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Chiefs’ initial 53-man roster for 2021 revealed after cuts

We’ll probably see some more moves in the next few days, but this is the starting point for the 2021 Chiefs roster.

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - 49ers at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs have made their cuts to get the team’s active roster down to 53 players before the NFL’s deadline.

Likely, this will not be the exact roster that will begin the season against the Cleveland Browns a week from Sunday. Some players will likely be removed during the coming days to make room for other Chiefs players who were previously removed — or players from other teams who are now available. This is just the starting point for 2021.

Instant reaction

Offense (25)

Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne

When you consider what Chad Henne accomplished in the Divisional round game against the Cleveland Browns last season, this room was never in question. The Chiefs appreciate Henne as a second quarterbacks coach to former MVP Patrick Mahomes — and he proved he could come through in the clutch on the biggest of stages. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has made it a recent trend to keep only two quarterbacks on the active roster, and it continues in 2021. Expect Shane Buechele to land on Kansas City’s practice squad.

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

Jerrick “Jet” McKinnon made it possible for the Chiefs to move on from Darwin Thompson, the former sixth-round draft pick from 2019. McKinnon offers the Chiefs experience, a closer comparison to starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire and special-teams upside; during the preseason, he actually looked like one of the better players on Dave Toub’s unit... period. Darrel Williams projects to finally get a chance at being the Chiefs’ true third-down back after watching the team sign (players who became) over-the-hill veterans LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell in recent years.

Fullbacks (1): Michael Burton

I should have known better than to get rid of the fullback on a Reid-led team in my projections. Look for Michael Burton to get Anthony Sherman’s six to 10 offensive snaps per game — while also helping out on special teams.

Wide receivers (5): Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Daurice Fountain

We always knew how the beginning of this room would go — Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle. But would general manager Brett Veach go as far as to cut his own fifth-round draft pick? The answer was yes. Kansas City waived fifth-rounder Cornell Powell. Enter four-year veteran Daurice Fountain, who projects as a sneaky weapon for Patrick Mahomes in this offense — especially if one of the top receivers goes down due to injury. Marcus Kemp was a surprise release — but friend-of-the-site Matt Derrick of Chiefs Digest expects he may be back in the mix soon.

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

Under Reid, the Chiefs kept four tight ends in 2016 — then not again until 2020. This season now marks the second consecutive year in which four tight ends make the initial 53 — and it does appear that his group has far higher upside than last year’s group (Travis Kelce, Nick Keizer, Deon Yelder and Ricky Seals-Jones). Blake Bell has returned to the Chiefs as the room’s best blocker. They took Noah Gray in the draft as an offensive weapon understudy. The only question was Jody Fortson, who finally made the team by showing he deserved it throughout preseason looks.

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

The Chiefs will indeed start five new players along the line in Week 1 as compared to 2020’s Week 1, including three rookies from the center to right tackle position. Behind the starters includes a deep group of backups. Austin Blythe will be the backup center when he returns from his sports hernia rehabilitation, Andrew Wylie and Mike Remmers project as swing tackles and Nick Allegretti and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif become the line’s interior depth. If he makes it through waivers, look for Prince Tega Wanogho to stick with the team on the practice squad.

Defense (25)

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

Jarran Reed changed everything for the Chiefs’ defensive line this offseason, allowing the team to play Chris Jones as a defensive end on first and second downs. The player next to Reed to start training camp was Derrick Nnadi — but as time went on, Turk Wharton and Khalen Saunders began making a case for more snaps. Saunders has said he intends no drop-off when he enters the game — and over the last two weeks, he has played like a starter. This is one of the team’s most underrated rooms when it comes to competition for playing time.

Defensive ends (5): Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Michael Danna, Alex Okafor, Joshua Kaindoh

Taco Charlton would have been the surprise cut here had it happened on Tuesday, but that was something we knew a week ago. In a year in which he changed to the position, Chris Jones is by far the most talented defensive end on this roster. Frank Clark would be next, but he has not been available for most of camp and preseason as he has dealt with a hamstring injury. Two positive notes for the Chiefs are that Mike Danna has looked the part and that Alex Okafor can provide veteran leadership — if he stays healthy. Joshua Kaindoh is the developmental player the Chiefs found in the NFL Draft. Tim Ward was a surprise cut after he tallied 3.0 sacks in the preseason.

Linebackers (6): Willie Gay Jr., Anthony Hitchens, Nick Bolton, Ben Niemann, Darius Harris, Dorian O’Daniel

Anthony Hitchens was supposed to start Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns next to Willie Gay Jr., but now — thanks to Gay’s toe injury — that is in question. Instead, it will likely be veteran Ben Niemann, who the Chiefs love for his understanding of the scheme and system, with rookie Nick Bolton rotating in for some looks. I thought Darius Harris had a strong training camp in St. Joseph, and Dorian O’Daniel held onto his job due to his critical role on special teams for coordinator Dave Toub.

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

If I’m guessing, your three starters in the nickel (which is the base nowadays) are left cornerback Charvarius Ward, slot cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and right cornerback Mike Hughes. Deandre Baker should come on after Hughes on the outside and Rashad Fenton can fill in where necessary. Chris Lammons went through a heck of a cut day, as he was told by the Chiefs he was out before making the initial 53-man roster, according to NFL Network. The Chiefs chose to keep the 2018 undrafted free agent over their own 2020 draft pick: seventh-rounder BoPete Keyes. Lammons played both outside positions — as well as special teams — during the preseason.

Safeties (4): Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen, Juan Thornhill, Armani Watts

Tyrann Mathieu is the team’s defensive leader who — at this writing — will enter the 2021 regular season on the final year of his contract. Daniel Sorensen has officially graduated from any cut concern at this stage of his eight-year career (where did the time go?) and Juan Thornhill is a young player the Chiefs still very much believe in. Like O’Daniel, Armani Watts is an Uncle Dave keeper, leading the Chiefs in special-teams snaps in 2020.

Specialists (3)

Placekicker (1): Harrison Butker

Punter (1): Tommy Townsend

Long snapper (1): James Winchester

Kicker Harrison Butker may have had a few shaky moments during camp, but the Chiefs never brought in another kicker. Punter Tommy Townsend looks to have taken a significant step forward — if the preseason is any indication.

Under contract, not counted on active roster (2)

Reserve/Injured (lost for season) (0):

Reserve/PUP (1): OL Kyle Long

Reserve/NFI (1): DE Malik Herring

Removed from 80-man roster (25)

  • Waived: CB/LB Zayne Anderson, WR Dalton Shoen, WR Darrius Shepherd, DE Demone Harris, LB Omari Cobb, DE Austin Edwards, S Devon Key, OL Wyatt Miller, WR Maurice Ffrench, RB Derrick Gore, RB Darwin Thompson, C Darryl Williams, CB Marlon Character, QB Shane Buechele, DB Dicaprio Bootle, DT Tyler Clark, DB Rodney Clemons, DB BoPete Keyes, WR Cornell Powell, LB Emmanuel Smith, T Prince Tega Wanogho, DE Tim Ward
  • Waived/injured: None
  • Released: WR Gehrig Dieter and WR Marcus Kemp
  • Traded to another team: OL Yasir Durant
  • Claimed on waivers: None
  • Free agents signed: None
  • Acquired through trade: None

Practice Squad (up to 16)

The Chiefs will not be able to begin building most of their practice squad until 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Wednesday, which is the deadline for waived players to be claimed by other teams; most players who will fill the practice squad will have previously been waived from the Chiefs’ 80-man roster, so they must clear waivers first. But under the rules in place for the 2021 season, up to six of the 16 players each team can carry on its practice squad may have any amount of league experience. So it’s possible the Chiefs could sign some practice-squad players from the pool of veteran players just released by other teams — who will not have to go through waivers — before Wednesday’s deadline.

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