Monday, July 20, marks the beginning of a Kansas City Chiefs training camp unlike any we have ever seen. As of Sunday, there were still many unanswered questions — ones that quarterback Patrick Mahomes and safety Tyrann Mathieu expressed concerns about.
There is no precedent for a season’s preparations in the midst of a global pandemic, so this can still go in many different ways.
The 53-man roster projection is something we anticipate each and every season, but for obvious reasons, it is a much tougher task in the year 2020. There were no offseason workouts, so there is no base-line expectation for the team’s newcomers. In past years, we may see a free-agent offensive lineman mixing with the starters or a cornerback unexpectedly garnering first-team reps. Those opportunities did not exist this year.
We’re also not sure how many of these projections we will do. In most seasons, the final 53-man roster can shift on a weekly basis as training camp rolls along. This year, there will be no public workouts, which will mean less reporting and fewer signs as to what the coaching staff is thinking. There may not even be a single preseason game. For these reasons and others, there is a decent chance this will be our one and only 53-man roster projection for the Chiefs before we see the final roster. That, like every part of this entire season, is subject to change.
When we see the final roster, there is the off chance that NFL rules are altered to allow for more than 53 players. And I’m not talking about the common misconception that rosters now allow for 55 men. Talks between the league and players association over the weekend included the idea of unlimited players returning from the non-football injury list, a special exempt list and a 16-man practice squad — all roundabout ways of saying that the league will need expanded rosters to operate this season.
Cutting down a roster may not exist by what would be the cutdown date — September 5.
All those parameters mentioned, let’s predict the Chiefs’ opening-week roster!
Quarterbacks (3): Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore and Chad Henne
If this were a typical training camp and preseason, I’d be worried about Jordan Ta’amu showing enough on tape that the Chiefs may be tempted to keep him on the active roster so that he could not be plucked from what would be the practice squad. Plain and simple: there may be no tape at all. Also, for coronavirus reasons, I think Andy Reid breaks his recent trend of two quarterbacks on the roster to start. Interesting that the Chiefs brought back Chad Henne first, then Matt Moore when he could not find a better opportunity elsewhere. In the worst-case scenario that Patrick Mahomes misses a game, would the Chiefs start Henne over Moore? I don’t know how you could after Moore’s two-win performance in 2019.
Running backs (4): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Damien Williams, DeAndre Washington, Darwin Thompson
The Chiefs are keeping their playoff hero in Damien Williams and their first-round rookie in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That we know. After the top two players, the running back battle becomes one of the more interesting ones on the team. I liked DeAndre Washington for the team’s backup role before it drafted Edwards-Helaire, and with the pick, he just falls back a space on the depth chart. The biggest question mark in my mind is Darwin Thompson vs. Darrel Williams for that final role, and I leaned Thompson because of how high RBs coach Deland McCullough is on the now second-year player. Darrel does remain intriguing, as he guided Edwards-Helaire during his LSU days.
Fullback (1): Antony Sherman
Fortunately for “The Sausage,” Andy Reid is one of the few coaches in the NFL who still values a fullback. Sherman helps his own cause as a leader on special teams.
Wide receivers (5): Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle
The “Run It Back” movement is in full effect in the wide receiver room, where I think the Chiefs keep the same five wideouts at the cutdown as last year.
Tight ends (3): Travis Kelce, Nick Keizer, John Lovett
The Chiefs were reportedly interested in bringing back No. 2 tight end Blake Bell, but rather than coming back to Kansas City for the repeat try, Bell signed with Dallas to become a member of the Cowboys. That opened up the door for a wide-open TE2 competition between Deon Yelder, Ricky Seals-Jones and Nick Keizer. Of the three options, our Arrowhead Pride Laboratory team favors Keizer, who Kansas City made a point to bring back just two days after their Super Bowl victory. Yelder recorded three catches for 50 yards in 2019. Brett Veach likened Seals-Jones to Bell after his free-agent signing, so the road won’t necessarily be easy for Keizer, who put up some nice numbers last preseason.
In case you forgot, I was a fan of John Lovett last year before he suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. The Princeton quarterback-turned-H-Back has a Taysom Hillesque vibe to his game, and he should be healthy ahead of the 2020 season.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Eric Fisher, LG Mike Remmers, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitch Schwartz, Martinas Rankin, Andrew Wylie, Nick Allegretti, Lucas Niang
Left guard is one of the only true starting position battles on the team, and that could go in a number of different directions. With Stefen Wisniewski off to Pittsburgh, veteran free-agent signee Mike Remmers, or one of the returners in Andrew Wylie or Martinas Rankin should win the position. Give me Remmers, who the Chiefs view as a replacement for Wisniewski. While whoever wins the left guard position is up in the air, the Chiefs will have improved offensive line depth this season, bookended by second-year player Nick Allegretti and rookie Lucas Niang, who is coming off of hip surgery. Cam Erving is now a Dallas Cowboy.
Defensive linemen (10): Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Mike Pennel, Khalen Saunders, Mike Danna, Tim Ward, Taco Charlton
Set the top eight players on this list in stone. The final two are a bit up in the air. I think the Chiefs kept Tim Ward around all of last year for a reason. Here is a Veach quote on Ward from last May:
VEACH: “He was a guy that tore his knee, I don’t know that he’ll be ready this year, but he’s going to be a prototypical Steve Spagnuolo defensive end. He’s long, athletic, started playing football late, and everyone kind of went in there to evaluate the (Oshane) Ximines kid who got drafted at Old Dominion, this was a kid that one of our scouts, Mike Davis, had mentioned, ‘Hey, they’ve got this other defensive end and he’s raw as all get-out, started playing football late.’ The late tape at Old Dominion he really started coming on, we had him in here for one of the workouts here. The NFL conducted another combine here that we had and he had come to that.”
The final spot is a battle between free-agent signee Taco Charlton and Breeland Speaks. Despite Speaks looking to be in better shape than he was last year, Charlton managed 5.0 sacks in Miami in 2019. That says enough for me about the upside he provides over Speaks, who the Chiefs finally move on from. Demone Harris, who quietly logged 121 (and 50 playoff) defensive snaps down last year’s stretch, is another player to keep in mind.
Linebackers (6): Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Willie Gay Jr., Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel, Darius Harris
Th Chiefs have already mentioned that Willie Gay’s initial role will be that of Reggie Ragland’s from 2019. I like Dorian O’ Daniel and Ben Niemann as linebacker depth who are key on special teams.
Similar to Ward’s note above, the same can be said about Darius Harris, who has a Veach quote of his own from long ago:
VEACH: “[Harris] is a guy that you might want to watch and maybe it’s not this year, but we think he has a lot of talent moving forward. He can be a guy that doesn’t just make the roster but starts one day. We are excited about him, we are excited about the speed that Johnson brings. But those are two guys that we liked. Being that we didn’t draft any linebackers, we were certainly aggressive. If you go back to this Harris kid, this was a kid that if he didn’t have the shoulder issue, he gets drafted. We knew that and there was a lot of competition for him.”
Defensive backs (9): Charvarius Ward, Antonio Hamilton, Rashad Fenton, L’Jarius Sneed, Alex Brown (cornerbacks), Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen, Armani Watts (safeties)
With Bashaud Breeland sidelined to begin the year, the Chiefs rely on Charvarius Ward, Antonio Hamilton and Rashad Fenton to start, unless rookie L’Jarius Sneed or second-year cornerback Alex Brown show enough to push them in training camp. The Chiefs are high on all five players. Playing the numbers game, I’m not sure rookie BoPete Keyes does enough to make the team out of training camp, but he is a player to watch for the practice squad. Divisional Round hero Daniel Sorensen has graduated from any roster-cut projections. Armani Watts might be pushed by someone like Rodney Clemons, but he holds onto his spot.
Reserve-Suspended List (1): Bashaud Breeland
As noted, our thought is Bashaud Breeland will be suspended to start the 2020 season.
K Harrison Butker, P Tommy Townsend and LS James Winchester
It is still odd that Dustin Colquitt won’t be part of this team moving forward. We do have a punter battle this training camp, but I believe priority undrafted free agent Tommy Townsend beats out Tyler Newsome. Uncle Dave Toub called it a “true punting competition,” but the Chiefs would not have moved on from Colquitt unless they were able to acquire Townsend, who has held in the SEC and is a consistently good punter, according to Toub.
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:
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.
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