KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With just eight days until NFL rosters must be trimmed down to 53 players before the opening week of the season, the Chiefs still have about a dozen positions that appear competitive for backup roles.
The starting lineup of the Chiefs seems mostly set, although the starting free safety role alongside Tyrann Mathieu still appears open.
In each of his first two seasons as general manager, Brett Veach made moves during the final week of the preseason to add new players to the mix via trades and the waiver process. The Chiefs have depth, particularly at receiver and defensive line, to spent resources targeting another position of need. Cornerback, tight end, offensive line or running back would appear the most likely possibilities for upgrades.
Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backup: Chad Henne
In the mix: Kyle Shurmur and Chase Litton
Nothing changes at quarterback with the real battle for the No. 3 quarterback. Shurmur continues to run as the No. 3 quarterback, but Litton again put up another solid preseason outing against Pittsburgh. Litton finished 9-of-15 for 87 yards while Shurmur went 4-of-9 for 29 yards.
The winner likely lands on the practice squad. Still can't rule out the possibility the Chiefs keep a third quarterback on the initial 53-man roster in hopes the other quarterback clears waivers and can land on the practice squad.
Starters: Damien Williams, FB Anthony Sherman,
Backups: Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams and Carlos Hyde
In the mix: Tremon Smith and Marcus Marshall
Thompson moves up the depth chart as he continues showing the ability to handle the load as the No. 2 back. The final two or three spots in the backfield appear increasingly up the air.
Hyde has seen his touches drop steadily to the point where he's primarily working with the second and third teams. The rotation on Saturday could be very telling – if Hyde enters the game after Darrel Williams, it's a bad sign for Hyde. Financially, however, the Chiefs don't have much incentive to part ways with Hyde. They already gave him an $800,000 signing bonus and guaranteed $700,000 of his 2019 salary. They can save about $700,000 in salary cap space by moving forward without him. The Chiefs typically favor keeping a veteran in reserve in the backfield, and Hyde is the only veteran they have.
Smith didn't see any touches against the Steelers and began a rotation at receiver this week. He offers tantalizing potential as a chess piece for the offense, but the arrival of De'Anthony Thomas adds to the competition for the role of kick returner. Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle Cody Thompson and Darwin Thompson have all returned kicks in the preseason. Smith can't win a spot on the roster without earning the No. 1 kick returner job.
Starter: Travis Kelce
Backups: Blake Bell and Deon Yelder
In the mix: Nick Keizer, H-Back John Lovett and Manasseh Gardner
This position also remains topsy turvy with three players vying for one of or backup positions behind Kelce. Bell and Yelder appear to be the front runners, but the rotation on the practice field and in games is a jumble with Keizer also getting plenty of looks. Yelder's ankle sprain throws this position into a bit of chaos as well. The Chiefs appear to be moving forward as if the injury isn't long term, however.
Lovett also poses an interesting case due to his recent shoulder injury. Injured reserve remains an option, but remember this: if a player hits injured reserve during the preseason, he cannot be designated to return later. If the Chiefs need that option, he must make the 53-player roster before going to IR.
Starters: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson
Backups: Mecole Hardman, De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Pringle
In the mix: Cody Thompson, Gehrig Dieter, Rashard Davis, Felton Davis, Jody Fortson, Jamal Custis and Jalen Tolliver
Injured reserve: Marcus Kemp and Davon Grayson
The loss of Marcus Kemp for the season and the return of Thomas reopens the race for the final two receivers. Kemp and Pringle appeared out in front, but Thomas surges into the race as a special teams ace. Cody Thompson also continues making a strong case. Rashard Davis looks like a long shot at this point, but he continues to impress in practices.
The mystery here is Dieter, who looked much improved as a receiver before getting sideline with a back injury. Dieter practiced during training camp, so he's ineligible for the physically unable to perform list. The only options would be to waive him in hopes of fitting him on the practice squad or place him on injured reserve.
Starters: LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and RT Mitchell Schwartz
Backups: G/T Cam Erving, OL Jeff Allen, G/C Ryan Hunter and G/C Nick Allegretti
In the mix: G/C Kahlil McKenzie, C/G Jimmy Murray, OT Dino Boyd, OT Pace Murphy, G Zack Golditch and T Chidi Okeke
The return of Allen this week and the latest rotation along the offensive line sends a message the Chiefs aren't enamored with their options for depth along the offensive line. Hunter is the flavor of choice now for a backup spot, as he's seeing the most reps as a backup with the ones and leading the No. 2 team in snaps. Allegretti has struggled at times at center, but there remains much upside there. It Chiefs aren't ready to pull the plug on the experiment with McKenzie, they might try to sneak him on the practice squad.
Starters: LDE Alex Okafor, DT Derrick Nnadi, DT Chris Jones and RDE Frank Clark
Backups: DL Tanoh Kpassagnon, DL Breeland Speaks, DT Xavier Williams, DT Khalen Saunders, DT Justin Hamilton and DE Jeremiah Attaochu
In the mix: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Joey Ivie, DE Rob McCray, DT Cavon Walker and Hunter Dimick
Non-football injury list: DE Tim Ward
This remains arguable one of the deepest positions on the team with at least 12 players ready to make an impact on an NFL roster right now. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo says he would keep them all if he could The front four looks set, and Kpassagnon and Speaks (if healthy) appear locks as well. Saunders has been uneven and struggled to earn second-team looks, but it's difficult to give up too quickly on a third-round pick with a lot of upside.
Williams, Hamilton, Ivie and Ogbah appear hovering around the cut line, and all three have made convincing cases at times. Williams and Hamilton see the most time with the No. 1 defense. Ivie seems to be coming on late in camp, and Ogbah offers experience and reliability. Attaochu offers flexibility as an edge rusher who can drop back in coverage as an outside linebacker when needed. If they Chiefs want to pull the trigger on a trade, they have currency here.
Starters: WLB Anthony Hitchens, MLB Reggie Ragland, SLB Damien Wilson
Backups: ILB Ben Niemann and OLB Darron Lee
In the mix: ILB Raymond Davison, OLB Dorian O'Daniel and OLB D'Juan Hines
Non-football injury list: ILB Darius Harris
The top five seems set with the biggest question mark on whether the Chiefs keep a sixth linebacker. Davison and O'Daniel are next up on the list, but both have struggled breaking into the No. 2 group and play mostly with the threes. If Attaochu makes the team, he can also fill in at outside linebacker.
The Chiefs love the upside of Harris, who expects to return from shoulder surgery perhaps by the end of September. The club may keep five linebackers for now with an eye toward adding Harris to the mix in the season's second half.
Starters: Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward
Backups: Rashad Fenton and D'Montre Wade
Suspended list: Morris Claiborne
In the mix: Herb Miller, Mark Fields, Dakari Monroe and Michael Hunter
Injured reserve: Keith Reaser
The Chiefs' most troubling position entering training remains the most troubling position now. Breeland continues answering questions so far about his return to top form, yet it's Fuller's struggles that mystify the most. Spagnuolo is still testing coverages and looks, particular with Ward's ability to adapt to the zone.
The team is grooming Fenton as a slot corner, but he may not be ready yet. Claiborne will miss the first four games with a suspension, but he must make the 53-man roster before moving to suspended list. Wade, Miller and Fields are all candidates to snare a spot, but give Wade the slight node over Miller for now.
Starters: Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill
Backups: Daniel Sorensen, Jordan Lucas and Armani Watts
In the mix: Andrew Soroh and Harold Jones-Quartey
The plays of the safety's group remained solid throughout the preseason, with even Soroh and Jones-Quartey making a case for spots. Thornhill looks ready to start alongside Mathieu, leaving Sorensen and Lucas coming off the bench. That's a formidable quartet, and Watts has shined on special teams and looks close to returning to the form he showed as a rookie.
Starters: K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winches
In the mix: P Jack Fox
Fox continues showing strides in building consistency, but it's still hard to imagine the Chiefs bumping 15-year veteran Colquitt as punter and holder for an untested rookie. It wouldn't surprise if the Chiefs kept Fox as an apprentice on the practice squad ready to take over in 2020 if Colquitt retires.