With Friday nights’ final preseason game now upon us, the composition of this Kansas City Chiefs roster is coming into clearer focus. The starters are locked in. They’re as good — if not better than — any other starting group in the league.
There aren’t many roster spots actually up for grabs; by this point, most have been decided. But there are also many players moving up the rankings — especially in the middle of the roster. This speaks to the team’s improving depth — and the exciting young players who could make the difference between getting close or winning a title.
As final cutdown day approaches, here are some of the Chiefs players who are moving up and down the ranks.
Juan Thornhill: It’s been a confusing preseason process for Thornhill — but after a strong game last week, it appears he’s on the right track as the regular season approaches. In the preseason, the team has been trying to get him as many snaps as possible — so we’ll see if that continues on Friday night. But barring an injury setback, we’re once again bullish on Thornhill.
Mike Danna: The release of Taco Charlton speaks to the development of the youth at the EDGE position. That starts with Danna, who has shown the ability to stop the run, the intelligence and technical acumen to play the position and the hustle to finish plays. A player on the rise, Danna looks like the first player off the bench behind Frank Clark — and with Clark still hurting, Danna should get the starter’s treatment on Friday.
Jerrick McKinnon: Like Danna and Thornhill, McKinnon doesn’t have anything left to prove. He’s already shown his worth in all aspects of the game: running, receiving, blocking and special teams. McKinnon’s bullish status is a reflection of just how much of a factor he could be for the Chiefs this season. Running back depth is critical; the team will need multiple guys who can play. McKinnon looks like an explosive, well-rounded back who can not only be good depth, but can also be a playmaker that the Chiefs can’t help but use when the regular season starts.
Others trending in the right direction this week: L’Jarius Sneed, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang, Willie Gay Jr. , Tershawn Wharton, Deandre Baker and Mike Hughes.
Demarcus Robinson: Let’s get this out of the way up front: Robinson is probably on the 53-man roster. But if you combine Dave Toub’s negative comments this week with the rise of the competition around him, it at least makes you wonder what the team’s plans really are. Robinson has been known for his blocking, out-of-structure plays with quarterback Patrick Mahomes — and finally, for his questionable ball security. We’ll be watching to see what snaps he gets on Friday, trying to get clues about whether Robinson is still a mainstay with the first team — or if there’s really a chance there will be a shakeup.
Cornell Powell: The other receiver who could be negatively affected by the competition for the final one or two roster spots is the fifth-round rookie draft pick. Powell hasn’t been bad in his first camp, but he hasn’t been able to stand out or move up in comparison to Daurice Fountain and Marcus Kemp — among others. We don’t think the team will cut a draft pick if they have a choice — but they’ve done it before, so it’s not out of the question. Powell was a late-developing player in college, so he may just need more time. We’ll see if the Chiefs can give it to him.
Devon Key: The star of the UDFAs in St. Joseph had a couple of very visible losses in the first two preseason games. No longer does he appear to be trending towards a 53-man roster spot — but he could easily be a practice-squad player with some upside if the team needs him. We should expect Key to get plenty of snaps when the team takes on the Vikings. He’ll have a chance to show he learned from his previous mistakes — and leave a good final impression on the front office.
Others trending in the wrong direction this week: Alex Okafor, Austin Blythe, Mike Remmers and Dorian O’Daniel.
Daurice Fountain and Jody Fortson: These two young receiving threats have been the stars of camp and preseason. The team and fans both want to see some other big targets for Mahomes, but it’s been tough to find guys who can actually stick. Each of these players is likely at the bottom of the depth chart for their respective positions — and should be relative longshots for the 53-man roster. But both have also done absolutely everything within their power to make their cases; there’s nothing they can do against the Vikings that would change anything. It’s all up to the team to decide how many receivers and tight ends they are willing to carry on the initial roster. For these guys, it’s a numbers game — and we’re all rooting for them.
BoPete Keyes: A player we assumed would be on the roster this season has been pretty quiet so far. Last year’s seventh-round pick (via trade-up) has been a pretty good player in very limited action so far. But has Keyes been passed over in favor of Chris Lammons or Dicaprio Bootle? It’s safe to say that Keyes is (at best) the fifth corner on the roster behind Sneed, Ward, Hughes and Baker — but he might even be on the bubble if the team likes Bootle or Lammons. One more chance for an impression, then we’ll see which of these guys are on the roster — and which are on the practice squad.
Others from whom we need to see more: Prince Tega Wanogo, Tim Ward, Dicaprio Bootle and Noah Gray
Value (Sleeper) pick
Darwin Thompson: Darwin has been playing his heart out in preseason games — and very visibly working extra hard on conditioning in camp. He’s doing everything he can to prove himself — and to his credit, the results have been good. With all of the other running backs banged up right now, he’ll likely get plenty of snaps on Friday night. It’s one more chance to see if roster cuts actually are the survival of the fittest.