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Breaking down the Chiefs’ swing tackle competition

Three Kansas City players have spent the offseason fighting to become the team’s swing tackle.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs concluded their preseason with a 33-32 home win over the Cleveland Browns. Now the team faces difficult decisions about its roster.

Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor will be the team’s starters at left and right tackle — but if either are injured, who will be the first man off the bench as the team’s swing tackle?

Let’s consider the three players who have been battling for the job.

Prince Tega Wanogho

During 2020’s pre-draft process, Wanogho was widely considered a mid-round pick who might go as early as the second round — but he slid to the seventh, where he was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles. Released after that season, he landed with the Chiefs — where he’s held a reserve role ever since.

With two years under his belt, Wanogho has stepped up in 2023 — and turned in a tremendous preseason.

The most athletic of the three players competing for the role, Wanogho has also been the most comfortable in pass protection, where his quick feet — and his ability to redirect himself to mirror defenders — has been impressive. He also showed improved power in his hands — and his development within the Chiefs system seems to have paid off.

He still needs improvement in some areas of run blocking. His lighter frame (308 pounds) will sometimes put him in some mismatches. But on the whole, he has made the most of his shot.

Wanya Morris

Lacking depth at tackle heading into the 2023 draft, Kansas City selected the former Oklahoma tackle with the 92nd overall pick. Prior to Donovan Smith’s signing, there was a lot of buzz that he could be the team’s starting left tackle — but this preseason has served to remind us that all rookies need time to develop.

Morris has shown some inconsistent stretches featuring some lapses in technique, physical deficiencies and general rookie mistakes. But his play has also reflected the brute strength (and aggression) that made him an attractive prospect.

While head coach Andy Reid and offensive line coach Andy Heck have been in Kansas City, the team has put an emphasis on effort and physicality on the offensive line — and Morris embodies these traits. He is constantly working down the field (and to the ball). He is always looking for a chance to make his presence felt.

While he is not yet ready to be a starter — and likely not yet ready to be the swing tackle, either — he is a player with immense upside. The Chiefs will continue to develop him.

Lucas Niang

At one point, Niang was viewed as Kansas City’s long-term solution at right tackle. A serious injury ended his 2021 season — and also caused him to miss extensive time in 2022.

Fully healthy this year, he has had a chance to work his way back into game form. He has turned in a solid preseason.

Niang’s experience as a starter — along with three years in the Chiefs’ scheme — have paid dividends, allowing him to play freely without having to worry about learning new plays or adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.

Some of the issues we saw in 2021 are still present. These include struggling to handle speed-to-power transitions and redirecting to stop inside pass-rushing moves.

Still, Niang’s experience in real-game situations gives him an edge over both of his fellow candidates — and will likely be taken into consideration.

The results

All three players had chances to compete for the spot; all three received extensive preseason playing time. The NFL’s injury rate is 100% — and finding NFL-caliber tackles is hard. For the Chiefs, having to choose between these players is a good problem to have.

Wanogho started out hot — and stayed there. His technique (and understanding of the offense) are a testament to both his hard work and the team's development plan for its players.

Niang was generally good for the majority of his snaps, but had a rough outing against multiple starting-caliber players during Saturday’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns. He allowed multiple pressures — and seemed to take a step back. That gives us some cause for concern.

Morris played hard and showed plenty of flashes, but his consistency with technique was just not good enough for the rookie to win the backup tackle job.

The bottom line

In my eyes, Wanogho won the competition — and should have a spot solidified on the 53-man roster. Two seasons after being cut, he outperformed two top-100 draft picks, excelling in areas where the team will need a backup tackle to be proficient.

Although it’s likely Morris will not see the field very much — esepcially early in the season — he will probably make the roster. Historically, the Chiefs have shown loyalty to top-100 draft picks — and playing at a premium position, Morris did display enough versatility to line up on both ends of the line of scrimmage.

Given his experience, Niang should make the roster — even though his lackluster performance on Saturday will be a factor. But he might be a trade candidate, too. Teams are always looking for NFL-caliber tackles — and the team needs as many draft picks as it can get.

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