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Will Darian Kinnard Continue Chiefs' Trend of Day One Lineman Starters?

Can Kinnard factor into the Chiefs' changing philosophy along the front line?

Long before the days of Patrick Mahomes’ no-look passes and choreographed spin move trick plays in the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs ascended to the top of the AFC in a stylistically-different way: an impenetrable, king-sized offensive line. In anchoring an offense that led in the NFL in rushing touchdowns in each of 2002, 2003 and 2004, those maulers up front were considered not long ago to be the “best offensive line of this century” largely due to their physicality, versatility and IQ.

It’d certainly be premature to liken the current-day Chiefs offensive line to that of one featuring two Hall of Famers. With that said, there’s a case to be made that the mentality is remarkably similar. In selecting Kentucky Wildcats lineman Darian Kinnard with the No. 145 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Chiefs, in theory, made their intentions clear: They intend to bully opposing defensive fronts in 2022-23.

University of Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Tuesday, July 20, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.] Sec Media Days Kentucky

It hasn’t even been three weeks since Kansas City’s selection of Kinnard on Day Three, but those with a general pulse on the Chiefs’ offensive line situation can’t help but get excited about the potential SmackDown! that Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and now, Kinnard can lay on opposing defenders. This is showcased by Smith’s ruthless trap block against the Giants last season. In consecutive years, Brett Veach has approached the draft searching for nastiness along the interior, and few among this year’s class bring that to the degree that Kinnard does.

That Kinnard was even available at pick No. 145 is viewed as reason to believe the Chiefs were among the NFL’s best in finding elite value. Kinnard, a consensus All-American in 2021, was viewed by many as a second or third-rounder. As evidenced in his early Q&A sessions, the realization that the NFL’s entirety passed on him multiple times isn’t lost on him. You can hear it in his voice. 

The only thing more enticing than snagging a Day Two talent on Day Three? Snagging that talent and having him anxious to make the other 31 teams regret it. Given the chance to be Veach for a day, this photograph would be somewhere inside GEHA Field for opposing teams to walk by on their way to the field.

All accounts point to there being no definitive timetable for Lucas Niang’s return from his torn patellar tendon. Momentarily, that leaves Kinnard in a tug-of-war with Andrew Wylie, an admirable spot-starter from a season ago, for the right tackle job.

In theory, Kinnard's collegiate résumé gives him a puncher's chance right away. Per Pro Football Focus, Kinnard allowed just four QB hurries, two QB hits and a single sack over 414 passing snaps. He also remained a focal point for Wildcats running back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. (1,378 yards, 6.1 yards per carry!) in Kentucky’s zone-heavy scheme, be it on the edge or moving up to the second level.

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For Kinnard to win the right tackle job on day one — or in the words of Isiah Pacheco, “take a grown man’s job” — it would mean that many of the well-documented “flaws” to his game (lack of foot speed, remaining balanced, strengthening his technique) were all pluses leading into the regular season. 

With the likes of Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Maxx Crosby on the schedule in the very first month, one would have to imagine Kinnard having a remarkable summer if he's viewed as an early starter by offensive line coach Andy Heck and head coach Andy Reid.

Nov 21, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid watches play against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Reid gave a vote of confidence in last Monday’s presser when asked about early impressions on Kinnard at right tackle:

Yeah, I kind of liked him. Strong. He’s put together. Long arms. Big, thick, moves well. He looked competitive for what we were doing out here. So, I liked what I saw there. He seems like a real sharp kid, though. He picked up everything very easy.

As Kinnard himself alluded to, the Trey Smith similarities are very evident. Just last year, the Chiefs became the first team since 1969 to start three rookies in Week 1, and Smith who, similarly, ended up being a Day Three selection in 2021, proved to be one of the reasons the results turned out to be fruitful. 

Interestingly enough, those early-2000s Chiefs were built in a similar fashion with Hall of Famer Will Shields being a third-rounder and Pro Bowlers Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann being undrafted altogether. That one-of-a-kind group would compete to see which side, the right or left, could dominate the most.

Nov 21, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) celebrates with guard Trey Smith (65) and center Creed Humphrey (52) after scoring against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In Smith's case, though, his 78.2 run-blocking grade proved to be the best for a Chiefs guard in nine years. More importantly, he joined Humphrey, Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown Jr., Niang and others in creating a potentially-dominant front line, particularly on the ground.

The Chiefs’ reticence when it comes to leaning further in the run has been discussed in detail before. To a degree, it’s understandable with a player like Mahomes under center. The end results of the 2022 NFL Draft, however, show a team that intends to get nastier. In Kinnard, they get a player whose arms measure at an 83 ¼-inch wingspan, hands that stretch to 11 ¼-inches and — perhaps most of all — shoulders with chips on them, anxious to prove the rest of the NFL wrong right away.