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How the Chiefs might build their 53-man roster

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The 90-man roster released Monday can help us get a glimpse of what we might see in September

Divisional Round - Indianapolis Colts v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With the release of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 90-man roster on Monday, we finally have a rough picture of the players the Chiefs will use to construct their final 53-man roster this fall.

There’s every reason to expect there will be more changes as we continue through the offseason — one new player has already been signed since the roster was released — but we thought it would be illuminating to use the 53-man roster from the beginning of September as a guide to break down the 90-man roster by position, and help us see where the team might be headed in 2019.


Offensive line

September: Mitch Morse, Bryan Witzmann, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Kahlil McKenzie, Eric Fisher, Mitch Schwartz, Andrew Wylie, Jordan Devey and Cam Erving.

The Chiefs started the season with nine offensive linemen: a center, three guards, three tackles and two swing linemen. Almost immediately, Witzmann was released, swing lineman Cam Erving took over at left guard, and Austin Reiter was brought up. By season’s end — after pending free agent Morse missed games with injury — Reiter was the presumptive 2019 starter at center.

Now: Austin Reiter, Nick Allegretti, Jimmy Murray, Cam Erving, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Kahlil McKenzie, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, Andrew Wylie, Dino Boyd, Ryan Hunter, Pace Murphy and Justin Senior

The Chiefs currently have 13 offensive linemen on the roster. All five of last year’s starters are likely to return. Reiter will face competition from seventh-round pick Allegretti, but Allegretti could just as easily make the team as a swing lineman; think of him as taking Devey’s spot. McKenzie — who was on the active roster, but inactive for every game in 2018 — seems to be a player the Chiefs want to keep developing. Wylie is likely to make the team as a backup tackle. That makes eight. Five players — all but Murray listed as tackles — will likely be competing for the last spot on the offensive line.

Tight end

September: Travis Kelce and Alex Ellis

Demetrius Harris wasn’t on the opening roster because he was set to serve a suspension in Week 1. He replaced Ellis in Week 2.

Now: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, John Lovett, Deon Yelder and David Wells

Five tight ends are now on the roster. Kelce is obviously a lock. Many expected — perhaps hoped — the Chiefs would get a tight end in the draft, but that didn’t happen. So now it looks like four players will compete to back up Kelce. Bell — with NFL playing experience — would seem to have the inside track, but Lovett is a wild card. The Chiefs seem to think this former college quarterback — like both Kelce and Bell — has potential as an NFL tight end or H-back. Andy Reid is always thinking.

Running back

September: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, Anthony Sherman

The Chiefs started the season with five running backs — including fullback Sherman. With the release of Hunt and another injury to Ware, Damien Williams was the starter by season’s end, backed up by Darrel Williams and the returning Charcandrick West.

Now: Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, James Williams, J.D. Moore, Marcus Marshall and Anthony Sherman

The Chiefs have eight running backs on the roster. It’s easy to guess Damien Williams will return as the starter with Hyde as his main backup — although it’s not very hard to imagine those roles could be reversed. With Aaron Ripkowski’s release after his early offseason signing, it seems clear that Sherman will again be the team’s fullback.

The Chiefs have seemed high on Darrel Williams, but they seem high on sixth-round pick Thompson and UDFA James Williams, too. It comes down to this: five players will be competing for two backup positions, and it looks like it will be an interesting battle.

Note: Marcus Marshall was signed after the release of the first 90-man roster. At this writing, the corresponding roster move is unknown.

Wide receiver

September: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Kemp

The Chiefs began 2018 with six wide receivers. Thomas was injured early in the season, and Watkins’ availability was inconsistent throughout the year, which allowed Gehrig Dieter to see playing time.

Now: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Sammie Coates, Jamal Custis, Felton Davis, Davon Grayson, Jamire Jordan, Andre Lindsey and Cody Thompson

The team has 14 — count ‘em, 14 — wideouts on the roster. Many saw Hardman’s selection in the second round as confirmation that the Chiefs do not expect to have Hill on the roster in the coming season, but that is only part of the equation; with the departures of Conley and Thomas, drafting a receiver might have been a priority anyway. Adding in Watkins’ checkered injury history and the potential for Hill to be suspended for part of the season even if he remains on the roster, expending their first pick on a receiver made perfect sense for the Chiefs.

Presuming that Hill remains, he and Watkins are the obvious starters; Robinson, Kemp, Dieter and Hardman would appear to be the leading candidates to be backups. So the question to be resolved before September is whether any of the eight other receivers on the roster can displace any of those four — and whether the Chiefs might have to carry an extra receiver at the beginning of the season to take Hill’s place.

Quarterback

September: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne and Matt McGloin

McGloin was cut immediately to make room for other moves, and the Chiefs carried two quarterbacks on the active roster for the rest of the season. Mahomes was not only spectacular in 2018, but also reliable. He started every game, and missed only a few snaps.

Now: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, E.J. Manuel, Chase Litton, T.J. Linta and Kyle Shurmur

In his limited snaps, Henne showed he could run the Chiefs offense, so there’s no big reason to expect any of the other four quarterbacks in camp to seriously challenge his backup role behind Mahomes. But the Chiefs are nonetheless wise to take a good look at Manuel anyway. Can Litton make the active roster in 2019?

Defensive line

September: Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Xavier Williams, Derrick Nnadi, Jarvis Jenkins, and Justin Hamilton

The Chiefs carried six defensive linemen in Bob Sutton’s 3-4 scheme.

Now: Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Xavier Williams, Khalen Saunders, Justin Hamilton, Joey Ivie, Cavon Walker, Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah, Breeland Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon

With the switch to Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 Under scheme, it seems reasonable to think the Chiefs will have eight spots available on the defensive line — with misused linebackers Speaks and Kpassagnon in the mix from last year’s linebacker corps.

Jones, Nnadi, Clark and Okafor (or Ogbah) look like the starters, with returning veteran Williams and third-round pick Saunders backing up the starting tackles. Either Okafor or Ogbah — along with Speaks and Kpassagnon — will compete for the two backup defensive end positions. Right now it looks like Speaks or Kpassagnon will be mutually exclusive; if one of them makes the team, the other probably won’t.

Linebacker

September: Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Breeland Speaks, Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’ Daniel and Terrance Smith

Last season, the Chiefs started with nine linebackers to run the 3-4. We’re guessing they’ll carry seven to run the 4-3 Under.

Now: Damien Wilson, Jeremiah Attaochu, Reggie Ragland, Ben Niemann, Anthony Hitchens, Dorian O’Daniel, Rob McCray, Martrell Spaight, Raymond Davison, Darius Harris and Gary Johnson

Exactly how Spagnuolo will arrange his Sam, Mike and Will linebackers in his 4-3 Under scheme is shrouded in mystery. For guidance, I reached out to our Craig Stout, who thinks the Chiefs will go with Wilson and Attaochu as the starter and backup at Sam, Ragland and Niemann at Mike, and Hitchens and O’Daniel at Will.

But Craig also thinks the Chiefs would be better off with Hitchens and Ragland as the Mike linebackers, with O’Daniel and Johnson as the Will players.

So while we don’t yet know how they’ll be lined up, it looks like Wilson, Attaouchu, Ragland, Hitchens and O’Daniel have the best chance at the first five roster spots, with Niemann and Johnson leading the other six linebackers competing for the last two.

Defensive back

September: Kendall Fuller, Steve Nelson, Orlando Scandrick, Tremon Smith, Charvarius Ward, Eric Berry, Armani Watts, Eric Murray, Jordan Lucas, Daniel Sorensen

The team started 2018 with 10 defensive backs — five cornerbacks and five safeties. Berry was “day-to-day” until the final games of the year, Watts was lost to injury early on, and the secondary was basically a mess — although both Ward and Lucas showed flashes late in the year.

Now: Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Keith Reaser, Tremon Smith, Rashad Fenton, Tyrann Mathieu, Armani Watts, Juan Thornhill, Jordan Lucas, Daniel Sorensen, Leon McQuay, Jalin Burrell, Mark Fields, Dontae Johnson, Harold Jones-Quartey, Dakari Monroe and D’Montre Wade

The Chiefs have acquired a lot of players to try and upgrade this position group for 2019 — 18 defensive backs are now on the roster. Fuller and Breeland look like the likely starters at cornerback, followed by Ward, Reaser, Smith and/or possibly Fenton. Smith has so far seen little NFL experience at his position, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to get a lot of work as a kick returner, or if Fenton (or possibly Hardman) gets more of that work in 2019.

Mathieu is clearly a lock at starting safety, but there are a lot of players lined up who could conceivably be starters alongside him. Watts now seems like the safest bet as the other starter, but cases could also be made for the just-drafted Thornhill, Lucas and Sorensen.

Specialists

September: Harrison Butker, Dustin Colquitt and James Winchester

Now: Harrison Butker, Dustin Colquitt, Jack Fox and James Winchester

Not much to see here. The Chiefs clearly feel comfortable with Butker and Winchester; no players are on the roster to challenge them. The team is doing its due diligence with Fox, but Colquitt is likely to remain as the old man of the team.


That’s how the 53-man roster looks to us right now. How does it look to you?