clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NFL.com analyst projects Chiefs’ starting roster for 2021

Analyst Gregg Rosenthal puzzled out which Chiefs will start this season — and then discussed them.

Arizona Cardinals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Thursday, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal published his projections of the starting rosters for the AFC West’s teams in 2021. Here’s how he sees the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting roster this season:

OFF PLAYER DEF PLAYER
QB Patrick Mahomes DE Frank Clark
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire DT Chris Jones
WR Tyreek Hill DT Jarran Reed
WR Mecole Hardman DE Taco Charlton
WR Demarcus Robinson LB Anthony Hitchens
TE Travis Kelce LB Nick Bolton
LT Orlando Brown Jr. CB Charvarius Ward
LG Joe Thuney CB L'Jarius Sneed
C Creed Humphrey CB Rashad Fenton
RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif S Tyrann Mathieu
RT Mike Remmers S Juan Thornhill

In a series of bullet points, Rosenthal then explained his reasoning.

The team’s maniacal determination to fix their offensive line came at some cost, with the Chiefs looking thinner than usual at the skill positions. They are an injury to Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce away from not having enough friends for Patrick Mahomes to throw to.

That’s fair — if you don’t consider Byron Pringle to be a legitimate threat as a wide receiver or believe that newly-drafted tight end Noah Gray won’t be able to contribute. Pringle could end up starting over Hardman and Robinson. And I think the Chiefs expect Gray to contribute (in a limited role) right away — and be their insurance for Kelce.

The Chiefs made it clear they believed they needed another weapon when they went afterJuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency. This offense would look a lot better with JuJu in place.

Agreed. Smith-Schuster would have been a good fit in the Kansas City offense. But any way you slice it, a free-agent wideout considering the Chiefs has to realize that he’ll be the third receiver behind Kelce and Hill. That makes it much harder to sign a player like Smith-Smith-Schuster — and is why the Chiefs are constantly churning their wide receiver group.

Yes, when you have to break into injury contingencies as the only negatives to an offense, it’s probably the best offense in the league.

No argument.

Mecole Hardman didn’t develop in Year 2 the way many expected. The Chiefs need him even more this year.

Agreed, again. Whether he starts as the second wide receiver or not, Hardman’s development is likely to be one of the season’s top Chiefs storylines.

I love the investment the Chiefs made in their offensive line, but that doesn’t guarantee this is a top-10 group. At least three positions will have training camp battles, with Kyle Long coming out of retirement to compete with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out of the 2020 season. Creed Humphrey is a rookie and right tackle remains a weakness, with Lucas Niang, another 2020 opt-out, competing with Mike Remmers.

Agreed. Rosenthal is mirroring my most recent projection of the Chiefs’ offensive line — although, with each passing day, I am leaning more and more towards Niang edging out Remmers as the starter. And Rosenthal is right: this group of players probably won’t be a top-10 group — at least right out of the gate. But by season’s end, however, they should be effective — and in years to come, they could be spectacular.

As Mahomes and coach Andy Reid have proven, the Chiefs’ offensive line generally just has to be fine, not dominant. That should happen here and the depth gives the Chiefs options in case of injury.

This is an underappreciated point. You can argue that the Chiefs’ starting offensive linemen — as a group — aren’t much better than 2020’s Week 1 line. But the depth should be significantly improved. In the final analysis, that was the problem with the 2020 line.

The top-heavy nature to the Chiefs’ roster doesn’t only exist on offense. Just look at defensive end, where the Chiefs have one of the highest-paid players at his position (Frank Clark) complemented by Taco Charlton, who’s on his third team. This may be the thinnest position group on the team and is begging for a veteran addition.

The Chiefs need to start developing their own defensive talent. Off-ball linebacker Willie Gay Jr. improving in his second year or Nick Bolton earning a big role as a rookie would be a start.

Agreed on all points. I do think the Chiefs have some promising young players at defensive end, including Michael Danna and Tim Ward. After mentioning the two of them in a previous article, I was reminded of Austin Edwards, too — a D2 player who won the Gene Upshaw Award in 2019.

With regard to Bolton and Gay, I will disagree with Rosenthal naming Bolton as the starter alongside Hitchens. I believe Gay will start in the base, while Bolton will spell Hitchens at MIKE — which is the position I believe the Chiefs expect Bolton to eventually assume. But in a Steve Spagnuolo defense, arguing about the starters in the base is a pretty pointless exercise; we’ll see plenty of both players in 2021.

In an era when most teams are spending big dollars and draft capital for cornerbacks, general manager Brett Veach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo deserve praise for finding and developing young, unheralded talent. L’Jarius Sneed played better than some first-rounders last season, and the Chiefs have managed to produce good-to-average pass defenses despite the low wattage.

Agreed again. I wouldn’t count out Deandre Baker getting a starting cornerback spot, but Rosenthal might be exactly right with Ward and Sneed on the outside and Fenton in the slot.

Tyrann Mathieu, of course, is a human mistake eraser.

Absolutely. In fact, this is a good time to point out that for the Chiefs, Mathieu has assumed the same role that Eric Berry held during his prime: the man who fixes everything.

I‘m not sure this is a top-10 roster if you replaced Mahomes with Kirk Cousins and I’m not sure it matters. The Chiefs have the best chance to win the AFC of any team, but the gap appears narrower with the rest of the AFC in Mahomes’ fourth season as a starter.

Here, Rosenthal seems to be suggesting the Chiefs have taken a step back. He might be right that the gap between the Chiefs and the rest of the AFC’s contenders is narrowing, but I think that’s more about other teams getting better at what the Chiefs have been doing over the last three seasons. The challenge for the Chiefs will be to find new ways to be successful — so that they continue to force other teams to play their game.