We already knew the K.C. Chiefs were a very young team. Through two weeks, the Chiefs were listed as the single youngest franchise in the National Football League in terms of the age of their starting lineups on offense and defense. Two weeks later, a new metric is marking them in much the same way.
Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus has done the math on the total number of snaps played by rookies for each of the 32 franchises in the NFL and come out with the list of the top teams. He has the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and Chiefs with the most.
The problem with that list is that the top four teams are all currently sitting in the basement of their respective divisions. The Jets earned their first win of the season on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans but they are 1-3 and in last place in the AFC East. The Pittsburgh Steelers are suffering through the early portion of a season that looks already lost if they’re going to depend on the aging arm of Ben Roethlisberger.
The Chiefs are allowing more rookies to play snaps than most NFL teams.
The Detroit Lions knew this was going to be a tough first season for Dan Campbell as they rebuild that roster, while the Chiefs have shocked everyone in the NFL by losing two of their first four games in a surprisingly tough AFC West. The Chiefs have lost their only divisional contest so far and are 2-2 in the bottom of the AFC West.
Perhaps this is good news, however, for the likelihood of the Chiefs growing from this point forward. The team has been playing their rookie class since Week 1 in heavy doses.
The majority of the rookie snaps have come on the offensive line, where somehow a position deep with experienced talent found three starting spots for rookies making their debut in 2021. From holdover rookie Lucas Niang, who opted out last season, taking over right tackle where Mitchell Schwartz once played, to this year’s picks like Trey Smith at right guard and Creed Humphrey at center, the Chiefs have allowed a youth movement to take over 60 percent of the line.
Meanwhile, linebacker Nick Bolton has helped fill in reps for a hurting (and struggling) corps, especially with Willie Gay Jr. injured through the first quarter season with a toe injury. A thinner-than-expected position of defensive end has allowed Joshua Kaindoh to play a dozen or more reps in most games so far this year as well, even as a project lineman. Tight end Noah Gray is also getting a handful of reps on offense as the Chiefs find ways to involve their young tight ends here and there.
There’s no doubt this experience should yield dividends down the road, especially for an offensive front that should only get better with time and further reps. Only four games in, they already look like a very solid unit. Here’s hoping the overall youth of the Chiefs will help them reach a greater ceiling in the future. as they’re struggling at key places at present.