Chiefs have reasons to think gamble on Cameron Erving will pay off

New Chiefs offensive tackle Cameron Erving (right) played center for the Browns last season before he was moved to right tackle late in the season.
New Chiefs offensive tackle Cameron Erving (right) played center for the Browns last season before he was moved to right tackle late in the season. The Associated Press

The last two years have been anything but easy for new Chiefs offensive tackle Cameron Erving.

When Erving, who was acquired by the Chiefs last week for a 2018 fifth-round pick, was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 19th overall pick in 2015, he was hailed as a potential plug-and-play starter, someone with the size, length and agility to make an immediate impact.

Kansas City Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor analyzes new Chiefs offensive lineman Cameron Erving, whose trade landed during Facebook Live. Paylor had already studied Erving on tape and provided his scouting.

Instead, the 6-foot-5, 313-pounder labored through two difficult seasons, starting 17 out of 32 possible regular-season games for a team that proceeded to go a combined 4-28 during that time.

“Man … tough times don’t last,” Erving said. “Tough people do.”

Toughness has been required from Erving. From a personal standpoint, he’s failed to settle into a position, as he shifted from guard to center to tackle and never found his groove at any spot.

Still, it says a lot about how much the Chiefs still think of his talent that they surrendered a precious draft pick to acquire his services this year, something they made sure to tell Erving immediately upon trading for him.

“They told me they liked my ability when I was coming out (for the draft), and they wanted to draft me, but things happen,” Erving said.

That thing, by the way, was cornerback Marcus Peters unexpectedly being available with the 18th pick, where the Chiefs took him one spot ahead of Erving.

And while the two players’ careers have gone in opposite directions — Peters has made the Pro Bowl twice — the 25-year-old Erving is confident he can, with the Chiefs’ help, still tap into the potential that caused the Chiefs and many other teams to ponder selecting him in the first round in the first place.

“It means a lot — having people that believe in you, along with believing in yourself, that’s key,” Erving said. “It’s a good feeling to come to work every day and have those conversations.”

Erving has only been in Kansas City a few days, but he can already sense things will be different than they were in Cleveland.

“Honestly, the organization, it’s a complete 180 as far as the atmosphere around here,” Erving said. “It kind of reminds me college, at Florida State. It feels good to be somewhere where things are in order.”

But if Erving, who has had issues in pass protection in the pros, is going to tap into his potential, the onus will be on him to correct his flaws. He says he is committed to taking consistent pass sets, being more patient with his hands and keeping good body balance, all areas that led to his struggles in Cleveland.

None of the these things, by the way, are a surprise to the Chiefs, who have done their homework on Erving since he arrived in the pros.

“We feel we’ll have the ability to correct some technical stuff with his game,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “We saw the tape and he needs to get better, and I think Cam will tell you when he watches the tape it’s not something that he’s proud of.”

But Veach believes there were other reasons for Erving’s struggles, too, some that were out of his control. For one, he essentially struck a line through Erving’s rookie year, when Veach believes he was miscast as a guard, where squattier defenders could consistently get leverage on him due to his long arms.

Guard, by the way, was a position he hardly played at Florida State, where he started 37 games at left tackle and five at center.

“When he first came out you get enamored by the size, length, speed and the numbers and you think he can play any position,” Veach said. “I think when you go back in retrospect and look at his play, the one position that wasn’t going to be a strong suit was guard, and he played guard the entire rookie year.”

So the Browns moved Erving to center last year, where Veach said he started improving, at least until he suffered a lung contusion that cost him a few games. He was eventually moved to right tackle late in the season, where he remained through this preseason — while battling a calf injury — until the trade to Kansas City.

The plan is to keep Erving, who started 13 games a year ago, at tackle — at least initially — and let him get used to that.

“The kid is a tough kid — he’s competitive, he’s going to fit right into this room,” Veach said. “We believe in our staff and we believe in our coaching.”

If Erving does pan out as a Chief, he’ll essentially turn out to be a low-risk, high-upside option as a backup swing tackle. He will only cost the Chiefs approximately $3 million combined in 2017 and 2018, and if they opt to pick up his fifth-year option, they’ll have him under club control in 2019, too.

But Erving isn’t worried about any of that right now. He loves the game of football, he says, and is committed to getting his career back on track.

“It’s important to me, because it’s always been important,” Erving said. “The last two years haven’t changed anything about my love for football, about how I feel about the game. I want to be the best I can be.

“I believe in myself — I’ve always believed in myself. And I’m in a place now where I feel like I can do what I need to do. I’m just looking forward.”