Nick Jacobs: Final Chiefs 53-man roster projection for 2021 season

NFL teams must reduce rosters to 53 by Tuesday
Vikings Chiefs Football
Posted at 3:30 AM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 13:54:17-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach has all the possible film from this training camp and preseason to put the final touches on what he and the organization hopes will be another championship run.

The Chiefs should enter the season with few roster holes, though additions at wide receiver as well as depth at defensive end and linebacker are possible. There's also practice squad potential at offensive tackle and running back, but they aren't pressing issues at this time.

Kansas City's roster appears to be in a better position than their three previous seasons, which netted three AFC Championship Game appearances and a Lombardi trophy.

Here are the notable key dates arriving this week:

Aug. 31 — Teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players at 3 p.m. Centraland designate players for the Physically Unable to Perform, Non-Football Injury list, and Injured Reserve.

Sept. 1 — Waiver claims end for players on the final roster reduction at 3 p.m. Central.

Sept. 1 after 3 p.m. Central — Teams may begin establishing their practice squad after receiving the personnel notice from the league office. Players put on injured reserve may be designated to return later in the season.

Sept. 5 — The final day of preseason training camp.

Here are some of the decisions ahead of the Chiefs during that time:

Quarterbacks (2)
Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne

Shane Buechele got plenty of reps in the Vikings game to show his strengths and weaknesses against NFL talent. Buechele has had some strong drives throughout the preseason and looked much better in game settings than he did at training camp when he was routinely high or behind on passes without pressure.

Buechele locked in during games, but still showed issues with accuracy outside the numbers and past 15 yards. His placement and decision-making remain a work in progress.

He just isn't NFL ready at this time and will require a season of development. The Chiefs could use a third quarterback on the practice squad, but nothing more at this time. Ideally, a veteran would provide a better situation short-term.

Practice squad potential: Shane Buechele

Running backs (4)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon and Michael Burton

The Chiefs could use a fourth and maybe even fifth running back on the practice squad based off the past seven seasons and the potential to run the ball more this year.

Darwin Thompson wasn't able to shine with the reps he received during preseason. He didn't show enough improvement from last year to warrant a roster spot. The Chiefs may be able to find a better developmental back on the open market this week.

Derrick Gore took advantage of every rep given to him the past two games. He just lacks the burst to thrive in the Chiefs' offense and would be better suited for a stretch zone concept scheme.

Moving on: Darwin Thompson and Derrick Gore

Wide receivers (5)
Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman Jr., Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Kemp

The Chiefs had five receivers who they will likely count on for their first game against Cleveland.

Marcus Kemp took advantage of every opportunity the team gave him at wide receiver and on special teams. He could have made the roster on his special teams ability alone, but he made plays at receiver that should lock him in.

Rookie fifth-round pick Cornell Powell struggled at camp as preseason went on and disappeared in most preseason games. He also didn't provide much of an impact on special teams.

This is an area of weakness on the roster, which the Chiefs will need to solidify through coaching or roster additions before the second half of the season. An injury to Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce would magnify this weakness very quickly.

Daurice Fountain appeared to struggle in his final game with dropped passes and didn't provide much an impact on special teams.

Maurice Ffrench still shows flashes but this is likely the last year on the practice squad to invest in his potential before needing serious results. Tight end Jody Fortson can also serve as the sixth wide receiver.

Practice squad potential: Cornell Powell and Maurice Ffrench
Moving on: Daurice Fountain, Gehrig Dieter, Dalton Schoen and Darrius Shepherd

Tight ends (4)
Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and Noah Gray

The Chiefs are set at tight end in a way they haven't been since 2014. It is a great blend of athletic ability, run-blocking ability and versatility with all four of their tight ends. They can all help split out at receiver positions in a pinch as well.

Offensive line (10)
Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Andrew Wylie and Nick Allegretti

Injuries to Austin Blythe and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif complicate what the roster will need to look like. The team will need to make injured reserve decisions on Blythe and Duvernay-Tardif based on their timetables to return.

I anticipate both being kept on the active 53 initially and any adjustments made after the fact.

Yasir Durant had some protection issues with passing off defenders and some mental lapses with penalties, but his strong punch is hard to give up on.

Prince Tega Wanogho provides additional tackle depth on practice squad, but his long-term knee stability will determine his fate.

PUP list: Kyle Long
Practice squad potential: Yasir Durant, Darryl Williams and Prince Tega Wanogho
Moving on: Wyatt Miller

Defensive line (10)
Chris Jones, Mike Danna, Jarran Reed, Tershawn Wharton, Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Khalen Saunders, Joshua Kaindoh and Demone Harris

The amount of snaps Tim Ward received in the final game, 52 to be exact, or 67%, of the defensive snaps, tells me he is likely a practice squad candidate.

Kansas City clearly wanted to provide enough tape to evaluate for themselves and other teams.

Ward flashes athletic ability, but there are lulls at times with his consistency. Demone Harris is likely the final edge rusher unless another player becomes available on the market this week.

Tyler Clark showed some dominant traits in one-on-one opportunities but got turned at times during double-team blocks. He needs some help working on some minor technique issues to become a quality rotational defensive tackle.

Injured reserve: Malik Herring
Practice squad potential: Tyler Clark and Tim Ward
Moving on: Austin Edwards

Linebackers (5)
Willie Gay Jr., Anthony Hitchens, Nick Bolton, Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel

It doesn't appear there will be any changes at linebacker. Niemann seems to be the fourth linebacker on the roster and O'Daniel provides them a reliable special teams performer.

Cornerbacks (6)
L’Jarius Sneed, Mike Hughes, Charvarius Ward, Deandre Baker, Rashad Fenton and Chris Lammons

Lammons grabs the sixth corner spot on the roster after he really shined on special teams in his final opportunities. He edged out BoPete Keyes in terms of athletic ability in my opinion on his impact special teams-wise alone.

The Chiefs are in a really good spot with their secondary.

Practice squad potential: BoPete Keyes and Dicaprio Bootle
Moving on: Zayne Anderson

Cornerbacks (6)
Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts

Watts was in the right spot to make multiple interceptions in two of the three preseason games. He played like a downhill safety that knew his roster spot was on the line. His acceleration in run support helped shut down a couple of runs from going second level.

Watts earned the final spot with his relentlessness.

Devon Key unfortunately disappeared as the preseason went along and would benefit from time on the practice squad to develop.

Practice squad potential: Devon Key
Moving on: Marlon Character and Rodney Clemons

Specialists (3)
Harrison Butker, Tommy Townsend and James Winchester

The Chiefs are set here.

Roster breakdown
Offense: 25
Defense: 25
Specialist: 3

The NFL is carrying over the expanded practice squad rules from the 2020 season. Teams can have 16 players, including up to six veterans who have more than two accrued seasons.

Teams can protect four players each week and players can return from injured reserve after three weeks rather than six. Two players from the practice squad can join the active roster before the day of the game again this season.

The “4th & 1” podcast is the twice-weekly, Chiefs-centric podcast from 41 Action News, the official broadcast “Home of the Chiefs.” Co-hosts Nick Jacobs and Tod Palmer analyze and breakdown the Chiefs’ opponent and performance for pre- and post-game episodes — available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or your preferred podcast platform — each week during the season.