An unstoppable force met an immovable object in Super Bowl LIV, and the immovable object won. Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs entered the big game down both of their starting tackles, and that ended up being the difference in the 31-9 loss. With Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz both cap casualties, the Chiefs will need to find somebody to shore up the tackle position, and that somebody could be TCU’s Lucas Niang.
Kansas City Chiefs X-Factors: Lucas Niang
Lucas Niang originally entered the league as a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Selected by the Kansas City Chiefs, the TCU product was supposed to compete for one of the top backup positions and possibly move inside to guard. Most draft experts project Niang to be a late second or early third-round selection, so grabbing him with the 96th overall pick ended up being a solid value.
However, the rookie opted out of the 2020 season thanks to COVID-19. From a purely on-field standpoint, this move dealt a massive blow to Kansas City’s offensive line depth, as Niang figured to be the top backup at both tackle and guard. As injuries started to pile up, Kansas City simply didn’t have the bodies to field a competent offensive line.
The offensive line still looks like a weakness, but Niang’s presence could go a long way in fixing this issue. If the season started tomorrow, Martinas Rankin and Mike Remmers would be the starting tackles. Both players are below-average starters, with Rankin being fairly close to an active liability. If Niang can even be a league-average starter, then he would represent a massive upgrade on either player. However, there are some obstacles standing in the way of that goal.
What Lucas Niang Needs to Overcome
Outside of quarterback, offensive tackles might have the hardest transition from college to the NFL level. While Division 1 edge rushers are obviously phenomenal athletes in their own right, they can’t hold a candle to the average NFL pass rusher. Having never played even a preseason snap, Niang will need to prove that he can handle the higher level of competition.
The TCU product has the size to succeed at tackle, checking in at 6’-6” and 315 pounds with 34 ¼” arms. However, based on his college tape, Niang will need to improve his technique. While he was solid in the run game, the offensive tackle needs to refine his overall technique in the passing game. He wastes too many steps in standard pass protection, and his hands often miss his intended target.
The good news is that these are fixable flaws, and a year away from the game might have actually been good for him. Niang presumably continued his training throughout 2020 and had an entire year to iron out the flaws in his technique.
For what it’s worth, the team appears to believe in Niang’s ability to succeed at tackle. Even after losing Schwartz and Fisher, the team didn’t address the tackle position in free agency. They did, however, spend big on superstar guard Joe Thuney. After Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City would not have done this if they didn’t believe Niang had what it takes to thrive at offensive tackle.
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