The long-term contract signed by defensive tackle Chris Jones took care of the last major roster question for the Kansas City Chiefs headed into training camp. Battles for certain roles will take place — but we mostly know how the starting lineups will look at this point.
Both the Chiefs offense and defense will return 10 of the 11 starters in Super Bowl LIV. All four phases of the special teams unit will return nine of the 11 starting spots from the title game. Perhaps the most unprecedented part of the team’s continuity is the coaching staff. Most championship-winning teams don’t have every coordinator and position coach on both sides of the ball returning for the next season.
The “Run it Back” tour has been the theme of the entire offseason — so now that the roster has more clarity, let’s break down the continuity at each position and evaluate how any vacated snaps can be filled:
(Note: snap percentages are based on regular season totals and are derived from Pro Football Reference.)
100% of snaps from 2019 are returning
It appeared that the Chiefs were moving on from last year’s backup quarterback Matt Moore this offseason — but after going unsigned in free agency, he was welcomed back with a one-year deal last week. His three games of action last season were crucial in maintaining playoff position and eventually earning the AFC’s top seed.
His return should give the team and fans confidence that the offense can function at an above-average level if Mahomes has to miss time again. Another backup quarterback that didn’t have Moore’s experience in the scheme last year may not attract as much optimism in that scenario.
69% of snaps from 2019 are returning
The vacated snaps of running backs LeSean McCoy and Spencer Ware will hardly be missed in 2020. Ware filled in for a few games before an injury ended his season, and McCoy saw just one snap in the final five games of the championship run.
Their touches will be occupied by rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Not only will he fill up the vacant snaps, he also will likely be taking the majority of them by the end of 2020. Even if the touches are evenly split, the one position that lacks continuity the most may have also seen the most offseason improvement.
99% of snaps from 2019 are returning
The 20 snaps that former Chiefs wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas took in 2019 were probably already forgotten by most. They were the only receiver snaps taken by a player that isn’t still on the roster. The group is young, still improving and continuing to build trust with the best quarterback in the NFL. There are no newcomers that Mahomes has to build an on-field chemistry with over this virtual offseason.
That continuous relationship comes to fruition on the football field in multiple ways. Head coach Andy Reid can add more plays and concepts, knowing that the wide receivers have all been in his system for at least a year. The familiarity with Mahomes comes in handy when a play breaks down and becomes a scramble drill.
No matter who is lining up out wide in 2020, there’s reason to believe Mahomes will trust them.
72% of snaps from 2019 are returning
In 2019, former Chiefs tight end Blake Bell occupied the second tight end position and executed his assignments for the most part — but he offered little receiving upside. He actually had the worst drop rate of all NFL tight ends that saw more than 10 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
The most likely candidate to fill the vacancy behind star tight end Travis Kelce is tight end Deon Yelder. He saw only five targets in 2019 — but he appears to give the offense a more legitimate receiving threat at that spot than Bell did. He will have competition from offseason signing Ricky Seals-Jones and 2019 practice squad member Nick Keizer.
85% of snaps from 2019 are returning
It’s hard to imagine that former Chiefs offensive lineman Cam Erving will be missed. He makes up the majority of the vacated lineman snaps from the regular season. His play at left tackle was a huge reason for the bad stretch of play early in 2019.
The only starting position that looks to have turnover is left guard. Former Chiefs lineman Stefan Wisniewski occupied that position from Week 15 through the Super Bowl — but lineman Andrew Wylie initially held that spot from Week 1 until an injury in Week 14. Wylie will have to earn it back though; competition will come from third-year lineman Martinas Rankin, rookie Lucas Niang, veteran Mike Remmers, among others.
85% of snaps from 2019 are returning
Along with the offensive line and wide receivers, this group’s continuity may be the most important of all the positions. The losses of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and defensive tackle Xavier Williams hurt the depth — but further development of the talented youth at this position will make up for those departures.
If defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon take another step in their progression, this unit could be one of the league’s most productive. Another year learning from defensive line coach Brendan Daly and understanding the scheme of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will only help their chances.
82% of snaps from 2019 are returning
Players returning in this group may not generate excitement. It was painfully obvious that the linebacker position was the weak spot of the Chiefs defense in 2019. They parted ways with linebackers Darron Lee and Reggie Ragland this offseason before selecting Willie Gay Jr. in the second round of the NFL draft.
Fans should hope that Gay Jr. is relied upon to play a good share of the linebacker snaps. The unit desperately needed more athleticism and speed last season — and that’s exactly what the rookie will bring. Like running back, the lack of continuity in this group may have improved the position as a whole.
87% of snaps from 2019 are returning
For full transparency, I could not split snap counts into cornerbacks and safeties because all of defensive back Kendall Fuller’s 2019 snaps are counted at cornerback — even though he played more at safety towards the end of 2019.
Despite Fuller leaving this offseason, the Chiefs’ starting defensive secondary basically stayed the same. They will get second-year safety Juan Thornhill back from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 17. The snaps that will need to be made up are likely to fall on the shoulders of second-year cornerback Rashad Fenton. He impressed in limited playing time last season — and could be asked to play a role similar to the one Fuller played in 2019.