The ranking could be premature, but the Chiefs seem to be headed in the right direction.
On Monday, football analytics site Pro Football Focus published a ranking of the NFL’s 32 offensive line units. PFF writer Steve Palazzolo ranked the Cleveland Browns first, followed by the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And he ranked the Kansas City Chiefs’ revamped offensive line seventh — up from 11th at the end of 2020 regular season.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
The overhaul started with the releases of long-time tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, who formed one of the best duos in the league. The Chiefs traded for Ravens starting tackle Orlando Brown Jr., essentially giving up a first-rounder in a big exchange of picks. Brown has been a top tackle since being drafted in the third round in 2018, grading out at 77.8 overall in 2020, good for 26th among tackles. He’s improved every year and done his best work in pass protection, though there’s a big change in scheme coming from Baltimore’s run-heavy attack.
Mike Remmers returns at right tackle, where he posted a solid 71.3 grade during the 2020 regular season, good for 41st among tackles. While that performance is in line with much of Remmers’ career, he also endured two subpar seasons in 2018 and 2019, so he’s a mid-level option at the position.
The other big splash by the Chiefs was signing left guard Joe Thuney to a monster contract in free agency. Thuney has developed into one of the NFL’s best guards, ranking in the top 10 in each of the past three years.
Right guard will be a battle between Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out in 2020, and the unretired Kyle Long, who we last saw grade at just 38.0 on 250 snaps in 2019. Duvernay-Tardif ranked 50th out of 87 qualifiers in 2019 in PFF grade, while Long was one of the better guards in the league throughout much of his career before injuries hurt his performances in 2018 and 2019.
The Chiefs brought in Austin Blythe to play center after he recorded a 70.3 grade for the Rams last season, 10th-best among centers. He’ll battle second-round pick Creed Humphrey, a three-year starter at Oklahoma who finished with the eighth-best grade in the nation last year.
Kansas City has also built up impressive depth, drafting guard Trey Smith in the sixth round this year and tackle Lucas Niang in the third round in 2020. Niang could be in the mix at right tackle.
After completely re-shaping their offensive line, the Chiefs now field one of the best combinations of high-upside starters and depth in the NFL.
It’s interesting that PFF would rank the Chiefs’ offensive line so highly — even though they haven’t played a single snap together. Part of that is likely because Palazzolo is (mostly) assuming that the team’s veteran lineman will start the season — that is, Remmers over Niang, Blythe over Humphrey and Duvernay-Tardif in “a battle” with Kyle Long. Like almost everyone, Palazzolo seems to be figuring there’s no question that Brown and Thuney will start on the left side of the line.
And Palazzolo could be exactly right. Still… among Chiefs observers, Humphrey seems to be looking more and more like he’ll have the edge over Blythe. I’ve picked Remmers to start in both of my offensive line projections, but I’m becoming less and less sure he’s the favorite; with a good showing in camp, Niang could easily become the Week 1 starter — or at the very least, take over that role later in the season. If offensive line coach Andy Heck’s statements on Thursday are to be believed, there even seems to be at least an outside chance that Smith could find his way into the starting lineup at right guard this season.
If Humphrey and Niang become the starters, how would that change PFF’s ranking? It’s hard to say — but if that happens, it seems like that would make it less likely that Smith would become a starter this season; barring injuries, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs going with three rookies from center through right tackle. In fact, for my money, Humphrey and Niang as starters would give Duvernay-Tardif a clear edge over Long; I’d think the Chiefs would prefer to have not only a veteran, but a Kansas City veteran between the two rookies.
But until training camp, this is all speculative. One thing that Palazzolo certainly got right is his conclusion: the Chiefs’ offseason moves have given them a good group of high-upside starters — whoever they turn out to be — with solid depth behind them.