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Chiefs 53-man roster projection 2.0

With Kansas City’s day off Wednesday, it’s time for our second 53-man roster projection of training camp.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs have a day off from training camp in St. Joseph on Wednesday before a padded practice on Thursday, a day off Friday and their first preseason game on Saturday. Their first cut — to 85 players — will happen on Tuesday. Another cut (to 80) happens on August 24, and the final cut (to 53) happens on August 31.

As always, my projections are based upon things I’ve seen, heard and hypothesized (Go back and read 1.0 here). Here we go!

Offense (25)

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne

There is no change here, with the Chiefs keeping two quarterbacks — the game’s best player and his backup from last season. The other two quarterbacks on the roster — Shane Buechele and Anthony Gordon — are continuing their battle for a single practice squad position, and there has been no real separation yet. Preseason tape will be important.

Running backs (3): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerrick McKinnon

No change here — and it seems third-year back Darwin Thompson is feeling a little bit of the heat. After starting camp on the Reserve/COVID list, Thompson is back to practice — but seven-year veteran Jerrick McKinnon continues to get reps in front of him.

I have made the bold prediction that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid finally opts to say goodbye to the fullback so he can make room for talent at other positions. I don’t feel great about it, but it wasn't easy to make room elsewhere. If Reid insists on his fullback, it is likely an offensive lineman who comes off the board.

Wide receivers (6): Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp, Cornell Powell

In roster projection 1.0, I noted that the role of the top five wide receivers was a more significant question than which of the players makes the roster. Watching training camp practice has provided clarity on that front. Mecole Hardman has been the clear-cut second-best wide receiver at camp — and in a bit of a good surprise for Chiefs fans, I find that Marcus Kemp is pushing Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle offensively. But there is also a bad surprise: fifth-round pick Cornell Powell has looked overwhelmed.

Second-year receiver Maurice Ffrench (undrafted in 2020) is a sure candidate for the practice squad. Antonio Callaway, who has missed the last few practices with a bone bruise, has not panned out as I thought he might.

Tight ends (4): Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson, Noah Gray

The early-camp buzz surrounding Noah Gray has given way to buzz surrounding Jody Fortson — and yes, I know we have been here before. But maybe this time it’s different. Fortson has put on 20 pounds of muscle, and he really looks the part. Let’s see how that translates in the preseason games. I still like Blake Bell to make the team as a blocking tight end they need at No. 2 as Gray develops.

Offensive linemen (10): LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Nick Allegretti, Andrew Wylie

First, as a reminder, I believe Kyle Long will start the season on the reserve/PUP list, putting him out of action for the first six weeks. With Mike Remmers out of practice with a back issue, Lucas Niang has been moved into the starting right tackle position — when Remmers is healthy, I don’t think reclaims the spot. We need to also note here that right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has a broken hand.

An NFL rules note when it comes to injury: Long does not count against the 53-man roster since he is on the PUP. However, Remmers and Duvernay-Tardif need to make the initial 53-man roster to be placed on injured reserve with a designation to return in three weeks. In my eyes, that is why their ailments have not knocked them off the initial roster.

I did make a change, subbing Andrew Wylie for Prince Tega Wanogho. Wylie has been garnering work as the second-team right tackle, and I think the value he provides as a veteran who knows the system and can play every position but center solidifies his roster position. Once the Chiefs make a transaction with one of their injured linemen, Tega Wanogho will be back up.

Defense (25)

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Defensive tackles (4): Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders

Where is Chris Jones? It’s official — see below.

There are still four defensive tackles listed here, as I opted to keep Khalen Saunders after watching him at training camp. Saunders looks rejuvenated; he is beginning to get more reps with the first team. Asked for who he’d like to see work most in Saturday night’s preseason game, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo specifically highlighted Saunders.

“(Defensive line coach) Brendan Daly mentioned this the other day in our staff meeting that he has stacked a bunch of days together where he’s been really good,” said Spagnuolo.

Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi and “Turk” Wharton have all looked solid.

Defensive ends (6): Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Mike Danna, Taco Charlton, Joshua Kaindoh

With the release of the Chiefs’ first unofficial depth chart, we have decided to move Chris Jones to the defensive end section — and here’s some not-so-surprising news: in his positional debut, he’s the best defensive end on the roster.

Okafor has been out of work with a hamstring issue — and until we see him back in the mix, I wonder the same thing as I did about the offensive linemen: could we see Okafor make the 53-man roster and then quickly moved to the IR with a designation to return? If that were to happen, Tim Ward would get the quick call-up from the practice squad.

Throughout training camp, Mike Danna has looked like a better option for the Chiefs than Taco Charlton, although I think Charlton is safe.

Linebackers (5): Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’ Daniel

In my mind, the top four linebackers here are locks to make the team — and that includes fourth-year linebacker Ben Niemann, whom Spagnuolo trusts with his scheme. Dorian O’Daniel vs. Darius Harris is a point to watch, and it may come down to whether or not Harris can impress Dave Toub enough on special teams. Harris had snaps on every special teams unit last year, but O’Daniel is a perennial Toub guy.

As mentioned in projection 1.0, the Chiefs may feel they need O’Daniel, who was seventh in special-teams snaps in only 11 games played. The three players above him — Antonio Hamilton (Buccaneers), Anthony Sherman (retired) and Nick Keizer (retired) — are no longer on the team.

Cornerbacks (6): Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, Mike Hughes, Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker, BoPete Keyes

No change to this room from our first projection. Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed are the outside cornerbacks in the base, with Sneed sliding inside in the nickel. There is a battle for outside cornerback in the nickel between Mike Hughes, Rashad Fenton and Deandre Baker. I think the Chiefs like Hughes there right now, but Fenton — who can also back up Sneed in the slot — is pushing him.

BoPete Keyes has taken a visible step forward in camp with a couple of turnovers, but it has not been enough to drive for real snaps — unless there is an injury.

Safeties (4): Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen, Juan Thornhill, Devon Key

Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen have been the team’s top two safeties, while Juan Thornhill has primarily come in for three-safety looks. I think undrafted rookie Devon Key makes this team, upsetting Armani Watts. It is not common for Steve Spagnuolo to give rookies first-team time, and we have seen him do it with Key in the dime. Key crossing off the special-teams box for Toub will seal Watts’ fate.

Specialists (3)

Placekicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester

After a few days on the COVID list, James Winchester returned. These three face no competition.

Under contract, not counted on active roster (2)

Reserve/PUP: OL Kyle Long

Reserve/Injured (out for season): DE Malik Herring

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

Year QB RB WR TE OL FB Total
Year QB RB WR TE OL FB Total
2013 3 3 6 3 8 1 24
2014 3 5 5 3 9 1 26
2015 3 3 6 3 8 1 24
2016 3 4 6 4 8 1 26
2017 3 2 6 3 9 1 24
2018 2 4 6 2 10 1 25
2019 3 4 5 3 9 1 25
2020 2 3 6 4 9 1 25

Defensive position quantities since 2013

Year DL LB CB S Total
Year DL LB CB S Total
2013 7 9 4 6 26
2014 6 9 5 4 24
2015 6 10 5 5 26
2016 6 9 6 4* 25*
2017 7 9 6 4 26
2018 6 9 5 5 25
2019 10 6 4 5 25
2020 10 5 5 5 25

*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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