Kansas City Chiefs' rapid offensive line overhaul has exceeded almost all expectations

Drafting center Creed Humphrey, left, and signing left guard Joe Thuney, right, helped transform the Chiefs' offensive line from a weakness to a strength. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs had high hopes for their offensive line last year after they invested heavily in the position group following a Super Bowl LV loss in which the unit was overwhelmed. They spent free agency dollars on left guard Joe Thuney, traded draft picks to acquire left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens, then selected center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith in the 2021 draft.

They might have exceeded those expectations.

"It worked out better because on one end, we were confident in Orlando and Thuney," general manager Brett Veach said. "On the other end, we had high hopes for Trey and Creed, but those guys playing at the level at which they did certainly was a nice surprise.

"Those are the hopes you have for all the guys you drafted. Sometimes it hits like that. And sometimes it takes time, and sometimes it doesn't at all. So for those guys to come in and be able to play right away was awesome for us."

The Chiefs were second last season in pass block win rate (67.8%) and third in run block win rate (74.0%). Individually among regular starters, Humphrey, a second-round pick from Oklahoma, was the top pass-blocking center (97.7%). Thuney, who was signed to a five-year, $80 million contract after spending five seasons with the New England Patriots, was first among guards in PBWR (96.6%), followed by Smith (96.0%), a sixth-round selection from Tennessee.

The Chiefs are looking for more this season.

"We want to be known this year as one of the most physically dominating lines in the league," Humphrey said. "We have the pieces. We have the guys to do it. That's our whole outlook, to be physical, for the physicality to show through and to make teams know when they're playing us that they're going to be playing against an offensive line that plays through the whistle, that finishes plays and things like that.

"Everybody came in with the willingness to work and a willingness to become better together. Everybody worked really well together. Everybody worked on all of their strengths, all of their weaknesses, and it worked for the best. We look to continue to improve on that in this camp."

Added Thuney: "It started all the way back at the start of [offseason practice], just talking about it, watching film, seeing what we can do to improve, run game, pass game, the whole aspect of offensive line. You always want to be a physical offensive line. It takes all five guys. It starts there and it keeps building and building. Training camp is a great place to grow it even more.

"It's been great having a year under our belt. Obviously, it's early in training camp and there's a lot to get better at, improve on. But so far, so good."

Last year's offensive line rebuild was overdue. The Chiefs spent very little in free agency or early draft picks on their offensive line in the late 2010s. The line broke down during the 2020 season and crumbled completely in their Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes spent much of that 31-9 loss running from a relentless pass rush.

Picking up Brown at left tackle was a major move in the rebuild. The Chiefs sent their 2021 first-round draft choice, along with three other picks, to the Ravens in order to acquire the 6-foot-8, 340-pound tackle. But Brown was 42nd in pass block win rate (87.1%) among tackles who played at least 100 snaps last season. So left tackle is a spot where the Chiefs' offensive line has room for improvement.

"I want to progress in almost every way, shape or form," said Brown, who played right tackle for three seasons in Baltimore before moving to left tackle with the Chiefs. "I want to be a better run blocker, a better pass blocker, a better leader ... allowing them to count on me when they need me the most. That was something that I feel like I struggled with a little bit last year, not putting myself in the best position as games were close on certain third downs or in close games against certain talents."