With NFL teams mandated to get down from 90 to 75 men by 3 p.m. Tuesday, here’s my 53-man roster prediction. Also, please keep in mind that suspended players, like cornerback Sean Smith, don’t count against the 53-man roster.
▪ Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray. Smith is the clear starter, and Daniel is the clear No. 2 — and a very good option if Smith goes down at any point. Murray has made some strides as a passer the last few camps and remains an interesting developmental option. Tyler Bray has not participated in organized team activities or training camp and could once again be ticketed for injured reserve.
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Running backs (3)
▪ Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Charcandrick West. This is a strong group. Charles is a bona-fide star, and West has been the surprise of camp. He’s a nimble runner with quick feet who has consistently displayed good hands. If Charles were to go down at any point, it would be interesting to see if West could steal some playing time from Davis — a physically gifted runner who still drops a few too many passes — especially in passing situations.
▪ Anthony Sherman. Backup Spencer Ware has flashed speed, running ability and good hands throughout camp, but there’s probably only room for one fullback on the roster.
▪ Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Chris Conley, Jason Avant, Frankie Hammond, Fred Williams. Keeping seven receivers is tough, but it speaks to the way these guys have played this preseason. The first four are locks. Avant should be, too — he gives this team professionalism and consistency — but the young guys behind him are intriguing. In this scenario, they’ll be battling for two spots. Hammond’s special-teams contributions — he’s on the first-string kickoff, kick-return and punt-return units — should help him. Williams gets the nod over rookie seventh-rounder Da’Ron Brown because he’s logged 20 more offensive snaps and has played so well he might be claimed by another team if waived. Brown is talented too, though, so waiving him is also a risk. If he sneaks through waivers, he’s an ideal practice-squad candidate. Kenny Cook and Jeret Smith might have also shown enough to earn practice-squad invites.
Tight ends (3)
▪ Travis Kelce, James O’Shaughnessy, Ryan Taylor. Kelce and O’Shaughnessy are locks. The third spot is the mystery. Demetrius Harris is recovering from his second foot surgery and he hasn’t practiced, but he’s been catching passes on the field before preseason games. The guess here is that he starts the season on the physically unable to perform list or on short-term IR. That leaves the final spot to Taylor or Richard Gordon. Taylor, who has some pass-catching upside, has gotten more work than Gordon, a better blocker, this preseason. Taylor also played first-team on kickoff sagainst Tennessee, unlike Gordon. But stay tuned on this one.
Offensive line (9)
▪ Eric Fisher, Ben Grubbs, Mitch Morse, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson, Eric Kush, Paul Fanaika, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Zach Fulton. Talk about a quandary — the Chiefs have five backups in contention for an estimated four spots. Kush should make it because he’s still young and the only other real center on the roster. The Chiefs thought enough of Duvernay-Tardif to keep him on the 53-man roster all of last year. He started the last two exhibition games ahead of Fulton, a 16-game starter last year at the same position. Both were sixth-round picks a year ago; it could be tough to get rid of either. The Chiefs gave Fanaika a three-year deal this offseason, and he’s also been getting work at right tackle, giving him some swing versatility. That, unfortunately, leaves Jarrod Pughsley, a talented-but-raw young player, on the outside looking in. He’s an ideal practice-squad candidate, however, provided he doesn't get claimed. Guard Daniel Munyer, an undrafted rookie who is now earning second-team reps, could also get a look on the practice squad.
Defensive line (5)
▪ Allen Bailey, Mike DeVito, Jaye Howard, Mike Catapano, Nick Williams. Dontari Poe seems to be ahead of schedule in his rehab from back surgery, but he hasn’t practiced. Expecting him to play in two weeks might be a stretch, so he could be a candidate to remain on the PUP list, which would allow him to come back in week seven. Bailey, Howard, DeVito and Catapano are locks, and Williams, who has logged the second-most snaps of any defensive player this preseason, gives them extra beef up front. This scenario makes it difficult for sixth-round pick Rakeem Nunez-Roches to make the team, but he is a practice-squad candidate. So is rookie David Irving, who has not logged many defensive snaps but has stood out in camp practices and is an excellent developmental candidate.
Outside linebacker (5)
▪ Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Josh Martin, Dezman Moses. The first three are locks. Martin is a vital special-teams player — he’s first string on kickoffs, kick returns, punt returns and punt coverage — and they’ve spent three years developing him. Moses doesn’t help as much on special teams but he’s logged the most snaps of any defensive player this preseason and has played his tail off.
Inside linebacker (4)
▪ Derrick Johnson, Josh Mauga, Ramik Wilson, Frank Zombo. The first three seem like locks. In this scenario, Zombo gets the nod over James-Michael Johnson and fifth-round rookie D.J. Alexander because of his versatility and value on special teams, where he is one of Dave Toub’s most trusted players. Don’t count out Johnson, a fourth-year pro with experience, especially considering Mauga’s injury history. But he was banged up all camp, and Wilson has been capable in Mauga’s absence. Alexander seems like a practice-squad type. Rookie Justin March was flashing big-time potential before his torn meniscus. He’s a IR candidate.
▪ Phillip Gaines, Marcus Peters, Jamell Fleming, Steven Nelson. The Chiefs will have a decision to make here, but not until after week three, when Sean Smith returns from his DUI suspension. With such a young group, the Chiefs might need to carry five — Smith won’t count against the 53-man roster until then — especially with Peyton Manning in week two and Aaron Rodgers in week three. That could bode well for Marcus Cooper. But Ron Parker’s ability to play corner, if needed, is a boon. Husain Abdullah and Tyvon Branch can line up against slot receivers, too, so that offers some protection.
▪ Ron Parker, Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry, Tyvon Branch, Kelcie McCray, Daniel Sorensen. The Chiefs are deep at safety, so I’ve got them keeping six. McCray contributes on special teams and even earned some legitimate defensive snaps last year. In this scenario, Daniel Sorensen is a strong special-teamer who is on the first-string at kick returns, kickoffs and punt returns. If he doesn’t make it, he could spend another year on the practice squad. Sanders Commings is finally healthy but he hasn’t gotten much work in the preseason.
▪ Cairo Santos, Dustin Colquitt, James Winchester. Rookie Andrew East was the first-string long snapper against Tennessee, but that might have been about getting him a look with the starters. Winchester got the first-string reps in the first two games, so he gets the edge — but it’s a slight one. This battle is close; by my count, both guys have had only one bad snap this preseason.