KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As befitting a team with lofty Super Bowl ambitions, the Chiefs head to training camp with plenty of enthusiasm and only a few minor mysteries to resolve on the road to hammering out a 53-player roster for the Week 1 trip to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The first crack at projecting the opening week roster doesn't show much intrigue in the starting lineup. The Chiefs return an offensive core with center Mitch Morse, wide receiver Chris Conley and tight end Demetrius Harris the most notable offseason departures.
Turnover is more plentiful on the defensive side of the ball, where the club projects at least five new starters. The massive overhaul of the defense sees the departure of linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford, defensive end Allen Bailey, safety Eric Berry and cornerback Steven Nelson. While new faces will step into the starting lineup, it's again the position battles for supporting roles that appear the most competitive.
Indeed, turnover among backup positions seems highly likely. The first Chiefs Digest projection includes 15 new faces on this year's squad, including all six 2019 draft selections.
Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backup: Chad Henne
In the mix: Chase Litton and Kyle Shurmur
There's very little doubt athe top of the Chiefs' quarterback depth chart, with Mahomes the league's reining MVP and Henne a reliable veteran backup at No. 2.
But the developmental quarterback battle appears tight. Litton and Shurmur shared No. 3 duties during offseason workouts. Litton looked impressive during last year's preseason as an undrafted rookie and spent the season on the club's practice squad.
Shurmur is an undrafted rookie this season, and he brings a connection to head coach Andy Reid. Shurmur's father Pat, currently the head coach of the Giants, spent 10 seasons on Reid's staff in Philadelphia. Some might see Shurmur's landing in Kansas City as a favor to family friends, but the younger Shurmur was a four-year starter in the SEC at Vanderbilt and is well versed in Reid's West Coast offense.
Starters: Damien Williams, FB Anthony Sherman
Backups: Carlos Hyde, Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams
In the mix: Josh Caldwell and Marcus Marshall
It remains to be seen how much competition exists in the Chiefs' backfield, but most of the battles loom lower on the draft chart. Damien Williams, Sherman and Thompson are locks for the Week 1 roster. Hyde should easily stick if he can show last season's disappointing numbers are behind him and his knee is healthy. Darrel Williams remains an intriguing candidate who fits the Chiefs' mold for running backs who can do a little bit of everything.
Caldwell and Marshall both have plenty of upside but face long-shot battles for the roster. Both should get looks in the preseason, however, and might stir up interest to stick on the practice squad.
Starter: Travis Kelce
Backups: Deon Yelder and John Lovett
In the mix: Blake Bell, Nick Keizer, David Wells and Neal Sterling
Kelce is No. 1, and never has that been more true than with the struggles the Chiefs' tight ends endured during OTAs and minicamp practices. Yelder offers the most immediate upside as a No. 2 tight end, but an injury slowed him during offseason work. The former Princeton quarterback Lovett enters camp as a potential chess piece, a Trey Burton-type receiver who could create mismatches as an H-back and can play multiple roles.
Bell offers the most experience as a veteran backup, and he remains relatively new to the position. If the Chiefs want a roadblocking tight end who can push defenders around, Keizer could emerge as a favorite.
Starters: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson
Backups: Mecole Hardman, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter and Byron Pringle
In the mix: Jamal Custis, Rashard Davis, Felton Davis, Cody Thompson, Davon Grayson and Jody Fortson
Yes, it's hard to imagine the Chiefs keeping seven receivers to start the season. But given the the depth and potential of this group, finding the cut line is an imposing proposition.
It's hard to see Robinson losing his roster spot, although others behind him could push for snaps. But it's also hard seeing the Chiefs part ways with Kemp, Dieter and Pringle. Pringle was on course for the Week 1 roster last season before a hamstring injury ended his season. Kemp remains a special teams favorite of coordinator Dave Toub. Dieter might be the most improved of the bunch given his offseason work. General manager Brett Veach could try to sneak one of them on the practice squad, but there's no guarantee they clear waivers. A camp trade may also make sense.
If the Chiefs can't find a reliable pass catcher behind Kelce, however, keeping a seventh receiver might make sense.
Starters: LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and RT Mitchell Schwartz
Backups: G/T Cam Erving, G/C Nick Allegretti, G/C Kahlil McKenzie
In the mix: C Jimmy Murray, G/T Ryan Hunter, T Pace Murphy, T Chidi Okeke, G Abdul Beecham, T Dino Boyd and T Zack Golditch
The Chiefs have two potential position battles looming along the offensive line, but it remains to be seen if these are truly competitive openings. Reiter appears well out in front as the replacement for Mitch Morse at center. Ideally the Chiefs want Wylie to win the starting position at left guard, which frees Erving to serve as the club's sixth lineman who can fill in position in a pinch, including as swing tackle.
The top six linemen seem set, and the Chiefs love the early returns on Allegretti as a three-position interior linemen. McKenzie needs to show he's made big strides from his rookie season, and he saw action at both guard and center during offseason workouts.
Murray and Hunter head up the pack battling for backup positions. Don't count out Murphy and Golditch as potential swing tackle candidates with upsides, especially if injuries hit the team's top-three tackles.
Starters: LDE Alex Okafor, DT Derrick Nnadi, DT Chris Jones and RDE Frank Clark
Backups: DL Breeland Speaks, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Xavier Williams, DT Khalen Saunders and DL Tanoh Kpassagonon
In the mix: DT Justin Hamilton, DT Joey Ivie, DT Cavon Walker, DE Tim Ward
No, don't expect nine defensive lineman to make the squad, but right now this position looks deep. The starting quartet should provide a strong base for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's new four-man front. The Chiefs also possess a deep bench along the defensive line.
Speaks and Saunders should easily secure backup spots, but Okafor, Williams, Kpassagnon and Hamilton should be in a battle one or two additional supporting roles. Kpassagnon and Hamilton seem to have a slight edge during offseason workouts, as both benefitted from the absence of Jones during his holdout. Kpassagnon appeared to fall out of favor last season, but so far Spagnuolo appears intrigued by Kpassagnon's ability to play inside as well as outside.
Ward suffered a torn ACL near the end of last year's college season, but the Chiefs saw enough potential to bring him onboard regardless. He remains on the non-football injury list and a likely candidate for injured reserved.
Starters: WLB Anthony Hitchens, MLB Reggie Ragland, SLB Damien Wilson
Backups: ILB Ben Niemann, OLB Dorian O'Daniel, OLB Darron Lee
In the mix: OLB Rob McCray, OLB Raymond Davison, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, ILB Darius Harris and OLB D'Juan Hines
The Chiefs linebacker corps might be in place already barring any preseason injuries. The starting trio looks set for now with Hitchens serving as the quarterback of the defense on the field. Wilson likely comes off during a substitution packages, although that matchup can change week to week.
O'Daniel and Niemann should provide solid relief off the bench, and it wouldn't surprise if both push for additional playing time. Lee brings experience from his time with the Jets, and he likely makes the squad if six linebackers stick.
McCray spent most of last season on the practice squad and stands out among the younger linebackers battling for a spot. Expect Darius Harris to spend the reason on injured reserve coming off shoulder surgery following last year's college football season.
Starters: Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward
Backups: Rashad Fenton and Keith Reaser
In the mix: Tremon Smith, D'Montre Wade, Mark Fields, Herb Miller and Dakari Monroe
Fuller will start on the left side and kick to the inside in substitution packages. Breeland enters camp as the starter on the right side, with Ward coming in on the right side when Fuller goes to the slot. But Breeland and Ward don't have jobs completely clinched. Breeland must prove he's fully healthy after last year's lost season, and Ward has to backup that he did in limited action late last year. A healthy Reaser off a solid performance in the Alliance of American Football can complete for a backup spot. Smith finds himself deep on the depth chart at corner, and may need to prove indispensable as a kick return to keep his role. The Chiefs have several young corners with upside battling for likely two backups roles.
Starters: Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill
Backups: Daniel Sorensen, Jordan Lucas and Armani Watts
In the mix: Harold Jones-Quartey and Andrew Soroh
The Chiefs loved what they saw of Thornhill during offseason workouts, and his winning the starting free safety role would be a plus. That would pushes Sorensen and Lucas into substitution roles, for which both prove ideally suited.
Watts stands as the wildcard after finishing last season on injured reserve after surgery for a core muscle injury. The Chiefs appear more comfortable with Sorensen and Lucas for now, leaving a lot for Watts to prove during training camp. If the Chiefs suffer another rash of injuries in this group, however, Watts could shoot up the depth chart quickly.
Starters: K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winchester
In the mix: P Jack Fox
The only competition in camp comes from former Rice punter Fox. It's hard to imagine Fox displacing Colquitt – for now. But the end of the line is coming soon for the 37-year-old Colquitt, and Fox provides a breather for Colquitt during the offseason and training camp. A solid performance from Fox puts him in the front of line when Colquitt calls it a career.