The K.C. Chiefs made yet another move in free agency this past Tuesday when they signed former Los Angeles Rams center Austin Blythe to a one-year deal. At this point in free agency, most moves are going to be considered small ones and the signing of Blythe is no exception. Any time you sign a veteran player this late into free agency to a one-year deal, they’re expected to be a bridge player and Blythe fits that description as well. However the “small signing” of Blythe actually fixes a major problem for Kansas City.
Before getting into anything about Blythe, it’s important to note that he appears to be the Chiefs staring center, meaning Austin Reiter is not coming back. Personally, I feel this is an upgrade. Many analysts and fans alike went on about the fact that Reiter didn’t allow a sack last year and is a solid starter, but the truth is, he really only held up in pass-protection because of Patrick Mahomes’ ability to move and escape. Reiter wasn’t necessarily good at moving guys around, which was why he struggled as a run-blocker. That was an issue. The Chiefs spent a first round pick on a running back, so it would only make sense for the Chiefs to do their best to actually provide a competent line for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs moving on from Reiter shouldn’t make anyone upset.
So, in comes Austin Blythe. Blythe spent the past four seasons with the Rams after originally being drafted in the 7th round by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2016 NFL Draft and spending a season there. Blythe didn’t do much with the Colts, but he has blossomed with the Rams, starting 46 games over the past 3 seasons, and showing off his versatility by playing at both guard and center.
This past season for the Rams, Blythe was actually ranked in the top ten in run-block win rate among centers. In addition, Blythe posted a 73.2 overall run-blocking grade according to PFF and helped lead a top ten rushing offense with Los Angeles. Lastly, Blythe only committed 1 penalty in we’ll over 1,000 snaps in 2020. This should be music to Chiefs fans’ ears because what this team really needed was a center like Blythe.
Austin Blythe is a smaller signing who should really help the K.C. Chiefs.
We already mentioned the Chiefs investing in a running back last year in Edwards-Helaire, so it would only make sense if they also invested in the offensive line to maximize his potential. Blythe is a step in the right direction, and I would imagine Edwards-Helaire was the one most excited about yesterday’s news. Last year, the Chiefs interior offensive line ranked dead last in the league in run-block win rate and adding a top ten center in that aspect is nothing but a win. There were many situations last year in which the Chiefs tried to go with a power run up the middle or needed that extra push on 3rd or 4th-and-short, but Reiter just couldn’t give it to them. Blythe can, which should extend many drives. He should also be able to carve big holes for Chiefs running backs along with the rest of the interior line. Oh yeah, and those infamous 2nd-and-long runs Andy Reid loves to do should see a lot more success as well.
It is worth noting that Blythe isn’t among the best pass-protecting centers in the league and actually posted a very low 52.5 pass-blocking grade from PFF last season. At the same time, it’s always difficult to take PFF grades at face value and preach them as gospel but in the end they still are a good metric. They just don’t take into account much of the context that goes into a player’s grade. For example, people who might point out Austin Reiter is a good pass-blocker because PFF said so may not also consider what we mentioned earlier in that Reiter isn’t giving up much pressure because Mahomes is so good at moving around to where Reiter isn’t getting dinged for anything.
The fact Blythe will likely playing with a very good guard rotation that includes Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on either side of him should help Blythe in pass-protection a lot as well as the benefit of playing with the best quarterback in all of football in Mahomes. Plus the Chiefs still have Nick Allegretti who may rotate at Center and provide competition for Blythe.
The Chiefs’ signing of Blythe doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of K.C. drafting a center either, but for now, Blythe looks to be a nice player who can bring that power run scheme ability to the Chiefs. With an interior that looks like LDT, Blythe, and Joe Thuney, the Chiefs rushing attack should take huge strides next season and Blythe solves a big problem for the Chiefs that was their poor run-blocking from the middle of the line in 2020. Edwards-Helaire has absolutely no excuse to not run for at least 1,000 yards next year behind this current lineup assuming the Chiefs also draft their left tackle of the future this April.