In this series, we’re looking at 60 players who have a chance to make the Kansas City Chiefs’ 53-man roster for 2023 — whether they’re locks or on the bubble.
We’re organizing them into eight categories: roster cornerstones, quality starters, adequate starters, replacement-level players, quality depth players, non-roster players, rookies and those whose evaluations are yet incomplete.
The first article of this series focused on the roster cornerstones. So now, let’s consider the team’s quality starters.
What is a quality starter?
We’re defining quality starter as a player who would be likely to start on any NFL roster. While they might not beat out a cornerstone player, most teams would be happy to have them. They are players who would be difficult to upgrade without making a large free-agent investment, a significant trade or hitting a home run in the NFL Draft. They could be (or have already been) selected for a Pro Bowl.
Who are the Chiefs’ quality starters?
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: When he was on the field during his rookie season, McDuffie was an excellent cover corner. While there’s no doubt that his early-season injury hampered his development, his coverage skills are promising; his youth brings plenty of upside to the defense. But to be considered an elite player, he will need to improve his ball production.
Right guard Trey Smith: After entering the league in 2021, Smith has quickly become one of its best guards. There are few metrics available to evaluate players at this position, so it can be hard to differentiate those who are elite. But Smith’s nasty streak routinely generates highlight-level plays — and he is fundamentally sound. His inconsistency in pass protection and penalties (13 since 2021) are the only things keeping him from being a cornerstone.
Safety Justin Reid: After a terrible 2021 season with the Houston Texans, Reid had a nice bounce-back year in Kansas City. His role grew throughout 2022 — and down the stretch, his play against tight ends and receiving running backs played a significant role in the defense’s success. Like McDuffie, Reid needs to find the ball more often.
Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu: During two-and-a-half years with the Texans, Omenihu was largely a disappointment. But while with the San Francisco 49ers in 2022, he was a quality starter. It’s possible to argue that he’s not yet shown enough to be rated this highly. Still, I make this projection because I am bullish about the role he would play in Kansas City’s defensive line under position coach Joe Cullen. He could be the best player defensive tackle Chris Jones has ever had playing beside him — which should terrify opposing offenses.
Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed: Over three seasons with the Chiefs, Sneed has carved out a nice role as a “do it all” corner. He brings a certain physicality to the position that is rare among NFL corners. A defensive weapon in every sense of the word, he’s been an important asset in the team’s young secondary. He sometimes shows some weakness in coverage — which kept him from being named a cornerstone — but I did consider him for that group.
Linebacker Nick Bolton: On the field for 98% of the team’s 2022 defensive snaps, Bolton is the unit’s appointed leader. He provides the defense its eyes and ears — and is a consistently excellent player. Only his coverage skills keep him from being considered one of the league’s best linebackers. Otherwise, he is a ball magnet — and seems to have been born with a clutch gene.
Tackle Jawaan Taylor: Similar to Omenihu, there is some projection taking place for the Chiefs’ new tackle. I am assuming he will begin 2023 at right tackle — where he will be playing on the best line of his career and getting another year of quality coaching in a system with which he is familiar. Taylor has a chance to really flourish in Kansas City.
Placekicker Harrison Butker: The seventh-year player has quietly become the team’s longest-tenured kicker since Nick Lowery for one reason: he has ice in his veins. He has made some insanely clutch kicks in Kansas City. While a Week 1 injury led to his worst season in 2022, Butker has earned the trust of his coaching staff — and the fans.
Punter Tommy Townsend: Named an All-Pro in 2022, Townsend is simply one of the league’s premier punters. If he wasn’t a punter (who plays on a team with quarterback Patrick Mahomes), he might be a roster cornerstone. He’ll just have to settle for being among the best at his position.
The bottom line
Coupled with five roster cornerstones, these nine quality starters give the Chiefs a championship-level roster; against most teams, 14 players who are elite to good give Kansas City a clear advantage.
It’s worth noting that five of these 14 are either interior offensive linemen or specialists. But there are several players who are knocking on the door. With good seasons in 2023, running back Isiah Pacheco, tackle Donovan Smith, wide receiver Kadarius Toney and defensive end George Karlaftis could all find themselves advancing to the next tier.