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Chiefs’ state of the 53: A pre-draft look at the offense

Before the NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, let’s take a look at the roster.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The NFL Draft is this week, and general manager Brett Veach is navigating through what is becoming perhaps the most important offseason in his five-year tenure. Much of the 2019 championship core has now either left in free agency or via trade, or the players are older, and big decisions will be made on them soon.

Veach deserves credit for the tough decisions he has had to make. Last year, for example, Veach was forced to make the decision to release both tackles that were immensely important in the Super Bowl victory just days before free agency, which couldn’t have been easy. He followed that up by putting together a young core of talent considered one of the league’s best.

It can be argued this year has been more difficult. The release of linebacker Anthony Hitchens and not re-signing All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu or cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes meant that there would be new leaders and voices on the defensive side of the ball.

Trading an All-Pro wide receiver and fan-favorite in wide receiver Tyreek Hill meant that the offense would have a significant change as well. It’s been tough to navigate, but Veach has made the tough calls to do what he believes is best — get ahead of the curve and set the Chiefs up for sustained success in the coming years.

For that sustained success, Veach has made it clear that the Chiefs need to get younger and cheaper. The best way to do that? The NFL Draft. Let’s look at each position group and identify where the team needs are after free agency and leading into the draft with a league-high 12 draft picks.

Quarterback

Projected on 53: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
Bubble: Shane Buechele

Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league. Chad Henne was brought back for another season as a steady backup. Shane Buchele is the wild card here, as he did spend some time on the 53-man roster last season after getting some inquiries from injury-riddled teams. The Chiefs hosted South Dakota State Quarterback Chris Oladokun, but that looks to be more of a training camp body, if anything.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: Zero. This is the one position group I believe they are set.

Running Back

Projected on 53: Clyde Edwards- Helaire, Ronald Jones, Mike Burton, Derrick Gore, RB5

The Chiefs have traditionally carried five running backs on the roster, and with only four with NFL experience, there is a hole. Edwards-Helaire and Jones look like they will split time as the lead running back, with Gore in a depth/special teams role. The need here is the home run hitter that made Chiefs fans fall in love with Damien Williams. The Chiefs could use a draft pick to address the need, but I think it's just as easy to project a reunion with Jerrick McKinnon this offseason.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 4th round — Pierre Strong Jr. The best home-run hitter in the class that can complement what Edwards-Helaire and Jones bring to the room. Veach mentioned the depth of the running back class. Some later guys to watch are Keontay Ingram, D’Vonte Price, and Isaih Pacheco.

Wide Receiver

Projected on 53: WR1, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR5, one of Josh Gordon/Daurice Fountain/Cornell Powell

Even with the additions of Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling, the Chiefs need to add talent to the room. The way I look at it, the Chiefs have three receivers locked in, a myriad of options for the sixth (usual special teams) slot — and they are still left with two openings. The Chiefs need to invest here in at least one option that has a chance to make a difference this season. The losses of Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson will need to be offset with young talent for the championship window to stay open.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 1st round — George Pickens. I’m bought in on bringing him into this room and letting him be the No. 1 guy. The talent is there, and pairing him with Mahomes for the next five seasons is a highlight reel waiting to happen. Pickens can win on the outside and sets up defenders for separation and for yards after the catch that make him truly special. For WR5, I’d compliment Pickens with another speed option like a Tyquan Thornton from Baylor or a Danny Gray from SMU on Day 3.

Tight End

Projected on 53: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray
Bubble: Jody Fortson

The Chiefs traditionally carry only three tight ends on the roster but made an exception last year when Jody Fortson played his way onto the team. How he recovers from his Achilles injury could impact what the Chiefs do in the tight end room. But it’s also not getting any younger. Travis Kelce is 33 years old, and Blake Bell, who was brought back on a one-year deal, is 30 years old. The value would have to be right, in my opinion, for the Chiefs to make a draft pick on a tight end.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 4th round — Charlie Kolar. Kolar is a solid tight end option that had elite athletic testing even though it didn’t always show up on film. Kolar is 6 feet 7 with 34.5-inch arms, which could be very attractive to the Chiefs.

Offensive Tackle

Projected on 53: Orlando Brown Jr., Andrew Wylie, Geron Christian, Lucas Niang
Bubble: Prince Tega Wanogho

Brown Jr. and Wylie are starter locks, in my opinion, after growing into the tackle position with Mahomes as the season went along last year, and Christian was signed this offseason as a depth option. Niang is the wild card. If the Chiefs feel he can come back from these injuries and get to 100% healthy, then a draft pick doesn’t need to be invested. If they have concern regarding his return, then right tackle could be a sneaky need to be addressed in the draft. Tega Wanogho is a personal favorite and spent time on the 53-man roster last season. His development and health are also a concern.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 4th round — Braxton Jones. He is a small school guy from Southern Utah but has the frame that Andy Reid requires from his tackles at 35-inch arms. He did a nice job with his quickness to handle edge speed that more of the NFL is trending toward. Jones is not a Day 1 starter and will need time to develop, but fundamentals and frame are there to work with. I also like Matt Waltezko, Max Mitchell and the late-round flyer option of Ryan Van Demark.

Interior Offensive Line

Projected on 53: Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Nick Allegretti
Bubble: Austin Reiter

The starters of Thuney, Humphrey and Smith are locks. Allegretti is going into a contract year and feels like a lock to make the roster as well, given his experience in the offense and ability to plug and play along the interior. Reiter returns on a one-year deal, and I expect him to be the final guy to make the team for depth, but would not be shocked if a seventh-round flyer or UDFA impresses in camp and replaces him.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 7th round (if any) — Cordell Volson. Volson is a small school guy that has experience at both tackle and guard that comes with strong and active hands. He has a good frame and balance that could be something worth developing into a backup role.

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