After winning the Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs tried to "run it back." After winning SB LVII, Brett Veach & Co. have decided to "step it up." There was no complacency in the front office, and there will be no complacency on the field this off-season. Or if there is, there’ll be consequences like losing your starting spot or even your place on the roster. It’s possible Veach and the front office guys have upgraded every position group from a Super Bowl-winning roster except QB and TE. Not sure how you go up from all-time greats in Mahomes and Kelce. Maybe if Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson was our QB2? Or we could’ve drafted Michael Mayer as Kelce’s understudy at pick 31? In any case, the roster is looking pretty amazing right now.
The Chiefs have a core group of All-Pro’s and young studs who are going to make a difference this year:
· QB1 Mahomes-best QB in NFL
· TE1 Kelce-best TE in NFL
· DT1 Chris Jones-best DT in NFL
· IOL Thuney-Creed-Trey-best trio in NFL
· OT1 Jawaan Taylor-Pro Bowl snub last year
· LB1 Nick Bolton-2nd in tackles last year
· DE1 George K-averaged nearly a sack per game at the end of last season
· CB1+2 Sneed + McDuffie-2 potential All-Pro’s
· P Townsend-1st team All-Pro
All of these guys started for the Chiefs last year except Taylor who just signed a 4-year $80M contract this offseason. These guys are some of the best in the world at what they do, not only because of their talent, but because of their hunger and work ethic.
After them is a group of players that are all hungry to start, to get more playing time, or to make the roster in the hopes of getting a chance to show what they can do on an NFL field. There are going to be some fascinating camp battles.
· QB2-3: Gabbert vs Buechele vs dark horse Oladokun
Oladokun has some college highlights that make me go, "Is that Mahomes?" He’s got that gunslinger in him. Gabbert is the savvy vet. Buechele is the guy the Chiefs have kept on the roster to keep other teams (AZ mostly) from poaching him off the practice squad. Who is going to come out on top? Will the Chiefs even keep a 3rd QB this year with all the other players vying for roster spots? After witnessing SF’s debacle last year in the NFC Championship, my guess is yes.
· WR1-6: MVS vs Skyy vs Toney vs Rice vs R James vs Justyn R vs Justin W
It would be an anomaly if 7 WRs made the 53. MVS has the big money contract and a year in the system. Skyy was a 2nd round pick with a year in the system. Toney was a 1st round pick with a half season in the system and some crazy upside. Rashee Rice was a clear WR1 in college at SMU, and the Chiefs just traded up in the 2nd to get him. Justyn Ross was the WR1 on Clemson’s national championship team. As a true freshman, he outplayed Tee Higgins. Medical concerns kept him from being drafted, but the talent and skill are there. Ritchie James was the NYG WR1 last year and better for his QB and a bigger part of their offense than Juju was for us. Said differently, Ritchie would’ve been a 1000-yard receiver in the Juju role last year. He’s also a quality return specialist. If he doesn’t make the team, what does that say about the 6 guys in front of him? Justin Watson is a more talented, less refined version of Juju who just got a 2-year contract. MVS seems like a lock to start but the least likely (except for Watson) to be WR1. What will happen if even 1 of these guys steps up like Juju did last year? What happens if 2 do? 3? This could be a crazy good, matchup nightmare of a WR corps. Will all 7 be on the roster? I doubt it. Barring injury, who is the odd man out? I have no idea, but I’d have to guess either Ross or Watson.
· RB3-4: front-runner CEH vs Perine vs Prince
Pacheco and McKinnon should be 1 and 2 to start the season. Is CEH RB3? I think so. That leaves La’Mical Perine and Deneric Prince to battle it out for 1 roster spot. Unless the Chiefs only carry 3 RBs. Then it leaves them to battle it out for a practice squad spot. Yikes. That’s a pretty big pay cut. Unlike previous years, it seems like the Chiefs have some guys they trust because they brought in so few for competition, but it’ll be a fierce one for those 1-2 roster spots.
· OT2-4: front-runner D Smith vs W Morris vs Niang vs PTW vs dark horse Kinnard
Taylor’s going to start. Will it be left or right side? That probably depends on who the OT2 is. That means there’s 1 starting spot for the 5 guys mentioned above. There may also only be 3 roster spots for those guys, maybe a 4th for the ones with inside versatility. Someone is headed to IR or the practice squad. Smith has the inside track as a veteran with experience and high-level tape, but he’s got to remain healthy. Perhaps contract details will let us know how confident the Chiefs are in his ability to see the field this year. The other 4 are all young and hungry. Can any of them impress Coach Reid and Coach Heck enough to get on the field on Sundays?
· IOL4-5: front-runner Allegretti vs Kinnard vs Reiter vs dark horses Carvin + Caliendo
The Chiefs have the best IOL trio in the NFL. I don’t understand how Allegretti didn’t get paid good money to start elsewhere, but I’m stoked he’s back. He’s a 3-way super-backup who can catch TDs. Not sure what to make of Kinnard at this point, but he’s got starter-level upside. Reiter is most likely getting stashed on the practice squad after cut-down day just like last year. Same could happen with Caliendo. If Carvin is cut, I expect somebody will pick him up. His upside is starting NFL lineman. Is there room for a 6th IOL on the 53? I doubt it. So perhaps for a roster spot it’s Kinnard vs Carvin? That’s my bet. And maybe the early lead is Kinnard because he’s been with the team as a draft pick while Carvin is a rookie UDFA? Probably.
· DT2-4: Nnadi vs Wharton vs Coburn vs Cowart vs Shelton vs dark horses Wise + Hoskins
With experience in the system, I think Nnadi has the inside track to start early this season, but I also think Coburn has more upside. Wharton has done well in limited reps as a super-athletic, small-school developmental project, but he’s not your typical run-stuffer next to CJ. Cowart and Shelton have both played in the NFL. 2 of those 5 probably aren’t on the 53. If either Wise or Hoskins steps up, then you’re pushing someone from a different position group off the 53.
· DE2: Omenihu vs FAU
Who is starting for the Chiefs across from Karlaftis? Maybe this isn’t a huge deal since DEs rotate so much, but I’m guessing both of these guys want to be called the starter. FAU being a rookie with a busted hand could keep Omenihu on top early, but for how long?
· DE5: incumbents Herring + Kaindoh vs new blood Thompson + Truman Jones
The Chiefs had 2 developmental DEs on the roster last year so it’s possible they keep 2 of these 3, but because of depth at so many other position groups, my hunch is only 1 will make the roster this year. Thompson being the new draft pick has more years of team control and time to develop on a rookie deal. If he gets stashed on IR, that opens the door for any of the other 3 to make the roster. Kaindoh has all the talent in the world as the former #2 overall recruit of his HS class behind Chase Young. Herring has been developing for several years, but hasn’t seen the field much. While reported as small for a Spagnuolo edge, Truman Jones out of Harvard is 1 inch taller and only 10 pounds lighter than Frank Clark. The young man is smart and explosive. It would not surprise me if the Chiefs found a way to keep him around. My gut says this spot is going to Thompson or Jones as the Chiefs reset their developmental edge rusher timeline. Herring and Kaindoh will have to break into the rotation ahead of Danna or I’d expect them to be looking for a new team this year. If Jones shows out over Thompson in camp, I’d see Jones making the roster and Thompson on IR. If it’s flipped, Jones likely goes to the PS.
· LB2-4: Willie G vs Tranquill vs Chenal
Bolton is your LB1. For a team that plays so much nickel, who is the LB2 and who’s riding the bench? Willie Gay and Leo Chenal are crazy-athletic. Replacing Darius Harris with Drue Tranquill may be the biggest upgrade Veach made to this year’s roster. He had almost 150 tackles last year starting for LAC plus 6 sacks and was excellent in coverage. For fantasy GMs, depending on your scoring system, Tranquill was a top 5 or top 10 IDP scorer. Unless the Chiefs switch to a 3-4, how are these guys going to get on the field?
· LB5: incumbent Cochrane vs new kid Cam Jones vs dark horse Moore
I thought Cochrane would easily make the roster when the Chiefs didn’t draft a single LB. Then they brought in Cam Jones and gave him a 6-figure signing bonus. That doesn’t mean the kid out of Indiana is going to make the team, but it does mean that last LB spot is up for grabs. I don’t know much about Moore yet, but there is some buzz. I’m guessing Coach Toub will have the last say in who gets to be the special teams ace out of this bunch.
· CB3-5: favorite Watson vs Williams vs dark horses Nazeeh + Nic J + Khalef Hailassie
Last year I expected Lonnie Johnson to start while the rookies learned. He didn’t even make the team. This year, my hunch is Watson has the inside track on CB3 role, though Williams will be given his chances. Jones just had the highlight of rookie camp. Hailassie compares favorably to Rashad Fenton. Not sure if there’s room this year for a 6th CB, and yet there are 7 CBs worthy of being on a roster if these 2 pan out because you’ve still got Nazeeh Johnson who’s got NFL athleticism and some safety versatility. Who do you leave off the 53? Perhaps 2 of Nazeeh, Nic, and Khalef start the season on the practice squad IF another team doesn’t sign them? Barring injury, perhaps the Chiefs trade one (or both?) of Watson or Williams for a future pick, maybe a 3rd or 4th rounder?
· S1-4 (or 5?): Reid vs Cook vs Edwards vs Conner vs Bush vs dark horses Manuel + Bootle
Reid played over 1000 snaps last year, but what did he do? I watched every play of every game, and I don’t remember ever cheering for a Justin Reid play last season. Did I miss something? Cook seems locked in as a starter after learning on the job last year. Mike Edwards should be on the roster and see the field as a hard-hitting ball-hawk, exactly what you want in a safety. Veach traded up to get Chamarri Conner so he’s got to make the team, right? Bush was your 4th safety last year, but he’s looking like #5 this year. You’ve also got Martez Manuel and DiCaprio Bootle who are young and hungry. Either of those could be on an NFL roster to start the season. But none of those 3 will be on the Chiefs unless they carry 5 safeties.
It’s so early that there’s plenty still up in the air, but if I have to guess, here it is:
· QB: Mahomes, Gabbert, Buechele
· RB: Pacheco, McKinnon, CEH, 1 of Perine/Prince
· WR: MVS, Rice, Skyy, Toney, James, 1 of Watson/Justyn R
· TE: Kelce, Bell, Grey, Fortson
· IOL: Thuney, Creed, Trey, Allegretti, 1 of Kinnard/Carvin, probably Kinnard with Carvin on IR
· OT: JTaylor, D Smith, Morris, 1 of Niang/PTW
· DT: CJ95, Nnadi, Wharton, Coburn
· DE: George K, Omenihu, FAU, Danna, 1 of Thompson/Truman J, probably Thompson
· LB: Bolton, Gay, Chenal, Tranquill, 1 of Cochrane/Cam Jones
· CB: Sneed, McDuffie, Watson, Williams, 1 of Nazeeh/Nic J/Hailassie
· S: Reid, Cook, Edwards, Conner
· ST: Butker, Townsend, Winchester
You could make a few spots by:
· Keeping only 2 QBs
· Keeping only 3 RBs
· Keeping only 3 TEs
· Getting rid of your dedicated long-snapper Winchester
I highly doubt any of those happen. As is that makes 52. That means there is 1 and only 1 roster spot up for grabs for any non-winner of a position battle. My heart’s preference without looking at camp or anything else would probably be to have a 7th WR because of the massive upside each of those guys offer. My head’s preference would be a 10th OL because protecting Pat is Priority #1. #zerosacknation I also think some really good arguments could be made for adding a 10th D lineman, a 6th LB/special teams ace, or a 10th DB/special teams ace. With the talent level of the roster, I would be surprised if we had 4 QBs, 5 TEs, or 5 RBs. Given Coach Reid’s history, it is not outside the realm of possibility, that the 53rd spot goes to a true FB though no such player is on the current 90-man roster.
Playing "Left Out"
Here’s the 4 NFL-caliber veterans probably not on the Chiefs’ 53-man roster this fall AND not mentioned in the 7 position battles for the roster projection:
· C Austin Reiter
· DT Byron Cowart
· DT Danny Shelton
· S Deon Bush
Added to the 8 guys who could lose a roster spot at their position, you’ve got as many as 12 NFL-caliber players on the 90-man roster who won’t be on the 53. Could those guys be traded for future draft picks? Could they become practice squad guys? Could they be the "next man up" if injuries hit before the season starts? All of those options are on the table at this point. That’s some impressive depth.
Veach & Co. have done an incredible job with limited resources. What’s exciting here is the big picture. The best team in the NFL, our Chiefs, just got better on both sides of the ball. This summer is going to be fun. I can’t wait to see how all this plays out. I appreciate thinking this through with you all. I know I left out several UDFA’s. Is there anyone I should be on the lookout for? Also, is there something I missed in terms of roster construction? What’re your thoughts?
Some of the player insights I used came from an interesting youtube channel: the scrambling armchair.