The only preseason game that matters is almost here, and it’ll be a chance to further solidify the roster spots with cutdown weekend two weeks away. Most position battles for the Chiefs have been decided either by play or injuries, but there are still a few spots up for grabs.
Look for particular tight battles among offensive linemen, defensive linemen and cornerbacks when KC takes on the 49ers on Saturday night and the Packers next week.
The biggest change since July’s roster projection comes in the running back room. A month ago, Carlos Hyde seemed like a sure thing to make the roster, but as Darwin Thompson developed, Hyde’s stock has fallen. Instead, the Chiefs could use that extra roster spot with the wide receivers to carry Cody Thompson and Byron Pringle, in addition to De’Anthony Thomas.
There aren’t many changes to the defensive side of the ball, with the exception of the cornerback position. Cornerback Herb Miller’s stock is rising, and he got a good chunk of playing time in the second preseason game against Pittsburgh, albeit with mixed results. Even so, he’s making a serious case for a spot on the 53-man roster in the weakest position group on the roster.
Here’s how the rest of the roster is shaping up.
Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
The battle here is still for the practice-squad spot, which right now, seems to be going to Kyle Shurmur. The Vanderbilt product has taken snaps ahead of incumbent practice squad QB Chase Litton in each of the preseason games. Each had an interception in the second preseason game, although Shurmur’s was called back on a defensive pass-interference flag. Litton still has time to make a push for the job, but Shurmur has the edge right now.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Anthony Sherman
OUT: Carlos Hyde
The best thing running backs coach Deland McCullough had to say about Carlos Hyde during training camp was that he brings “veteran savvy.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the six-year vet. Hyde has had some good moments throughout training camp and the preseason, but his second preseason game was inconsistent with the fumble in the only series he ran with the first-team offense. And it’s not just that he’s been somewhat lackluster, it’s that rookie Darwin Thompson has been exceptional. Since flashing in the first preseason game with 22 rushing yards and a 29-yard touchdown reception, Thompson has earned reps with the first-string offense in practice, particularly in goal-line work. It’s going to be hard to keep him off the field, and clearing Hyde out of the way helps accomplish that.
WIDE RECEIVER (7)
Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Cody Thompson, Tyreek Hill, De’Anthony Thomas
OUT: Gehrig Dieter
IN: De’Anthony Thomas
Before Saturday’s second preseason game, Marcus Kemp had played himself into a roster spot and undoubtedly would’ve appeared on this list — likely taking Byron Pringle’s spot. But he’s on IR with a MCL and ACL tear, creating a little more uncertainty in the group. The Chiefs have brought back speedy wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas to help cover the vacancy created by Kemp on special teams. That gives Thomas a spot on the roster, and he’ll be a fun gadget guy in the wide receiver group, used when Andy Reid wants to go full throttle with his speediest lineup. Kemp’s injury coupled with Gehrig Dieter’s persistent back spasms creates another roster spot for a young guy like Cody Thompson, who led the team with 69 yards on seven receptions against Pittsburgh.
TIGHT END (3)
Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Nick Keizer
IN: Blake Bell, Nick Keizer
OUT: John Lovett, Deon Yelder
A shoulder injury to John Lovett moves him from the 53-man roster to the practice squad — or maybe even an IR stash. The real battle for second tight end has been between Blake Bell and Deon Yelder. Though Bell was taking more reps with the first team in training camp practices, Yelder appeared to have the edge in the preseason games. But an ankle injury to Yelder in the third preseason game, will likely make Bell the second tight end by default. Yelder has done enough to make the roster, but the ankle injury will keep him on the practice squad or IR until he’s healthy. Once Yelder is ready to go, he’ll take over for Keizer.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Austin Reiter, Andrew Wylie, Cam Erving, Nick Allegretti, Jeff Allen
IN: Jeff Allen
OUT: Kahlil McKenzie
The late signing of Jeff Allen meant someone had to go. That someone is Kahlil McKenzie. The project player, drafted in the sixth round of 2018, still isn’t ready to be a contributing member of the offense. He still has practice-squad eligibility, so the Chiefs could elect to put him there. The Chiefs could also opt to put rookie Nick Allegretti on the practice squad, but his versatility would make him a valuable member of the 53-man roster.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah, Derrick Nnadi, Breeland Speaks, Khalen Saunders, Xavier Williams, Tanoh Kpassagnon
IN: Xavier Williams
OUT: Justin Hamilton
It feels like a toss-up between Xavier Williams and Justin Hamilton, but Williams has the edge because he seems to be a more important leader on the line. He’s not as flashy as guys like Chris Jones and Frank Clark, but watch Williams him when the line gets in position. He’s vital in making sure everyone is where they’re supposed to go. He’s been hindered with an injury during training camp, but he looks like he’s back on track now. The Chiefs could also opt to sign an extra defensive lineman in lieu of another position player to give the group more depth with Breeland Speaks working through a hyper-extended knee. If that happens, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel could get bumped from the active roster for Hamilton.
Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Damien Wilson, Darron Lee, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel
No changes here, although the person most at risk in this group of not making it is Dorian O’Daniel. The 2018 draft pick hasn’t been remarkable in training camp or the preseason. He was one linebacker who was thought to majorly benefit from the move to the 4-3. He should be a good fit for the weakside linebacker spot, but he’s been buried on the depth chart behind Anthony Hitches and Darron Lee. The rest of the corps down the depth chart isn’t very strong, so he should still make the roster, but he needs to have a strong showing in the third and fourth preseason games.
Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Tremon Smith, Rashad Fenton, Herb Miller, Morris Claiborne*
IN: Herb Miller
OUT: Tremon Smith
The last time we did a 53-man projection, Tremon Smith was still a cornerback. Oh, how the times have changed. Smith was moved from a position of weakness on the team to a position of strength. His biggest value to the team is as a kick returner, but it appears the Chiefs are developing Mecole Hardman to take that on, so Smith, who spent time practicing at wide receiver on Thursday, is likely on the outs. Herb Miller, though, has a rising stock. It seems that the final cornerback spot — at least through the first four weeks — will go to either Miller or D’Montre Wade. Wade was the early favorite, stepping up to take Bashaud Breeland’s reps early in camp when the new Chief was dealing with a thumb laceration. But Miller has taken over as the preseason defensive darling. His play against the Steelers was still inconsistent, but he showed some flashes of positivity, like a forced fumble. A week earlier, he intercepted Bengals’ quarterback Jeff Driskel to end the half. Miller took reps with the first team defense against the Steelers, and it appears he can be a real contributor to the defense while Morris Claiborne serves his four-game suspension to start the season.
Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Jordan Lucas, Armani Watts, Daniel Sorensen
No changes to this unit midway through the preseason. This is the group, though, that will benefit most from the third preseason game. Tyrann Mathieu has played four snaps in the preseason, and the position group would benefit from more time together on the field in a game situation. Thornhill has developed quickly and could be a Week 1 starter, although defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he doesn’t like to start rookies.
Harrison Butker, Dustin Colquitt, James Winchester
The specialists are here ... and they’re not going anywhere.