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Chiefs Market Movers: evaluating the team’s current 53-man roster

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Welcome to Kansas City Chiefs’ Market Movers.

U.S Stocks Fall After China Imposes Retaliatory Tariffs Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Welcome to Market Movers. Think of this as the weekly stock report but on performance-enhancing substances. Or call it our own internal power rankings.

We’ve taken the entire Kansas City Chiefs roster and ranked it — top to bottom — one to 53. The player ranking is based on our overall impression of the player as compared to NFL peers and his apparent standing on the team given what we’ve seen on the field and the depth chart.

We’ll look for players (bulls) each week that have improved their standing and those that have declined in rankings (bears). Not every player will move up or down each week, of course. Players performing as expected will maintain their rankings, others will be locked in and won’t have an opportunity to move.

For example, we’ve got Patrick Mahomes as a mover this week, but he probably won’t move again barring any unforeseen falloff — he’s already the clear No. 1 player on the roster.

We’re looking for trends, players who are making the most of their opportunities and making themselves more valuable to the team. In the meantime, it helps categorize the roster by breaking it up into tiers.

We’ve added tiers to the spreadsheet with the following categories:

  • Among the NFL elite: These players are near the top of the league at their respective positions and would be very difficult to replace.
  • NFL starter: This is a broader range than the elite category, as starters can be great, good, average or just barely good enough to get a starting spot.
  • Solid NFL role player: These guys can contribute and/or start games but haven’t yet risen to the locked-in starter status.
  • Special teams only: Ranking special teams near the bottom of the roster isn’t to say that the Chiefs special teams players aren’t among the best at their positions; there are a handful that likely are. The focus here is really on value added to the team, so offense and defense get a higher weighting.
  • Depth player: This is where the “bottom of the roster” starts, and guys are more replaceable.
  • Roster bubble: If roster churning happens, these players might be the ones on watch, as their spot on the depth chart indicates the team sees them as less valuable.

It will be interesting to see how many players can not only move up within their tier but also move between tiers as they develop and capitalize on their regular-season snaps.

Relative value

NFL Combine - Day 1

When it comes to quantifying value to the team, it’s not just the on-field performance that matters in a vacuum. Contracts are important too, because there’s a salary cap and resources are limited. So, we’ve included each player’s 2019 cap hit via Spotrac and the percentage of the cap allocated to that specific player.

Who are the outliers? Who is adding value relative to their cap hit and who isn’t?

To attempt to quantify relative value, we’ve ranked the 53 by current year cap hit and called out those whose current player ranking is more than 10 spots above or below their cap hit ranking. Players who are outperforming their contracts might be in line for new deals. Players underperforming their contracts might find themselves on the bubble.

For those who want a complete look behind the curtain, here’s a link to the full database.

A few observations from the initial spreadsheet:

  1. LeSean McCoy, Darron Lee and Tanoh Kpassagnon had a player ranking exactly the same as their cap rankings. So while each brings a different level of performance on the field, at the moment, it’s in sync with their compensation.
  2. Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones are among the best values, as expected while they play out their rookie deals as elite NFL players. But that will change next season as their contracts presumably catch up to their play.
  3. Reggie Ragland, Cameron Erving and Jordan Lucas are among the worst values, given they didn’t factor into Week 1 at all, but each has a cap hit well above others in the same situation.
  4. The cornerback group struggled in Week 1 but were actually performing about as expected (or better) given their salaries, including Kendall Fuller and Charvarius Ward. This is an indication that the Chiefs haven’t invested enough in the position yet. Barring a turnaround on the field, this will be true at least until Week 5 when Morris Claiborne joins the active roster. Perhaps as Terez Paylor and others are predicting, a bigger investment is coming soon.
  5. Another obvious note is that players who can contribute early in their rookie contracts add the most relative value. Including Mahomes, Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Juan Thornhill, Andrew Wylie, and Joey Ivie, great teams win when they get contributions and starts out of guys on cheap rookie deals.
  6. Tyreek Hill remains a steal at this year of his new contract. Even though his cap hit will rise dramatically next year, he’ll probably still be worth it then.

This week’s bulls

Kansas City Chiefs v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  • Patrick Mahomes: A historic start to the season was slowed slightly by a minor ankle injury. Even with one good leg, Mahomes was an elite quarterback. It’s a good sign that he’s practicing all week, and we should expect nothing less than dominance going into the final Oakland game on Sunday.
  • Sammy Watkins: The biggest mover on the list this week, Watkins had the best game of his career and may be peaking when the team needs him the most. This is the player that Brett Veach felt strongly enough about to outbid the rest of the league, and Watkins may finally be proving the Chiefs right.
  • Juan Thornhill: The offseason speculation can finally end; the rookie is the starter at free safety. Thornhill played every defensive snap and showed incredible closing speed and instincts. He’s a player on the rise and should be an impact player in a secondary in need of impact players.
  • LeSean McCoy: A controversial add, many wondered what the 31-year-old had left in the tank. Even given a relatively small sample size, Shady answered most questions last week. Whether he’s RB2, RB1 or RB1A, McCoy is proving he can be a valuable player in the Chiefs’ offensive backfield and not just a “veteran presence.”
  • Damien Wilson: If McCoy was deemed unnecessary by many fans, Wilson was assumed to be an underwhelming addition at a position in need of an impact player. From the first day we saw him in camp, Wilson appeared to be a very solid, versatile linebacker who can help this defense make the transition to the Spagnuolo 43. In Week 1, Wilson was all over the field, quick and decisive.
  • Emmanuel Ogbah: Ogbah is moving up, not only because he recorded the first sack for the Chiefs defense this season but also because he’s making an impact after a very quiet offseason. He might be the first guy on this list to move tiers, as he goes from purely a depth player into a guy who has a role in the defensive line rotation.

This week’s bears

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
  • Mecole Hardman: Hardman played a lot of snaps in his first NFL game but had only a dropped pass to show for it. It’s probably unfair to expect too much from Hardman in a complex offense right out of the gate, taking on a bigger role when Hill went out early. But, he’ll have his opportunity to make a move against the Raiders this week.
  • Darwin Thompson: The other exciting offensive rookie in Kansas City may have to wait longer for his opportunity to make plays. Thompson was the presumptive No. 2 running back for the Chiefs until Shady McCoy came to town, but now his role has diminished substantially. Darwin will get his chance, but it may not be until later in the season barring injuries at the position.
  • Charvarius Ward: It’s probably not necessary to pile on Ward at this point, but it’s becoming clear that the Chiefs need to make a move at cornerback. The hope many of us had for Ward’s development coming into the season is fading after the Jaguars found success throwing in his direction last week.
  • Cameron Erving: Another mystery was solved in Week 1 as the Chiefs not only gave the starting left guard position to Andrew Wylie but also left Cam Erving on the bench as the only active player to not record a single snap. After trading for Martinas Rankin to be the swing tackle and re-signing Jeff Allen to be the first lineman off of the bench, it’s unclear what role Erving plays this season if he remains on the roster.
  • Reggie Ragland: The Chiefs linebacker alignment has been a source of much confusion from the moment Steve Spagnuolo was hired. Ragland didn’t have an obvious fit in the 4-3 defense, and he isn’t an impact special teams player. All offseason, the coaches called him a starter, first at the MIKE position, then at SAM. In Week 1, Ragland was among the game-day inactives. Perhaps it was a matchup-based decision and will change this week, but it sure seems like No. 59 is back on the roster bubble for now.

Feel free to weigh in the comment section with your own analysis of the rankings and the Market Movers you notice as the season goes on.