The Kansas City Chiefs are on run for the ages. This season, the Chiefs are so far ahead of expectations, Chiefs fans are dreaming of a playoff run that was, realistically, more of a fantasy at the beginning of the year. It is true that the Chiefs have benefited by a softer schedule and playing several teams at the optimum time. Personally, I try not to get too high when the Chiefs are up and not get to low when they are down. So, my advice for all fans is to enjoy this run. It’s a wonderful, unexpected ride.
As always, I am keeping one eye, well more than one eye, on the future. That is, Christmas in April, otherwise known as the NFL Draft.
Often, I get asked how I put draft needs together. In the past, I have talked about stratifying needs. Today, I want to delve into positional group analysis by breaking down the hardest group to evaluate, the offensive line. Why is that line so hard to evaluate? While a football team is truly a team, with coordinated effort all around; nowhere is that more true than on the offensive line. The amount of communicating and synchronized effort that goes into offensive line play is staggering. That is why the best teams often have year after year continuity on the offensive line.
So, how do we go about breaking down the Chiefs line?
Numbers are always a good start. The fine folks at Profootballfocus.com (subscription required) do an excellent job of grading each play and each player. What does that tell us about the Chiefs line? For Tackles, Branden Albert ranks #26 overall while Eric Fisher ranks #56. This is among all tackles, not left tackles and right tackles. Among all guards Jon Asamoah is #13 and Jeff Allen is #51. Center Rodney Hudson comes in at #18.
What do those numbers tell us? Well, they are disappointing. Only Jon Asamoah grades out well and he hasn’t started the last two games. If I expand the selection criteria (lowering the snap percentage) Geoff Schwartz checks in at #8, easily the best ranking of any Chiefs lineman. In case anyone was curious, Donald Stephenson is ranked #68 when you include him in the rankings. These number do help us understand how the various players rank compared to their competition. What does this mean for 2014?
This one is easy. Albert and the Chiefs have been working on a slow motion divorce for well over a year. Albert sees himself as a top left tackle and wants to be paid like one. The problem is that two Chiefs regimes don’t agree with that assessment and neither do the PFF numbers. Albert will probably entertain offers from other teams. Someone will probably offer Albert money that the Chiefs can’t match. Going forward, we can’t assume Albert will be a Chief next year.
On the surface, this one looks easy. Ranking #51 means you are in danger of losing your job. However, Allen is quite young and there is lots of room to grow. If you look at the game by game grading, Allen has played well the last three games. Complicating the analysis further is the fact that Allen was a college tackle. Would the Chiefs be better off moving Allen to tackle?
Another young lineman, Hudson is in his first year of starting at center. Number 18 is not a bad ranking for a first year starter. His pass blocking and screen blocking have been very good. However, he grades out poorly as a run blocker. This is something to keep an eye on, but Hudson has shown enough not to worry about replacing him.
Jon grades out as the Chiefs best lineman who has played more than 50% of the snaps. It would be easy to just pencil him in at right guard and move on. However, life just isn’t that easy. First of all, Jon’s contract is up at the end of the year. Secondly, we have Geoff Schwartz. So, we will hang onto this analysis until we discuss Schwartz.
Fisher has had a rough rookie year. Starting at tackle as a rookie is hard enough. Fisher has been battling shoulder injuries all year long. I am not worried about Fisher, yet. A full offseason under a NFL training program should do wonders for him. One thing seems clear. He is not ready to take over as left tackle next year. He needs another year on the right side.
Schwartz has played well for the Chiefs. He grades out quite well, however, we need to go deeper in our analysis. His game splits are very interesting and an obvious trend emerges. He grades out well as a left guard, but grades out much better at right guard.
Donald has filled in at both Right and Left Tackle this year. He had horrible games against the Giants and the Titans. Outside of those games, he has been serviceable, but not great. He has been a nice backup swing tackle, but can he start?
Where does this leave the Chiefs going forward?
Contract-wise, my working assumption is that Albert leaves and the Chief resign Asamoah.
Player development is the next area of concern. The Chiefs line is very, very young. Every player should be learning, growing and improving. Andy Reid has stated that he wants to play the best five lineman on the team.
Taking him at his word, I would project this lineup: LT Stephenson, LG Asamoah, C Hudson, RG Schwartz, RT Fisher.
Allen would battle with Asamoah, but probably side into a swing guard, swing tackle role. Kush may be the second active lineman.The Chiefs could bring in a draft pick or sign a veteran free agent.
Where does this leave the draft needs analysis? I would like some competition for Stephenson at tackle. The Chiefs need to bring a player in there. Then again, I am greedy when it comes to the offensive line. I want a top ten line. A line like that makes offense much easier.
That is my take Addicts. What is yours?