There is plenty of competition on the Kansas City Chiefs roster coming to the surface in camp practices and the first preseason game versus the Texans.
Seven spots are up for grabs
Will we see the preseason stars translate to the regular season, or will the incumbents hold them off for another year?
Keep an eye on these positions when the Chiefs take on the Atlanta Falcons Friday night:
No. 3 quarterback
The Chiefs completely reshaped this position in the offseason, handing the team to Patrick Mahomes. We assume the team will carry three QBs going into the regular season. It would be logical to structure it in the following way: starter, veteran backup, developmental player. Chad Henne was brought in for the veteran backup, and there’s little question that he goes into the season as the No. 2.
The interest comes after that, as undrafted free agent rookie Chase Litton’s stock is up daily in camp and was in the first preseason game. According to our own Pete Sweeney, Litton may have the second-best arm on the Chiefs roster. He’s looked accurate and poised, especially for an undrafted free agent.
Matt McGloin is his competition, and he hasn’t fared badly, but if the Chiefs see the position the way we do, Litton has a real shot of being the developmental No. 3, and future No. 2 if he continues how he started.
Prediction: It’s Litton for the No. 3 after Mahomes and Henne
Running back depth
The Chiefs are returning the NFL’s leading rusher, but from the look of things, he won’t be likely to repeat. This isn’t a knock on Kareem Hunt, but a testament to the depth behind him. Spencer Ware returns to the No. 2 job, with his ability to run people over and be a factor in the passing game. Look for Ware to share the workload with Hunt.
The real competition is for the third down/receiving back. Charcandrick West is the incumbent, but he’s missed much of camp with a concussion. Damien Williams went out with an injury of his own this week but has looked fantastic from what we’ve seen so far. Fans are excited about Darrel Williams, the undrafted free agent out of LSU. He’s certainly shown some ability, but with the slew of veterans the Chiefs brought in, he’ll have to beat out several talented guys to make the initial 53.
Prediction: Hunt, Ware, Damien Williams all get significant touches. The Chiefs might carry four RBs (plus Sherman). If so, the fourth will need to be a stud on special teams, so it’ll come down to West (if healthy) or Kerwynn. I think Darrel starts on the practice squad, unless the Chiefs fear he could be poached by another team.
No. 3 tight end
Another year worth of offseason moves, and Chiefs fans are still hoping for someone to unseat Demetrius Harris as Travis Kelce’s cohort. Harris will have a one-game suspension, but he looks to be in the team’s plans as the second TE when available. That leaves some interesting options for the No. 3 job.
Jace Amaro has performed well in camp as a receiving TE, but he struggles blocking, including one play that apparently had the coaches fuming. At camp, one player stood out in my eyes, along with several other observers. Alex Ellis, a 25-year-old former undrafted free agent that has been with the Saints, Titans and Jaguars, is improving his stock, getting open and making catches on a regular basis. Tim Wright is another name that people recognize, but he hasn’t made a splash yet, and appears to be on the bottom of the depth chart.
Prediction: Kelce, Harris, Ellis and Amaro make the roster Week 1, but Amaro is released when Harris returns from suspension.
Wide receiver depth
As usual, wide receivers are the most entertaining group in training camp. Practices and drills often favor the offensive players, especially the fast and athletic ones. When the lights come on for real game action, many of them come down to earth.
This year, it’s Marcus Kemp and Byron Pringle making plays every day, building excitement in a fanbase that’s rooting for them. Demarcus Robinson has been spectacular as well, leading many to believe he could move up on the depth chart and become an impact player. Gehrig Dieter has become best friends with Mahomes, and made some plays in camp, and Blake Mack is an intriguing talent as a former tight end.
Prediction: We return to reality after the Chiefs break camp. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley sit atop the depth chart, Demarcus Robinson and De’Anthony Thomas stick around another year but don’t make a big impact and the final spot goes to Jehu Chesson or Marcus Kemp for special teams only.
Starting left offensive guard
Much to the disappointment of fans and AP staff, this isn’t really even a position battle at this point. Cameron Erving is your unquestioned starter. Parker Ehinger has been working as a backup, getting reps at right tackle in practice. Bryan Witzmann is listed on the depth chart as the backup right tackle, but he has been practicing at both guard positions as well. Neither of these veterans, nor newcomer Ryan Hunter seem to be a threat to Erving at this point.
Prediction: Erving is the opening-day starter, until injury or ineffectiveness leads to the return of Witzmann.
Inside linebacker depth
The Chiefs dynamic duo of Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens will be the tone-setters for the 2018 defense, assuming they can stay healthy. Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe are the incumbents behind them, but both struggled mightily in the first preseason game. Undrafted rookies turning heads include Ben Niemann, the rookie from Iowa and Raymond Davison out of Cal. Niemann, in particular, has honored the No. 56 jersey, looking quick and decisive in run support. The real emerging story is that of Dorian O’Daniel. A potential dynamic player coming in the fourth round of this year’s draft, he’s still learning his place in the Chiefs defense. But, they have a plan for him, and I expect we’ll see it play out on the field as the preseason continues.
Prediction: Ragland, Hitchens and O’Daniel are locks, and Eligwe likely sticks around for versatility and special teams. So, it’ll come down to whether the coaches believe in Niemann or Davison over Terrance Smith. And I’m not sure they do... yet.
Saving the most concerning position group for last, it might also be the one with the most upside. Kendall Fuller looks like a star, and the team appears content with Steven Nelson and David Amerson as the other starters. I don’t buy into the panic over Amerson that arose from his eight snaps against Houston. These first three should be a pretty solid group.
After that, there’s a significant dropoff, at least in terms of experience, as three rookies are making names for themselves in St. Joseph. Arrion Springs, Tremon Smith and D’Montre Wade are earning significant snaps on defense and special teams. Your second-team corners are all undrafted free agent rookies. I don’t think there’s much doubt that at least two, if not all three of these guys make the roster. Keith Reaser and Will Redmond are the guys that Chiefs GM Brett Veach mentioned early in the offseason as guys he knows can play. But, they haven’t impressed as much as the trio of rookies. Makinton Dorleant and Step Durham each have shown traits that could at least earn a practice squad job.
Prediction: Fuller, Nelson, Amerson, Smith, Springs and Wade might just be the corner group, and a microcosm of the team: young, aggressive, with upside, but unproven.