Here’s a position-by-position analysis of the Chiefs’ current 53-man roster, following the flurry of roster moves they made to get down to the limit before Saturday’s deadline.
Quarterbacks (3): Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray, Alex Smith.
No surprises here. Smith is the starter, Daniel is the backup, and Murray is the developmental No. 3 QB. Tyler Bray, who was placed on the non-football injury list earlier this week, will also have another year to sit and learn the offense. He recently signed a two-year extension through 2017.
Running backs (4): Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Anthony Sherman, Charcandrick West.
Again, no surprise here. Charles is the star, but Davis and West have complimentary skills and form a nice backup tandem. Both can also contribute on special teams. Sherman is a top-notch NFL fullback, which made promising backup Spencer Ware expendable. This is a position of strength.
Wide receivers (6): Jason Avant, Chris Conley, Frankie Hammond, Jeremy Maclin, De’Anthony Thomas, Albert Wilson.
After an outstanding preseason in which he caught 15 passes for 167 yards and three touchdown, former Arena League star Fred Williams still didn’t do enough to make the team over Hammond, who offers more versatility due to his variety of special-teams duties. The Chiefs also released seventh-round rookie Da’Ron Brown, though he seems like an ideal practice-squad candidate. The top five receivers — Avant, Conley, Maclin, Thomas and Wilson — are pretty solid. Maclin can do it all, Avant can run short routes, Thomas is the jack-of-all-trades and Conley and Wilson are young downfield threats with potential. Another solid group.
Tight ends (3): Demetrius Harris, Travis Kelce, James O’Shaughnessy.
Harris, who missed the majority of OTAs and training camp while recovering from foot problems, apparently showed enough in his one and only preseason game on Thursday to make the Chiefs feel comfortable enough to release veteran Ryan Taylor and placed Richard Gordon on injured reserve. Both were competing with rookie James O’Shaughnessy for the top backup spot behind Kelce. With Harris still rounding into form and O’Shaughnessy adjusting to NFL speed, you might not see a ton of two- and three-tight end sets early in the season.
Offensive linemen (8): Jeff Allen, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Paul Fanaika, Eric Fisher, Zach Fulton, Ben Grubbs, Mitch Morse, Donald Stephenson.
The offensive line was a bit of a trouble spot all preseason, so it’s a surprise the Chiefs are only keeping eight. Fisher and Grubbs are locks to start, while Morse (center), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (right guard) and Donald Stephenson (right tackle) have gotten the most work with the first team. Allen, like Fisher, is hurt, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday he’s behind Fisher in terms of recovery. A surprise cut includes center Eric Kush, who actually opened camp as the starter before Morse, the second-round pick out of Missouri, seized the job a week again. Kush’s fate was probably sealed when last year’s starter at right guard, Zach Fulton, impressed in his first-ever game at center Thursday. Fanaika is a natural guard who also offers versatility in the sense he can play right tackle, if needed — he started two preseason games there. This group still has more question marks than you’d prefer with the season approaching. Youngsters Jarrod Pughsley, Daniel Munyer and Garrett Frye could all be practice-squad candidates.
Defensive linemen (6): Allen Bailey, Mike DeVito, Jaye Howard, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Dontari Poe, Nick Williams.
The big news here is the inclusion of Poe, whose presence on the initial 53-man roster (instead of the physically unable to perform list) signals that he will likely return from back surgery sooner, rather than later. In his absence, Howard, Bailey and DeVito have been the starters. The release of defensive end Mike Catapano was a bit of a surprise; he did not play last season due to a gastrointestinal virus and concussion, but he’s a passionate guy who plays hard and offered some pass-rush upside. But by cutting him, it allows the Chiefs to hold on to 2015 sixth-round pick Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who also offers pass-rush upside, and Nick Williams, a big space-eater up front. The release of undrafted rookie David Irving isn’t a surprise, either; but he’s big, fast and gifted and would be an ideal candidate for the practice squad.
Linebackers (10): D.J. Alexander, Dee Ford, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Josh Martin, Josh Mauga, Dezman Moses, Ramik Wilson, Frank Zombo.
The Chiefs are carrying four inside linebackers and six outside linebackers, but it’s a balanced unit because one outside linebacker — Zombo — has earned most of his preseason reps on the inside. Three of the starters are clear — Johnson, Hali and Houston make an excellent triumvirate. While rookie Ramik Wilson performed well enough this preseason to make experienced backup James-Michael Johnson expendable, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton noted this week that Josh Mauga, a starter last year who has battled injuries this preseason, has still logged way more NFL snaps than Wilson. That means Mauga has a strong case to open the season as the starter. Ford can serve as a pinch-hitting pass rusher, of sorts, and so can Moses, who was impressive vs. the run and pass this preseason. Zombo is a key special-teams cog while Alexander will need to contribute on that area to see the field.
Defensive backs (10): Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry, Tyvon Branch, Marcus Cooper, Jamell Fleming, Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson, Ron Parker, Marcus Peters, Daniel Sorensen.
The Chiefs are carrying five corners and five safeties. The starters, with Sean Smith placed on the reserve-suspended list, should be Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines, Husain Abdullah and Ron Parker. Cooper provides experienced depth with Smith out for three games with a suspension, which might be needed against Denver (Sept. 17) and Green Bay (Sept. 28). Berry and Branch are excellent third and fourth options at safety, while Sorensen is a key special-teams contributor. The Chiefs handled their glut at safety by dealing Kelcie McCray to the Seahawks for a fifth-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which is a remarkable value for a player the Chiefs acquired last year for a guard, Rishaw Johnson, who is currently out of the league. The Chiefs placed safety Sanders Commings on waivers with an injury designation, which means he’ll head to injured reserve if he clears waivers. The Chiefs once had high hopes for him but injuries are now on pace to wipe out his first three seasons.
Specialists (3): Dustin Colquitt, Cairo Santos, James Winchester.
No surprises here. Whatever drama was going on here was settled Tuesday when Andrew East, Winchester’s competition for the long-snapping job, was cut.