his final 53-man roster projection. “Remember: the Chiefs recently waived another fifth-rounder — wide receiver Cornell Powell — and he is still with the club. The practice squad should be an option.”
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Kansas City general manager Brett Veach said that for Kinnard, moving inside is a possibility — if for no other reason than it’s the way that the team generally runs its offensive line.
“When we get guys — whether it be through the free-agency process or the draft process — we put a high priority on their flexibility: their ‘position-flex,’” noted Veach. “And a lot of these guys are interchangeable. I think when we brought Andrew Wylie here, he [had] played guard most of his career. Now he’s playing tackle. So a lot of these guys have ‘flex.’”
Veach acknowledged that Kinnard — like so many other rookies — had faced some difficulties in adjusting to the NFL. But he also pointed out that Kinnard had finished camp on a high note.
“I think with Darian, he had a really good finish to this camp,” said the GM. “The last week [or] week-and-a-half was good. I would say [that] of the rookies, it was a little bit more of a change for him. I think he had the chance to play at Kentucky, [which] was a heavy, run-oriented offense. I think coming into this league, the talent level is a lot different in regards to what you’re seeing off the edge. I know he played in the SEC — so that was a good thing — but I think the talent change [to] the NFL and then going to a pass-heavy offense was a little bit of a different feel for him.
“I think it took him a little while to get his feet wet — but I think we started to see him turn the corner at the end of the [preseason]. And he’s, again, one of those guys that when you start to see it — [and] you invested the draft pick — you want to see this thing through.
“We certainly think that he has a lot of upside at both guard and tackle.”
That is, after all, exactly what the Chiefs originally told us to expect.
“I think we can work him as a right tackle,” said area scout Pat Sperduto after the Chiefs selected Kinnard in the draft. “If we needed to, we could put him in at guard. But I think his first spot’s going to be right tackle.”
And Kinnard — who had once been slated to become Kentucky’s starting left tackle, but was moved back to the right side when it made more sense for the team to put someone else on the left — has already said he’d be fine with that.
“For me, it’s whatever the team needs,” he said in May. “Whatever fit’s going to be the best — that I need to fulfill — I’m going to do that.”