Kansas City Chiefs offseason workouts have come and gone, and training camp is set to begin in about five weeks, around July 24. The first practice officially open to the public is July 27 at 3:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time (full schedule here).
With not much set to change between now and then, it’s time for an initial 53-man Chiefs roster projection. Keep in mind: this is like NCAA’s March Madness. There is little to no chance this will be the final cut on August 31, and it is nearly impossible to account for players who are to be released from other rosters.
My projections are based upon things I’ve seen, heard and hypothesized.
Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
At the beginning of his career, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid would elect for his team to receive the ball if he won the toss at the start of games. He eventually realized deferring gave you a slight statistical advantage, so he went with that. Reid and the Chiefs went with three rostered QBs from 2013 to 2017 (as you can see below if you scroll all the way down) and then only kept Mahomes and Henne last year—and it worked out. The winner of Chase Litton and Kyle Shurmur goes to the practice squad, with the unofficial QB3 nod going to John Lovett (see below) or Travis Kelce, who often participates in the QB contests at training camp.
Running backs (4): Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams
Damien Williams has already been named the official 2019 starter by the Chiefs, making him a lock here. The next-safest running back in this room is rookie Darwin Thompson, who the Chiefs attempted to trade up for in the draft before he fell to them in the sixth round, anyway. The situation behind Damien and Thompson is a bit more muddled. Though Hyde will need to prove himself to make the roster, I anticipate he does, given his ability to mesh with all the ways Reid likes to use his running backs. I also think the Chiefs see potential in Darrel Williams, the undrafted free agent from 2018 whose style reminds me a lot of Spencer Ware and is a nice changeup from the other three backs in the group.
Fullback (1): Anthony Sherman
Death, taxes and The Sausage making the Chiefs.
Wide receivers (6): Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp, Cody Thompson
Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins are your “Z” and “X” receivers to start the season, respectively. 2019’s top pick, Mecole Hardman, starts Week 1 as the team’s kick (and perhaps, punt) returner. I think the Chiefs are high enough on Pringle that he makes the roster in year two with the club. Kemp, who finished third on the 2018 team in special-teams snaps, is back with the team thanks to the Dave Toub push. Thompson barely beats out Gehrig Dieter in a training camp depth battle, but the dream only lasts approximately two to six weeks. Thompson is sent to the practice squad once Tyreek Hill comes off the suspension list.
Tight ends: Travis Kelce, John Lovett (2)
Reid sounded almost oddly high on Deon Yelder, and because of that, I believe he is indeed the favorite to win the TE2 position right now. But I don’t think it lasts. Roster spots are too valuable, and when Reid sees something he likes, such as New Orleans Saints “Swiss army knife” Taysom Hill, he’ll want his own. H-back John Lovett will provide that. Lovett will be listed as a tight end, but the former Princeton quarterback can do it all, and that includes an incredible knack for catching the football. As training camp breaks, Anthony Sherman, who caught a 36-yard touchdown from Mahomes Week 1 last year, will be the No. 2 tight end. Fans are calling for a cornerback addition, but make no mistake, if the Chiefs upgrade one position via trade, look at a move for a viable TE2.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitch Schwartz, Nick Allegretti, Kahlil McKenzie, Cameron Erving, Ryan Hunter
The first eight players on this offensive line list are virtual locks to make the club. I doubt the starters change during training camp, even when Erving is healthy and ready to go. Allegretti will get an opportunity at center after his college tape caught the Chiefs’ eye, but I’d expect him to be the backup—and we’ve seen in Kansas City how important that role is. McKenzie continues his transition from defense and plays a swing interior role for the Chiefs once they deem him ready. Hunter, who we have viewed as one of the better developmental projects on the Chiefs’ roster in the past, rounds out the OL room. The health of Fisher and Schwartz is imperative in 2019.
Suspended list (1): WR Tyreek Hill (2-6 games)
Even with no criminal charge, I anticipate the league suspends Hill between two and six games.
Defensive linemen (9): Alex Okafor, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Breeland Speaks, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Khalen Saunders, Justin Hamilton, Emmanuel Ogbah
With the offseason switch to the 4-3 from the 3-4, the Chiefs’ defensive linemen and linebacker numbers swap, and I have the Chiefs holding onto nine defensive linemen. Jones, Nnadi and Clark are known commodities, but I think the six-year veteran in Okafor surprises. The Chiefs will continue to try and make their former second-rounders work—Speaks working along the interior and Kpassagnon more so as an end. Early in the offseason, I thought Kpassagnon might already be a Cleveland Brown, but I think Spagnuolo has taken on the challenge of turning him into a contributor. The Chiefs keep Hamilton—for his, err, motivational qualities—and because he’s a cheaper backup for Nnadi than Xavier Williams. Ogbah, who the Chiefs swapped Eric Murray for, provides depth at defensive end.
Linebackers (6): Damien Wilson, Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens, Darron Lee, Dorian O’Daniel, Ben Niemann
The Chiefs will keep the top four linebackers on this list, with the final two spots as question marks. Wilson, Ragland and Hitchens are the starters in the base, while the Chiefs hope Lee, the former first-round pick, finds new life, especially in passing downs, thanks to a change of scenery from the New York Jets. O’Daniel provides depth as a weak-side linebacker, and I think Niemann can work at all three positions. Both O’Daniel and Niemann were critical to special teams last season, so they will have Toub on their side at the bubble.
Cornerbacks (6): Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Keith Reaser, Rashad Fenton, Mark Fields
The first three cornerbacks are locks to make the roster, and I think Keith Reaser is the first cornerback off the bench given the Chiefs would have kept him last year without the injury and he was the best defensive player in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Fenton will provide the Chiefs special-teams depth while developing, and I think the undrafted Fields edges out Tremon Smith thanks to his raw upside — and now that Hardman has taken Smith’s role as kick returner.
Safeties (5): Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen, Jordan Lucas, Armani Watts
Mathieu and Thornhill are your day-one starters at strong and free safety, respectively. Many people think Sorensen might be a cap casualty, but this isn’t last year. The Chiefs have enough room to keep a veteran they absolutely love. The Lucas Locomotive continues to develop while Armani Watts, the “most clutch” player in the 2018 draft, gets a makeup on his rookie season after injury.
Injured reserve: DL Tim Ward
PUP list: LB Darius Harris
More on injured players ahead of camp here.
K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt and LS James Winchester
Colquitt is the only possible question here with a legitimate battle brewing thanks to undrafted rookie punter Jack Fox. Toub said the Chiefs graded Fox high, but I don’t think the Chiefs want a rookie punter to cost them a title in a Super Bowl-or-bust season.
Chiefs position quantities at the 53-man cutdown since 2013
Here’s a look at Chiefs position quantities throughout the years since Andy Reid took over the Chiefs in 2013. AP user Chiefwanka recently wrote a nice fan post analyzing historical position quantities.
Offensive position quantities since 2013
Defensive position quantities since 2013
*Eric Berry had a roster exemption at the 53-man roster cutdown in 2016 and was included in most cutdown listings.