Will the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line be their downfall?
Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson (79) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Donald Stephenson/Jeff Allen/Derek Sherrod
The position that may be the biggest wild card going into 2015 is the right tackle position. The Chiefs let their starter from last season, Ryan Harris walk in free agency and seem content to let in house candidates compete to fill the position. While Donald Stephenson was expected to be the starter last season he lost his job to Harris when he was suspended for four games and never got the job back. While it may not be the popular opinion amongst Chiefs fans, Harris was actually KC’s second best offensive lineman last season behind Hudson. Harris finished with a -1.6 overall PFF grade. While that’s not great it was the second best overall grade for KC. So it is not just a given that whomever wins the right tackle job will automatically upgrade the position for KC.
In fact, if you look at the career PFF numbers for the candidates you’ll see that whomever wins the job will have to take a significant step up in their play just to match what Harris did last season.
2014 Harris: 980 snaps, -1.6 overall grade, -3.2 pass blocking grade
2012 Stephenson: 379 snaps, -7.3 overall grade, -9.6 pass blocking grade
2013 Stephenson: 543 snaps, -10.7 overall grade, -6.9 pass blocking grade
2012 Allen: 843 snaps, -18.0 overall grade, -7.4 pass blocking grade
2013 Allen: 908 snaps, -10.7 overall grade, -6.1 pass blocking grade
Derek Sherrod has only played 263 career snaps with a -14.7 overall grade and -7.2 pass blocking grade.
Before I go on here I feel the need to confess my amazement at just how highly many Chiefs fans seem to think of these three candidates for the right tackle position. People seem utterly confident that one or more (or all) are good quality NFL starters despite ANY of them ever proving that on the field. Yes Jeff Allen has two years of starting experience, but he wan’t very good. I feel like the horror that was Mike McGlynn has altered KC fans perception of Allen. He went from a guy that most fans felt needed to step up in 2014 or he’d be gone to a player people are excited to get back and counting on to be good.
How does a player make that jump after missing a year to an injury? It makes no sense to me. I’m not saying that Allen can’t still develop into a good starter, but he hasn’t proven that on the field yet. I’m curious to see what he can do at tackle and see if his athleticism is better served handling smaller edge rushers, but frankly my expectation and hope is that Allen ends up as a quality bench player that provides depth at multiple spots on the line.
Next up let’s discuss Derek Sherrod. Yes, Derek Sherrod is a former first round pick. You know who else was a former first round pick? Jon Baldwin and AJ Jenkins and Ryan Sims and Trezelle Jenkins and the list goes on and on. I’ve seen lots of KC fans saying they think or hope Sherrod wins the starting job but he’s done nothing in three seasons to give anyone any reason to believe that is possible. Yes, Sherrod has battled numerous injuries and that has limited his chance to prove himself on the field. That still counts against him.
Think of it this way. If the Chiefs cut Sanders Commings today and a team signed him and their fans said they think/hope that he’ll win the starting free safety job this season wouldn’t you think they were crazy since he’s never shown that he can do that on the field? I guarantee that’s how Packers fans would react if they heard that some KC fans are hoping Sherrod wins a starting job with the Chiefs. In Sherrod’s limited snaps he hasn’t been good, at all. In fact, he played the season opener for the Packers last season at right tackle and was absolutely terrible, earning a -6.9 grade for ONE GAME. You know how hard that is to do? We saw first hand how terrible Mike McGlynn was and he only had one game that bad last season, a -7.1 game against Arizona. I don’t think Derek Sherrod will make the 53 man roster and I would be shocked if he won the starting right tackle job.
That brings us to Donald Stephenson. Stephenson is the front runner for the right tackle position and I am really hoping that he earns the job. First of all, Stephenson has the physical size that I’d like to see at right tackle at 6’6″ and 320 pounds. That’s a little bigger than Allen who weighs in at 6’4″ and 307 pounds. Despite the size advantage Stephenson is still pretty athletic for his size and I’m not sure that Allen has any real advantage in that department. Also, despite Stephenson having the same number of years of experience he hasn’t seen as much playing time. In fact, Allen has about double the career snaps as he does. While you can make that a positive for Allen as being more experienced you can also make a strong case that Stephenson simply hasn’t had enough of a chance to prove what he can do in just 953 career snaps.
I’m really hoping that Stephenson wins the job. I just see him as having the most upside of the three options. While there is no guarantee that he will perform better than Harris did last season, I think he represents the most realistic hope for that to occur. Regardless of who wins the job, the Chiefs must find someone who can protect the edge against the pass rush and help Alex Smith feel safe in the pocket.
Right Tackle Status Compared To Last Season: Completely Unknown, I hope Stephenson wins the job and can upgrade the position, but there is no way that can be assumed at this point.
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