On Wednesday, Pro Football Focus writers Dalton Wasserman and Jim Wyman published their projected starting rosters for all 32 NFL teams in 2023. Here’s how they think the Kansas City Chiefs will line up this season — with the numbers in parentheses representing each player’s PFF grade for last year:
QB Patrick Mahomes (92.0)
RB Isiah Pacheco (76.2)
RB Jerick McKinnon (57.5)
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (64.8)
WR Kadarius Toney (78.0)
WR Skyy Moore (67.7)
TE Travis Kelce (91.3)
LT Donovan Smith (59.3)
LG Joe Thuney (78.4)
C Creed Humphrey (89.9)
RG Trey Smith (72.3)
RT Jawaan Taylor (59.5)
First, note that Wasserman and Wyman list 12 players for each unit.
On offense, the extra player is running back Jerick McKinnon. Kansas City rarely lists a second starting running back. More often, the team will list a third wide receiver or a second tight end.
That said, it’s likely they’ve correctly identified McKinnon as the second running back; Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s primary function will likely be as an injury backup for both Isiah Pachecho and McKinnon — although in specific games, the Chiefs have been known to change up the running back rotation.
Biggest weakness in 2023: Wide Receiver
The Chiefs were already thin at wide receiver heading into the offseason, and now they’ve lost JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency. For now, their top receiver is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. However, they do have several potential breakout candidates, such as Skyy Moore and Justyn Ross.
This might be the most spirited debate of the offseason: are the Chiefs weak at wideout?
By conventional wisdom, they are; there isn’t an established star at the position. The question is whether quarterback Patrick Mahomes can (once again) elevate what will widely be regarded as a “no-name” receiving corps. It’s interesting that even with Smith-Schuster on the roster, Wasserman and Wyman considered the position group to be “weak.” But that’s essentially the lineup that Mahomes used to become league (and Super Bowl) MVP. If Mahomes did it once, he could do it again.
We should give Wasserman and Wyman credit for one thing, though: they list Toney as an “X-Factor” and Rashee Rice as a “rookie to watch.” Rice (along with Justin Watson and newcomer Richie James, for that matter) could easily find himself among the team’s top receivers.
We should also credit the pair for correctly properly predicting the offensive line. As long as he can return to his 2021 form (and remain healthy), Smith will likely start at left tackle, while Taylor will hold down the right side. It just makes too much sense for Kansas City to keep these two players at the positions where they have the most experience — regardless of their compensation.
DI Chris Jones (92.3)
DI Derrick Nnadi (37.0)
EDGE George Karlaftis (50.2)
EDGE Charles Omenihu (69.7)
EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah (74.6*)
LB Nick Bolton (77.3)
LB Willie Gay Jr (68.1)
CB L’Jarius Sneed (77.7)
CB Jaylen Watson (61.2)
CB Trent McDuffie (74.9)
S Justin Reid (70.3)
S Bryan Cook (59.5)
Here, the 12th player is likely to be Omenihu — but that will likely depend on what first-rounder Anudike-Uzomah can show during training camp. While his college PFF grade suggests he can be the team’s starter on the edge opposite Karlaftis, he will have to demonstrate that in real reps. Meanwhile, rookie Keondre Coburn must be considered a dark horse to move Nnadi out of the starting lineup.
But any discussion about the defensive line’s starters misses an important point: with Omenihu and Coburn (and Tershawn Wharton and Mike Danna both back for 2023), the Chiefs will be able to run the “positionless” line that coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (and D-line coach Joe Cullen) have desired. Up front, Kansas City is assembling an impressive group of versatile players.
At the second level, Bolton and Gay are certainly the right choice for the starting duo — but the addition of linebacker Drue Tranquill not only gives the team really good depth but also some interesting ways for Spagnuolo to be creative in his lineups.
On the back end, the five players Wasserman and Wyman have selected are probably the right ones. We should remember, however, that the team has also acquired free-agent defensive back Mike Edwards — and clearly prioritized selecting rookie Chamarri Conner. Both of them will be pushing for playing time.