Will the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line be their downfall?
Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs guard Zach Fulton (73) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chiefs 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Zach Fulton/Paul Fanaika/Mitch Morse/Laurent Duvernay-Tardif/Jeff Allen
Despite returning their starter at the position, the right guard spot on the line will be fascinating to watch in training camp. Zach Fulton came in as a sixth round pick and proceeded to start his entire rookie season. While Fulton wasn’t fantastic, he certainly didn’t embarrass himself for a late round pick playing as a rookie. While his -14.6 overall grade by PFF only ranked him 64th of 78 eligible guards, there were still some positives to take away.
First, Fulton’s pass blocking grade was just a -3.0 and what I really like about Fulton is that he’s stout enough at the point of attack to not consistently end up pushed backwards and forcing Alex Smith out of the pocket. The other encouraging sign was that Fulton played his best football down the stretch last season. After totaling a -14.7 overall grade in his first eleven games he finished with a +0.1 in his final five. In those same final five games he also had a combined pass blocking grade of +1.7. While a five game sample size isn’t enough to declare that Fulton is a lock to keep his job this season and be a consistent NFL starter, it is a positive sign.
That’s more than I can say for Paul Fanaika who was signed this offseason to provide competition at guard. Fanika’s overall PFF grade (including playoffs) was a -22.8 last season. That by itself is bad enough, but his -10.9 pass blocking grade is what concerns me most. Again, I am looking at the offensive line from the standpoint of trying to get “Good Alex Smith” as the QB and as I pointed out earlier his track record shows that he needs good pass protection to make that happen. While I like Fanaika’s power, I’m not sure its enough of an upgrade to make his pass protection problems worth it.
While most people seem set on Mitch Morse playing center if he is going to crack the starting lineup in 2015 don’t rule out the possibility of right guard either. Let’s say that Eric Kush plays great and his knowledge of the offense makes him the best option to start at center. If Morse shows great ability right out of the gate it might make more sense for him to play at guard where there is less pressure in terms of having to develop chemistry with Alex Smith on snaps and making calls at the line of scrimmage. I still think the job is Fulton’s to lose, but if Kush and Morse both appear to be playing at a higher level than the other right guard candidates then I could see Morse playing there.
I’ll be honest, I only included Jeff Allen on the list of right guard candidates because I’ve seen so many others talk about him playing there. I don’t see it happening, at all. He’s just not strong enough at the point of attack to play on the interior. He has good athleticism, but in the trenches you have to be able to handle powerful defensive tackles and I just don’t think that fits Allen’s game. I like him better as a swing tackle where his athleticism and movement skills can come in handy in pass protection against edge rushers. If you’re still not convinced look at the following numbers.
These are Allen’s numbers from his second year starting (2013) compared to Zach Fulton’s numbers as a rookie. According to the good people at PFF this is how their pass blocking efficiency broke down.
2013 Allen: 534 pass blocking snaps, 5 sacks allowed, 32 total pressures allowed
2014 Fulton: 568 pass blocking snaps, 3 sacks allowed, 26 total pressures allowed
So despite being a rookie and having more pass blocking snaps last season Fulton still gave up less sacks and less pressures than Allen did in his second full season as a starter. I have a few other thoughts on Allen but I’ll save those for the right tackle discussion.
The final dark horse candidate for the right guard spot is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The Canadian medical student is a total wild card, but the Chiefs really liked his raw physical skills. I have a hard time seeing him unseat Fulton, but it is possible that LDT has a higher upside when it comes to physical skill set than some of these other players. It will be interesting to see how he looks in his second season with the Chiefs.
Right Guard Status Compared To Last Season: Worst case would be breaking even with Fulton playing at about the same level as he did last year, but if Fulton improves or someone else plays well enough to beat him out then there could be improvement here. Once again, we’ll have to wait and see how things play out in camp.
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