It's easy to look at the Kansas City Chiefs' success over the last five years and give all the glory to head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And let's be clear: while they definitely should be the first names out of everyone's mouths, it takes much more than a star quarterback and head coach to win a Super Bowl championship.
In their last two championships, the Chiefs featured contributions from all three phases of the roster (special teams, offense and defense). In this series, we will break down 60 players who fall in either the category of lock to make the roster or on the bubble to make the roster.
Players will be organized into eight categories: roster cornerstone, quality starter, adequate starter, replacement level, quality depth, non-roster caliber, rookie and incomplete evaluation. As we cover each group of players, we will expand upon what each category means, what players fall into that category and who is most likely to move into or out of that category.
In this first post, we will reveal the team’s roster "cornerstones."
What is a roster cornerstone?
For this exercise, we describe a "cornerstone" as a player who is a regular selection for an All-Pro team (first or second team) and/or multiple Pro Bowls. A cornerstone player is an important piece for roster construction — a player that a general manager can look at year after year as a foundational piece.
Who are the Chiefs' cornerstones?
Patrick Mahomes: Come on — this one's obvious.
Travis Kelce: It's been seven consecutive seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards for the Chiefs tight end. Kelce shows no sign of slowing down productivity-wise. With the Chiefs' new approach to offense, Kelce has shown he always was Mahomes' top target. Kelce is not only one of the best tight ends in football; he's also one of the best pass-catchers in the league.
Chris Jones: After a career year, the defensive tackle has shown that he falls in the league's top two of his position group. The sack productivity for his position is rare, and his ability to be productive and healthy year after year has allowed the Chiefs' pass rush to thrive around him. Jones has improved against the run over his time in Kansas City, and combined with his pass-rush skills, there are not many players in the league like Jones.
Creed Humphrey: Center play is dramatically underrated in the NFL. Look at most great stretches of quarterback play, and typically, there's a great center snapping the ball. If not for a surefire Hall of Fame center (Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles) being active, Humphrey would be widely considered the best at his position. Doing this after just two years in the league is a great sign for his bright future and bank account.
Joe Thuney: Bringing in Thuney to start the offensive line rebuild was a foundational piece to an offensive line that won a Super Bowl. Thuney has often been overlooked because he's never been viewed as the top player at his position. However, he's always been top two or three, and that consistency makes him great. The three-time Super Bowl champion is one of the best pass-protecting guards in the league, making him a perfect fit for the Chiefs offense.
With five roster "cornerstones," the Chiefs have a solid foundation.
Of course, the most essential part of every roster is the quarterback position. Kansas City has the best player in the league. The Chiefs also have an elite offensive weapon in this category, which is commonly a key piece to success in the modern NFL.
That said, two of their cornerstones are interior offensive linemen, which tend to be a less valuable position than cornerback, EDGE, tackle or wide receiver. Thuney and Humphrey combined to make the floor of the offensive line incredibly high, but it makes it difficult to pay them their market value (especially with Trey Smith looming as well).
One item of concern is the Chiefs potentially could be losing two of their cornerstones next year. Jones is in the final year of his contract, and next year, cutting Thuney would save the Chiefs money against the cap. Additionally, the seemingly-ageless Travis Kelce might not be that way forever — and Kelce's blossoming career off the field might be a factor in how much longer he plays. The vulnerability of those three players is concerning for roster construction, especially for a defense with only one cornerstone player.
Who missed the cut?
Right now, picking the Chiefs’ cornerstones feels very easy. There might have been some debate about Thuney, but he's a top player at his position. So which players could enter the cornerstone category with a good 2023?
The first name that comes to mind is Trey Smith. He has the pedigree and has put together two really good seasons. At this point, he just needs to improve his pass protection and continue to make highlight-level plays with his mean streak.
Another player with a pedigree that could enter the cornerstone conversation is cornerback Trent McDuffie. He played well in limited time during his rookie year. His underlying numbers are very encouraging, and he was the third cornerback taken in a very good class. He needs to increase his ball production, but even New York Jets' cornerback Sauce Gardner made All-Pro his rookie year with just two interceptions.
It's worth noting Andy Reid did not qualify for this activity, but he absolutely is a cornerstone of this franchise. Last season showed just how much coaching matters in the NFL.
The bottom line
The Chiefs certainly have enough cornerstones to be a championship contender again. However, there is undoubtedly a need to develop more — particularly in positions of high value.
17 draft picks in the last two cycles should help answer that question.