Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs were a team with most of its starters returning. The primary focus of this year’s draft was adding depth for the team’s “Run It Back” campaign while also building for the future. General Manager Brett Veach addressed day-one fits with the selections of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Willie Gay Jr. in rounds one and two, respectively. He then secured a future starter in third-round pick Lucas Niang.
Niang, a tackle prospect who played partial sophomore and senior seasons due to injury but a full junior year at TCU, is a physically gifted player. At 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, he has the desired size and athleticism to be a successful starter. He moves well in space and packs just enough punch to keep opposing defensive linemen and linebackers honest, which are both musts along the Chiefs’ offensive line. He played through a hip labrum injury in his final season with the Horned Frogs, which led to his slide in the draft.
With both of the starting offensive tackle positions set in stone for 2020, it’s believed that Niang will be allowed to compete at guard to start off. He certainly projects as more of a tackle, but spending time at guard should allow Niang to improve the inconsistent footwork he displayed on tape in college. Fixing that will go a long way towards making him a more complete lineman. The athletic ability and football IQ are already there for him to thrive, regardless of position.
With that said, Niang should eventually transition back to tackle and take over for Eric Fisher or Mitchell Schwartz down the road. Schwartz is a top right tackle in the league, so he should finish out his contract with the team — it expires after the 2021 season. The Chiefs can save over $11 million by cutting Fisher ahead of the 2021 campaign, so it may take just a year’s worth of waiting in the wings for Niang to resume playing at his natural position. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ imminent contract extension could play a major role in the decision-making process as well.
From 2017-2019, Niang didn’t allow a single sack, and while his 3.1% pressure rate can be improved upon, it can at least be partially attributed to his injury. His 2018 tape is a lot more consistent and impressive than his film from last year. When healthy, Niang is quick on his feet, can get out in the open field, clears space for his running backs and is much better as a pass protector. The Chiefs are willing to wait, and they should be rewarded for their patience.
Veach knew exactly what he was doing when he took Niang at pick No. 96. Not only was he getting a future starter at a premium position, but he also may have saved a hefty chunk of 2021 cap space in the process. Niang enters a low-pressure situation where he can get healthy and fix his minor issues in year one, then potentially take over in year two. He has the potential to offer much better than third-round value by the time it’s all said and done.