With the start of Kansas City Chiefs OTAs, we’re getting more of a sense of how the roster is coming together. In this week’s edition of Stagner Things, we’re exploring the upside-down world of the roster bubble.
For returning players, the bubble isn’t where you want to be — fighting for a job with waves of potential replacements coming in via draft, free agency and trades.
For most rookies, they are happy to earn bubble status. Aside from those drafted in the first three rounds, the bubble represents an opportunity, and just being in the conversation is a good thing.
Some thoughts below on which Chiefs are on notice, both good and bad, after the first week of OTAs.
1. CB Tremon Smith
Smith made a name for himself on special teams in 2018 as a rookie but hasn’t yet found his path to significant contributions at the cornerback position. There is plenty of concern going into the season about the Chiefs lack of significant additions at corner after struggling in coverage last season and letting two veterans walk.
Logically, that should mean that there’s an opportunity for a guy like Tremon Smith to step up into a more significant role. But, the top three spots are reasonably certain with Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller and Charvarius Ward. There are promising rookies that will compete in training camp, like Mark Fields and Rashad Fenton, along with Keith Reaser. If Smith hasn’t shown significant improvement on defense, he’ll again be leaning on his special teams ability to make the roster. The problem with that path is that the team’s top draft pick, Mecole Hardman, is a dynamic kick and punt returner.
2. TE John Lovett
The tight end position is wide open after the departure of Demetrius Harris. There should be a healthy competition between Blake Bell, Deon Yelder, John Phillips and David Wells.
But Lovett is a really intriguing guy that could play his way on to the roster. Andy Reid and Brett Veach seem excited about his potential as a former quarterback who likes to mix it up as a fullback and tight end. He’s certainly one to watch, and if he can make some plays and become a core special teams contributor, he could save the Chiefs a roster spot by potentially filling multiple roles.
3. LB Reggie Ragland
From the moment the Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator, it became difficult to find a spot in the defense for Ragland. Some have assumed he’d be the starting MIKE (middle linebacker), but if it’s based on traditional 4-3 roles and skill sets, that should be Anthony Hitchens.
If there were any doubt, the trade for Derron Lee would seem to indicate there is a demand for more speed at the linebacker spots. Ragland is a prototypical 3-4 SILB, but his ability is strictly in a downhill capacity and doesn’t translate as well to the 4-3. Now with the potential of a Lee-Hitchens-Wilson base group of starters, Ragland is relegated to a backup role. But he doesn’t have the speed for sub-packages and doesn’t really play special teams. Ragland may be in competition with Ben Niemann, Gary Johnson and Darius Harris for the sixth linebacker spot.
4. UDFA WRs Cody Thompson and Jamal Custis
It happens every season. Fans get excited about undrafted free agents at the wide receiver position. Quite often, it’s false hope, but there is reason to believe in these two Chiefs rookies. The team thought enough of both to pay above the going rate for their services (in the case of Custis, a six figure guarantee which is unheard of)—not to mention the fact that there are significant snaps up for grabs with the departure of Chris Conley and the uncertain status of Tyreek Hill.
Thompson and Custis will both get the opportunity to put themselves on the bubble, but they’ll need to prove they can contribute more than guys like Gehrig Dieter and Marcus Kemp, especially when it comes to special teams.
5. RB Darrel Williams
We liked Darrel’s potential last season, but then Damien Williams broke out near the end of 2018. In the offseason, the Chiefs added a well-rounded back in Carlos Hyde, drafted a dynamic player in Darwin Thompson and added a receiving specialist in James Williams.
Thompson and James are likely to turn heads in the preseason when contact is limited. Something will have to give with this group of talented backs, and it could be Darrel that ends up as the odd man out.
The upside down
What if Dustin Colquitt is on the bubble?
It’s hard to believe that the longest tenured and one of the most beloved guys in the locker room could be competing for a job in year two of a three-year contract. But the team did invest a meaningful (for UDFA) amount of guaranteed money to add a promising rookie punter named Jack Fox.
Could there actually be legitimate competition for a roster spot? Letting Colquitt go would save $1.8M in cap money... and it is a punter we’re talking about here, so maybe? It’s been years since there was a legitimate punting competition in training camp, but we’ve seen
stranger Stagner things.