Kansas City Chiefs training camp is set to begin Friday, with quarterbacks and rookies reporting to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. The first practice open to season-ticket holders is Wednesday, July 27, and the first practice open to the general public is Thursday, July 28, at 9:15 am Arrowhead Time (full schedule here).
Remember that we always try to do our best in these projection exercises. There is little to no chance this will be the final roster after the final cutdown on August 30 — and it is nearly impossible to account for players who are to be released from other rosters.
Here are the dates connected to this year’s cutdown schedule:
- 85 players on August 16
- 80 players on August 23
- 53 players on August 30
As they are every year, my projections are based upon things I’ve seen, heard and hypothesized. Let’s go!
Quarterbacks (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
In recent years, head coach Andy Reid curbed his tendency of keeping three quarterbacks on the initial roster, holding two at the final cut in both 2020 and 2021. The one point that gives me pause in leaving Shane Buechele off the roster is the Chiefs had to call him up in November of last year, as the Arizona Cardinals tried to poach him as they dealt with injuries at the position. If Kansas City did not have so much depth at every pass-catching position, they would likely keep Buechele around. But because of the numbers game, I think they try to sneak him back onto the practice squad — at least to begin 2022. Cutting Chad Henne would come with a more-than-$3 million cap penalty, so we’re probably (at the very least) a year out from any changing of the guard at backup quarterback.
Running backs (4): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Ronald Jones, Isiah Pacheco
This position group may change in the updated projections that will be posted here in the weeks to come, but for right now, this is how I see the room playing out. It may sound odd to some, but I think the locks are Clyde Edwards-Helaire and rookie Isiah Pacheco — whom we can deduce general manager Brett Veach especially likes. Jerick McKinnon was the Chiefs’ best running back at the end of last year, so even though he signed late, I like his chances to stick around. Ronald Jones is only a year removed from being a very good RB1 for the Buccaneers (2020). The wild cards in this room are Derrick Gore and Jerrion Ealy, both of whom Kansas City will want to keep on the practice squad. But if they make things interesting at camp, perhaps the Chiefs pull a late-preseason “Carlos Hyde” by moving McKinnon or Jones to another club.
Fullbacks (1): Mike Burton
During previous preseasons, I have cut the fullback. This was not wise. If there was ever a year for Reid to change his ways, it might be 2022; there is just so much offensive depth here. But in 2021, Burton had 10 first downs (including a touchdown) on 11 touches. That’s not a guy Reid is going to cut — and it’s a position he’s liked to have for more than 20 years running.
Wide receivers (6): Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore, Josh Gordon, Justin Watson
I would be completely stunned if any of the first four players listed here do not make the team. The Chiefs are counting on the production of their new free agents Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster to make up for Tyreek Hill heading to the Miami Dolphins. Mecole Hardman had a really good end to his 2021 season and enters a contract year coming off the most lucrative wide receiver market in memory. Second-rounder Skyy Moore will definitely be on the club. In my view, that leaves two possible open positions. My initial choices here are Josh Gordon and Justin Watson. Gordon looked much more comfortable during the Chiefs’ voluntary offseason sessions than he did all of 2021 — and so did Watson, who plays special teams and has already gotten the Schrager special before taking a preseason snap. Other legitimate candidates here are Daurice Fountain and Corey Coleman. I think these camp marks the end of the former fifth-rounder Cornell Powell’s Kansas City tenure. I also wonder if the Chiefs can find a way to redshirt Justyn Ross for a year as he rebuilds his strength following a rough injury stretch in college.
Tight ends (4): Travis Kelce, Jody Fortson, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Travis Kelce will continue to build his case as the greatest tight end in NFL history, leading a four-player room on the initial roster for the second year in a row. In the voluntary offseason looks — mind you, in shorts — Jody Fortson looked like his old self coming off the Achilles injury. The hope for Kansas City will be that he picks up right where he left off: a six-game stretch that included two touchdowns. I think there could be a sneaky battle between Blake Bell and Noah Gray simply because of the numbers game. Can Gray show up to camp and be a good enough blocker for the Chiefs to cut Bell? Despite that being a possibility, my gut says Reid was having too much fun with the prospect of four-tight end sets to quit them now.
Offensive linemen (9): LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Andrew Wylie, Roderick Johnson, Nick Allegretti, Darian Kinnard, Austin Reiter
Is Orlando Brown Jr. really about to hold out? Despite this beginning to teater along the area of ugly, I just can’t see it. I have to imagine Brown signs and will report to camp with enough time ahead of Week 1 to get into football shape. Here’s the reason I bring this up: if Brown doesn’t show up, someone else will be managing that position — at least during training camp and the preseason. I think the candidates there include Roderick Johnson, Geron Christian and Prince Tega-Wanogho. If this stays ugly, I like the Chiefs to keep Christian over backup center Austin Reiter. For now, we’ll keep Reiter penciled in. Nick Allegretti is solid as interior depth — and I still think rookie Darian Kinnard has a chance to unseat Andrew Wylie, though I feel much less strongly about that prospect than I did on draft weekend. If you’re looking for Lucas Niang, scroll down to the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Defensive tackles (4): Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders
When doing this exercise, there are cases where offensive numbers impact defensive numbers. I kept 26 offensive players because I felt I had to. That decision most impacted the defensive tackles — specifically Taylor Stallworth. If there is an offensive cut I’m not seeing, the 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle (who can also play a little special teams) would end up back in my mix. For now, with four, give me the three expected players — and perhaps one unexpected player: Khalen Saunders. In this camp, Saunders will have to show up in shape and earn his way to the club. I’m going with the former Veach draft pick in Saunders for now, but I don’t feel strongly about it. If the GM follows these numbers, I could easily see them keeping Stallworth over Saunders.
Defensive ends (5): Frank Clark, George Karlavtis, Mike Danna, Josh Kaindoh, Malik Herring
The top three players here are locks. I’m not sure any Chiefs rookie has more pressure on him than No. 30 overall pick George Karlavtis. Frank Clark returns on a paycut as one defensive end starter, so Karlavtis will be expected to make a Day 1 impact with not much depth behind him. Filling the room out, I’ll take Josh Kaindoh — the former fourth-rounder who will need to take positive steps after an injury-riddled rookie season. Malik Herring flashed during offseason workouts after missing all of 2021 due to injury, and I think the Chiefs have high hopes there. Adding a veteran free agent — such as Carlos Dunlap or Jason Pierre-Paul — would make this position a bit tougher to figure out than I see it at this time.
Linebackers (5): Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr., Jermaine Carter Jr., Elijah Lee, Leo Chenal
In today’s pass-happy NFL, the Chiefs will mostly rely on Nick Bolton and Willie Gay out of the linebacker room. In the base package, look for Jermaine Carter and Elijah Lee to complement Bolton and Gay until the defensive staff feels rookie Leo Chenal is ready. The Chiefs love Chenal’s run-stopping ability, but there is a chance he needs some seasoning before defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (who tends toward being cautious with young players), trusts he is ready. I thought Veach made a sneaky add with the 27-year-old Carter, who can play at any linebacker position — especially considering Carter started 17 games for the Carolina Panthers a season ago. My bet is the Chiefs keep at least two linebackers (perhaps Jack Cochrane and Mike Rose) on their practice squad.
Cornerbacks (6): L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Rashad Fenton, Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson, Lonnie Johnson Jr.
Take a quick look at the cornerback room, and what do you see? A big-time youth movement. In 2022, Spagnuolo will have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable in this position group. L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie project as the outside corners, with Sneed continuing to slide in as the 27-year-old Rashad Fenton (the elder statesman) enters the game in the nickel. Fenton is dealing with an offseason shoulder injury, but is expected to be ready by the start of training camp. If he isn’t, look for fourth-round rookie Joshua Williams or veteran Lonnie Johnson Jr. to get some work there. The key name you might find missing here is Deandre Baker — and my thought here is simple: if the Chiefs felt like Baker could be a producer for them, do they draft five defensive backs and trade for another? Maybe the Chiefs flip Baker for a day-three conditional pick up with a team like Miami — which now has cornerback coach Sam Madison, who was always incredibly high on Baker while he was in Kansas City. Also, look out for Chris Lammons — a surprise name to make it last year.
Safeties (4): Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Bryan Cook, Deon Bush
Another room where the top three players are locks to make the club. Safeties Justin Reid and Juan Thornhill join Chris Jones in filling the leadership void left by Tyrann Mathieu — now with his hometown New Orleans Saints. I like Deon Bush for his special-teams prowess as the Chiefs work with seventh-rounder Nazeeh Johnson on their practice squad.
Placekicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester
No surprises here.
Under contract, not counted on active roster (2)
Reserve/PUP: OL Lucas Niang
Reserve/Injured (out for season): WR Justyn Ross
Chiefs position quantities at the 53-man cutdown since 2013
Here’s a look at Chiefs position quantities throughout the years since Andy Reid took over the Chiefs in 2013:
Offensive position quantities since 2013
Defensive position quantities since 2013
*Eric Berry had a roster exemption at the 53-man roster cutdown in 2016 and was included in most cutdown listings.
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