Mitchell Schwartz was chosen by Cleveland in the second round of the 2012 draft with the idea he could be the next Joe Thomas, or at the very least learn from the Browns' star offensive tackle.
Well, he did learn a lot of lessons. The biggest may have been durability.
Thomas once played 10,363 consecutive snaps over the span of 11 seasons before hurting his left arm in a game against Tennessee. The streak that began with Week 1 of his rookie year and survived a slew of injuries, including torn and strained knee ligaments and multiple high ankle sprains.
Schwartz, who returns to Cleveland for the first time on the opposing sideline Sunday, has his own incredible streak going now that he's with the Kansas City Chiefs.
After playing every snap his first four seasons with the Browns, and continuing it during the past two-plus seasons in Kansas City, the snap count is up to 6,870 over the course of 104 games.
"He's done a heck of a job being able to endure," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He had a good teacher he learned from, too, in Thomas. He had a nice streak going before he got hurt. Mitch has been tremendous. He's one of the smartest linemen I've ever been around."
Schwartz filled a massive need when the Chiefs signed him to a $33 million, five-year deal, and he has met all expectations. Not only did he help protect Alex Smith during some of his best years, and is now keeping young quarterback Patrick Mahomes clean during his breakout season, Schwartz also paved the way for Kareem Hunt to win last year's NFL rushing title as a rookie.
So far, the Chiefs have allowed just 10 sacks – one behind the New Orleans Saints for the fewest in the league – while leading the NFL in scoring and a number of other offensive categories. Delving deeper into the numbers, the Chiefs have a league-high 13 carries of at least 10 yards while running behind Schwartz on the right side of the offensive line.
In other words, the soft-spoken Schwartz is a big reason why Mahomes leads the NFL in yards passing and Hunt is fourth in the league in yards rushing.
"Those two tackles are really good players, Schwartz and (left tackle Eric) Fisher. They're the best we've played since I've been here," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "They've blocked us one-on-one from time to time and they win a lot against us."
That may be the most incredible part of Schwartz's success rate: It has come against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL, including Broncos linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Elsewhere in the AFC West, he has to deal with the Chargers' Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, and until this past offseason, Raiders star Khalil Mack and his teammate Bruce Irvin.
"I've been very blessed and fortunate to play and coach with a number of offensive linemen, and those guys never get the credit that they deserve," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "They get all the negative flack when they give up a sack or something, but those guys are the ultimate team players because they are going to do whatever it takes to win."
Even if it means playing through bumps and bruises to keep a consecutive snaps streak going.
Schwartz acknowledged this week that it will be odd returning to Cleveland, where he learned from one of the best offensive tackles to ever play the game. He has good memories from playing with the Browns, even if they never won enough, and he's looking forward to seeing some old friends.
Once the game begins, though, Schwartz is only worried about helping Kansas City keep winning.
"We just keep trusting. No one gets upset, starts screaming or any of that stuff," Schwartz said. "We're a pretty good offense and if we go out there and do our jobs, it's pretty hard to stop us."