Exploring How the Current Chiefs Roster Was Built

As the Chiefs head into the 2021 campaign, it never hurts to reflect on how their roster came to be.
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Before the Kansas City Chiefs take their first snap of the 2021 season, it is always a fun exercise to look at where the players on the roster came from and break down some of the storylines in the position groups as the team heads into a revenge season.

With that said, let’s go over the 53 players who made the final roster (and two more players who will rejoin it at a later date).

Quarterbacks

  • Patrick Mahomes - Fifth year with Chiefs, drafted 1:10 by Chiefs in 2017
  • Chad Henne - Fourth year with Chiefs, drafted 2:57 by Dolphins in 2008

The Chiefs ultimately decided to only carry two quarterbacks on the final roster heading into 2021. Chad Henne is entering his third season as a Chiefs backup (he did not play in 2019 due to an injury). If the team ever needs another quarterback other than Henne on the active roster, it can elevate Shane Buechele off of the practice squad. Somehow, that Patrick Mahomes guy made the roster again. Weird.

Running Backs

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Second year with Chiefs, drafted 1:32 by Chiefs in 2020
  • Darrel Williams - Fourth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2018
  • Jerick McKinnon - First year with Chiefs, drafted 3:96 by Vikings in 2014
  • Michael Burton - First year with Chiefs, drafted 5:168 by Lions in 2015

A fierce battle in the running back room led to the Chiefs rostering only three halfbacks and a fullback when the dust settled. All three of the running backs on the bubble who got a lot of work in the preseason made cases for their roster spot, but Jerick McKinnon secured his with great special teams play. 

This left Darwin Thompson to be waived and Derrick Gore to be sent to the practice squad. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams look to take a bulk of the carries for the Chiefs this year, with Edwards-Helaire being a great candidate for a breakout year running and catching the ball.

Tight Ends

  • Travis Kelce - Ninth year with Chiefs, drafted 3:63 by Chiefs in 2013
  • Blake Bell - Second year with Chiefs (2018), drafted 4:117 by 49ers in 2015
  • Noah Gray - First year with Chiefs, drafted 5:162 by Chiefs in 2021
  • Jody Fortson - Third year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2019

With the release of offensive tackle Eric Fisher in the offseason, Travis Kelce is now the longest-tenured Chief on the roster. This might be the most talented tight end room the Chiefs have had in Kelce’s career. Blake Bell returns for a second stint with the team and should provide a nice veteran presence, while Noah Gray and Jody Fortson are both very talented and exciting young players who can play in-line and line up outside as well. The possibilities are endless with this new group.

Wide Receivers

  • Tyreek Hill - Sixth year with Chiefs, drafted 5:165 by Chiefs in 2016
  • Mecole Hardman - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 2:56 by Chiefs in 2019
  • Demarcus Robinson - Sixth year with Chiefs, drafted 4:126 by Chiefs in 2016
  • Byron Pringle - Fourth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2018
  • Daurice Fountain - First year with Chiefs, drafted 5:159 by Colts in 2018
  • Marcus Kemp - Fifth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2017

The only wide receiver on the final roster for the Chiefs who was not with them before is Daurice Fountain, who beat out rookie Cornell Powell. The rest of the room is full of familiar faces, but it remains to be seen if that is a good thing after Sammy Watkins left in the offseason. Another interesting tidbit here is that Mecole Hardman is the highest draft investment of the group as a former second-round pick. It does help that the Chiefs found a top-five wide receiver in the fifth round five years ago, though.

Offensive Line

  • Orlando Brown - First year with Chiefs, drafted 3:83 by Ravens in 2018
  • Joe Thuney - First year with Chiefs, drafted 3:78 by Patriots in 2016
  • Creed Humphrey - First year with Chiefs, drafted 2:63 by Chiefs in 2021
  • Trey Smith - First year with Chiefs, drafted 6:226 by Chiefs in 2021
  • Lucas Niang - First year with Chiefs, drafted 3:96 by Chiefs in 2020
  • Mike Remmers - Second year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Buccaneers in 2012
  • Nick Allegretti - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 7:216 by Chiefs in 2019
  • Austin Blythe - First  year with Chiefs, drafted 7:248 by Colts in 2016
  • Laurent Durvernay-Tardif - Seventh year with Chiefs, drafted 6:200 by Chiefs in 2014
  • Andrew Wylie - Fourth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Colts in 2017
  • Kyle Long (PUP) - First year with Chiefs, drafted 1:20 by Bears in 2013

The projected starters along the Chiefs' offensive line are all in their first year with the team — what an overhaul. The Chiefs are going to be embarking on an almost unprecedented journey by starting three rookies along the line Week 1. Considering who started at the positions last year, though, it is not hard to think that at least Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith perform better than their 2020 counterparts. 

Behind the starters are some familiar faces, with most of the backups having multiple years with the Chiefs. It remains to be seen who will be trimmed from the group when Kyle Long returns, but that will be later in the year (the earliest Long can return is Week 7).

Defensive Line

  • Chris Jones - Sixth year with Chiefs, drafted 2:37 by Chiefs in 2016
  • Frank Clark - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 2:63 by Seahawks in 2015
  • Jarran Reed - First year with Chiefs, drafted 2:49 by Seahawks in 2016
  • Derrick Nnadi - Fourth year with Chiefs, drafted 3:75 by Chiefs in 2018
  • Khalen Saunders - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 3:84 by Chiefs in 2019
  • Tershawn Wharton - Second year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2020
  • Mike Danna - Second year with Chiefs, drafted 5:177 by Chiefs in 2020
  • Joshua Kaindoh - First  year with Chiefs, drafted 4:144 by Chiefs in 2021
  • Alex Okafor - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 4:103 by Cardinals in 2013

The Chiefs roll into the season with nine defensive linemen and many old faces returning. The only new additions to the defensive line are Jarran Reed and rookie Joshua Kaindoh. Despite few offseason adds, there is a reason for more optimism among this group than last year. Chris Jones’ move to defensive end will open up quite a few interesting personnel packages.

The Chiefs' young defensive linemen, like Mike Danna and Tershawn Wharton, are poised to improve on their rookie campaigns and should be quality rotational players at more than one position. The Chiefs are quite deep along the line, but there are still questions about Frank Clark heading into the year as he nurses a hamstring injury and is coming off a disappointing 2020 season.

Linebackers

  • Anthony Hitchens - Fourth year with Chiefs, drafted 4:119 by Cowboys in 2014
  • Nick Bolton - First year with Chiefs, drafted 2:58 by Chiefs in 2021
  • Ben Niemann - Fourth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2018
  • Dorian O’Daniel - Fourth year with Chiefs, drafted 3:100 by the Chiefs in 2018
  • Darius Harris - Third year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2019
  • Willie Gay (IR) - Second year with Chiefs, drafted 2:63 by Chiefs in 2020

Considering both money and draft capital, the linebacker group might be the Chiefs' biggest investment on the roster currently other than (possibly) the offensive line. Anthony Hitchens currently has a top contract on the roster and both Nick Bolton and Willie Gay were recent second-round picks.

If the unit cannot turn around with an investment like that, then it is possible the Chiefs should divert assets elsewhere. It will be up to Bolton and Gay to prove they were worth the investment this year. While Gay sits on the injured reserve list for a few weeks, it seems as though Ben Niemann will be taking his reps.

Cornerbacks

  • L’Jarius Sneed - Second year with Chiefs, drafted 4:138 by Chiefs in 2020
  • Charvarius Ward - Fourth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Cowboys in 2018
  • Mike Hughes - First year with Chiefs, drafted 1:30 by Vikings in 2018
  • Deandre Baker - Second year with Chiefs, drafted 1:30 by Giants in 2019
  • Rashad Fenton - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 6:201 by Chiefs in 2019
  • Chris Lammons - Second year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Falcons in 2018

Charvarius Ward: veteran of the cornerback room? Only Chris Lammons is older than Ward, and all of the Chiefs' cornerbacks are 25 or younger. This group is young and mostly untested. What is notable about the Chiefs' cornerbacks unit is that it actually contains the most first-round picks among any position group on the team, and both of the former first-round picks were not even drafted by the team! 

It is up to someone in this group other than L'Jarius Sneed to step up and play well, or the Chiefs might have issues at cornerback at some point this season. One notable cut among this group was Thakarius “BoPete” Keyes, the Chiefs’ 2020 seventh-rounder who was claimed off waivers by the Colts.

Safety

  • Tyrann Mathieu - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 3:69 by Cardinals in 2013
  • Juan Thornhill - Third year with Chiefs, drafted 2:63 by Chiefs in 2019
  • Daniel Sorensen - Eighth year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2014
  • Armani Watts - Fourth year with Chiefs, drafted 4:124 by Chiefs in 2018

Other than quarterback and specialists, the safety room is the only positional group without a new face in 2021. Devon Key made a push in training camp to take Armani Watts’ job, but Key’s somewhat poor showing in the preseason and Watts’ special teams play gave him the edge in the end and Key fell to the practice squad. 

Daniel Sorensen, somewhat surprisingly, returned to the team this offseason. Yet again, he seems to be in line for a lot of snaps this year as the Chiefs defense employs many three-safety formations. The biggest question for the safety group is whether Juan Thornhill can regain his rookie season form after not looking healthy last year coming off an ACL tear. Tyrann Mathieu should continue to cash rent checks and lead the defense.

Special Teams

  • Harrison Butker - Fifth year with Chiefs, drafted 7:233 by Panthers in 2017
  • Tommy Townsend - Second year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Chiefs in 2020
  • James Winchester - Seventh year with Chiefs, UDFA signing by Eagles in 2013

There are some lingering question marks for both leading specialists this season. Harrison Butker had an okay 2020 season, but his missed extra points were frustrating at times. Tommy Townsend had an up and down rookie year and needs to improve in order to cement his spot as the Chiefs’ punter. Both are situations to monitor as the season goes along.

When looking at the Chiefs' final roster, the final vision of the offseason seems to be one of retooling. Many starters from last year returned, but a revamped offensive line and some new faces added here and there have given some position groups a new feel. This does not mean that every spot on the Chiefs' roster is stacked, though. The wide receiver and cornerback rooms both leave something to be desired if a player among those who made the roster does not improve on their 2020 season.

The Chiefs have a lot of young talent on the team — more than the last few years. If some of these players show growth this year, this could be the best Mahomes-led Chiefs team yet.

Read More: New and Improved — This Isn't a Chiefs-Browns Playoff Rematch