We break down each position from 2020 to 2021 and predict the 53 man roster for 2021.
With the majority of the off-season complete, the Chiefs’ roster is close to having all of the players needed to set their 53 man roster. While there may be a late free agent signing or a June trade; the majority of the pieces are in place.
As training camp winds down we can debate who the 9th or 10th offensive lineman will be or if they will keep five linebackers or seven defensive linemen and who those players will be. For now, we will be examining the obvious additions, subtractions, and the clear incumbents at the positions.
It’s also worth mentioning we don’t know anything about the recent draft class other than their draft evaluation as college players. Even though Cornell Powell looks good in the 15-second videos tweeted out by the Chiefs media team, we can’t say he’s going to be an upgrade over Sammy Watkins. With that, I’ll make the investment into the player as part of the likelihood of them making the roster (e.x. Joe Thuney is more likely to make the roster than Austin Blythe). With that being said, let’s dive in!
Quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne (2)
Additions: Shane Buechele and Anthony Gordon
Subtractions: Matt Moore
Though the Chiefs no longer have their “quarantine” quarterback in Matt Moore on the roster, it’s hard to see either Buechele or Gordon ever being active or on the 53 man roster, they are both camp arms that will likely be battling it out for a practice squad spot. While it was always nice to have Moore as a fallback option. I don’t see losing him as a real issue. Because let’s be real, if we are on QB3, we are already in a bad place.
Analysis: No Change
Running Backs: Clyde Edwards- Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Darrel Williams, Michael Burton and Darwin Thompson (7)
Additions: Jerick McKinnon and Michael Burton
Subtractions: Le’Veon Bell
While the upside of Le’Veon Bell was certainly promising, ultimately he was just another chapter in the “LeSean McCoy” story. Stepping into the McCoy role for 2021 is Jerick McKinnon, similar to Bell and McCoy he has had some very productive years and some recent years trending downwards.
McKinnon also similar to the other backs is a threat as a pass-catcher and should be solid in pass protection. For the McKinnon addition to really work he will need to stay healthy-something he has struggled with lately. Overall, the second year of CEH, the addition of McKinnon, and Williams and Thompson come out to be a slight upgrade over the 2020 group.
Wide Receivers: Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman, Cornell Powell and Demarcus Robinson (12)
Additions: Cornell Powell
Subtractions: Sammy Watkins
Essentially the Chiefs swapped out Sammy Watkins for rookie Cornell Powell. Though Powell has promise, as all rookies do, it’s hard to see his upside being the same as a healthy Sammy Watkins. Though we know a healthy Sammy Watkins is almost a myth at this point-his upside is just so high. For the rest of the position, it’s all about individual improvement and regression. Can Tyreek Hill be better than he was in 2020? Can Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle take the next step? Is Cornell Powell a weapon or special teams body?
Tight Ends: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell and Noah Gray (15)
Additions: Blake Bell and Noah Gray
Subtractions: Deon Yelder and Ricky Seals-Jones
Nick Keizer is still on the roster but bringing back Blake Bell and drafting Gray looms ominous for Keizer. Bell is a better blocker and receiver than Keizer and Gray gives the offense a new concept to scheme with. Keizer will likely be the odd man out. Bell and Gray are certainly upgrades over what the Chiefs had last year behind Travis Kelce.
Offensive Line: Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Austin Blythe, Kyle Long, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Nick Allegretti, Andrew Wylie, Mike Remmers, Trey Smith and Lucas Niang (26)
Additions: Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Austin Blythe, Kyle Long, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Trey Smith and Lucas Niang
Subtractions: Eric Fisher, Kelchi Osemele, Austin Reiter, Stefen Wisniewski and Mitchell Schwartz
This is a slam dunk, clearly the offensive line has improved. However, I’m not sure it has improved as much as some might think. Yes, there is a path to the Chiefs offensive line becoming one of the best in the NFL. But the entire projected right side of the line hasn’t played football in over a year and Niang and Long are both injury-prone. Overall though the depth has certainly improved. Last year the line counted on Andrew Wylie, this year he might be the last player on the bench,
Defensive Line: Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders, Taco Charlton, Mike Danna and Joshua Kaindoh (35)
Additions: Jarran Reed and Joshua Kaindoh
Subtractions: Alex Okafor and Mike Pennel
This is a position that it feels there could be a late summer addition made. The Chiefs are definitely a little shallow at the defensive end position considering they will be relying on a rookie (Kaindoh) and a 2020 5th round pick in Mike Danna heavily if another piece is not added.
I expect Khalen Saunders to make the roster, so Chris Jones and possibly Tershawn Wharton could slide out to end to help with depth issues. Jarran Reed is definitely an upgrade over Mike Pennel, who was a one-dimensional player and saw a regression in 2020.
Okafor had some moments of production but certainly did not warrant the deal he was, especially with the number of injuries he faced in his 2 years in KC. Kaindoh is an elite athlete and has a higher ceiling and floor than Okafor.
Analysis: Improved (slightly)
Linebackers: Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, Dorian O’Daniel and Ben Niemann (40)
Additions: Nick Bolton
Subtractions: Damien Wilson
This is one of those positions where you can certainly see a path to an improvement for KC. IF Bolton is the player we hope he is he can elevate the play of the linebacking core. IF Willie Gay can mentally process the game he can bring elite athleticism to a position that desperately needs it.
However, those are both big “ifs”- Damien Wilson provided a nice security blanket for this position. Hitchens and Wilson were consistent and assignment sound. Though they had their limitations they were able to step up when needed and be spelled by Niemann in sub-packages. At this point, we have no idea what Bolton and Gay are going to bring to the position in 2021.
Defensive Backs: Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorenson, Armani Watts, L’Jarius Sneed. Charvius Ward, Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker, Mike Hughes and Will Parks (50)
Additions: Mike Hughes and Will Parks
Subtractions Antonio Hamilton and Bashaud Breeland
I like what the Chiefs have done at this position, even though they have not put draft investments into the secondary they have thrown numbers at the position. They have also been able to add two first-round talent CB’s by buying low on players. I know most of us would like to pencil Breeland into this group but that may or may not happen.
Signing Breeland would take my feelings on the position from good to great. While the safety group feels pretty locked down, corner definitely has some questions. What can Deandre Baker do after a very difficult 2020 for him? Can Mike Hughes stay healthy? Can L’Jarius Sneed continue his high level of play in year 2?
Analysis: No Change
Special Teams: Harrison Butker, Tommy Townsend and James Winchester (53)
There’s not much here other than hoping the extra point issue for Butker was just a 2020 thing and that Tommy Townsend never punts again like he did in the Super Bowl.
Analysis: No Change
Is the Chiefs roster better than it was last year?
In my opinion, yes. The roster has more depth along the offensive line, a group of second-year players looking to take a big step forward (CEH, Gay, and Niang), and arguably Brett Veach’s most promising draft class as well.
The roster improved four-position groups by my estimation (running back, offensive line, tight end and defensive line) saw three positions maintain their level (quarterback, defensive back and special teams), and two positions regress (linebacker and wide receiver). To be even more optimistic there is an easy path to the Chiefs improving at both wide receiver and linebacker if their young players pan out the way the team hopes they will.
Well thought out article. I see your point regarding our LBs but I’m hoping that after 2 consecutive years of selecting LBs in round 2, I’m hopeful this will ultimately be an area of improvement. I also wish we were still in the Ingram sweepstakes.
I disagree that LB and WR are regressions. If not improved at least the same. I see Bolton as Hitchens replacement in a year from now, but even this year I think he will be at least equal to what Wilson was. And as for the WR the only loss is Watkins who hardly ever played. I expect Powell, and Gray, even though he is listed as a TE, to more than make up for anything that Watkins accomplished last year.
My biggest concern is probably CB’s. Sneed had a fantastic rookie year. Can he repeat, or sophomore slump? Ward had an off year from the previous, but he also had the broken hand and recovery for a lot of the year. Fenton is a decent backup, but only a backup. Baker, and Hughes, don’t know what to expect. Keyes, who knows? Veach must have seen something he liked since he traded up to get him. Sure would like to see Breeland back.