Reggie McKenzie kept telling his son that if his Oakland Raiders were going to draft him last week, it would require making the switch from mammoth defensive tackle to bruising offensive guard.
Turns out the general manager’s counterparts in Kansas City had the same idea.
So when the elder McKenzie, sitting in the Oakland draft room, saw Chiefs general manager Brett Veach calling him, a wry smile crossed his face. The most bitter of AFC West rivals were trading up to take Kahlil McKenzie in the sixth round — with every intention of flipping him to offense.
“I told him, ‘It’s your conspiracy. You did this,’” Kahlil McKenzie recalls telling his pop, himself a longtime NFL linebacker before becoming a front-office exec. “He always wanted me to play offensive line. He said I could play the position a lot different, somebody that knows what defensive linemen are going to do and somebody who can move a lot better than a lot of offensive linemen.”
The Chiefs are gambling on precisely the same line of thinking.
McKenzie drew plenty of interest at defensive tackle when he declared for the draft after his junior season at Tennessee. But when the Chiefs showed up at his pro day, they worked him out at guard, and he merely outperformed three other traditional offensive line prospects.
His athleticism and measurables — including his stout trunk and huge lower body — also project nicely to the interior of the offensive line, where McKenzie’s raw power would best be displayed.
“This kid is going to look like a first-round pick. He’s an impressive looking player,” Veach said. “He’s a draftable talent just as a defensive lineman and he would certainly be on an NFL roster this coming fall if he just played defensive line. But when you watched him at his pro day, he just had such a good workout at guard. It looked natural to him.”
McKenzie played both sides of the offensive line in high school, but he was stuck at defensive tackle by the Vols out of necessity. His production wound up keeping him there for three seasons.
Still, one has to wonder what he could have been had he played offensive line all this time.
“The kid has tremendous physical gifts,” Veach said, “and again, I don’t know exactly how long this will take because he hasn’t played offensive line a long time.”
The task of turning him into a blocker begins Saturday when the Chiefs open a three-day rookie minicamp. McKenzie is expected on the field along with the rest of the Kansas City draft class — all defensive players that are planning to stay on that side of the ball.
“All the things and traits you look at with him, you could see that this kid might have a shot as an offensive guard,” said Chiefs area scout Pat Sperduto, who has watched McKenzie the last few years, and was able to draw comparisons to at least two success stories.
J.R. Sweezy was a standout linebacker and defensive end at North Carolina State, Sperduto said, before becoming a solid offensive guard with the Seahawks and Buccaneers. Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers spent time as a defensive lineman at Army before becoming a standout NFL left tackle.
McKenzie also had the same team-first attitude as Sweezy and Villanueva when it came to the switch.
“I said, ‘What if we drafted you as an offensive guard?’ He said, ‘I’d be willing to do anything. I just want to play football. I want to be a good player in the league,’” Sperduto said.
Even if it happened to be for his father’s biggest rival.
“I got a text from Charles Woodson. He said, ’Your son has to retire. There’s no way he’s going to put that red helmet on his head,’” Reggie McKenzie said. “Part of me felt that way, but in all seriousness, it’s a good opportunity for him, and I was hoping that he landed at a spot that will kind of grow him to that position. He can play D-tackle but he probably could be special on the offensive line.”
Kahlil McKenzie certainly thinks so. He brashly predicted that he’s going to eventually help the Chiefs “whoop up” on the Raiders, along with everybody else in the NFL.
“My dad’s happy for me. The rest of the family, they’re happy as well,” he said. “It’s just going to make for a lot more family rivalries. We’re a competitive family at nature. We compete at everything we do. This just adds one more ripple into that.”
Source: Associated Press