Reporters gathered around De’Anthony Thomas’ locker after last week’s preseason finale as if to say goodbye.
Thomas had played well against the Packers, with four receptions for 45 yards, but the questions focused on whether he had done enough to make a Chiefs roster that had more talented wide receivers than at any time in Andy Reid’s four seasons as coach.
Even for a former fourth-round draft pick from Oregon with exceptional speed and gear-shifting ability, Thomas’ spot seemed anything but a sure bet.
“Just taking it one day at a time,” Thomas said. “I’m not worried about a (roster) spot, as long as I’m giving it my all.”
Turned out, Thomas gave enough. When the Chiefs announced their final roster on Saturday, Thomas’ name was on it. Another wide receiver who appeared to have a good chance of making the team based on his camp performance, Rod Streater, was traded to the 49ers for a conditional draft pick.
That gave the Chiefs their six players at the position: Thomas, Jeremy Maclin, Chris Conley, Albert Wilson and rookies Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson.
To hear general manager John Dorsey tell it, Thomas played his way onto the roster over the last few weeks, not just in one exhibition game in which the starters didn’t participate.
“Ever since training camp started, De’Anthony has done a really nice job of understanding his role, what he’s going to do, and I think he’s earned that roster spot,” Dorsey said. “He’s played very well in the four preseason games.
Thomas wound up leading the Chiefs in the preseason with 10 receptions, but that’s hardly a reliable sign. The second-leading receiver was Frankie Hammond Jr., who wound up on the practice squad.
Thomas enters his third season and is coming off a year in which he appeared in 10 games before suffering a concussion. He was cleared to play in December but didn’t play in the final two games for what the Chiefs termed a “non-football related injury.”
The Chiefs and Thomas never revealed the injury, but the mystery didn’t play a role in this roster decision. Asked if thought that absence would hurt his chances of making the team, Thomas was adamant it would not.
“Not at all,” Thomas said. “It’s 2016, a new year, new goals.”
The selection of Hill in the draft also posed a question about Thomas’ future. The players have size — both stand under 6 feet — and speed in common. They’ve worked as return specialists in the preseason, both on kickoffs and punts.
But Dorsey said they’re not the same player. Hill, listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds, has a slight size advantage over the 5-8, 176-pound Thomas, who moves better laterally.
“When you have a coaching staff like we have, and they can match them up on a case by case basis against the defense, you take advantage of their skill sets,” Dorsey said.
Thomas is better versed as an inside receiver and joins Wilson as the top threats there. Hill works more on the outside.
Hill’s speed was the talk of OTAs and training camp, but his most impressive play of the preseason was an adjustment he made on a route to catch a ball that was underthrown for a 58-yard gain.
Thomas’ best moments came in last week’s strong all-round effort.
The Chiefs have one more roster move to make before Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. They received an exemption for safety Eric Berry, which pushes the roster to 54. The Chiefs have until Saturday to reach 53.
“There’s one more move that has to be made, but it can be made in a lot of different fashions,” Dorsey said.
But it seems like the Chiefs are set with their wide receivers group.
“We think these six can be very productive players,” Dorsey said.