The Matt Kalil Gamble


I don’t know how we didn’t see it coming sooner.

As well as we should understand that all rumors that surface the week of the Draft are de facto untrustworthy, this newfound theory (that the Kansas City Chiefs are considering trading up deep into the Top 10 for a shot at LT Matt Kalil out of USC should the Minnesota Vikings pass on him at #3 overall) makes too much sense to be true.

On draft day 2011, it was reported and widely believed that Chiefs GM Scott Pioli attempted to trade up half a dozen spots from the #21 overall selection to acquire Florida center Mike Pouncey. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Pouncey went off the board at #15 to the Miami Dolphins. (Not for nothing, but the Chiefs were also rumored to be disappointed when Colorado LT Nate Potter went off the board #17 overall to the New England Patriots.  I personally have no problem believing either rumor, as the Chiefs, Dolphins, and Patriots all come from the same coaching tree.)

For whatever logic Pioli thought he was exercising, it’s not hard to draw a straight-line connection from Pouncey to Kalil. Both are heady, athletic tackles. Both have All Pro brothers playing offensive line in the NFL (Maurkice Pouncey for the Steelers; Ryan Kalil for the Panthers). So when a rumor like this surfaces, you must take note. The Draft is tomorrow, so let’s prepare ourselves for yet another option in the first round.

The Evolution Of The Left Tackle

I don’t need to tell you this, but in today’s pass-driven NFL, the left tackle is the second most important position on an NFL roster. Not even Peyton Manning in his glory years could succeed when Terry Glenn retired. And as they say in the Spiderman films: with great power comes great responsibility.

Making the quarterback such an influential driver of a team’s success places him, and the team, at extraordinary risk. We are nearing the end of the age where a backup quarterback can lead a team anywhere (I say this being fully aware of last year’s TJ Yates phenomenon). The quarterback position has already been the most powerful one in football; with the rules expanding that importance even moreso, the QB has been given so much free reign and so much freedom to do damage that it has truly widened the gap between adequate QBs and excellent QBs.

So your starting QB must be kept upright. Backups will no longer get you anywhere in today’s NFL; it doesn’t matter how deep you think you are at the position. And the #1 priority for keeping your quarterback upright is a left tackle — nothing else comes close. And just as the rule changes widened the gap between the good and the great at the QB position, it’s done the same thing to the left tackle position.

Responding to the pass friendly rule changes over the past decade, NFL defenses have uniformly created exotic and occasionally bizarre packages designed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the quarterback. This is a greater stress on left tackles than the NFL has ever seen before, and whereas past left tackles played an important role in protecting the blindside, they now reign as a team’s second most important position. The gap between what a good LT can do and a great LT can do is now a canyon.

Who Brandon Albert Is, And Who Matt Kalil Can Be

Incumbent LT Brandon Albert has done his damnedest for this team, defying season after season of fans clamoring him to be moved inside to guard. Albert last year showed serious strides at the position, and this coming year he should continue to improve his already-solid pass protection and continue being a Top 5 LT in runblocking. If the Chiefs continued to roll into the future with him at the left tackle position by inking him to a new contract next offseason, you won’t find many people on Arrowhead Addict complaining, myself included.

But he’s a good LT. Not a great one. He still has trouble protecting the edge against sheer speed. To prevent the edge, Albert has ably started cheating to the outside, but that has made him vulnerable to aggressive inside rushes.

A great left tackle needs to truly mirror, not just anticipate. And while Albert can show notable improvement on that front, it’s hard saying no to a talent like Matt Kalil.

Kalil hails from the pass-happy pro-style system out of USC.  He doesn’t seem to project as a Top 3 LT in the NFL, but he should rest comfortably in the Top 10 after a season or two. Kalil has a rare ability to mirror — at the Combine, it honestly looked like he was connected to the man across from him by rods. That’s a spooky mirror ability.

Watching tape on Kalil, and I’ve watched plenty, is almost a dull enterprise. He gets beat once in a blue moon, and occasionally he’ll pancake the man across from him. But for 95% of the snaps, he is simply surgical; pass rushers bob and weave and then just disappear into him. It makes me worry a bit for USC quarterback Matt Barkley once Kalil is gone — I fear Barkley has never been tested to set an internal clock for the pass rush due to Kalill’s dominance.

Kalil’s only weakness, if it can even be called that, is his relative inexperience run blocking. USC’s run game has been pathetic the entire time Kalil’s been there. They don’t particularly like to run the ball, and they haven’t produced a running back worth looking at since Michael or Reggie Bush years ago. So Kalil will need some grooming at that.

But you’re cooking with the right tools here. His speed and athleticism are elite, so pulling and blocking in space should play to his strengths. And he always managed to get push against the defensive line, although he has close to zero experience opening holes for running backs.

I am not one that believes Albert should ever be moved to guard; if the Chiefs were able to somehow acquire Kalil, he would/should start at left guard for 2012. When Albert leaves in free agency in 2013, Kalil slides over.

Breaking Down The Logistics

All of this talent, for months, has given Kalil the appearance of being a shoo-in for the third overall selection to the Vikings, until these new rumors began surfacing.

So instead of the long-predicted Draft going as follows:

1. Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
3. Minnesota Vikings: OT Matt Kalil, USC
4. Cleveland Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
6. St. Louis Rams: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

It is being rumored to fall:

1. Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
3. Minnesota Vikings: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
4. Cleveland Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: ???
6. St. Louis Rams: ???

If Kalil were to somehow fall past #3, he’s not going to selected by either the Browns or the Bucs, who both like their current starters at LT. But the Rams would love to acquire Kalil, to keep QB Sam Bradford upright and to move their current disappointment at LT, Rodger Saffold, to RT. The Bucs, who don’t really have a need for Justin Blackmon (they just signed Vincent Jackson), would likely offer a fire sale to whomever wanted to trade up to #5. And they’d probably get a deal done.

Even if the Bucs couldn’t deal the pick, and Rams passed (because they still wanted Blackmon, let’s say), Kalil could still be selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars at #7 overall (they have had similar disappointments with LT Eugene Monroe) or to the Buffalo Bills at #10 (who just lost their starting LT to the Philadelphia Eagles).

So the long and short of it is, there’s just no way Kalil falls to the Chiefs at #11. The most likely scenario is that if the Chiefs want Kalil, they will have to move up to #5 overall to acquire him.

The cost of doing business in that scenario? The Chiefs would almost certainly have to give their second rounder away to facilitate this trade. Maybe more, if the Bucs are fielding multiple suitors.

So my question to you, Addicts, is this: do you pull the trigger on Kalil if it means having to give a second rounder away to the Bucs?