As of Sunday morning, every member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 90-man roster is due to be on the campus of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph and ready for the first full-team practice at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time (full schedule here).
Remember: while we always try to do our best in these projection exercises, there is little to no chance this will be the roster after the final cutdown on August 29 — and it is nearly impossible to account for players who are to be released from other rosters.
There was a key change to the roster cutdown this year, with one — and only one — cutdown date following the conclusion of the preseason.
- 53 players on August 30
As they are every year, my projections are based upon things I've seen, heard and hypothesized. Let's go!
Quarterbacks (3): Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert, Shane Buechele
In six of his first seven years in Kansas City, head coach Andy Reid kept three quarterbacks at the 53-man roster deadline. Reid kept just two in 2020 and 2021 before going back to three in 2022, likely stemming from other teams’ interest in Buechele. I think the Chiefs keep three again in 2023, but not just because of that interest. During the offseason, the league’s owners approved the “emergency quarterback rule,” allowing each club the ability to put a third quarterback (in the Chiefs’ case, Buechele) in the game should the first two quarterbacks be out of the game due to injury. The third quarterback must be on the 53-man roster, but he would not count on the active 47 (or 48) man game-day roster. In 2023, I’d guess that most teams, including the Chiefs, opt to carry three quarterbacks. Gabbert makes a smooth transition from the veteran backup of the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, to the game’s best active quarterback, Mahomes.
Running backs (4): Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Deneric Prince
Before the initial days of training camp this past week, I had my doubts regarding Pacheco’s availability at the start of the season. Those doubts were put to rest as I watched him over three days in St. Joseph. Pacheco had to wear a non-contact yellow jersey and did not participate in seven-on-seven work, but he showed absolutely no sign of injury during drill work. “Absolutely” was the word Pacheco used when asked if he would be 100% Week 1 — and based upon how he looks right now, that’s easy to buy. The room’s best pass protector, McKinnon, returns to the Chiefs as their third-down back, and Edwards-Helaire fills the role of a change-of-pace back. I actually believe Edwards-Helaire will be more involved in the offense than folks currently project — but should everybody stay healthy, it still would be difficult to see him surpass Pacheco or McKinnon’s touches by season’s end. I have Prince as a lock to make the roster. Kansas City loves his pass-catching ability, and special teams coordinator Dave Toub wants him to take over for Pacheco as the team’s primary kick returner. I think 2023 will be critical for Prince to learn everything he can from McKinnon, who is 31 and only on a one-year deal. With Edwards-Helaire in the final year of his contract, Pacheco-Prince is Kansas City’s tandem of the future.
In May, our Rocky Magaña wrote a droll obituary for the fullback position. I’ll be honest. At the time, I thought we might one day have to take out the defibrillator when Reid signed someone before camp. But that never happened, so we anticipate the head coach will buck his career-long trend of having a fullback on the roster. Reid has noted he believes tight end Noah Gray can fill that void.
Wide receivers (6): Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Richie James, Justin Watson
Part of the fun of this year’s exercise included where to use the free space provided by no fullback, and I believe general manager Brett Veach and Reid choose to keep another wide receiver after keeping only five on the initial roster in 2022. I know my projection won’t be popular with all, but I do not see the likes of John Ross, Ihmir Smith-Marsette or Justyn Ross finding his way onto the initial roster. Just as we expect Prince to replace Pacheco at kick returner, I think James will replace Moore as the punt returner. That will allow Pacheco and Moore to zone in on their expanded offensive roles. Watson is often chosen as the player to cut should one of the hopefuls make it, but I just don’t see the Chiefs eating $1.4 million in guaranteed money to rid themselves of a proven pass-catcher they know the quarterback likes. The Chiefs have never kept seven receivers under Reid.
Tight ends (4): Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson, Blake Bell
Other than quarterback, what is the Chiefs’ most consistent position over the last couple of years? It’s the tight end room, which I believe will bring back the same four-man group at the 53-man roster deadline for the third straight season. The best tight end in the league returns for his 11th year, seeking an eighth consecutive season of 1,000 yards or more. Did you know that Mahomes targeted Gray in every single regular-season and playoff game of 2022? It was never more than three times in a single game, but I think it is a sign of things to come. In 2023, I expect Gray to break out. Because he is a tight end, Gray is never mentioned among those who will help eat the yardage made available by JuJu Smith-Schuster’s departure. He should be. Speaking of targets: Fortson — with much less playing time — had one more red-zone target than Gray. I think that’s where the Chiefs like him. Considering Gray’s development as a blocker over the years, I toyed with the idea of Veach opting to cut Bell — but eventually decided to keep the ever-reliable tight end on the roster. However, if Kansas City chooses to keep, say, that seventh receiver or (as you’ll read below) a fifth safety, I could see Bell being forced to find another home.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Donovan Smith, LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Jawaan Taylor, Nick Allegretti, Lucas Niang, Wanya Morris, Darian Kinnard
Fans had to have been quite bored this offseason to have such passionate debates about the offensive line. Yes, the Chiefs signed a left tackle (Donovan Smith) to play left tackle and a right tackle (Jawaan Taylor) to play right tackle, filling the vacancies left by Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and Washington Commanders right tackle Andrew Wylie. Smith and Taylor will flank one of the league’s best interiors. Kansas City loves the returning Allegretti, who can play either guard position and center. I think Niang vs. Morris for the Chiefs’ swing tackle position is quietly the most interesting position battle of this training camp — but regardless of who wins out, I think both will make the club. This offseason, Veach has been forthcoming with optimism about the development of 2022 fifth-rounder Darian Kinnard. His ability to play guard and tackle provides value as the ninth offensive lineman to round out the room. I believe Kansas City tries to sneak Prince Tega Wanogho onto its practice squad, where Austin Reiter will be the third center. So a room that is stealthily 11 players deep will have nine of them on the 53-man roster.
Defensive tackles (4): Chris Jones, Charles Omenihu, Derrick Nnadi, Keondre Coburn
Kansas City has some intriguing developmental prospects beyond these four who will make the initial club, and veteran Danny Shelton is still hanging around. I’ve listed Omenihu as a defensive tackle because that’s where the Chiefs are most excited about him. There should be a few defensive tackles on the practice squad. I considered Tershawn Wharton here, but as of this writing, he remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing his ACL in October. During the early portion of camp open to quarterbacks and rookies, Wharton could be seen working with athletic trainers off to the side with a substantial brace on his knee. I went back and forth but ultimately decided Wharton stays on the PUP to start the NFL season, which means he will miss the first four weeks — games against the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and New York Jets. He would be eligible to practice the Monday after “Sunday Night Football” against the Jets.
Defensive ends (5): George Karlaftis, Mike Danna, Carlos Dunlap, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, BJ Thompson
Jones did not show up to camp at the report time, but I think he should be there by the end of the week, thanks to the NFL’s fine rules. I still expect a new contract to come — and when it does, I think Veach’s final preseason roster move will be bringing back veteran Carlos Dunlap. Just as he did last year, the league’s newest member of the 100-sack club will join the club in August. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has provided Malik Herring and Joshua Kaindoh ample time to break through, and I think this cutdown is where their time runs out in favor of a new developmental prospect: fifth-round rookie BJ Thompson. Thompson will spend the year adding weight and learning the system while the Chiefs will protect him on the active roster. I think there’s a possibility Herring and Kaindoh could stick on the practice squad should another team not be interested.
Linebackers (5): Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr., Drue Tranquill, Leo Chenal, Jack Cochrane
With the addition of Tranquill, I think linebacker is one of the Chiefs’ more underrated positions entering the 2023 NFL season. The first four members of this room are obvious, while Cochrane — who had 316 snaps as a four-corps special-teamer (kick coverage, kick return, punt coverage and punt return) will be a Toub wish that Reid and Veach grant.
Cornerbacks (6): Trent McDuffie, L’Jarius Sneed, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams, Nazeeh Johnson, Nic Jones
Speaking of Toub, he noted during the offseason that last year’s seventh-round cornerback, Johnson, was “playing better than anybody in the league” toward the end of last season as the Chiefs’ gunner. Johnson makes the roster — along with this year’s seventh-rounder, Jones, who has impressed during organized team activities (OTAs) by registering pass breakups in padless practices where the passing game should easily have its way.
Safeties (4): Justin Reid, Bryan Cook, Mike Edwards, Chamarri Conner
Reid and Cook lead a room that said goodbye to Juan Thornhill this offseason. Edwards adds a veteran presence. The Chiefs have worked Conner, their fourth-rounder, at both free and strong safety this offseason. Last year, the Chiefs’ special-teams snaps leader was Chris Lammons (322), but Deon Bush (317) was right behind him. As I hinted in the tight end section, I considered keeping Bush here and saying goodbye to Bell — but I landed on Bush not making the club. That may change in future iterations of my 53-man roster projection.
Placekicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long-snapper James Winchester
Again, no surprises here.
Under contract, not counted on active roster (1)
Reserve/PUP: Tershawn Wharton
Reserve/Injured (out for season):
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:
Chiefs’ offensive roster by positions
Chiefs’ defensive roster by positions
*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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