We preview the guys within the trenches…. The offensive tackles
This is all part of a multi-part series covering several areas of Kansas City Chiefs going into 2023; predictions on each units, The Secondary, Linebackers, The Edge and Interior of the Defensive Line, covering different aspects in general. This will be a multi-part series covering several areas of offensive line play in 2023; Starting with the offensive tackles.
Entering 2023 there are many storylines for OL play around the Chiefs, but despite some concerning trends there is much more good happening, led by one of the NFL’s elite OL units that keeps reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes’ pocket clean. The OL is a team within the team, heavily reliant on one another for their own success, and together the lifeblood of an offense. The more experience the unit has together the better their performance, with non-negotiable traits such as mental processing and competitive toughness being at the forefront of the position. Despite the moves that have happened this offseason, this unit who have shown how great they were in 2022, and have the best chance of improving upon their success in 2023.
The Chiefs boast the best pass-protecting bookends in the NFL. Providing a QB like Patrick Mahomes, who has a strong propensity to scramble and evacuate the pocket, with a clean pocket can be challenging because of his tendency to move behind the line of scrimmage. The uncertainty surrounding the pocket can be frustrating for an OL, particularly OTs who are charged with creating the depth of the pocket. Having a QB who is unpredictable increases the challenge of sustaining a well-formed pocket, but with newly signed veterans Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith, they shouldn’t have any problem with achieving this feat in 2023 and here’s why?:
LT Donovan Smith being picked up shortly after the 2023 NFL Draft was proof enough that the team found their need for the right value especially since Smith has started 124 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including protecting quarterback Tom Brady for 45 games. Smith plays with very good balance and a strong base, displaying excellent weight distribution in pass protection that helps him remain under control against all levels of competition. Smith, however, also struggled last year. He allowed 31 pressures and six sacks last season, and 12 penalties which are the most by an offensive lineman in the league in 2022. At least three penalties directly negated Brady touchdowns. Those are obviously bad numbers, but they might be explained by the fact that he played through elbow hyperextension and foot injuries in 2022. “Last year he was hurt,” Coach Andy Reid said in a OTA interview. “The year before that, he was one of the top-graded left tackles.” I believe that is underrated upgrade over Orlando Brown Jr. He will allow less pressures and hurries on Mahomes. The natural leverage from his 6’5” frame allows him to easily get underneath pass-rushers and anchor, that will create a reliable cushion on Mahomes’ blindside, a solid pro who will provide stability on the left side:
Pass pro is not passive
– Donovan Smith pic.twitter.com/xWdkIvq8sa
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 15, 2021
If Smith doesn’t work out, they can always go with right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who they signed to a four-year, $80 million contract. Taylor, 25, showed marked improvement in the 2022 season when he was considered the Jaguars’ most consistent offensive lineman. Taylor gave up only six sacks and finished 37th in pass block win rate among offensive tackles (88.8%) this past season. Making him a massive upgrade over Andrew Wylie and even Brown Jr. At 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, Taylor has the ability to mirror speed and handle power rushers who try to test him on the interior. Demonstrating elite athletic ability, premier length, uncanny punch timing in pass-protection, and flawless footwork that should help him improve in the running game (within the Chiefs scheme), Taylor is becoming a commanding force capable of enforcing his will on defenders and reducing all levels of competition to a lower level. Few edge-protectors on an island as often as former Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz made things look as routine as he did, but digging deeper into the ‘why’ makes you truly appreciate when someone has their craft mastered on the level Schwartz did it. Taylor can achieve that same success. At just 25-years old and in the middle of his prime, he’s becoming one of the premier players at his position and could be on track to earn his first All-Pro honors at the end of the season.
The DJ Moore acquisition tells me the Bears are going to pass more in 2023. But to do that they need to protect Justin Fields. The only FA RT who is a significant upgrade there is Jawaan Taylor. FA begins Mon @ 11CT. If I'm Poles, I have a contract in his hands at 11:01 pic.twitter.com/1zqAKlx7GP
— Chicago Football Connection (@CFCBears) March 11, 2023
Key backup: Wanya Morris
Swing tackles, versatile interior guard and centers, OL who can fill in at multiple positions, spot start to fill in for injury, or play as the sixth OL in heavy sets are rare but in demand and important. OL who bring the most value are those that can act as a Swiss Army Knife for their offense, with the capability to start in a pinch at multiple positions. The LT position is the biggest wildcard on the OL. The competition is between rookie RT Wanya Morris, or ninth year LT and former first round draft pick Donovon Smith. My money would be on Morris getting the first legitimate crack at the job, considering his pedigree and, despite Smith’s record, Morris is a more polished and developed skill set than Smith possesses for now. The depth is also strong with Morris, Prince Tega Wanogho, Lucas Niang and second year OL Darian Kinnard providing enormous bodies to provide reinforcements via six-man blocking schemes that the Chiefs will use to grind down defenses in short-yardage and goal-line situations:
I did not realize that #Chiefs OT Lucas Niang was in the game at RT for Andrew Wylie in the Super Bowl on Skyy Moore's TD reception. Got help from Kelce on the blitz. Still, pretty big moment to rely on their backup, who is now potentially set to earn a bigger role in 2023. pic.twitter.com/LoF6MxZyFR
— Charles Goldman (@goldmctNFL) March 14, 2023
On the night that the Chiefs selected Morris with the No. 92 overall pick in the third round of the NFL Draft, an old friend was one of the first to reach out to him: Kansas City’s starting right guard Trey Smith, who played left guard next to Morris during his time at Tennessee (2019-20) before he transferred to Oklahoma (2021-22). Morris played both left and right tackle during his college career. It’s likely he’ll continue to rotate between the two positions throughout the rookie minicamp and the offseason. Equally effective in the run and pass game, Morris will carry the OU tradition of demonstrating excellent overall technique beginning with how efficient he his out of his stance to create space at the snap and win the half-man relationship in pass pro. Coupled with achieving proper depth and beating the defender to the spot is his outstanding use of leverage both with pad level and hands to create torque, sustain, and anchor.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) November 4, 2019
Under the Radar: Prince Tega Wanogho
Tega Wanogho is now signed for the second time with the Chiefs, making no starts but proved to be reliable when needed. The 6’5”, 315 pounder is a career journeyman who has had stints with the Eagles, and has been waived by them before the 2020 season started and landed on the Chiefs practice squad. At 25-years-old there is not much time left for Tega Wanogho to land a long-term deal, but based on his tape in 2022 teams likely have him atop their list for a possible trade if their starting LT goes down.
Congratulations Prince Tega Wanogho. pic.twitter.com/HOyML83gvr
— 🐬 @𝗼𝗻𝗲𝗷𝗼𝗯𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗯𝗼𝘆 (@OneJoblessBoy) February 13, 2023