On Wednesday evening, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero broke the news that the Kansas City Chiefs were further investing in the protection of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Veteran OT Donovan Smith is signing with the #Chiefs on a one-year deal worth up to $9 million, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 3, 2023
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive tackle Donovan Smith is coming to Kansas City, bringing eight years and 8,473 snaps of experience at left tackle with him; he has never played any other position in the NFL.
It makes the Chiefs’ plan for the position a little murky, both in the short-term and long-term. Either way, it’s safe to assume Smith is coming to play left tackle, most likely as a starter.
Smith is coming off one of his worst NFL seasons, where he ranked fourth among league offensive tackles in penalties (12) and missed four games in total due to multiple injuries. He’ll be looking to bounce back in 2023, considered fully healthy when signing.
I watched three games from his 2022 season to evaluate who the Chiefs are acquiring in Smith:
Over the past few years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have centered their offensive attack around a strong ground game, getting downhill with power runs and asking their offensive linemen to be maulers at the first and second level of a defense.
Smith was very comfortable getting off the ball quickly and using a strong grip to control defenders in the run game.
Donovan Smith got 23 snaps into 2022 before going down w/ an injury. It was his 1st of 2 that forced him to miss multipe games last yr— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 4, 2023
In those healthy snaps, Smith was moving very well in the run game against Dallas pic.twitter.com/z7JgA5JeR2
It was noticeable against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of last season, where he played 23 snaps before exiting the game with an elbow injury. These were his only fully-healthy snaps of the entire season, and he shows off great open-field blocking ability and an effective punch on down blocks to widen a run lane.
That good punch of Smith’s can translate to his pass sets, where Smith has the grip strength to play through the block engagement and keep the rusher at bay, pairing that with quick footwork to stay in front of the rusher.
Smith has solid grip strength and a good base in pass protection, as long as he's getting onto the rusher quickly. The quicker he engages, the better he looks pass blocking pic.twitter.com/eChBNp0B19— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 4, 2023
It’s essential that Smith comes out of his stance with intention, getting on the defender quickly. It prevents the rusher from gathering momentum and puts Smith in a position to wrestle — something he seems comfortable doing. The more room Smith gives the rusher to get a head start, the worse it can look for the veteran.
You can tell Donovan Smith's been around awhile, can see some veteran savvy in his game with hand fighting pic.twitter.com/yxaoyQtFQh— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 4, 2023
Being a veteran, he does show off some hand-fighting skills that go along with his strong hands to stun defensive linemen at times. In the first clip, he recognizes the rush move and catches the defender’s wrist before he can bring it down to complete the move. It’s veteran savvy, something the Chiefs lacked at the offensive tackle positions before this signing.
Smith appears to have all the tools to play the position well. He gets out of his stance smoothly, he has good grip strength, he has the footwork to mirror rushers around the edge and inside of him. However, he is the type of player that really needs to be locked in, keyed into his technique snap to snap. When his fundamentals get lazy, it can look bad.
D. Smith feels like a player that really has to be keyed into his technique snap to snap, & it can look pretty bad on the snap he does break down fundamentally— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 4, 2023
Gets his hands too wide at times, lunges, allows rushers into his chest pic.twitter.com/UvhHwSeGQF
When he does sit back in his pass sets and invite the rusher rather than be the aggressor, he will engage with wide hands and allow the defender to get into his chest. The passive sets can also lead to lunging at times, which you see in the second clip above. He is simply not as comfortable sitting back and catching, but he found himself doing that quite a bit against the Baltimore Ravens and edge rusher Justin Houston in Week 8 of last season.
Among OTs last regular season, Smith had the 4th most penalties in the NFL per PFF— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 4, 2023
He had an ugly stretch against Baltimore, just couldn't handle Justin Houston's power back to the inside pic.twitter.com/G644PEFAoY
Playing catch up on every snap (it felt like), Smith could not handle Houston’s power back to the inside. To make up for it, Smith held him a few times — a regular occurrence for him last year. It just became an apparent mismatch as the game wore on, and Tampa Bay began dedicating chip help to that side toward the end.
Smith did suffer an elbow injury in Week 1, which forced him to miss two games and return with a brace on that arm. It may have impacted his play strength in pass protection or made him feel the need to overcompensate and try to get away with holding more.
It’s also worth noting that Smith has been playing in a very different offense from what Kansas City will be doing. Aside from the power run game, Tampa Bay’s pass attack was a lot of quick passes and plays with traditional dropbacks from under center. In the film, you can tell Smith is used to a quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly, so he may need to work on holding his block through the whistle with the Chiefs.
The bottom line
The Chiefs wanted more experience protecting the edges of the pocket for Patrick Mahomes, and that’s understandable. Smith has been a starting left tackle since he entered the league in 2015 and rarely missed a game leading up to this past season.
Kansas City is betting on the 2022 season being an anomaly, one where injuries — to him and his teammates on the line — added up for an underperforming season.
If Smith is healthy, the soon-to-be 30-year-old can be a competent starter next to an All-Pro left guard in Joe Thuney. If that is the case, he will look better than he did last year.