The Kansas City Chiefs have a day off from training camp in St. Joseph on Wednesday before a padded practice on Thursday, a day off on Friday and their first preseason game (against the Chicago Bears) at Noon on Saturday. Their first cut — to 85 players — will happen on Tuesday, three days after the game.
Another cut (to 80) happens on August 23, and the final cut (to 53) happens on August 30.
As always, my projections are based upon things I’ve seen, heard and hypothesized (Go back and read 1.0 here). Here we go!
Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
No change from projection 1.0 when it comes to quarterbacks. As noted in the initial projection, head coach Andy Reid has curbed his tendency of keeping three quarterbacks on the first iteration of the roster in recent years, holding two at the final cut in both 2020 and 2021. The fact that the Arizona Cardinals tried to poach third-string QB Shane Buchele as they dealt with injuries at the position last year still exists, but I haven’t seen enough from Buechele at training camp to make me think the Chiefs will need to protect him right from the start. He has an opportunity to change my mind in the preseason, when he will get a lot of playing time. The Cardinals — and 30 other teams — will be watching. If he shows out as he did last year, the Chiefs may have to keep him. I continue to believe they try to sneak him on the practice squad. Again, cutting Chad Henne would come with a more-than-$3 million cap penalty — and thus far, he has taken every second-team snap at training camp.
Running backs (3): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Isiah Pacheco
OUT: Ronald Jones
Just as I did in projection 1.0, I maintain the locks for the Chiefs’ running back room are Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isiah Pacheco. The Chiefs’ personnel staff likes the upside of their seventh-round rookie, and special teams coordinator Dave Toub has essentially said the kick-returner job is his to lose. At training camp, returning running back Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones have mainly mixed in as the No. 2 back with the first team, but Pacheco has seen looks as well. I think that because of the numbers at other positions (my bet is the Chiefs keep six receivers and four tight ends), they can keep McKinnon or Jones — and my money is on McKinnon, who was the Chiefs’ best running back at the end of last year. In late July, McKinnon revealed he had offseason surgery, and because of that, he took time to recover as he considered a couple teams. My thought is the Chiefs preferred McKinnon — but in March, signed Jones just in case McKinnon decided go elsewhere. Jones is a serviceable back who can earn a role with another team. I still believe the Chiefs will call around and pull a late-preseason “Carlos Hyde” by moving Jones to another club. Look for a team that loses a running back to injury in one of these initial preseason games coming up this weekend. Kansas City will attempt to retain Derrick Gore as insurance on their practice squad.
Fullbacks (1): Mike Burton
No change here. Andy Reid loves fullbacks, and fullbacks love Andy Reid. “Coach Reid — he believes in having a fullback — it’s my job to make sure he wants to carry one,” Burton said recently.
Wide receivers (6): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore, Justin Watson, Daurice Fountain
OUT: Josh Gordon
IN: Daurice Fountain
Let’s be honest: as I said in projection 1.0, we already know JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman and Skyy Moore are making the team. It is just a matter of figuring out which other receivers will make the cut. I had a hunch Justin Watson would make the team since he stood out at organized team activities (OTAs), but I think Toub saying he could be the next Marcus Kemp on special teams has made him a near-lock for this room. We know that Mahomes likes Watson, too. When Josh Gordon signed with the Chiefs last year, Toub essentially laughed at the idea of him playing special teams — and on offense at camp, he has been too quiet to merit taking up a roster spot on that basis. Even though he’s currently injured, I think the Chiefs stick with Daurice Fountain, whom they preferred over Gordon in last’s year’s playoffs due to his special-teams upside. Something to note here: I would say that 2021 fifth-rounder Cornell Powell has had a really strong camp, looking like a much better option than he did all of last year. I wonder what a strong preseason may do for the conversations about him in the Chiefs’ decision room.
Tight ends (4): Travis Kelce, Jody Fortson, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
This room has been surprisingly interesting this camp, stemming from the quad injury that has cost Jody Fortson more than a week of practices. Before the quad issue, he looked like his old self; I think the Chiefs are being ultra-cautious in holding him out for this extended period. In his absence, Noah Gray has really shined. He looks to have taken a step closer to those draft-weekend Travis Kelce comparisons. Had Fortson not been injured, we probably wouldn’t know that. I do still believe there is a possible scenario where the Chiefs could keep three tight ends, finally saying goodbye to Blake Bell, but his ability to block, tight-end sneak and be the fourth member of the “T-Rex” package likely leads Reid to keep all four. Another depth player who has really popped with Fortson missing practice is 2018 free agent Jordan Franks. In my view, he is a sure bet for the practice squad.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Andrew Wylie, Geron Christian, Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter, Darian Kinnard
OUT: Roderick Johnson
IN: Geron Christian
When we made our initial projection, we weren’t sure how long Orlando Brown Jr. planned to hold out of Kansas City’s training camp. It wasn’t long, and he has already settled back into his left tackle position — actually looking a step quicker after slimming down a bit. While Brown was absent, Roderick Johnson manned the top left tackle position, likely leaving some — including yours truly — to believe he would certainly make the 53-man roster. I’m not sure I feel that way anymore, with Geron Christian competing with Andrew Wylie for the starting right tackle position in recent days while spending some snaps at left tackle. If I had to guess right now, my thought would be that Wylie wins the right tackle job over Christian, with Christian outlasting Johnson as the Chiefs’ swing tackle. Nick Allegretti can play both interior guard positions, Austin Reiter will back up Creed Humphrey at center — and rookie fifth-rounder Darian Kinnard spends 2022 on the active roster with eyes on competing for a starting role in 2023. I still believe Lucas Niang begins the season on the physically-unable- to-perform (PUP) list. The Chiefs were previously high on Prince Tega Wanogho — but since he’s been off the PUP list, he has been buried on the third team. Note that Allegretti and Michael Caliendo have also seen training camp reps at backup center.
Defensive tackles (4): Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders
Again, we (of course) expect Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton to make this roster. During our first exercise, I was curious how Khalen Saunders would show up to training camp, noting that Taylor Stallworth could easily be in the mix. In my looks, Saunders has shown enough to make the team, while a knee injury has sidelined Stallworth. But given that the Chiefs brought in former first-rounder Danny Shelton on Tuesday, I also wonder about the severity of the Stallworth injury.
Defensive ends (6): Frank Clark, George Karlaftis, Mike Danna, Carlos Dunlap, Josh Kaindoh, Malik Herring
IN: Carlos Dunlap
In projection 1.0, I noted that the first three players were locks. With veteran Carlos Dunlap entering the fold, now it’s the first four. I’m way less certain about former fourth-round pick Joshua Kaindoh and former undrafted free-agent Malik Herring, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire at training camp. Still, I like the athletic upside both provide. I don’t want to reveal too much, but new defensive line coach Joe Cullen has often run more than two defensive ends at a time, kicking players in regardless of position. So for now, these are the six — but I would not be stunned if the Chiefs move on from Kaindoh or Herring for a healthy Stallworth or a reinvigorated Shelton.
Linebackers (5): Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr., Elijah Lee, Darius Harris, Leo Chenal
OUT: Jermaine Carter Jr.
IN: Darius Harris
I’ve been mentioning this week that after watching an improved Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. for a couple of weeks up at Chiefs training camp, this tandem has top-five upside. I didn’t necessarily feel that in the offseason. In the base, Elijah Lee has taken most of the SAM reps, with Darius Harris serving the Chiefs as a backup MIKE. In an ideal world — where you did not have to expose your players — the Chiefs may keep Jermaine Carter Jr. over Leo Chenal, who has shown early on to be a non-option if there is any possibility the Chiefs’ opponent is passing the ball. But that’s not how NFL rules work, so I think the Chiefs — who guaranteed Carter $1.7 million after he started 17 games for Carolina last season — may try to find a way to move him. Or maybe he makes the club over Kaindoh or Herring. One thing is for sure: if he does make the team, Carter won’t be starting 17 games.
Cornerbacks (6): L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Rashad Fenton, Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson, Chris Lammons
OUT: Lonnie Johnson Jr.
IN: Chris Lammons
Rashad Fenton missing the beginning of training camp gave us a glimpse into how the Chiefs see their rookie cornerbacks, with fourth-rounder Joshua Williams taking the most reps at top-team outside corner in the nickel, followed by a couple days of seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson and some limited work for seventh-rounder Nazeeh Johnson. Fenton practiced Tuesday after coming off the PUP, but he was held back from participating in team scrimmage periods. I think that changes in the days following Saturday’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears. In his opportunities, Williams has looked the part, so I think he becomes the Chiefs’ next cornerback up. Watson is next, but I have moved away from Lonnie Johnson Jr. in favor of Chris Lammons for projection 2.0. An underrated Chiefs storyline is the turnover on special teams, with the team losing four out of five of their snap leaders from 2021. Who was sixth in special-teams snaps in 2021? Lammons, who has also had some good looks as defensive back. Kansas City has the length they were looking for in Williams and Watson — and by cutting Johnson, the Chiefs keep their 2024 seventh-round pick. I like the Chiefs to continue to develop Nazeeh on their practice squad — providing he clears waviers.
Safeties (4): Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Bryan Cook, Deon Bush
No changes to this room. We know about the importance of the top three players, and it’s safe to say Deon Bush is a nice depth player who adds value in his ability to play special teams.
Placekicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester
Still no surprises.
Under contract, not counted on active roster (2)
Reserve/PUP: OL Lucas Niang
Reserve/Injured (out for season): WR Justyn Ross
Chiefs position quantities at the 53-man cutdown since 2013
Here’s a look at Chiefs position quantities throughout the years since Andy Reid took over the Chiefs in 2013:
Offensive position quantities since 2013
Defensive position quantities since 2013
*Eric Berry had a roster exemption at the 53-man roster cutdown in 2016 and was included in most cutdown listings.
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