Coming into the regular season for the Kansas City Chiefs, the position of offensive tackle looked the most foreign to long-term fans. A combination of offseason moves featuring veteran signings and youthful imports suddenly remade a key position tasked with keeping the game's most valuable player upright play after play in Patrick Mahomes.
A review of the moves. First, the Chiefs allowed Orlando Brown Jr. to walk in free agency to the Cincinnati Bengals because they'd already decided the big money they were willing to spend belonged to the more athletic Jawaan Taylor, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars. From there, the Chiefs invested a third-round pick in Oklahoma prospect Wanya Morris after trading up to get him. Yet instead of assuming he would start, the Chiefs also signed Donovan Smith, formerly of the Bucs, to a starter-level deal after the draft.
The Chiefs have a lot of depth at offensive tackle and it's an interesting battle to watch in the wake of recent injuries.
Just like that, the Chiefs went from tackle-needy to tackle-rich in the course of an offseason. By the time the dust settled at St. Joe for training camp, it was clear that Smith and Taylor were locking down the left and right sides as the experienced veterans while Morris would have to battle it out with holdovers Lucas Niang, a former third-round pick in 2020, and Prince Tega Wanogho, a former practice squad signing back in '21.
From there, the surprises continued when the Chiefs went into Week 1 against the Detroit Lions with Wanogho as their swing tackle and Niang and Morris sat inactive. It's now stayed that way through three games until Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Chiefs were forced to put Wanogho on injured reserve with a torn quad injury suffered last weekend against the Chicago Bears. That means he's out for at least the next four weeks and it opens up a spot for one of the former Day 2 picks sitting and waiting on the roster to move up, but who will it be?
Niang is such an interesting player at this point for the Chiefs. A third-round pick is a sizable investment and Niang rewarded the team by claiming the starting right tackle role from the moment he arrived. The problem was that he didn't arrive until one year after he was drafted, due to opting out in the midst of a COVID-affected year. From there, he'd have a hard time holding onto such a role given his injury history. Clearly talented and capable of starting at the highest level, at least in the past, one has to wonder if Niang's abilities have slipped due to injuries. If so, he wouldn't be the first and you have to feel for a young player like that.
As for Morris, he is the future here, even if just the future swing tackle. Donovan Smith is signed to a one-year deal as the team's left tackle, and nothing would make Brett Veach look better than seeing Morris effortlessly slide into that role next season after a year learning the ropes and developing his technique. Is he ready for more effort now? Is Niang's pro-ready past able to keep up today?
It's amazing that Wanogho bested both of them in the competition for that OT3 role on the active roster, but that could speak to Morris's readiness or Niang's ceiling. Then again, it might just say more about Wanogho himself, a big-framed tackle who was always perceived as a long-term project with the potential to blossom into something more. The Chiefs' patience and investment has paid off here and now they are tackle rich.
WIth Wanogho on IR, however, now the Chiefs have another choice to make. It will tell us quite a bit about one player or the other—Morris or Niang—as to whoever surfaces as the new swing tackle in Kansas City.