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Projecting the Chiefs’ 53-Man Roster: Pre-Training Camp Edition

The Chiefs may have the most depth they have had in years, but which 53 will they take with them when they head to Arizona in Week 1?
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Training camp for the Kansas City Chiefs begins on Wednesday, July 27th, in St. Joesph, MO. Every year before Week 1 of the season, NFL teams are forced to cut their rosters down from 90 players to 53. 

Thus, the Chiefs are tasked with deciding who will take the field for them when they head to Arizona to face the Cardinals to open the year. There are a bunch of new faces in Kansas City and plenty of players battling for roster spots. Brett Veach, Andy Reid and the rest of the Chiefs' staff will have to make tough calls as they push for another Super Bowl.

Here are my predictions for the Chiefs' initial 53-man roster before the start of training camp.

Offense (25)

Quarterbacks (2)

1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Chad Henne

The quarterback spots are probably the easiest to predict on the roster. As the best quarterback in the world, Mahomes is an obvious mainstay. 2022 will be Henne's fifth year in Kansas City. The Chiefs had the option to move on from him this offseason and insert Shane Buechele into the backup role, however, they brought Henne back. This signals that they were not ready to give the backup spot to Buechele just yet. The Chiefs put the practice squad protection on Buechele multiple times last year, but they cannot afford to carry three quarterbacks on the active roster.

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) attempts a pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Running Backs (3 + FB)

3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
4. Ronald Jones
5. Isiah Pacheco
6. Michael Burton

Every year Reid has been in Kansas City, he has kept a fullback on the roster — making Burton's spot pretty safe. The Chiefs will likely give Edwards-Helaire every opportunity to become the player they'd hoped for when they drafted him in the first round back in 2020. Behind him is where things get dicey. 

The Chiefs have a bunch of guys who are capable rotational pieces. They recently re-signed Jerick McKinnon, who came on strong towards the end of last season, although I don't believe he will make the roster. The Chiefs prioritized signing Ronald Jones before that. Jones lacks pass-catching ability out of the backfield, which is where Pacheco comes in. Pacheco provides speed in the rushing and passing attack on top of being a core four special-teamer.

Dec 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) runs in for a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers (6)

7. JuJu Smith-Schuster
8. Marquez Valdes-Scantling
9. Mecole Hardman
10. Skyy Moore
11. Justin Watson
12. Cornell Powell
IR. Justyn Ross

Compared to years past, this wide receiver room will look drastically different. The only major contributor from the recent past that is still in Kansas City is Mecole Hardman. He's in a contract year and is expected to have a more significant role with the departure of Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs added Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling in free agency to provide a veteran presence. Skyy Moore is the last wide receiver one can comfortably say has a spot locked down. The Chiefs drafted Moore in the second round, likely hoping he would soon become the No. 1 guy. 

The fifth and sixth wide receivers are where the competition heats up. The Chiefs have a bunch of guys who can win those spots. If I wrote this two weeks ago, I would have said that Ross makes the roster. Since he was absent at minicamp, the Chiefs could stash him on injured reserve for the season. Watson has been getting a lot of hype from the local and national media, giving him the edge to make the roster. The Chiefs will probably want a guy who can play special teams for the final spot, and Powell can fill that role in his second season.

Jan 16, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (right) embrace following the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tight Ends (4)

13. Travis Kelce
14. Blake Bell
15. Noah Gray
16. Jody Fortson 

There isn't any competition for the tight ends; it's just a matter of the Chiefs deciding whether to keep three or four. Last season was the second year in a row that the Chiefs kept four, and that trend continues here. Kelce's spot is a guarantee for the same reasons as Mahomes. This offseason, the Chiefs re-signed Bell to have a blocking tight end and someone who can run quarterback sneaks. Last offseason, the hype for Gray was high, and he showed flashes but wasn't consistent enough to play significant snaps. With another offseason under his belt, he can take a step forward. Fortson may be the most curious case, as he is coming off an Achilles tear. However, he's already back on the field and showed enough last year to make the team.

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Jan 2, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Linemen (9)

17. Orlando Brown Jr.
18. Joe Thuney
19. Creed Humphrey
20. Trey Smith
21. Andrew Wylie
22. Geron Christian
23. Nick Allegretti
24. Austin Reiter
25. Darian Kinnard
PUP. Lucas Niang

The starting offensive line from last year (Brown, Thuney, Humphrey, Smith, Wylie) will be on the roster. Allegretti is in the final year of his contract and could be dangled in a preseason trade, but his versatility provides enough value as the sixth lineman to keep him around. Reiter started in two Super Bowls for the Chiefs but was let go before last season, then was brought back this offseason and will be kept as the backup center. Christian and Kinnard will have the chance to win the starting right tackle job and even if they don't win it, they should provide quality depth. Niang tore his patellar tendon late last season. The injury typically has a long recovery time, which should have Niang starting the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).

Oct 17, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Kansas City Chiefs guard Joe Thuney (62) and Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (57) line up against the Washington Football Team at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Defense (25)

Defensive Linemen (10)

26. Chris Jones
27. Derrick Nnadi
28. Khalen Saunders
29. Taylor Stallworth
30. Tershawn Wharton
31. Frank Clark
32. Mike Danna
33. Joshua Kaindoh
34. Malik Herring
35. George Karlaftis

The defensive line is the weakest group on the roster. Outside of Jones, no one else can be relied on to be productive. After being drafted in the first round, Karlaftis should be the starting edge opposite Clark. Guys like Danna, Nnadi and Wharton have been solid rotational pieces for years, and Kaindoh could make a leap this year. He injured his ankle in the first few weeks of last season and should see more snaps moving forward. 

The Chiefs only signed one new defensive lineman this offseason: Stallworth, to provide depth from the interior. The two guys on the fringe of this group are Herring and Saunders. Saunders has been in Kansas City for a few years but hasn't seen the field that much. Herring was brought in after the 2021 draft but due to a torn ACL, he was placed on injured reserve immediately after being signed. If the Chiefs decide to add another piece, Herring or Saunders' spot may be in jeopardy, but they should make the roster for now.

Aug 24, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) celebrates with defensive end Chris Jones (95) after a sack during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers (5)

36. Willie Gay Jr.
37. Nick Bolton
38. Jermaine Carter Jr. 
39. Leo Chenal
40. Mike Rose

Currently, the Chiefs have a super young group of linebackers on the roster. Getting younger was their focus across the entire team, but it's primarily seen at the linebacker position. Only two contributors from last year return in Bolton and Gay. They should be the linebacker tandem for the foreseeable future. During free agency, the Chiefs brought in Carter, who should provide starting snaps as the rookies get their feet wet. 

As for those rookies, Chenal and Rose were added during the draft process. Chenal was selected in the third round and could be the starting SAM linebacker when Week 1 rolls around. Rose went undrafted, but he has enough talent for the Chiefs to keep him as a developmental backup and core four special-teamer.

Oct 10, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (50) celebrates with outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54) after a play against the Buffalo Bills during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks (6)

41. Rashad Fenton
42. L'Jarius Sneed
43. Trent McDuffie
44. Lonnie Johnson Jr.
45. Jaylen Watson
46. Joshua Williams

Similar to the linebackers, the cornerbacks are an extremely young group. Fenton and Sneed are the only familiar faces in this group. The Chiefs went cornerback-heavy in the draft by adding three. McDuffie is the obvious one to make the roster and as a first-round pick, he could be a starter from the jump. The other two, Williams and Watson, were taken on Day Three. There were a lot of positive reports about Williams coming out of minicamp and while Watson hasn't been talked about enough, his skill set and ability to play special teams should give him a spot. Lastly, after the draft, the Chiefs traded for Johnson. Though they didn't give much up to get him, he has experience, which is something this unit is lacking.

Dec 13, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) breaks up a pass to Miami Dolphins running back Malcolm Perry (10) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Safeties (4)

47. Juan Thornhill
48. Justin Reid
49. Bryan Cook
50. Nazeeh Johnson

The Chiefs have shown that they value the safety position. Since Steve Spagnuolo took over as defensive coordinator, Reid is their second significant free-agent investment at safety. Thornhill and Cook are second-round picks. Thornhill has spoken about having an All-Pro season, and the Chiefs have praised Cook's ability to understand defenses. The last safety spot is tricky because of the need to play special teams. With their final pick in this year's draft, the Chiefs took Johnson. He's a freak athlete who can contribute on that front. Having Dave Toub's vote of confidence should put Johnson over the top.

Oct 5, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Juan Thornhill (22) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo (85) during the first quarter of a NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams (3)

51. Harrison Butker
52. Tommy Townsend
53. James Winchester

These three have been locked into their positions for a couple of years. Butker and Winchester are at the top of their positions across the league, so there is no reason to move on from them. Townsend has had an up and down first two years in Kansas City, but it seems that the Chiefs will give him another season to prove himself.

Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (7) celebrates with punter Tommy Townsend (5) after kicking the point after touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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