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3 position battles to watch on the fringes of the Chiefs’ roster

On the latest ‘Out of Structure’ podcast, we previewed the offseason competitions at the bottom of the depth chart.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs OTA Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With OTAs underway for the Kansas City Chiefs, Arrowhead Pride’s “Out of Structure” podcast previewed the position battles we’ll be following for the remainder of the offseason — specifically those on the fringes of the roster.

(Listen to the podcast above or by clicking here. It is also available on Spotify).

We examined five positions, naming the players we believe to be in the mix and the differences between them. On the podcast, we led off with wide receivers — which we’ve talked about ad nauseum this offseason — so we wanted to highlight some of the other positions here.

Running back

Roster spots available: one or two
Established players: Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ronald Jones II

In recent history, the Chiefs have typically kept three running backs to start the season. However, there were four running backs in the rotation down the stretch of 2021. We identified three players competing for those one or two spots:

  • Derrick Gore
  • Seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco
  • Undrafted free agent Jerrion Ealy

Ron’s thoughts: I would actually give Gore the nod to be the third member of the position group — but I am predicting the Chiefs will keep four running backs. It would make sense for Kansas City to value the player that can best fill in on passing downs. The other three backs either aren’t known for their work there (Jones) or don’t have a lot of experience on in those situations.

Matt’s thoughts: Pacheco was not only the fastest running back in the draft, but one of the best in pass protection. He’s someone who could compete for passing-down action — along with having the potential to return kicks. Speaking of returners, Jerrion Ealy has some serious special-teams chops; he was named an All-SEC performer. Whether he’s on the running back depth chart or even part of the receiver group — he’s the only guy listed as both — he’s one to watch.

Cornerback

Roster spots available: two or three
Established players: L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton and Trent McDuffie

Under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs have kept as many as six cornerbacks — and as few as four in 2019. With this group loaded up with bodies, it’s likely they keep five or six. We identified five players in the mix:

  • Fourth-round pick Joshua Williams
  • Seventh-round pick Jaylen Watson
  • Former Houston Texans (and 2019 second-round) player Lonnie Johnson Jr.
  • Deandre Baker
  • 2021 UDFA DiCaprio Bootle
  • Former Jacksonville Jaguars (and 2020 UDFA) player Luq Barcoo

Matt’s thoughts: If the Chiefs felt good about Deandre Baker’s role on the team, there would have been no reason to trade for Lonnie Johnson. We’ll need to to see how this competition plays out at training camp in St. Joseph, but Baker could very well be near the end of the line in Kansas City.

Ron’s thoughts: In my eyes, Joshua Williams will be on the team — but with how much volume the group currently has, I also imagine the Chiefs keeping six cornerbacks to start the year. So with the other two spots, I’d keep an eye on Bootle. He offers slot capability in a group that consists of primarily outside cornerbacks.

Linebacker

Roster spots available: most likely two
Established players: Willie Gay Jr., Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal

In Spagnuolo’s tenure, Kansas City has kept six linebackers in two of the three years — but only five in 2020. With the abilities of the top three at this position, there should only be a need for two other players. We talked about three players vying for that spot:

Ron’s thoughts: Carter’s experience as a MIKE linebacker could give him an edge. That’s mainly because Rose is a rookie — and in recent history, Lee has really only been a special-teams player; he hasn’t played defense in any substantial way since 2018.

Matt’s thoughts: If we think of it in terms of last year’s roles, you’ve got one linebacker position available for a guy who basically only plays on special teams (Dorian O’Daniel’s spot) and one for a dime linebacker who is also the backup MIKE (Ben Nieman’s spot). Since he’s a really good special teams player, we might be overlooking Lee. I could see Rose taking the dime reps — but Chenal should be the backup MIKE. That makes you wonder what they have in mind for Carter.


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