Cyrus Kouandjio could be the poster boy for anonymous NFL players. As an offensive lineman, he’s automatically high on the list of guys whose names you don’t hear. But four years after being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he’s even less well known than most. He so far under the radar that most fans don’t realize he started a game for the Denver Broncos in 2017.
Let’s make this guy a bit less anonymous, because he might end up being more important to the Broncos’ success in 2018 than most fans would expect.
Name: Cyrus Kouandjio
Position: Offensive Tackle
Weight: 322 lbs
Experience: 5th Season
Kouandjio, born July 21, 1993 in Cameroon, immigrated to the US when he was five. He attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyatsville, Maryland and then attended the University of Alabama. Making 27 starts for the Crimson Tide from 2011 through 2013, he was a member of two National Championship winning teams. Kouandjio entered the draft after his Junior season, having collected first team All-American and first team All Southeastern Conference accolades.
The Buffalo Bills selected Kouandjio with the 44th overall pick of the 2014 draft. Expected to immediately step in at right tackle for Buffalo, he instead flopped. Horrible preseason showings resulted in Kouandjio quickly being relegated to a footnote role in the Bills’ 2014 season. And frankly, his 2015 season was only a bit better. He racked up 227 snaps across 12 games played, with two starts. It was definitely a slow start to his career.
2016 saw Kouandjio nearly double his snap count, with his 406 snaps coming in at just under 40% of the team’s offensive snaps. That included five starts and spot duty in 7 other games, with an injury interrupting him mid-season. His career definitely got off to a slow start.
The 2017 offseason was a bit of a nightmare for Kouandjio. In January, he slipped in the shower and injured his hip badly enough to require surgery. Then later in the offseason he finally made the news, but unfortunately it was due to a very strange incident involving him being found undressed in a field. He was not arrested, though, and required medical attention. So while that incident is a definite concern and more than a little odd, there’s a mitigating factor.
The Bills cut him last May and he spent the rest of the offseason and preseason with the Detroit Lions, who put him on the Non-Football Injury list before cutting him. The Broncos, who signed him on November 7th when Menelik Watson went on IR, are his third NFL team.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable at this point to be wondering why the Broncos even bothered with Kouandjio. A bit of doubt about the headline is certainly understandable. So what’s the silver lining?
For all of his struggles getting onto the field, when Kouandjio actually gets into the game he’s actually not bad. Obviously, he’s not a Pro Bowler or anything, but he’s yet to receive an overall season grade below 71.7 from Pro Football Focus and has never had a negative overall grade for a season via PFF’s advanced stats. There’s some sample size concern there, but that’s really not bad across 700+ snaps played. And that includes a positive grade for his Week 17 start against the Kansas City Chiefs last year, his only start so far for the Broncos.
For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at his competition for the swing tackle role: Menelik Watson. Watson has never received an overall season PFF grade above 56. And his advanced stats season grades? Across the four years of his career, all were negative and they average to -11.5. That lands Watson at about 50th best offensive tackle across the last four seasons (and he’s got only about twice as many career snaps as Kouandjio).
If, and that’s admittedly a big if, Kouandjio ends up with significant playing time in 2018 and plays as well as he did to earn his existing grades, that level of performance would land him around 30th or so in the offensive tackle rankings. In other words, he’d grade out as an average starter. I don’t know about you, but after the parade of futility we’ve endured at RT for the last several seasons, I’d take an average starter there without a second thought. And it could just be that he’s one of those guys who shines on the field of play, not the field of practice.
There’s plenty of reason to doubt Kouandjio. But there’s also some good reason to be intrigued. Watch this dude in camp.
We’ll see if there’s any fire, but at least there was a little smoke at the Broncos’ offseason minicamp. With anticipated starter Jared Veldheer still rehabbing an injury, head coach Vance Joseph was asked if the backup tackles were taking advantage of the opportunity for more snaps. Kouandjio’s was the first name on his lips.
“Yes, especially Kouandjio. He’s gotten better. He’s healthier than he was last year. He’s had some good days and so has Billy. Billy’s going to play some guard for us also. Billy’s a guy who can play guard or tackle, and that’s special in this league. He can play left guard, right guard, right tackle or left tackle. We’ve definitely got a spot for a guy like that, but obviously [T] Jared [Veldheer] is going to be a guy that we look to be our right tackle during training camp.”
Most sources currently have Cyrus Kouandjio listed as a third stringer on the offensive tackle depth chart. That means he’s in a serious competition to earn a roster spot. But with Menelik Watson’s pathetic showing in 2017, the swing tackle job should be wide open. Based on what he does in actual games, whether Kouandjio takes it or not may be entirely up to him.