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Chiefs roster cuts: Still plenty of tough decisions to make

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs 2015 training camp has wrapped up, the final preseason game is near and the first round of cuts have been made. Most of the roster spots are fairly comfortably locked up by players who won't play on Thursday.

What is left for the team to decide and for us to debate? With the Chiefs cutting their roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday, there's plenty...

1) Will it be Fred Williams or Frankie Hammond, Jr. (or maybe Da'Ron Brown) for the final WR roster spot(s)?

For fringe roster guys, all they can be reasonably expected to do is produce when given an opportunity. No one has done more in their preseason game action than Fred Williams. Thirteen catches on 13 targets, 159 yards and three touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has Fred with an impressive +5.4 overall score for the preseason thus far.

For us as fans, it makes sense that if a guy plays his heart out in the preseason, and does everything he could possibly do, then he SHOULD make the roster. However, there are obviously other factors and sometimes the roster numbers just don't work out in a guy's favor.

Frankie Hammond, Jr. has also been productive in the preseason (nine catches, 104 yards, one touchdown) and has been a coaches' favorite on special teams with De'Anthony Thomas out. Hammond earned time on the regular season roster and suited up for all 16 games last year. For the 2014 season, he ended up with just four catches for 45 yards. PFF was mostly neutral on Hammond, giving him a +0.3 for the preseason thus far.

Da'Ron Brown has been mostly quiet but as a Chiefs draft pick he may have a leg up on a roster spot -- all other things equal. He's shown some physical ability but is considered very raw.

2) Will it be Nick Williams, Hebron Fangupo or Rakeem Nunez-Roches for the the final d-line spot?

The Chiefs defensive line is a formidable group that will only get better as Dontari Poe returns and guys like Mike Catapano, Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey continue to improve. There appears to be room for one more depth player on the initial 53 man roster.

Nick Williams got some work in with the first team in the third preseason game, and ended up with four tackles, two stops and a QB hurry, though PFF gave him a -0.9 overall.

Rakeem Nunez-Roches was considered a good value for the Chiefs in the sixth round but is likely a guy that needs some time before becoming a regular contributor. He's a developmental prospect that the Chiefs will likely want to keep around in some capacity.

Hebron Fangupo is a big guy at 331 pounds that has played fairly solid in the preseason, earning a +0.1 from PFF.

3) Will the Chiefs carry eight, nine or even 10 offensive linemen?

The top of the depth chart SHOULD be the starting five, if healthy by Week 1: Eric Fisher, Ben Grubbs, Mitch Morse, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson

The backups are almost assuredly going to be: Paul Fanaika, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Eric Kush and Zach Fulton.

Jarrod Pughsley is the only UDFA-type that's really challenging the above group. PFF hasn't been kind to him, with a -4.6 so far in the preseason but coaches seem pleased with his play and have rewarded him with first team snaps (after Fisher and Allen were hurt).

I think it's still most likely that the nine listed above as starters and backups will be on the initial 53 man roster. However, there are a few hints that could bring that assumption into question.

  • Kush began the offseason as the starter at center and leader of the o-line. Now that Mitch Morse has been named the starter, could Kush's roster spot be in jeopardy?
  • In the final preseason game vs the Rams, Fulton will take some snaps at center ... could they be preparing him for a role where he'd back up all three interior spots? Or is it a last chance for Fulton to show his ability for the Chiefs as well as the rest of the league before he gets cut (or traded)?
  • Paul Fanaika spent plenty of the offseason on the third string, and he's listed as the third string LG on the latest depth chart. Is his roster spot in jeopardy? He did start at RT in the preseason games, but to most of us, he didn't appear to play particularly well.
  • LDT has been given ample opportunity to display his abilities this preseason but has struggled at times. By most accounts, he has flashed the talent the Chiefs are looking for but he has yet to find the consistency to allow him to be a regular contributor. Will the Chiefs give up on their "project" ?
  • With the rumored (and debatable) interest in Evan Mathis, could the Chiefs be in the market for a new RG and/or OT that would make one or more of these guys expendable?  Names like Andy Levitre and Donald Thomas are / will be available within the next few days as teams slash rosters down to 53.

4) Will Demetrius Harris be healthy enough to hold down the third TE job, or will they have to carry a fourth TE on the roster?

Harris should see his first game action of the season against St Louis.  The Chiefs really need him to be healthy and ready to go for the regular season, even if he's not a huge contributor... he's valuable depth and has become a solid blocker.  Ryan Taylor and Richard Gordon are the other TEs on the roster as of now, but it's reasonable to believe the Chiefs may look to the waiver wire for help if Harris isn't going to be ready to play.

5) What to do with the ILBs?

This group is exponentially better with Derrick Johnson healthy and making plays. Josh Mauga signed an extension and is the presumed starter when healthy. Rookie Ramik Wilson has been playing well in Mauga's absence (PFF +0.1 overall, four stops, 10 tackles and an interception in the first three preseason games). These three are your locks at ILB.

James-Michael Johnson has been a mainstay on special teams, but was a bit exposed as a starter last year and figures to be on the roster bubble this weekend. Justin March showed great promise in camp, but will spend this season on IR.

Frank Zombo is the guy who could really change how many ILBs the Chiefs keep.  He's shown the ability to play inside and outside, as well as being a top special teams contributor. If Zombo makes the 53, the team could decide to carry one less ILB, and perhaps keep Dezman Moses and Josh Martin at OLB, or use the extra spot on another position.

The difficult decisions would be to keep JMJ for special teams, or part with the veteran ... or keep DJ Alexander as a developmental player who may not contribute this year or try to get him on the practice squad.

When making these decisions, practice squad eligibility has to be a factor

If a gplayer is eligible for the practice squad, and the team believes he can pass through waivers unclaimed, the 10-man practice squad is a good way to keep a developmental prospect around.  So, even though a player doesn't make the initial 53 it doesn't mean his Chiefs tenure is over.

Players are eligible for the practice squad if they meet the following criteria:

Players who do not have an accrued season (Definition below).

Accrued Season definition - CBA - Article 8 - Section 1:

(a) "A player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games."

Clubs are provided two exemptions to sign players with a maximum of two accrued seasons in which the player was on the active roster for more than nine games.

If the above exemption is no longer available, no player with an accrued season or seasons is eligible unless they: "were on the (team's) Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s)." CBA - Article 33 - Section 4 (a)

A player can only spend three years on a practice squad and will no longer be eligible after they have earned those seasons. They must be a member of a team's practice squad for six games, during one season, in order to lose a year of eligibility.

Based on the above rules, I believe* that these players would have standard practice squad eligibility:

  • Fred Williams (practice squad in 2014, no regular season experience)
  • Jarrod Pughsley (third year in the league, yet to appear in a game, spent time on practice squads)
  • Da'Ron Brown (rookie)
  • DJ Alexander (rookie)
  • Nick Williams (Steelers IR in 2013)
  • Rakeem Nunez-Roches (rookie)

Then I believe* these players would be eligible for one of the two spots available for players with two years experience:

  • Eric Kush (on 53 man roster for all of 2013 and 2014, only appeared in three games)
  • Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (on 53 man roster for all of 2014, didn't appear in a game)
  • Frankie Hammond, Jr (spent time on practice squad in 2013, was on 53 for all 16 games in 2014)
  • Hebron Fangupo (three seasons, appeared in five games)

*Practice squad rules are notoriously confusing but after looking up the service time on these players I believe it to be accurate. Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

So, when watching the Chiefs final preseason, even though there won't be any starters on the field, there will be players fighting for their NFL careers, and forcing the Kansas City Chiefs into some very tough decisions when they assemble their initial 53 man roster and 10 man practice squad this weekend.

Keep an eye out for the above players, and see who helps (or hurts) their case, and see if it has an effect on John Dorsey's decisions.