Projected Kansas City Chiefs' Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The Kansas City Chiefs will open training camp hoping to begin a bid to prove they are still a playoff-caliber team. That perception has been threatened by several defections this offseason.
Free agency left the offensive line threadbare, while little was done to boost the receiving options. The Chiefs are also attempting to replace four starters on last season's opportunistic defense.
But with playmakers like Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali and Alex Smith still occupying prominent positions on the roster, Kansas City will remain a contender in the AFC West.
The Chiefs open the doors to their training camp on Sunday for rookies, with veterans reporting on Wednesday, July 23. Camp takes place at Missouri Western State University, per schedule information from NFL.com.
Here's a pre-training camp look at what the final 53-man roster should look like.
Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray
Cuts: Tyler Bray
Arguably the most important position in football is in safe hands in Kansas City. Steady veteran Alex Smith proved a masterful acquisition from the San Francisco 49ers in 2013.
Smith threw for 3,313 yards and only seven interceptions last season. He continued to show he is a model of efficiency. But low-key consistency wasn't the defining feature of Smith's play during his first year in Kansas City.
He answered the challenge when the Chiefs expanded their offense toward the end of the season. He threw 14 touchdowns in five of his last six starts.
Smith receives excellent coaching from Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. He has flourished in their version of the West Coast offense.
That's why Smith should seek an end to his uncertain future sooner rather than later. The 30-year-old's current contract is up after this season.
Reid and general manager John Dorsey face a dilemma here. They're unlikely to want to let Smith enter his second season with the Chiefs as a pending free agent.
They are even less likely to want to place the franchise tag on him next year. NFL Media reporter Albert Breer has stated the tag for quarterbacks is expected to be "about $17 million" for 2015.
The sketchy nature of Smith's future is no doubt what prompted Reid and Dorsey to select Aaron Murray in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. The rocket-armed but extremely raw passer will certainly make the roster. In fact, he'll provide strong competition for backup Chase Daniel.
The former New Orleans Saints deputy appeared in five games last season, making one full start. Daniel showed good accuracy and mobility skills in his limited action, but he'll know that his team drafting a quarterback is a clear signal about his future.
One passer who could miss out is Tyler Bray. There's simply no room left for him in this season's rotation.
No matter what the reserve order looks like, the Chiefs must find a way to resolve Smith's future. Reid and Dorsey will be hard-pressed to find a starter as savvy and efficient who fits this scheme so well.
Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, De'Anthony Thomas, Anthony Sherman (FB)
Cuts: Cyrus Gray, James Baker, Charcandrick West, Jordan Campbell
When Jamaal Charles left the field due to a concussion against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card Round, the Chiefs' hopes of advancing went with him.
That just served to underline his significance to this team. That significance grew the moment Reid took over in 2013.
The coach took an already exciting runner and made him a lethal dual-threat weapon. Charles rushed for 1,287 yards on 259 attempts last season. That was the second highest number of carries in his career.
But just as important were the career-best 70 receptions he contributed. Reid moved Charles all over the field to create matchup problems for defenses.
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks noted how Reid focused on giving Charles the ball "in space on outside runs or quick passes." Charles will continue his role as the type of Roger Craig-style do-all running back that is crucial to a West Coast scheme.
Reid's preference for unleashing speed out of the backfield makes the competition for backup roles intriguing. In particular, Cyrus Gray and rookie free agent Charcandrick West could be locked in a fierce battle for third-down work.
Gray has carried the ball just 16 times in two seasons with the Chiefs. He could be in trouble if ex-Abilene Christian star West can translate his tremendous natural speed to the pro level.
He reportedly posted an eye-popping 4.27 seconds 40-yard dash speed at the Abilene Christian pro day, per CollegeFootballMetrics.com. That sort of instant acceleration could be an asset in Reid and Pederson's spread concepts.
But both West and Gray will be fearful of fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas. Drafted as a running back, Thomas could spend most of his time at wide receiver in Kansas City.
Thomas can thrive in that type of role. But he must first adapt to the physical nature of being a ball-carrier at the pro level.
ESPN.com's Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher noted how the rookie struggled lugging the rock at times during OTAs:
Life is also not just difficult for 5-9, 175-pound running backs, but also the teams that utilize them. Until such a time comes that the Chiefs move Thomas to receiver full-time, running backs coach Eric Bieniemy will work Thomas hard. Bieniemy yelled at Thomas to finish on several plays Thomas thought were over. Bieniemy did the same thing with other backs, but not as often as with Thomas.
Elsewhere in the rotation, undrafted free agent James Baker is more of a fullback, but he won't usurp Anthony Sherman at that position or take carries away from Knile Davis. The latter is an underrated power-style runner who provides a solid complement to Charles.
Expect both Gray and Baker to be victims of the final cuts. West will join them if Thomas makes a more impressive showing at running back during camp.
Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Frankie Hammond Jr.
Cuts: Albert Wilson, Darryl Surgent, Deon Anthony, Fred Williams, Mark Harrison, Weston Dressler, Jerrell Jackson, Kyle Williams
The Kansas City receiving corps needs a rebound year from Dwayne Bowe. The temperamental pass-catcher posted dismal numbers in 2013. Bowe caught just 57 passes for 673 yards.
Those are unacceptable figures from a player who should thrive in this offense. Reid and Pederson's scheme is built on slant plays that should perfectly suit Bowe's 6'2", 212-pound frame.
The problem is that Bowe doesn't always fight for the ball or keep his frame in the best shape. However, the latter issue might be close to being resolved.
Bowe has reportedly shed weight this offseason, according to USA Today writer Tom Pelissero:
A couple months shy of his 30th birthday, Bowe said he weighs around 212 pounds — down from his playing weight of 222 to 225 in the past — thanks to a diet featuring fish, vegetables and fewer carbs, plus intense workouts in Miami with his personal trainer.
Pelissero also noted how Bowe wants to be "more explosive" this season. That's good news for the passing game.
Bowe is one of the few physically imposing receivers in a group that is otherwise Smurf-like by modern standards. Reid and Pederson need him to help make their system work.
While everyone else in the rotation lacks prototypical size, they make up for it with ample speed. Veteran Donnie Avery is a prime example.
He is a true burner who poses a genuine vertical threat in this offense. Reid loves crafting ways to utilize Avery's blazing speed. He can still be a capable starter if he avoids injuries and drops.
Perhaps the most intriguing player at this position is A.J. Jenkins. The former 2012 first-round bust for the 49ers became something of a reclamation project for Reid last season.
Like Avery, Jenkins can stretch the field. He also has good skills after the catch. But similar to Bowe, Jenkins must prove he can stay in shape and motivated. He can be a surprisingly effective weapon this season if he does.
It's smart to expect Junior Hemingway to take on the slot role. His ability as a blocker is just as significant as his receiving skills. Hemingway does great work clearing the way on the Chiefs' expansive range of screen passes.
The more prolific receiver out of the slot is likely to be De'Anthony Thomas. He seems like a direct replacement for Dexter McCluster, who joined the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
Thomas can be just as versatile as McCluster. That means flip-flopping between running back and receiver, something Thomas did during OTAs, per ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher:
The Chiefs continued to utilize De'Anthony Thomas in a variety of spots but he received more work as a wide receiver than he did on Saturday. Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, still lined up plenty of times as a running back.
This position is loaded with question marks after Thomas. Among them are rookie free agent Albert Wilson, ex-CFL star Weston Dressler and the speedy Frankie Hammond Jr.
Of that group, Hammond has the best chance to stick on the roster. In another article for ESPN, Teicher highlighted Hammond's obvious potential: "Hammond is fast, and working mostly as a slot receiver in offseason practice, he showed the knack for running good routes and the ability to take a short catch and turn it into a big play."
The last part of that description could be the mantra of Reid's offense.
The Chiefs are gambling on potential at this position. They are choosing to believe Bowe can turn things around, Avery stays healthy and players such as Jenkins, Hemingway and Hammond will finally get it.
If those bets pay off, this position can be an unexpected strength this season.
Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Sean McGrath
Cuts: Richard Gordon
Any potential weakness at wide receiver can be mitigated by improved production from the tight end position. The Chiefs need both Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce healthy for that to happen.
The former is a big-bodied and sure-handed receiver. Fasano has many of the attributes of the classic, in-line tight end. However, the 6'4", 255-pounder also possesses underrated move skills and is a prolific target in the red zone.
Unfortunately, Fasano missed seven games and caught a mere 23 passes during a poor first year in the AFC West. But he can become a favored outlet for Smith if he stays healthy.
Sean McGrath tried to occupy that role for much of last season. While his efforts were credible, they were also limited. He made just 26 catches.
His place will be under threat if Kelce delivers on the promise that prompted Reid to draft him in the third round last year. The former Cincinnati standout has the raw skills to emerge as the most complete playmaker in this rotation.
He has imposing size at 6'5" and 260 pounds. Kelce combines his bulk with natural skills as a receiver. That makes him a potential matchup nightmare for defenses.
However, the team is adopting a cautious approach with the player who tore his ACL as a rookie. Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star noted how Kelce mostly worked alone during OTAs:
Kelce ran around and caught passes in individual. He's got a good look about him - he eats up ground and is graceful as a receiver— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) June 17, 2014
This offense needs Kelce to emerge as a feared "move" tight end. However, the second-year pro isn't the only potential playmaker at this position.
Demetrius Harris has also impressed coaches with his range and agility. A former basketball player, Harris offers a good degree of athleticism. He can certainly push for snaps at a position that remains wide open prior to the start of camp.
One player likely to miss out is camp journeyman Richard Gordon. He's primarily a blocker who has also spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. Gordon's skills will be deemed limited by a coach who traditionally utilizes tight ends as active members of the passing game.
Writing for The Kansas City Star, Paylor noted there was a decline in production from the position last season, compared to what Reid is used to:
In his previous four years in Philadelphia, Reid’s tight ends combined to catch an average of 72 passes for 855 yards. The Chiefs’ tight ends last year, led by veteran Anthony Fasano and second-year pro Sean McGrath, caught only 54 passes for 537 yards.
If Fasano stays healthy and Harris or Kelce emerge as a regular option, tight ends will certainly be a bigger feature of this season's passing attack.
Eric Fisher, Donald Stephenson, Jeff Allen, Jeff Linkenbach, Rodney Hudson, Eric Kush, J'Marcus Webb, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Rishaw Johnson
Cuts: Ben Gottschalk, Otis Hudson, Colin Kelly, Zach Fulton, Ryan McKee, Rick Henry
This unit took a major hit during free agency. That's when Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz and Branden Albert were all allowed to seek new pastures.
Their only replacements come in the form of J'Marcus Webb and Jeff Linkenbach. Both are dubious as starters to say the least.
Thankfully, the Chiefs still have a few solid holdovers from last season. The most obvious are Donald Stephenson and Jeff Allen. They should both occupy starter roles, with Stephenson likely at one tackle spot, while Allen is inside at guard.
One incumbent under the spotlight will be center Rodney Hudson. Bob Gretz of BobGretz.com has detailed how Hudson struggled in almost every area in 2013:
In the ’13 season he saw 1,035 snaps on offense, was penalized four times and gave up five sacks, plus another nine hits and hurries of quarterback Alex Smith. He was tied for second among all centers in sacks allowed. Yet, he’s shown himself to be a better blocker in pass protection than in the run game for running back Jamaal Charles.
Gretz has also pointed out Hudson will be a free agent next year. Sadly, the Chiefs currently only have Eric Kush and undrafted free agent Ben Gottschalk as viable competition.
The middle of the line rates as a definite concern. However, the edges could be strong if 2013 top overall pick Eric Fisher improves.
He was shoved onto the right side as a rookie but belongs on the left. A move back to his natural spot should bring the best out of this athletic and mobile lineman.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is another tackle to keep an eye on. The versatile sixth-round pick could provide solid cover as a rookie.
He's an intelligent and nimble blocker who boasts the kind of move skills that suit the spread-style, speed-based elements of Reid's offense.
Depth is certainly an issue up front. The problems weren't eased by the news that Rokevious Watkins has been suspended for four games due to substance abuse policy violations, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.
CBS Sports NFL writer Josh Katzowitz has pointed out this isn't Watkins' first infraction. He earned a single-game suspension in 2013. Watkins shouldn't be counted on for a final roster spot at this point.
This group has to rate as one of the biggest concerns on the 53-man roster. Its success or failure will determine either a return to the playoffs or a second-season letdown under Reid.
Mike DeVito, Dontari Poe, Vance Walker, Allen Bailey, Mike Catapano, Kyle Love, Jermelle Cudjo
Cuts: Jaye Howard, Dominique Hamilton, Kona Schwenke
Defensive line is one of the more loaded positions on the roster. The strength of the group can be found in the middle, in the form of hulking nose tackle Dontari Poe.
He began last season in dominant form. Poe notched 4.5 sacks and made 19 tackles in just five games to begin the campaign. But he went without a sack in his next nine starts.
Overall, Poe clearly responded well to the more attack-minded play-calling of new coordinator Bob Sutton. Poe had more freedom to shift his alignment and attack single gaps in 2013.
That made him a menace along the interior of the pocket. The next step has to be maintaining his dominance over the course of a whole season.
His efforts will be aided by the arrival of ex-Oakland Raiders starter Vance Walker. He is a flexible interior pass-rusher who will draw attention away from Poe.
It will also help Poe if he gets support from his depth. Fortunately, Kyle Love seems a natural for the 0-technique role. But keep an eye on Jermelle Cudjo. He can play end or nose tackle and become a prominent member of this rotation with a strong camp.
Stout veteran Mike DeVito should join Poe and Walker as regular starters. Sutton can also call on capable reserves for the rotation in the form of Mike Catapano and Allen Bailey. Both are useful pass-rushers for the nickel front.
Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Frank Zombo
Cuts: Josh Martin, Alonzo Highsmith, Dezman Moses
The strongest position on the Kansas City defense was made even better this offseason. Reid and Dorsey wisely drafted rush end Dee Ford in the first round to add to Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
Sutton now has a trio of disruptive edge-rushers to utilize. He'll be particularly excited about the early impression made by Ford.
The rookie has wowed coaches, pundits and players alike this offseason. Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is the latest to endorse Ford's skills.
Ogbuehi has compared Ford to current Denver Broncos star Von Miller, per NFL.com College Football 24/7 writer Chase Goodbread: "He's kind of like Von. (They) both had the burst off the edge, and the power, too, so he's a really good player."
That's a glowing recommendation from one of Miller's former teammates. Sutton won't tire of crafting ways to get Ford on the same defensive fronts with Houston and Hali.
But the coordinator will be glad he doesn't have to deal with Houston's murky contract situation. A free agent in 2015, Houston has been embroiled in a holdout.
Yahoo Sports writer Rand Getlin doesn't see a favorable outcome being reached anytime soon, even with Houston in camp:
The rubber really meets the road here: headed into the last year of his rookie deal, Houston has to comply with the terms in Article 8 of the NFL collective bargaining agreement – which requires players to report to their team 30 days before the first regular-season game in order to earn an accrued season toward free agency – if he wants the ability to hit the open market in 2015.
This is a potentially messy situation. It's certainly one that explains the decision to draft Ford. It might also explain the slew of publicly pronounced commendations of Ford's ability.
Ultimately, the Chiefs and their 3-4 defense need Houston, Hali and Ford. They need flexible, roving pass-rushers who can collapse the pocket from multiple angles.
That need is more pressing in a division featuring quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
Reid and Dorsey must surely know that depth beyond Ford is very thin. Frank Zombo is solid, but Dezman Moses, Alonzo Highsmith and Josh Martin don't offer much.
Derrick Johnson, Joe Mays, Nico Johnson, James-Michael Johnson
Cuts: DeRon Furr, Ben Johnson
The inside linebacker position will remain strong as long as Derrick Johnson is at the heart of this defense. He is an effortlessly versatile playmaker at every level.
But the veteran needs a new partner in the middle after Akeem Jordan bolted to the Washington Redskins during free agency. The best option is former Houston Texans starter Joe Mays.
He is a 5'11", 244-pound middle 'backer with good size for the 3-4 and plenty of experience with the scheme. Mays can be the stay-at-home hitter who lets Johnson roam around the field causing havoc.
Quality in reserve can be assured by the return to health of 2013 fourth-rounder Nico Johnson. The ex-Alabama ace also boasts good size to play the interior of a four-man linebacker corps. Sadly, Johnson made just seven tackles as a rookie after suffering preseason injuries last year.
James-Michael Johnson (somebody in this rotation really needs a new last name) is another bruiser to watch. He's an active and solid hitter who seems a natural fit for this scheme.
Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah, Jerron McMillian, Sanders Commings
Cuts: Daniel Sorensen, Malcolm Bronson
This position will be the focus of many nervous fans and keen pundits who are acutely aware that poor safety play derailed this defense last season. One of the major culprits for a lot of the follies was former starting free safety Kendrick Lewis.
He has since left town to reunite with former Chiefs head coach and new Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Husain Abdullah is the leading candidate to makes fans in Kansas City forget Lewis. His versatility and coverage range should give him the edge over converted cornerback Sanders Commings.
Whatever the problems are at one safety spot, at least the Chiefs still have Eric Berry at the other. The roving "Joker" continues to make an impact at every level of the defense.
There isn't much depth behind Berry, partly because no other safety on the roster can match his athletic gifts. Jerron McMillian represents the obvious cover at this point.
Despite issues at safety, Reid and Dorsey didn't make a major push to overhaul the position. Instead, they will rely on Sutton being more creative with his personnel.
Part of his plan is to rotate Berry to free safety more often, per Bob Gretz of BobGretz.com. That would put the best athlete in the Kansas City secondary covering the deep zones. Those were the areas most often exposed when Lewis faltered in Sutton's single-high concepts last season.
Sutton could also move Abdullah around a lot, per Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star: "Though Abdullah, 28, is listed as a free safety, he can be found almost anywhere in the secondary, lining up in the box as a linebacker in the nickel defense, or in the slot as an extra cornerback, or playing deep in the base defense."
Perhaps a more flexible use of safeties can create confusion for quarterbacks who are attempting to decipher coverage. That may mask some of the deficiencies that still exist at this position.
Sean Smith, Ron Parker, Marcus Cooper, Phillip Gaines, Chris Owens, DeMarcus Van Dyke
Cuts: Brandon Jones, David Van Dyke, Vernon Kearney, Kevin Rutland, Justin Rogers
The post-Brandon Flowers era begins in earnest at cornerback. Flowers' release has created a void at the starting position across from beefy veteran Sean Smith.
Many would give the edge to Marcus Cooper. However, Ron Parker can't be ignored, as Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star has pointed out:
Of course, Cooper will still have to hold off Parker in camp, and that could potentially be an interesting battle. Parker, 26, is in his fifth professional season and on his fourth team. But at 6 feet and 206 pounds, he offers plenty of bulk, and he made the most of limited defensive snaps last season, logging a sack and two interceptions.
Parker has a little more bulk than Cooper, who was targeted mercilessly at times during the later stages of last season. It would be no surprise to see Parker win this job if he proves he's quick enough to survive on the outside.
Third-round pick Phillip Gaines, who can also play safety, and veteran free agent Chris Owens will join the loser of this battle to form the primary depth. Then one from a crowded field, featuring former Oakland Raiders draftee DeMarcus Van Dyke, will compete to make the final roster.
That should leave the Chiefs with quantity at cornerback. However, that won't stop many wishing there was more quality at this key position.
Ryan Succop (K), Dustin Colquitt (P), Thomas Gafford (LS), Davis/Thomas (KR), Thomas (PR)
Special teams was a major strength last season but is another unit that has lost a lot of talent since. Stellar return men McCluster and Quintin Demps left for new teams, while Jordan will be missed on the coverage units.
Although he sat out last season, McKnight did serve as a kick returner for the Jets in 2011 and 2012, returning one kick for a score each year. In fact, his 29-yard career kick return average still leads all active players, and he logged a PFF special teams grade of 6.8 during his time with the Jets.
Paylor has identified McKnight and fellow runners Davis and Thomas as the strongest candidates to handle this season's return chores. But the latter two actually have the better chance.
Reid loves versatility in his players and is unlikely to want to carry McKnight, who is limited strictly to the return game.
Expect the impressive Davis to win one job, while Thomas handles most of the other work. Yet don't rule out Hammond and the lightning-fast Van Dyke having roles to play here.
Things could also have a new look in the kicking game. Current starter Ryan Succop will be challenged by undrafted free agent Cairo Santos, who should win the job based on his brilliant name alone.
More important will be his ability to take advantage of Succop's erratic form in 2013. He missed five kicks and had one blocked last season.
Unfortunately, Santos was not much better. He missed seven field goals during his final season at Tulane, per CFBStats.com. The safe nod goes to the man with the experience.
Things don't look strong at kicker, but at least Dustin Colquitt is a steady and capable punter.
The coverage units should remain solid. Depth at linebacker and cornerback ensures there are plenty of speedy and willing hitters for football's vital third phase.
However, the ultimate success of this unit will rest on the new-look return game. The offense was regularly given favorable field position last term. That's an advantage that can't be missed this season.
Projected Final 53-Man Roster
Here's the full projection for the final 53-man roster. The roster is presented alphabetically by position:
|DeMarcus Van Dyke||Cornerback|
|Allen Bailey||Defensive Line|
|Mike Catapano||Defensive Line|
|Jermelle Cudjo||Defensive Line|
|Mike DeVito||Defensive Line|
|Kyle Love||Defensive Line|
|Dontari Poe||Defensive Line|
|Vance Walker||Defensive Line|
|Derrick Johnson||Inside Linebacker|
|James-Michael Johnson||Inside Linebacker|
|Nico Johnson||Inside Linebacker|
|Joe Mays||Inside Linebacker|
|Thomas Gafford||Long Snapper|
|Jeff Allen||Offensive Line|
|Laurent Duvernay-Tardif||Offensive Line|
|Eric Fisher||Offensive Line|
|Rishaw Johnson||Offensive Line|
|Jeff Linkenbach||Offensive Line|
|Donald Stephenson||Offensive Line|
|J'Marcus Webb||Offensive Line|
|Dee Ford||Outside Linebacker|
|Tamba Hali||Outside Linebacker|
|Justin Houston||Outside Linebacker|
|Frank Zombo||Outside Linebacker|
|Jamaal Charles||Running Back|
|Knile Davis||Running Back|
|Anthony Sherman||Running Back|
|De'Anthony Thomas||Running Back/Wide Receiver|
|Anthony Fasano||Tight End|
|Demetrius Harris||Tight End|
|Travis Kelce||Tight End|
|Sean McGrath||Tight End|
|Donnie Avery||Wide Receiver|
|Dwayne Bowe||Wide Receiver|
|Frankie Hammond Jr.||Wide Receiver|
|Junior Hemingway||Wide Receiver|
|A.J. Jenkins||Wide Receiver|
Flexibility will be the key to making this roster work. That is something very evident in the passing game.
The team is only carrying five wide receivers, yet Thomas will be as good as a sixth player at that position.
The small number of flankers is compensated for by keeping a quartet of tight ends. There is also Charles' work as a featured pass-catcher to consider.
Positional versatility will also play a big role defensively. There are only four safeties on this roster, but rookie Gaines could also fill in there if needed. Similarly, Nico Johnson could flip to outside linebacker if injuries cripple that important position.
Despite reductions in numbers and talent at certain positions, the Chiefs still boast the core of a playoff roster. That core will again enjoy the benefit of some of the best coaching in the NFL.
All statistics via NFL.com, unless otherwise stated.
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