Let’s find out what’s changed.
(Editor’s note: My projections are based upon things I’ve seen, heard and hypothesized.)
Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
No change here—Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne are it for 2019. I’ve noted that the better player between Chase Litton and Kyle Shurmur will go to the Chiefs’ practice squad as the QB3, and right now, it feels like Shurmur has a slight edge—though I wouldn’t count Litton out just yet. Preseason game performance will weigh heavily in the battle for the third-string QB.
Running backs (4): Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Carlos Hyde
If Damien Williams had been healthy all training camp, my feelings on this position might look a little different. Damien only made it a practice and a half before injuring his hamstring, and Carlos Hyde and Darrel Williams have shared the top snaps since. Rookie Darwin Thompson has also been in the mix with the first team but takes most of his snaps with the second team. As of Sunday, the Chiefs are still calling Damien the starter, and I think Darrel and Thompson are locks to make the team behind him. The camp battle we never expected here might just be Hyde vs. Tremon Smith, and at this stage, I haven’t seen enough from Smith, who converted to offense mere days ago, to make that bold call.
Fullback (1): Anthony Sherman
The Chiefs listed John Lovett as a fullback on their first unofficial depth chart, which gave me a tiny dose of pause, but I believe there is room on the 53 for both.
H-back (1): John Lovett
I listed Lovett as a tight end on my first 53, but he is a man who deserves his own position. The former Princeton quarterback can run, catch and throw (if necessary). And according to special teams coordinator Dave Toub, he can play special teams, too. Asked to name which young players have stood out on special teams, Toub named Lovett.
“I think he’s got the speed,” Toub said. “We’re going to find out about the toughness. When the preseason games, we’re going to see if he can tackle because that’s going to be the biggest question.”
Wide receivers (6): Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Byron Pringle
When I made my initial 53-man roster projection, I incorrectly assumed Tyreek Hill would be suspended to start the season. We now know he should be good to go, bumping Cody Thompson to the practice squad on cutdown day. Sammy Watkins, who says he’s healthier than he has ever been, is the obvious No. 2—and based on camp looks, I am beginning to think rookie Mecole Hardman has a legitimate chance to challenge Demarcus Robinson for the No. 3 job. Hardman is faster than Robinson, and his chemistry with Patrick Mahomes has come along much sooner than I figured it would.
Marcus Kemp is a key special-teamer, and he has showed out in camp as a developing receiver. Byron Pringle, a kick-returner candidate, rounds out the wide receiver group after losing his rookie season to core muscle surgery. If Gehrig Dieter is going to push to make the 53-man roster, he needs to get on the football field. Dieter has been out the past week with back spasms.
Tight ends: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell (2)
I’ll admit: I had a wild theory in my initial 53-man roster prediction that included Travis Kelce being backed up by Anthony Sherman. Before camp, it sounded like head coach Andy Reid favored Deon Yelder for the No. 2 role, but right now, it feels like Blake Bell’s job to lose. The Belldozer is performing well on offense, and Toub has said Bell has replaced all of Demetrius Harris’ positions on special teams.
“Right now, the plan is to have him be that guy,” Toub said of Bell. “We got a lot of out Demetrius last year. He played three phases for us. I think he had the most special teams plays for a tight end in the whole league. He was setting the bar really high. We are not going to necessarily ask him to be that guy, but he’s going to be playing a lot of those same positions. He might be just a two-phase guy, but we’ll see.”
Harris, now a Brown, led the Chiefs in special-teams snaps in 2018.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitch Schwartz, Cameron Erving, Jimmy Murray, Kahlil McKenzie, Nick Allegretti
The only difference between my first and second 53-man rosters when it comes to offensive linemen was replacing Ryan Hunter with Jimmy Murray. I think the Chiefs like Hunter, but not more than these nine players, and sometimes, it’s simply a numbers game. The starters are set, Cam Erving is a swing tackle, Murray is the backup center, and I think McKenzie is ready to make the club as a viable backup interior option. The Chiefs also hold onto their seventh-round draft pick in Nick Allegretti, who can play guard and serve as a third-string center (remember, Austin Reiter was the third-string center last year, and now he’s the starter).
Defensive linemen (9): Alex Okafor, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Khalen Saunders, Breeland Speaks, Justin Hamilton
As a reminder: the Chiefs’ defensive linemen and linebacker numbers swap in the switch to the 4-3 from the 3-4, and I have the Chiefs holding onto nine defensive linemen. The first note when it comes to defensive linemen has to be that Frank Clark has looked ridiculous. He has raised the effort level on the line at practice and has expressed excitement for what he and Chris Jones will be able to accomplish together. There was no change here when it comes to players, but my mind has changed when it comes to some player roles. Out of the Kansas City “pit of misery,” Tanoh Kpassagnon looks like he could be the fifth-most important defensive lineman; Steve Spagnuolo has taken a liking to the former second-rounder and he has mixed in with the top-team defense as a result. Kpassagnon came in at left defensive end on Sunday when Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah left practice due to injuires within minutes of each other. I still believe the Chiefs keep Justin Hamilton as a cheaper option than Xavier Williams, but it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise if they decide to go the other way.
Linebackers (6): Damien Wilson, Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens, Darron Lee, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel
No change here from version one—I think the Chiefs undoubtedly keep the top four linebackers on this list. The top three will be starters in the “base,” with Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens staying on in subpackages (which will be run more often than the base). I really have enjoyed the attitude and aggression I’ve seen from Wilson. Dorian O’Daniel provides depth as a weak-side linebacker, and I think Ben Niemann can work at all three positions. Both O’Daniel and Niemann were important to special teams last season, and their growth as linebackers and importance in that special-teams area keeps them on the roster.
Cornerbacks (5): Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, D’Montre Wade, Rashad Fenton
In the six years Reid has been in Kansas City (more info below), the number of cornerbacks he has kept has ranged from four to six. At this stage of the preseason, I have him down for five. Keith Reaser is done for the year, so he obviously won’t make the 53-man roster. I think the first four cornerbacks will certainly make the team, the biggest surprise-lock of the entire roster being D’Montre Wade, who spent last season on the Chiefs’ practice squad and wasn’t included in my initial look. With Kendall Fuller as an exclusive nickelback, Wade will be the first outside cornerback off the bench if something happens to Bashaud Breeland or Charvarius Ward. Fenton should give the Chiefs special-teams snaps while developing, and that leads me to Mark Fields. If it came to talent alone, Fields probably makes the team, but his off-the-field makeup hurts him. Rather than keeping Fields, I think it is more likely Chiefs general manager Brett Veach makes a move for a defensive back with upside in late August-early September, like he did with Charvarius Ward and Jordan Lucas last year.
Safeties (5): Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen, Armani Watts, Jordan Lucas
There is a case to be made that Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen are three of the Chiefs’ top four defensive backs, with Fuller somewhere among them. You’ll see packages with all top three safeties on the field at the same time, and I think the Chiefs keep former fourth-rounder Armani Watts in a “redshirt” rookie season. I also think they keep Jordan Lucas, but like in the case with Dieter, he needs to get on the field. The Lucas Locomotive has missed a week due to a hamstring injury.
Injured reserve: DL Tim Ward
PUP list: LB Darius Harris
K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt and LS James Winchester
Colquitt remains the only possible question, but he almost assuredly keeps his job. Toub said Jack Fox has an NFL leg, but I still don’t think Kansas City wants a rookie punter to cost them a title in a Super Bowl-or-bust season. It’s also worth noting that Colquitt is a great holder, something the Chiefs need. Perhaps they lure a needy team into a draft capital trade for Fox.
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 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.