What are the Kansas City Chiefs getting with their swap of left tackles, moving from Orlando Brown Jr. to Donovan Smith?
In a rather surprising turn of events following the 2023 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs signed free agent offensive tackle Donovan Smith to a one-year deal. Just a couple of months after telling everyone that free agent signing Jawaan Taylor would make the transition to the left side, the team went out and gave Smith a deal that could pay him up to $9 million dollars if he were to start at left tackle.
On Monday, head coach Andy Reid confirmed that Smith would start at left tackle to begin OTAs and Taylor would remain on the right side.
Assuming Smith starts at left tackle for the Chiefs once the season begins, how does he compare to Orlando Brown, who the Chiefs moved on from this offseason and Brown signed a four-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals? Is Smith an upgrade?
There was a reason the Chiefs decided they were done with Orlando Brown. His performance wasn’t up to par for them and, quite frankly, he wasn’t a scheme fit to begin with. Brown struggles to move laterally and is not an athletic tackle. Asking him to drop back as much as the pass-heavy Chiefs offense is bound to do is too much for Brown’s playing style.
Smith, on the other hand, is a scheme fit for Kansas City. He’s much more athletic than Brown and has more traits for offensive line coach Andy Heck to work with. However, Smith is coming off a rough season with Tampa Bay in 2022 and he’s about to turn 30 so he may not be as spry as he was coming out of the draft. All in all, Smith maybe has more potential in the Chiefs’ offense than Brown.
Looking at Brown’s 2022 season, he allowed 47 pressures and 4 sacks. His pass blocking was less than stellar and speed rushers often gave him trouble. Smith, on the other hand, allowed 31 pressures in 2022 and 6 sacks. With Smith, you may have to look further than 2022 as he dealt with injuries. He was a much better player in 2021 and started for the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers in 2020.
So Smith is a capable starter but if you look at the totality of his career, he’s an average tackle. You could say the same about Brown, but his highs are higher but you also get lower lows. When it comes to run blocking, it isn’t even close. Brown is the much better run blocker and he graded out with a 75.8 run-blocking grade according to PFF. Smith had a 40.1 run-blocking grade which was close to the worst in the league.
We knew Brown was a mauler in the run game and that goes back to the identity he had in Baltimore where he played in a primarily running offense. Smith isn’t as much of a mover and lacks a lot of power in the run game. His main advantage is his ability to get out in space. Otherwise, Brown is better in the run game.
What really separates Brown and Smith, though, is penalties. Smith led the league in penalties last year with 12. Brown had 6 last season. Yes, Smith dealt with multiple injuries last year, but he is averaging 10 penalties per season for his career. He entered the league in 2015 and has committed 80 penalties. Brown has just 24 penalties in five seasons. Worth considering that Brown spent his earlier years as a right tackle, but Smith is still averaging more than double Brown’s average penalties per season. That’s a pretty big issue that will need to be cleaned up.
In conclusion, Smith is probably a little bit worse overall than Brown, but Smith might be a steadier presence in the passing game IF he can recapture his 2021 form which makes him a better fit. With Brown, he was a wild card at times with what he would give the team from week to week. For the financial savings and the idea that Smith will be a stop-gap left tackle in 2023, it’s not the worst move they could’ve made. However, it is a little bit of a head-scratcher that they moved on from Brown for him and waited until after free agency and the draft to find their left tackle for 2023.