KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up the preseason with a win against the Minnesota Vikings, finishing 3-0 in the games that don’t matter — at least from a record perspective.
Now comes arguably the most challenging part of General Manager Brett Veach and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s job, whittling the roster from 80 players to 53 ahead of a 3 p.m. deadline on Tuesday to cut down rosters for the regular season.
There seem to be more — and more difficult — decisions to make on the defensive side.
Offensively, the Chiefs will have tough choices about how many running backs and wide receivers to carry into the regular season, but the core group seems pretty well defined. On the other side of the ball, every position group has intrigue ahead of the NFL roster deadline.
Here’s a breakdown of “4th & 1” podcast host Tod Palmer’s prediction for how the roster initially will shake out:
QUARTERBACKS (2): Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne
Mahomes and Henne are locks — duh! — and the Chiefs obviously have designs on undrafted rookie Shane Buechele serving as the No. 3 QB this season. Numbers at others spots probably dictate keeping only two at the position on the active roster, but Buechele should clear waivers and stick around.
Practice squad: Shane Buechele
RUNNING BACKS (4): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon and Michael Burton
Edwards-Helaire and Williams got nicked up in the preseason and McKinnon has a history of injuries, so the Chiefs might feel the need to keep another running back.
Darwin Thompson or Derrick Gore both made strong cases to snag that spot, if the Chiefs feel the need to keep an extra running back. The trade would probably require sacrificing a defensive player, which might leave the roster too unbalanced.
It’s possible one or both get claimed by another team off waivers, but both would also be candidates to stick around on the practice squad if they don’t make the active roster and don’t get claimed.
Practice squad: Darwin Thompson and Derrick Gore
OFFENSIVE LINE (10): Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Andrew Wylie, Nick Allegretti
The depth the Chiefs suddenly have up front is remarkable — and enviable, if you’re other NFL teams. The starting five seems set after Niang joined the bunch with Remmers’ injury and never looked back.
Long’s eventual return complicates things, but Veach can worry about that and reassess the roster in mid-October. Durant might not make it through waivers after putting his skills on tape last season, but if he does the Chiefs would welcome the chance to stash him on the practice squad.
PUP list: Kyle Long
Practice squad: Yasir Durant
Released/waived: Prince Tega Wanogho, Darryl Williams and Wyatt Miller
WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman Jr., Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Daurice Fountain
Cornell Powell hasn’t made enough of an impact in the preseason to justify a roster spot over Kemp, a special teams ace, or Fountain.
The talent he flashed at Clemson clearly intrigued the Chiefs, who’ve only drafted one other receiver (Hardman) since 2017, but Andy Reid’s system is notoriously hard for receivers to pick up.
Yes, Powell was a draft pick — and there’s a chance another team that coveted him late in the draft would scoop him up on waivers — but right now his performance suggests he’d benefit from developing on the practice squad.
Practice squad: Cornell Powell
Released/waived: Gehrig Dieter, Maurice Ffrench, Darrius Shepherd and Dalton Schoen
TIGHT ENDS (4): Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and Noah Gray
All four deserve spots on the active roster. It’s that simple. Fortson’s emergence as an athletic target with blocking chops and special teams value makes him impossible to cut.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Chris Jones, Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders, Mike Danna, Alex Okafor and Joshua Kaindoh
Jones’ positional flexibility affords Veach and the Chiefs some roster flexibility in much the same way Clark’s injury history and declining production require keeping some insurance on the edge.
That’s why I have both Okafor, a steady veteran with limitations (but a known quantity for the coaching staff), and Kaindoh, an athletic developmental prospect, sticking around. That probably leaves Demone Harris and Tim Ward on the outside looking in roster-wise, though Ward is a guy who always seems to make plays.
Practice squad: Austin Edwards and Tim Ward
Released/waived: Demone Harris and Tyler Clark
Injured reserve: Malik Herring
LINEBACKERS (5): Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay Jr., Nick Bolton, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel
O’Daniel has been a big-time special teams contributor and that matters when constructing the back end of a roster. He’s earned Dave Toub’s trust through the years, and that might earn him a roster spot again in 2021.
Practice squad: Omari Cobb
Released/waived: Darius Harris and Emmanuel Smith
CORNERBACKS (6): L’Jarius Sneed, Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes, Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker, BoPete Keyes
The battle for the final roster spot at cornerback probably boils down to Keyes or Chris Lammons, but I’ll give a slight edge to the Tulane product. If he clears waivers, the Chiefs certainly would love to keep both for insurance against the inevitable injury.
Meanwhile, Dicaprio Bootle has some versatility that makes him a fine developmental stash on the practice squad.
Practice squad: Dicaprio Bootle and Chris Lammons
Released/waived: Zayne Anderson
SAFETIES (4): Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorenson, Juan Thornhill, Armani Watts
Watts’ special teams value and experience nets him the spot, while Chiefs hope to stash Key — who they really liked throughout the offseason process — on the practice squad, giving him some time to learn and adjust to the NFL game.
Practice squad: Devon Key
Released/waived: Marlon Character and Rodney Clemons
SPECIALISTS (3): Harrison Butker, Tommy Townsend, James Winchester
There’s no competition in camp at any of three spots, so this should be self-explanatory.