Projecting the Chiefs’ 53-man roster: Who makes the cut ... and who might not

The Chiefs are a couple months away from whittling their roster down to 53, but it’s never too early to start projecting who will be on the roster when they open the season in Jacksonville on Sept. 8.

Quarterbacks (2)

Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne

No quarterback competition here. The biggest battle will be for the practice squad spot. Chase Litton has the experience with the Chiefs, and he’s in his last year of practice squad eligibility. But he’ll be challenged by Kyle Shurmur, son of Giants coach Pat Shurmur. A Vanderbilt product, Shurmur looked good in offseason workouts and could be a serious challenger to Litton.

Running backs (5)

Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Anthony Sherman

This room looks a lot different than it did at the beginning of the 2018 season. With the departures of Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware, Damien Williams enters the season as the Chiefs’ starter — a role he earned with his performance in the final games of last season. Behind him, the Chiefs will have a mixture of veteran and young, unproven talent. Hyde figures to be the No. 2 back, with Darrel Williams and rookie Thompson rounding out the room. Fullback Sherman is a lock as a versatile offensive player.

Wide receiver (6)

Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Gehrig Dieter, Byron Pringle, Cody Thompson, Tyreek Hill*

If Hill starts out the season with a suspension of some length, the Chiefs will have an extra wide receiver spot to fill. I think that goes to Cody Thompson. The undrafted free agent had a good camp, and his performance there would earn him the opportunity to fill Hill’s spot if the speedy wide receiver is forced to sit out. Pringle was a favorite of the coaches last season before his injury, and he’s been mentioned frequently this summer. And not only is Dieter a good friend of Mahomes, he’s also a pretty good wide receiver. He was elevated to the active roster late last season during Watkins’ absence and played 32 snaps with one catch on three targets during that stretch. He also has a role on special teams, giving him another boost to make the 53-man roster.

Tight end (3)

Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, John Lovett

Kelce is the only sure-thing in this tight end group. The Chiefs are dangerously thin at the position and there’s not a great selection to choose from for the TE2 spot. Yelder missed OTAs and minicamp with a minor hamstring injury, but he has the most experience among those vying for a spot. Lovett will make the roster as a tight end, but he could really go under any of the offensive skill position groups. The former Princeton quarterback is well-liked for his versatility and energy, and he spent time during workouts playing with all three strings of the offense. Like the other tight ends during OTAs and minicamp, he had a couple of dropped balls, but he can plug a lot of holes for the Chiefs. For that reason, there should be a spot for him on the final roster.

Offensive line (8)

Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Austin Reiter, Andrew Wylie, Cam Erving, Nick Allegretti, Kahlil McKenzie

There could be a lot of movement here after training camp, but after OTAs and minicamp, this seems to be the most likely group of offensive linemen. Although McKenzie didn’t play at all last season as he transitioned from the defensive to offensive line, the Chiefs don’t seem likely to let their 2018 draft pick go. When Jimmy Murray left early with an injury during mandatory minicamp, McKenzie got work in snapping the ball during 7-on-7s. Allegretti, this year’s final draft pick, was a late-round steal. His versatility will keep him around, and he took snaps at both center and guard during OTAs and minicamp.

Defensive line (9)

Frank Clark

Chris Jones, Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah, Derrick Nnadi, Breeland Speaks, Khalen Saunders, Justin Hamilton, Tanoh Kpassagnon

The foundational pieces of this position are Jones and Clark, but equally important will be Okafor. He’s a projected starter and his performance will dictate how many resources opposing offenses can use to slow Clark. With the move to Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense, some of the guys in this group were previously classified as outside linebackers. This year, though, players like Speaks will be defensive ends. A surprise make in the D-line group is Kpassagnon. Though he looks the part of an NFL player, the 2017 draft pick has had an inconsistent and disappointing tenure with the Chiefs as a linebacker. That could change this year. He spent time during mandatory minicamp on the interior of the defensive line. Adding that position to his repertoire could keep him around. While Kpassagnon is projected to make the roster, Xavier Williams could be a surprise cut. It seems to be a toss-up between Williams and Hamilton to make the roster, and though Williams is a hometown kid, he comes with a bigger cap hit. If he’s cut during training camp, the Chiefs will save $1.807 million against the cap, while carrying $1.875 million in dead money.

Linebacker (6)

Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Damien Wilson, Darron Lee, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel

Ragland isn’t a natural fit in Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense, but he enters training camp as the first-string middle linebacker. Even in last year’s 3-4 defense, Ragland struggled. But he also wasn’t fully healthy at any point in the season, beginning the year with the knee injury that flared up on flights to and from Mexico City and kept him out of some training camp practices. But a healthy Ragland playing in an uncomplicated system like Spagnuolo’s should be enough to keep him around. The second-string guys in this group, including former first-rounder Lee, are an important bunch, too. Both Neimann and O’Daniel will continue to be crucial on special teams for Dave Toub in their second year with the franchise.

Cornerback (6)

Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Tremon Smith, Keith Reaser, Rashad Fenton

Remember Reaser? He was on the Chiefs’ practice squad in 2017 and returned briefly last season before landing on IR. He was subsequently released with an injury settlement and went on to become one of the standout players in the short-lived AAF, thus earning another shot with the Chiefs. He had an interception during 7-on-7s in mandatory minicamp and would give the corner position solid depth. Fenton, a rookie, had a forgettable offseason and didn’t particularly stand out during mandatory minicamp. But the Chiefs aren’t likely to part with a 2019 draft pick. The last time they permanently parted ways with a new draft pick in the same year came in 2016, when third-round pick cornerback KeiVarae Russell was cut in September following an unremarkable training camp.

Safety (5)

Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Jordan Lucas, Armani Watts, Daniel Sorensen

A year ago, this position was perhaps the weakest on the team. Now, it may be the strongest. Not only that, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more solid safety group top to bottom in the league. Mathieu is the obvious headliner of the group, but Thornhill could be the most important. His presence will dictate whether Mathieu plays more in the box — where he’s said he wants to play — or has to play deep at free safety. The rookie was taking snaps with the first team before he injured his calf and missed mandatory minicamp. There’s no indication that he won’t be ready for training camp, and if he picks up where he left off, he’ll be a Week 1 starter at free safety. Though Sorensen will likely be bumped down the safety depth chart with the addition of Thornhill, his value on special teams will keep him around. Lucas was a feel-good story last season, earning playing time as injuries depleted the position group. He had an interception against Jacksonville, got married and his wife had a baby. The Lucas Locomotive will keep chugging along this season.

Specialists (3)

Harrison Butker, Dustin Colquitt, James Winchester

The Chiefs brought in another punter — Jack Fox — for offseason workouts, but ultimately, Colquitt’s experience as the longest-tenured Chief on the roster keeps him around for another season. Butker signed an extension earlier this offseason, and Winchester is another automatic make.

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.