What do draft experts and Harold Camping have in common? They keep telling us one thing and the something completely different happens. We've been told year after year that the Kansas City Chiefs were going to take an offensive tackle with their first round pick, and each year they don't take an offensive tackle with their first round pick. Camping kept telling people day after day that the rapture was coming and that we should be ready, and then....nothing. They were both operating with nothing more than educated guesses, or for at least one of them it was educated; you can decide which one.
Maybe it's just that taking an offensive tackle is the safe pick when there isn't a glaring need at a position that a concensus top-prospect is available. The thought this past draft was that it could be Phil Taylor, then the Chiefs go ahead and trade out of that pick so Cleveland can trade-up to get Phil Taylor. Well, there goes that idea. The last few drafts has told us a lot about the players that they have brought in and a lot about the players that they currently have on the roster.
The "grass is always greener" thought always creeps into minds the closer we get to each draft. We want to believe that every player out there is that next pro-bowler that can be the last link in the chain that helps us reel in that Super Bowl. But a lot of times that last piece of the chain has been sitting right there all along. In-house development takes a backseat in team-building around the time of the draft. As current backups and practice squad players become easily dismissed while the experts on TV talk about those late-round sleepers that in just a couple of years will then become the easily dismissed backups and practice squad players.
Barry Richardson is 25 years old and is coming off a season that saw him start every game at right tackle for the number one ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Coming into the 2010 season he had only started one game in his career and had played in just 10 games in 2009. The thought process behind drafting a young right tackle who might not be better than the one that they currently have, and could possibly be just a couple of years younger doesn't seem to make a lot of sense right now. It's easy to say this now because the Chiefs didn't take an offensive tackle, and that should bode well for the confidence of the Chiefs up-and-comer.
Branden Albert for the 2009 draft was the Barry Richardson of the 2010 draft. Everyone was calling for his replacement. Albert is 26 years old and is also coming off a year in which he saw his running backs pile up more yardage running behind, around, next to, and in front of him than any other set of running backs in the NFL. There are things that both Richardson and Albert need to work on headed into next year. This is true with all players. That fact that the Chiefs have two solid, won't say spectacular...yet, offensive tackles that won't be over 27 years old next season is promising to a team that needs continuity on the offensive line if they are going to progress each year.
The interior of the offensive line is where the Chiefs start to get a little long in the tooth. Brian Waters is 34 years old and Casey Wiegmann is 37 years old, but to think that this means this is where the team might be weak is factually untrue, the team ran 51% of their rush attempts last season in the mid-guard area. The yards per carry average was higher running off the left and right ends, but the team was still averaging 4.11 yards per carry running in the mid-guard area.
The Chiefs starting center in 2010, Casey Wiegmann, has not yet made any public announcement of his plans to play next season, or retire. It was reported that he was 50/50 on whether he wanted to return for the 2011 season or not. The Chiefs just drafted Rodney Hudson out of Florida State in the second round as his replacement. It would be ideal for Hudson to get to sit and watch Wiegmann for some amount of time before he just gets thrown into the fire. But Hudson has enough talent that he would be alright stepping in there day one as long as he gets some time to learn the calls and playbook, something that this current lockout isn't necessarily helping with.
Brian Waters is a five-time Pro Bowl left-guard for the Chiefs who is coming off of another solid season and his fifth Pro Bowl appearance for his stellar play in 2011. Waters' leadership is a huge reason the Chiefs pulled off the biggest win/loss turnaround in team history by going from 4 wins in 2009 to 10 wins in 2010.
Ryan Lilja is the unsung hero of the 2010 top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. He was among the top-four offensive lineman in the entire league on positively graded running plays, and among the lowest four lineman on negatively graded running plays for offensive lineman. The very definition of solid.
Jon Asamoah will find his way into the starting lineup at some point during the 2011 season. The soon-to-be second-year pro will find some time at guard next season. It could be through an injury or just spelling a veteran, but he is a very talented player that will see a significant role for this team in the future.
There is still a need for depth on the offensive line at tackle. There is no definite answer as to the role that Ryan O' Callaghan could have with the team moving forward as well as Casey Wiegmann and Rusy Niswanger. The Chiefs should bring Niswanger back for next season if Wiegmann decides to retire. There are some free agent tackles available whenever free agency begins and if the Chiefs decide they are in the market for a tackle.
Ryan Harris from the Denver Broncos and Matt Light of the New England Patriots are two possibilities. But bringing in two older, more expensive options on the offensive line doesn't seem to fit with what the Chiefs have been doing. They may bring in an offensive tackle, but it most likely won't be a big-name like Harris or Light.
The most important aspect of an offensive line leading a team deep into the playoffs is continuity. With Albert, Asamoah, Hudson, Lilja and Richardson all having a familiarity with each other, it could be the makings of a core group of players that could easily stick together for a number of years. The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers showed continuity on the offensive line as they had the same three starters at left tackle, left guard, and center since 2006, Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells.
If the Chiefs are going to make a run at something special over the next few years it's going to be on the strength of their running game and that means solid offensive line-play. It's easier for these guys to play at their best when they know what to expect and how to play next to one another. When you play next to the same guy for four or five years like some of the Packers players have, you get so comfortable that the responsibilities and reactions to situations become second-nature.
Not to mention that we re-signed Jamaal Charles to a five-year extension and he will become more familiar with his blockers and how to read and react to how each of them play their respective positions. There are infinite reasons as to why continuity is so important to a football team, especially the offensive line. The Chiefs are hoping that this group can maintain the status they have earned with their success in 2010.