As the Kansas City Chiefs 2016 offseason begins to get underway I find myself experiencing a little bit of déjà vu. If you’ve been reading my weekly ramblings for a while now you likely remember that last offseason I spent a good deal of time stressing the importance of fixing the offensive line. Now as I look ahead to what the Chiefs must do to be successful in 2016 I once again find the offensive line at the top of my list of needs.
While I was pleasantly surprised at the play of Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, and Mitch Morse last season, Fisher is only under team control for one more season, Allen remains unsigned as of this writing, and Morse battled concussions during his rookie year which is becoming more and more a career threatening injury in today’s NFL. Then there are the right guard and right tackle positions that remain very much in question moving forward. The bottom line is that the Chiefs MUST revamp the offensive line this offseason in order to remain competitive in the AFC. With all the in-house free agents that the Chiefs are likely working to re-sign I find it unlikely that they will address the line with major free agent signings. That means any key additions will likely have to come from the NFL draft.
So what kind of offensive line class are we looking at in 2016? While I’ve certainly done some scouting of specific prospects already, I’ll admit my knowledge of this overall class was limited before beginning work on this piece. What I hope to do is give you a general overview of the offensive line class and then hopefully get some feedback from you on which prospects you would like to see more in-depth scouting reports on.
In order to compile this list I decided to make a composite big board of offensive lineman by averaging out the latest big board rankings from CBS, Drafttek, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. This gave me a list of 22 offensive line prospects that are likely to be drafted in the first four rounds. Understand that it is still early in the evaluation process so this order will likely evolve as we get closer to the draft and we get more information and time to watch tape on these prospects. For now I have them broken into four tiers with some general comments on the players in the first three. Let’s start with the top tier.
Laremy Tunsil – OT – Ole Miss – 6’5″ – 305 lbs – Big Board Avg: 3.0
Widely considered the clear top offensive line prospect (and in some cases the top overall prospect), it seems HIGHLY unlikely that the Chiefs have any shot at drafting Laremy Tunsil. Teams don’t trade up to the top pick in the draft for an offensive lineman, even one as highly thought of as Tunsil.
Ronnie Stanly – OT – Notre Dame – 6’6″ – 315 lbs – Big Board Avg: 5.0
Originally there seemed to be a gap between Tunsil and the second rated offensive lineman Ronnie Stanly, but Stanley seems to be closing that gap. I still think Tunsil will go before Stanly, but its looking more and more like Stanly could also be a top ten pick. That makes it unlikely that the Chiefs will have a shot at selecting him either.
Taylor Decker – OT – Ohio State – 6’7″ – 315 lbs – Big Board Avg: 20.7
Not everyone unanimously agrees that Taylor Decker is the number three tackle in this draft class, with Jack Conklin being the most common prospect ahead of him on some big boards. Decker is probably the first player on this list that could conceivably fall to the Chiefs. He has good size and strength and has experience playing both right and left tackle. I don’t know if he has elite upside, but he has a good work ethic and attitude and if he can improve his technique he looks like he’ll be a very good NFL starter.
Jack Conklin – OT – Michigan State – 6’6″ – 318 lbs – Big Board Avg: 27.7
Jack Conklin looks like a prototype starting right tackle to me (which just happens to be a need for the Chiefs). Conklin has great size and plays with power. His downside is that he’s not quite as quick or fluid as the other first round tackle prospects. He relies more on his size, strength, and smarts to stop pass rushers than he does elite athleticism. He may occasionally struggle with elite speed rushers but could be a force in the running game which is something Kansas City hasn’t been able to say about their right tackle in quite some time. Conklin’s current big board average also places him right about where the Chiefs select with the 28th pick.
Cody Whitehair – OG – Kansas State – 6’4″ – 300 lbs – Big Board Avg: 38.7
If the Chiefs wanted to upgrade the starting right guard spot in the first round this year they wouldn’t have to go very far from home to find their man. Cody Whitehair has been referred to some as a “poor man’s Zach Martin” in that he’s a college left tackle that will likely find his home in the NFL inside at guard. Like Martin, Whitehair is a smart, hardworking player with enough power and athleticism to be a long time starter on the interior.
Now on to tier two……
Next: Tier Two Offensive Line Prospects