Roster projection: Tough decisions for Chiefs among backups on offense

Aug 25, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marcus Kemp (19) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his team have their final roster meetings following the team's last preseason game against the Green Bay Packers Thursday night, several tough decisions still loom.

While much of the roster appears set, backups at key positions and the last few spots remain up for grabs. Thursday's game offers young players their last chance to prove they belong and need to stick with the team for 2018.

There are a few twists that also factor into building the opening 53-man roster. One involves the injury of safety Dan Sorensen, who expects to miss extended time after surgery for a tibial plateau fracture. If the Chiefs want to place him on injured reserve with a designation to return, he must first make the opening roster. That move could free up a slot if the Chief choose to exercise it.

The other consideration comes with tight end Demetrius Harris sitting out Week 1 due to a suspension. That could prompt the Chiefs to keep an extra tight end for the start of the season.

How will the roster look as of 3 p.m. central time Saturday afternoon? Here's one projection.

QUARTERBACK (3)

IN: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne and Chase Litton

OUT: Matt McGloin

The only debate here rests with Litton or McGloin. Both quarterbacks have taken advantage of their limited opportunities in camp and the preseason. Litton's drive in the first preseason game stands out as an example of how the rookie can command the huddle and operate the office efficiently. Neither player has won an advantage, and that normally favors youth and upside, in this case Litton.

RUNNING BACK (5)

IN: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams and Anthony Sherman

OUT: Kerwynn Williams, Ray Lawry, and Algernon Brown

Five running backs seems more likely if the Chiefs believe Ware and Damien Williams still need time recovering from injuries. Darrel Williams has certainly proved enough to warrant a spot. Kerwynn Williams could be a C.J. Spiller for 2018, a veteran not on the Week 1 roster so he's salary doesn't become guaranteed but gets a call in the case of injury.

TIGHT END (3)

IN: Travis Kelce, Jace Amaro and Alex Ellis

SUSPENDED LIST: Demetrius Harris

OUT: Tim Wright

The likelihood the Chiefs carry four tight ends for Week 1 still exists, but numbers right off the bat make it difficult. Kelce and Harris are the definitive top duo and Amaro's experience gives him the edge at No. 3. But Ellis impressed in camp with his work ethic and improved pass catching, and could easily find his way on to the roster during the season.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

IN: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp and De'Anthony Thomas

OUT: Daniel Braverman, Jordan Smallwood, Josh Crockett

PRACTICE SQUAD: Jehu Chesson, Gehrig Dieter, Byron Pringle and Blake Mack

The Chiefs have a deep if not spectacular group at wide receiver, and it's easy seeing four different players in the final two spots. The top four spots are locked in. Kemp has had the best camp of the next four and remains a favorite on special teams. The versatility of Thomas, particularly as a returner, gives him a step up as well. Chesson didn't have as strong a camp as last season and spent too much time running with the No. 3 offense. Pringle and Mack are projects worth keeping around.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

IN: Eric Fisher, Cam Erving, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz, Andrew Wylie, Parker Ehinger, Kahlil McKenzie

OUT: Bryan Witzmann, Jordan Devey, Jimmy Murray and Ethan Cooper

PRACTICE SQUAD: Ryan Hunter and Bentley Spain

Could the Chiefs keep a ninth offensive lineman? The makeup of the depth chart makes that possible. Erving lines up as the backup at virtually every spot on the offensive line, which lacks a true experienced swing tackle. The Chiefs hope Ehinger can fill that role. Wylie stood out as the most aggressive among the other young linemen in camp. Witzmann brings valuable experience at multiple positions and wouldn't surprise if he makes the team. Devey is the team's most experienced backup center aside from Erving. Hunter, Murray and Spain show potential and worth keeping at least one or two of that group on the practice squad. Last year Devey made the initial 53 roster, but the team waived him before the opener to avoid guaranteeing his salary for the season.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

IN: Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Xavier Williams, Jarvis Jenkins, Derrick Nnadi

OUT: T.Y. McGill, Justin Hamilton, Stefan Charles and Mike Purcell

PRACTICE SQUAD: Dee Liner

With the Chiefs appearing likely to play a three-man front primarily in run situations and normally display a two-man look on passing downs, they can get by with just five along the defensive line. Jenkins proved a valuable reserve a year ago when healthy. This leaves a thin bench, however.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5)

IN: Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Breeland Speaks, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Frank Zombo

OUT: Rob McCray and Tyrone Holmes

Last April the idea existed that Kpassagnon might not make the squad, but his offseason and training camp dispelled those doubts. Now the Chiefs face a real number crunch here with five outside players worth keeping. The club has the depth that they shouldn't need Zombo on passing downs, but he remains their best run defender after Houston.

INSIDE LINEBACKER (5)

IN: Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Ukeme Eligwe, Dorian O'Daniel, Ben Niemann

OUT: Raymond Davison and Otha Peters

PRACTICE SQUAD: Terrance Smith

Another position posing a real number challenge for the Chiefs. Hitchens, Ragland and O'Daniel certainly make the squad. Eligwe made a big jump in year two, and his versatility to play multiple roles and contribute on special teams add value. Niemann has forced his way on to the team, and it's hard to see him falling through the waiver wire. That could leave Smith as the odd man out, even though he has had a pretty solid camp and remains a strong special teams player.

CORNERBACK (6)

IN: Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, David Amerson, Orlando Scandrick, Tremon Smith, Arrion Springs,

OUT: Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, Step Durham and Makinton Dorleant

PRACTICE SQUAD: D'Montre Wade

The addition of Scandrick shakes up this group a bit, but it's hard to see the Chiefs letting Springs slip away. Amerson's Jekyll and Hyde preseason prompts some concern, the but the club seems ready to move forward with him and Scandrick sharing the nickel role for now. The recent injury to Durham could let the Chiefs find a way to keep him on injured reserve this season.

SAFETY (4)

IN: Eric Berry, Eric Murray, Leon McQuay and Armani Watts

INJURED RESERVE: Daniel Sorensen

OUT: Jordan Sterns

It wouldn't not come as a huge shock if Sorensen finds his way to injured reserve with a designation to return. His absence early makes it easier to keep a sixth cornerback, especially someone like Springs who can play safety in a pinch. The rest of this group appears set. Sterns remains an intriguing project but the numbers work against him.

SPECIALIST (3)

K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt and LS James Winchester

No challenges appeared him camp for these three, unless you count the morning Travis Kelce sent long snaps to backup holder Chris Conley for kicker Colquitt. The Chiefs like this group, and it should hold together barring injuries.