Rosterology: Final Projection for Chiefs’ Initial 53-Player Roster

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The preseason games are over and final roster cuts loom on Tuesday, and the die is now cast by the 80 players contending for spots on the Chiefs’ initial 53-player roster of the 2021 season.

General manager Brett Veach and his staff must whittle move 27 players off the roster before 3 p.m. central time Tuesday. The Chiefs will likely make their final roster cuts well before the deadline, and some moves could some as soon as this weekend.

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to some modifications of roster rules for the 2021, including unlimited players who can be designated to return from injury. In order to receive that designation, however, players must be on the active roster after 3 p.m. Tuesday. Players placed on injured reserve prior to the deadline are not eligible to return.

Clubs can also begin building a practice squad on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

QUARTERBACK (2)
53: Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne
Other: Shane Buechele

Very little discussion required at the quarterback position where Mahomes and Henne will reside on the active roster. Buechele, after a solid preseason campaign, will likely land on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACK (4)
53:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon and FB Michael Burton
Others: Darwin Thompson and Derrick Gore

Thompson has made a compelling case for the roster and it will be a tough decision between a fifth running back, a fourth tight end, a sixth receiver or an extra defensive back. Even if Thompson doesn’t crack the initial 53-player roster he could still return to the club later or land on the practice squad. Edwards-Helaire (ankle) and Williams (concussion protocol) also add to the rationale behind keeping a fifth running back but neither injury is expected to linger into Week 1. Gore has also had a strong camp and preseason and is worthy of practice squad consideration.

TIGHT END (4)
53: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray and Jody Fortson

Fortson isn’t in much of a depth-chart battle but he might be the most-watched fourth-string tight end. He’s not the standard fourth-string tight end either. But based on training camp, preseason games and the Chiefs reliance on the tight end position, he’s an asset the offense can use.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)
53: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp and Daurice Fountain
Others: Darrius Shepherd, Gehrig Dieter, Maurice Ffrench, Cornell Powell and Dalton Schoen

The Chiefs might lack a clear-cut No. 2 receiver but their depth is strong down the line. Fountain has done everything possible to make this roster but may fall victim to the numbers game. Shepherd is a quality return specialist but with other options on the roster it’s tough to carve out a roster spot for him. Dieter could remain on the practice squad as an experience backup for injuries. The toughest decision concerns Powell, who has performed well in preseason games but hasn’t been able to move up the depth chart. The Chiefs have shown reluctance to part with draft picks in recent seasons but Powell could use more seasoning before he’s ready to run with the defending AFC champions.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10)
53: Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers, Andrew Wylie, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Nick Allegretti
Physically unable to perform list: Kyle Long
Others: Yasir Durant, Prince Tega Wanogho, Darryl Williams and Wyatt Miller

The Chiefs have plenty of tough decisions to make along the offensive line, especially dealing with injuries. Long can start the season on the PUP list but that means he’s out for the first six weeks of the season. Blythe (sports hernia) and Duvernay-Tardif (hand) must start the season on the 53-player roster if the Chiefs want the option of designating them to return from injured reserve. That means the club could free up one or two roster spots on Sept. 1 for players who are let go on Tuesday. If Blythe is unavailable early in the season, Allegretti becomes a must-keep as a backup center. Both Durant and Wanogho are strong practice squad candidates.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
53: Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Mike Danna, Alex Okafor, Khalen Saunders, Tim Ward and Joshua Kaindoh
Non-football injury list: Malik Herring
Others: Demone Harris, Tyler Clark and Austin Edwards

The flexibility of Jones and Danna to kick inside gives the club flexibility to keep six edge players and four tackles. The toughest decision should come down to Ward or Harris, but give the edge to Ward based on preseason game performance. Herring is rehabbing an ACL injury from January and should spend the season on the reserve list.

LINEBACKER (5)
53: Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel
Others: Darius Harris, Omari Cobb and Emmanuel Smith

The improvement of Gay and the addition of Bolton makes this a deeper position group than in past seasons for the Chiefs. The club’s reliance on subpackages also makes the need for a fifth or sixth linebacker a luxury. O’Daniel still has high special teams value but the club could sacrifice depth here for an addition on offense. It’s a huge win if the Chiefs can retain Harris on the practice squad.

CORNERBACK (5)
53: Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, Mike Hughes, Rashad Fenton and Deandre Baker
Others: BoPete Keyes, Chris Lammons, Dicaprio Bootle and Marlon Character

Another position group where the Chiefs have bottom-heavy depth. Seven cornerbacks have a resume for the Week 1 lineup or have spent time on the team’s game-day roster in the past. Lammons is a favorite of special teams coordinator Dave Toub but Baker has the best overall skillset. Keyes is a borderline candidate as well, in competition more with Thompson, Fortson and Fountain on the offensive side for one of the last remaining spots. A lingering question surrounds Fenton, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and didn’t play Friday night.

SAFETY (4)
53: Tyrann Mathieu, Dan Sorensen, Juan Thornhill and Armani Watts
Others: Devon Key, Zayne Anderson and Rodney Clemons

The early decision to release Will Parks clarified this position group early. Key and Anderson both saw time with the first-team defense during camp but neither has quite broken through yet. Watts is a four-phase special teams starter and has earned his stripes. Thin group but wouldn’t surprise if the Chiefs keep a safety on the practice squad.

SPECIALISTS (3)
53: K Harrison Butker, P Tommy Townsend and LS James Winchester

Finally, one position group with zero drama.