By Matt McMullen, Chiefs Reporter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – We’re less than three weeks from training camp, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we’re in the midst of examining every position group on the roster in anticipation of the 2022 campaign.
Here’s a look at what we’ve covered so far:
We’ll continue with the offensive line, where the Chiefs currently feature 15 players: Orlando Brown Jr., Geron Christian, Roderick Johnson, Darian Kinnard, Lucas Niang, Prince Tega Wanogho, Andrew Wylie, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Nick Allegretti, Michael Caliendo, Chris Glaser, Vitaliy Gurman and Austin Reiter.
Here’s a closer look at each offensive lineman on the roster, sorted by offensive tackles and interior linemen. Some of these players have experience at multiple spots, but for the purpose of this breakdown, each member of the offensive line is categorized by his primary role last season.
Offensive Tackles (sorted alphabetically)
Orlando Brown Jr.
Kansas City traded for Brown last offseason in the hopes that he could protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ blindside as the Chiefs’ left tackle, and he often impressed. Brown started all but one game for Kansas City, logging a career-most 1,127 snaps while earning the No. 7 overall Pro Football Focus grade among left tackles with 1,000+ snaps. He showed considerable growth over the course of the season, too, yielding just one sack between Week 8 and the conclusion of the regular season. Only San Francisco’s Trent Williams and Tampa Bay’s Donovan Smith matched that effort among left tackles with 600+ snaps during that span.
The Chiefs placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Brown early in the offseason, meaning that the two parties can continue working on a long-term contract extension until July 15.
A former third-round selection of the Washington Commanders in 2018, the 25-year-old Christian signed with the Chiefs as a free agent this offseason. Christian appeared in 38 games (16 starts) across three seasons with Washington (2018-20) and one season with Houston (2021) prior to signing with Kansas City.
He started eight games for Houston last season – logging 560 snaps at left tackle – and flashed some notable ability as a pass-blocker. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman ranked 15th among all tackles in pass-blocking last season according to the metrics compiled by Pro Football Focus (min. 500 offensive snaps). He allowed just one sack all season long.
Christian’s blend of experience and versatility to play both tackle spots makes him an interesting candidate to watch as the Chiefs look to identify a swing tackle who can provide depth up front.
Another veteran competing to earn a roster spot this summer is Johnson, who joined the Chiefs as a “Reserve/Futures” signee several months ago. A fifth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2017, Johnson logged 28 appearances for the Houston Texans between the 2019-20 seasons – including six starts – before spending last year on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad.
Like Christian, Johnson also has experience at both tackle spots and is a name to know when building out the potential depth of the offensive line.
One of the offensive line’s youngest members, Kinnard was the Chiefs’ fifth-round selection (No. 145 overall) in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Kentucky. He’s a large human at 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds who had the biggest hands (11 ¼ inches) of any player at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this offseason. He utilized those physical gifts to earn the Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2021, which is annually awarded to the top offensive lineman in the SEC.
Kinnard has a chance to be one of the steals of this year’s draft class, too. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked Kinnard as the No. 52 overall player this year, projecting him as a second-round pick. He was the No. 79 overall player on PFF’s board, and Lance Zierlein from NFL.com tabbed him as a third-round selection. Somehow, with all of that in mind, the Chiefs managed to draft Kinnard with the No. 145 overall pick.
He’ll have an opportunity to compete at right tackle in this year’s camp.
Niang, who started nine games at right tackle for the Chiefs in 2021, tore his patellar tendon in Week 17 and is in the midst of working his way back to the field. It was an unfortunate break for the former third-round pick after he earned the starting right tackle job out of camp last year, but Niang’s age (23) and exceptional size (6-foot-7, 339 pounds) are reasons to monitor his rehab progress.
There was some good news on that front earlier this offseason, as General Manager Brett Veach reported that Niang was making progress and could potentially return to action by the end of training camp. His status will be something to watch.
Prince Tega Wanogho
The 24-year-old Tega Wanogho is entering his second season with Kansas City after appearing in two games last season (6 total snaps). A former sixth-round pick (No. 210 overall) of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020, Tega Wanogho checks in at 6-foot-5 and 303 pounds.
He’s still relatively new to football, too. A fascinating story, Tega Wanogho grew up in Nigeria and was a standout basketball player in high school after coming to the United States. According to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, Tega Wanogho only started playing football to remain in shape. Remarkably, he showed a real knack for the game despite his limited experience and caught the attention of Auburn, where Tega Wanogho went on to start 32 games and earn multiple all-conference selections.
Zierlein projected Tega Wanogho as a potential third or fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he ultimately fell to the sixth round. He spent the majority of his rookie season on the Eagles’ practice squad – appearing in one game (Week 17) – before signing with the Chiefs in 2021.
Now entering his fifth season with Kansas City, Wylie has emerged from humble beginnings to carve out an impressive career. Originally a free agent signee back in 2018, Wylie made the team out of camp and went on to win the Mack Lee Hill Award that year, which is annually awarded to the Chiefs’ most outstanding first-year player. He appeared in 16 games that season (with 10 starts) and has been a familiar face along Kansas City’s offensive line in the time since, starting 11 games in 2019, 14 games in 2020 and seven games in 2021.
Wylie’s versatility is what has made him so valuable over the years. He was primarily a guard for the early portion of his career, but he worked exclusively as a right tackle last season and held his own.
Interior Linemen (beginning with last year’s starters, then sorted alphabetically)
The Chiefs signed Thuney in free agency last offseason with the expectation that he would continue his ascension as one of the best guards in the NFL, and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, according to PFF grades, Thuney compiled the best season of his excellent career in 2021. He started all 17 games – logging 1,184 snaps – while earning PFF’s top pass-blocking grade among qualified guards. That performance was despite suffering a fractured hand in Week 5 which – as an example of Thuney’s toughness – didn’t force him to miss a single start.
Thuney also showed off his versatility last season, bouncing out to left tackle in Week 17 due to injuries elsewhere along the line. Thuney was tasked with stopping one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL – defensive end Trey Hendrickson – without any prior preparation, but as we’ve come to expect with Thuney, the man was brilliant. He allowed just two total pressures (and 0 sacks) in the game, once again displaying his tremendous value.
In short, the 29-year-old is firmly entrenched as the Chiefs’ left guard (barring injuries elsewhere) for years to come.
When a center is included in “Rookie of the Year” conversations, it’s indicative that things are going tremendously well for the team that drafted him. That was the case with Humphrey, who joined the Chiefs as the No. 63 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and quickly established himself as the best center in football. He went on to earn the fourth-best PFF grade among all offensive linemen last season and the best grade for any center since 2017.
Additionally, in PFF’s “re-draft” of the 2021 class, they projected Humphrey as the No. 14 overall selection if the draft were to take place with last season in hindsight.
Speaking of that “re-draft,” the folks at PFF projected Smith – the No. 226 overall selection in actuality – as the No. 16 overall pick if the draft were to take place again. That leap was because Smith was simply one of the best guards in the league last season, lining up at right guard for 100 percent of Kansas City’s offensive snaps while earning the 12th-best PFF grade among all guards with 1,000+ snaps. Additionally, when compared to other rookie offensive linemen, only Humphrey, Los Angeles Chargers’ tackle Rashawn Slater and Detroit Lions’ tackle Penei Sewell earned a better overall grade.
Together, the trio of Smith, Humphrey and Thuney form arguably the best group of interior offensive linemen in the NFL.
Originally a seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Allegretti has become a regular on either offense or special teams for Kansas City. He appeared in all 17 games last season, serving almost exclusively on special teams, but he made the most of his opportunity whenever called upon offensively. In fact, Allegretti recorded the best pass-blocking PFF grade of any player in the league across 38 pass-blocking snaps. That’s a very small sample size, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Allegretti started nine games for the Chiefs in 2020 and possesses the versatility to line up at either guard or center.
An undrafted free agent signee this offseason, Caliendo joins second-round draft pick Skyy Moore as another player from Western Michigan. He appeared in 54 career games in college, logging experience at all three positions along the interior offensive line.
Caliendo checks in at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds.
One of two undrafted free agents to earn a contract after a successful tryout during rookie minicamp, Glaser tallied 44 career starts at the University of Virginia before joining Kansas City.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Glaser has experience at both guard positions.
The other undrafted free agent to emerge from the rookie minicamp tryout was Gurman, a former standout at the University of Toledo who garnered experienced at left tackle, guard and center during his college career.
He checks in at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds.
A familiar name who’s back for another run with Kansas City, Reiter was the Chiefs’ starting center during the Super Bowl run in 2019. He started all 16 games (and all three postseason games) that year before starting 12 games at center the following season.
Reiter joined the Miami Dolphins in free agency prior to last season, where he went on to appear in six games with five starts. He’s now back in Kansas City as an experienced veteran who’s already familiar with Patrick Mahomes, which is a major luxury to possess as Humphrey’s backup.
The Bottom Line
It’s not hyperbole to say that Kansas City features one of the best offensive lines in all of football, which was the ultimate goal of last offseason’s total overhaul up front. Four of the five starters are essentially written in ink (Brown, Thuney, Humphrey and Smith) but the competition at right tackle will be worth watching in camp. Wylie, Kinnard, Johnson, Christian and others will battle for that role while Niang continues to work his way back to the field.
The battle to make the team as a depth piece will also be intriguing. The Chiefs kept 10 offensive linemen for Week 1 last year, nine offensive linemen in 2020 and 10 in 2019. That means outside of the initial starting five, there could be as many as five additional roster spots available among the 10 other players remaining.
Kansas City features an ideal blend of experience, youth and versatility in this group that will make the offensive line an area to watch during camp, but at the same time, it’s also a spot in which fans can feel confident heading into 2022.