Projecting Chiefs Depth Chart vs. Steelers in Week 16

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Wide receiver Tyreek Hill cleared NFL COVID-19 protocols on Saturday and will play for the Chiefs versus the Steelers but the club will not have tight end Travis Kelce, linebacker Nick Bolton and right tackle Lucas Niang.

The club added Kelce, Bolton and Niang to the active roster on Saturday but the trio did not clear the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Chiefs took a gamble that one or more of the players might clear protocols before Sunday afternoon and be eligible to play.

The Chiefs also revealed Saturday that three assistant coaches are currently out due to COVID-19 protocols: quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Kafka, running backs coach Greg Lewis and assistant offensive line coach Corey Matthaei. The three coaches will not take part in Sunday’s game.

Kafka’s duties will be filled by offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and assistant quarterbacks coach and pass game analyst David Girardi. Filling in for Lewis will be a combination of Bieniemy and offensive quality control coach Porter Ellett. Matthaei’s responsibilities will be filled by various members of the offensive coaching staff.

The club also promoted four players from the practice squad as COVID-19 replacements: cornerback Dicaprio Bootles and Josh Jackson, tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart and punter Johnny Townsend.

The Chiefs currently have 48 players on the active roster along with five players who have been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Teams can have 48 players active on game day when carrying at least eight offensive linemen. With the four practice squad players, the Chiefs have 52 players on the game-day roster.

Here’s a running projected roster for the Chiefs on Sunday. Kelce, Bolton and Niang will be inactive. Third-string quarterback Shane Buechele is also expected to be inactive.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne
Inactive: Shane Buechele

So far the quarterback room remains intact and teams rarely carry a third quarterback on game days.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore and FB Michael Burton
Practice squad: Elijah McGuire

An unscathed position group thus far but Burton could be in for a busy day at multiple positions.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
Blake Bell, Noah Gray and Nakia Griffin-Stewart (practice squad elevation)
Inactive: Travis Kelce
Practice squad: Mark Vital

The hardest-hit position group for the Chiefs in terms of both star power and depth, although the Chiefs did get back Bell in time for practice Friday. Kelce hasn’t cleared COVID-19 protocols yet, so until he does we’ll assume he remains inactive.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson Josh Gordon, Mecole Hardman and Marcus Kemp
Practice squad: and Cornell Powell and Dalton Schoen
COVID-19 Reserve: Daurice Fountain (practice squad)

Hill’s return means Mahomes will have his full arsenal of wide receivers on Sunday versus the Steelers.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Orland Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Andrew Wylie, Nick Allegretti, Austin Blythe and Prince Tega Wanogho
Inactive: Lucas Niang
Practice squad: OT Paul Adams and C/G Darryl Williams
COVID-19 Reserve: Kyle Long

Niang has returned to the active roster but remains under COVID-19 protocols. He doesn’t clear the protocols before Sunday afternoon expect Wylie to step in at right tackle. Wylie might draw the start regardless with Niang not having any practice time this week.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed, Melvin Ingram, Derrick Nnadi, Alex Okafor, Tershawn Wharton and Mike Danna
Practice squad: Cortez Broughton and Austin Edwards

Injuries have left the Chiefs thin along the defensive line, and Broughton was activated last week against the Chargers as well. The return of Jones is huge for a defense that missed his run defense in Week 15 and is facing a Steelers offense featuring first-round running back Najee Harris.

LINEBACKERS (4)
Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay, Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel
Inactive: Nick Bolton
Practice squad: Elijah Sullivan and Shilique Calhoun
COVID-19 Reserve: Darius Harris (practice squad)

The Chiefs have some options filling Bolton’s roster spot but it will be difficult to replicate what he delivered last week in terms of performance. If Bolton clears the protocols before Sunday afternoon he will play.

CORNERBACKS (6)
L’Jarius Sneed, Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes, Deandre Bake, Dicaprio Bootle (practice squad elevation) and Josh Jackson (practice squad elevation)
COVID-19 Reserve: Rashad Fenton

Sneed’s return to the lineup should provide a boost to a position group dealing with many challenges. The Chiefs will be without Fenton, who remains on COVID-19 reserve. Bootle and Jackson should play big roles on special teams Sunday.

SAFETIES (4)
Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen and Zayne Anderson
Practice squad: Devon Key
COVID-19 Reserve: Armani Watts

The Chiefs will miss Watts on special teams but the core rotation off Mathieu, Thornhill and Sorensen are ready to go.

SPECIALISTS (3)
K Elliott Fry, P Johnny Townsend (practice squad elevation) and LS James Winchester
Practice squad: P Joseph Charlton
COVID-19 Reserve: K Harrison Butker and P Tommy Townsend

The Chiefs settled on Tommy’s brother Johnny as the punter for Sunday, and he will presumably hold for kicks from Fry as well. Marcus Kemp, who did a stint on COVID-19 reserve last month, is the club’s emergency holder. Winchester experienced a bout with COVID-19 back in July but it’s unclear who backs him up. Kelce and former Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman have filled the role of emergency backup snapper in the past.