KANSAS CITY, Mo. — NFL teams have until 3 p.m. central time Tuesday afternoon to whittle their roster down to 53 players, which means a busy final few days evaluating performances and crunching the numbers for Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his staff.
The club took the first step toward trimming their roster from 80 players on Saturday, releasing offensive tackle Roderick Johnson and waiving quarterback Dustin Crum, running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, wide receiver Aaron Parker and linebacker Mike Rose.
The establishment of the initial 53-player roster for the 2022 season marks marks only the next step in the roster-building process. Teams can put in waiver claims for the approximately 850 players cut from their squads until 11 a.m. central time Wednesday, Aug. 31. Within the hour after that window closes, teams can start assembling their 16-player practice squads.
Here’s my current projection for the 53-player roster based on training camp practices, the team’s first preseason game and discussions with team sources.
On the roster: Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne
Practice squad candidate: Shane Buechele
Buechele built a compelling case for landing a spot on the 53-player roster as a third quarterback, finishing the preseason with a 91.1 passer rating and tied for second in the league with three touchdown passes. But with few quarterback injuries during the preseason and some other standout performances by young passers across the league, the Chiefs can probably risk exposing Buechele to waivers for now. That might change during the regular season, however, just as it did last season when attrition around the league prompted the Chiefs to promote Buechele to the active roster.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
On the roster: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Isiah Pacheco and FB Michael Burton
In the mix: Ronald Jones
Arguably one of the most perplexing issues in building the Chiefs’ roster is figuring out where Jones fits in the scheme. Is he the final running back in deep five-player backfield? Was Thursday’s night showcase (eight carries for 43 yards, one catch for 4 yards) for the benefit of the Chiefs or an audition for other clubs in need of help? It’s difficult to find a role on the Chiefs’ roster for Jones for now but don’t close the door completely.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
On the roster: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore, Justin Watson and Daurice Fountain
Practice squad candidates: Cornell Powell and Jerrion Ealy
In the mix: Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman
The first five players are locks for the active roster but the question remains if the Chiefs will keep a sixth wide receiver. If they do, put the money on Fountain. He’s the best special teams player of the group and finished second on the team with 87 receiving yards in the preseason. Ealy suffered a knee injury that could serve as a convenient gateway to essential a redshirt season on injured reserve.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
On the roster: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and Noah Gray
Practice squad candidate: Jordan Franks
Injured reserve: Matt Bushman (projected)
Bell appears likely headed to injured reserve to start the 2022 season but due to the intricacies of the NFL roster rules, he must start the season on the 53-player roster in order to be designated to return from IR later in the season. The Chiefs certainly appear likely to be scouring the waiver wire and free agent list looking for a tight end in the mold of Bell, especially a highly skilled blocker who can catch the occasional pass.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
On the roster: LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith and RT Andrew Wylie, G/C Nick Allegretti, C/G Austin Reiter, T Geron Christian and T Prince Tega Wanogho
Practice squad candidates: G/C Vitaliy Gurman, G/C Mike Caliendo and T Darian Kinnard
Physically unable to perform list: T Lucas Niang
The five starters along with Allegretti are locks for the 53-player roster but options get cloudy after that. Reiter is a skilled backup and with a flurry of injuries offensive line injuries around the league, Veach may field inquiries about Reiter. He’s likely to stay in Kansas City unless a better offer comes along, however. Christian and Wanogho are the best bets to remain at tackle but expect the Chiefs to keep a close eye on the trade market and waiver wire. Acquiring a strong swing tackle is likely high on Veach’s shopping list. Reiter is also a vested veteran not subject to waiver claims, so if the Chiefs need to drop a veteran for a day to move Bell to IR, Reiter is a candidate for such a deal.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
On the roster: DE Frank Clark, DT Chris Jones, DT Derrick Nnadi, DE Mike Danna, DE George Karlaftis, DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Tershawn Wharton, DT Khalen Saunders, DT Danny Shelton and DE Joshua Kaindoh
Practice squad candidates: DE Malik Herring, DE Kehinde Oginni Hassan and DE Azur Kamara
In the mix: DT Taylor Stallworth and DT Matt Dickerson
Barring unforeseen issues with the mid-camp arrival of Shelton, the veteran nose tackle should land the fifth and final spot as an interior lineman. The most hotly contested spot is the fifth edge position, with both Herring and Kaindoh in the picture. It’s a close call, but with Herring suffering an oblique strain in the preseason finale, he might be a candidate for IR.
On the roster: WLB Willie Gay, MLB Nick Bolton, SLB Leo Chenal and MLB/OLB Darius Harris and OLB Jermaine Carter
Practice squad candidate: OLB/MLB Jack Cochrane
In the mix: SLB Eljah Lee
This position group appeared neatly sorted out a week ago but now seems topsy turvy after shifts in the depth chart. The rookie Chenal started at the strongside linebacker against Green Bay, the role that previously belonged to Lee. Harris has seemingly done everything necessary to earn a roster spot, especially as the No. 2 backup MIKE linebacker behind Bolton who can quarterback the defense. Carter signed a guaranteed $1.77 million contract as core special teams player and backup linebacker. Harris is still eligible for waivers while Lee has the least complicated contract status. Still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chiefs keep all three, two of the three or just four linebackers on the initial 53.
On the roster: L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson and Chris Lammons
Practice squad candidates: Nazeeh Johnson and Dicaprio Bootle
Lammons proved against during training camp and the preseason why he’s a favorite of special team coordinator Dave Toub, so when choosing a sixth cornerback it’s impossible to bet against him. Johnson and Bootle both have compelling cases for roster bids but should both be easy to slip onto the practice squad. Youth makes this a volatile position group but it’s easy to like the depth Veach has built here.
On the roster: Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Bryan Cook and Deon Bush
Practice squad candidates: Zayne Anderson and Devon Key
Anderson and Key are both capable backups but Bush is a core special teams player with veteran savvy and has also surprised with his pop. If Anderson makes it safely to the practice squad as anticipated, the Chiefs are in good shape in the secondary.
On the roster: K Harrison Butker, P Tommy Townsend and LS James Winchester
No surprises here at all.