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Chiefs Bubble Watch: How preseason Week 1 impacted the roster bubble

On Wednesday’s Out of Structure podcast, we revisited the roster bubble — and which players are on it.

Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Wednesday’s mailbag edition of Arrowhead Pride’s Out of Structure podcast, Matt Stagner and I reacted to the Kansas City Chiefs’ first preseason game — a 19-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

We discussed each of our lists of takeaways from Saturday’s exhibition. After talking through everything, we named multiple players who had their chances of making the team strengthened (or weakened) by their performance.

I’ve summarized three of our talking points.

Darwin Thompson vs. Jerick McKinnon

In my opinion, new Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon was the offensive player of the game, based on the explosive plays he had as a runner and a receiver. On one particular 10-yard run, you saw great vision from the veteran — weaving through the defensive front seven and reading blocks well.

Thompson had some decent snaps as the fourth running back, but also earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for getting in the face of a defender after a play. It could be argued that it was a soft call, but head coach Andy Reid demands discipline. I imagine the 15-yard penalty didn’t help Thompson’s chances at beating out McKinnon.

The Chiefs could keep four backs — but I believe that they’ll stay at three. Saturday widened the gap between McKinnon and Thompson on the depth chart.

Jody Fortson vs. Blake Bell vs. Michael Burton

Along with a decision about how many running backs to keep, the Chiefs have another tough decision between the tight end and fullback positions: would the team keep four tight ends, sacrificing a traditional fullback in Michael Burton to do so?

They could if they believe a blocking specialist like Blake Bell can be a fullback when the offense needs to have one — and then have three other tight ends with receiving upside: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. The team has already set a precedent for having receiving talent available from a fourth tight end: Ricky Seals-Jones, who stuck on the roster all of last season — even though he didn’t make an impact.

If the team does want to keep Burton, could the three tight ends be Kelce, Gray, and Fortson? Gray has been a better blocker at camp than some expected. Perhaps the team might sacrifice a drop-off in blocking from Bell to Gray in order to raise the ceiling of the position group’s receiving ability.

Alex Okafor vs. Tim Ward

According to Talon Graff in the instant analysis he and I posted after the preseason opener, Tim Ward was the defensive player of Saturday’s game. He had two sacks — one of them happening when he got a great jump off the snap. When you break down the defensive end position — and factor in Chris Jones — Ward might be the seventh player on the list; a standard roster projection would have the Chiefs keeping six.

Ward’s flashy performances in preseason Week 1 (and Week 17 last season) could make him a candidate to be picked off the waiver wire if the team cut him with hopes of putting him back on the practice squad.

If veteran Alex Okafor continues to be hobbled by injuries, could Ward make the case to stay on the roster while Okafor is the odd man out? Okafor could also be a candidate for injured reserve — so the team might maneuver a way to get Okafor on IR, keeping both around the team.

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