For top Chiefs players like Travis Kelce, Eric Berry and Marcus Peters, training camp is a just another set of practices leading up to week one of the regular season. Their roster spot and playing time is safe regardless of what happens in camp.
But for the rookies, free agent additions and veteran backups trying to crack the squad, training camp is a make or break time in their career.
Tyler Bray, Charcandrick West, Albert Wilson, Ramik Wilson and Phillip Gaines are just a few names that could be on the cutting room floor if cheaper, younger options pass them by at camp.
It’s these competitive positional battles that bring the very best out of players. It also makes the decisions even tougher when it comes to cutting a roster down to just 53 players.
Cut day is now 33 days away. Teams are practicing regularly in full pads and preseason games are almost underway. A lot can change over the next month, but this is currently how the Kansas City Chiefs’ 53-man roster is shaping before the real dog days of August hit.
Smith is a lock to start, there’s no real third option, but training camp and preseason will still be crucial in evaluating how close Mahomes is and whether or not Bray is ready to take over the number two gig.
For Mahomes, the big plays in camp are not in question. His talent has flashed in just the first few practice, but he’s rookie status has also shined with multiple miss-reads, footwork errors, overthrows and communication issues. It doesn’t matter how nice his deep spiral looks, if he can’t run the offense to the level of Bray, he won’t move up the depth chart.
Bray too has to show that he can run the offense close to the level of Smith, and that shouldn’t be asking to much of someone in the system for five years. He must prove that his days of wild, errant throws are behind him, as the Chiefs would much rather take a backup that can conservatively lead the team, like Chase Daniel, than someone who could cost the team a win.
One of camp’s most talented battles will be between West and free agent signee C.J. Spiller. West burst on the scene in 2015, but injuries and an overall lack of burst limited the back in 16 as Ware passed him by.
The Chiefs are not likely to keep five running backs, especially with Tyreek Hill and potentially De’Anthony Thomas making a wide receiver spot, so this literally could be make or break for the two.
West has the edge if it comes down to special teams, but Spiller, the 8-year vet and former first round pick, could have the edge on the receiving end, something that’s perhaps the most important job for a running back in an Andy Reid offense.
Probably the most inexperienced position group, the receivers at camp will be given every opportunity to prove themselves worthy of roster spot.
Wilson has been solid, but not game changing, Thomas has had a very limited offensive role entering his fourth season and Robinson and Chesson have yet to record a catch in the NFL.
This means that the pecking order is not set and that there’s room for an unknown to emerge into the ranks. Hill will get his touches and Conley will get every chance to prove himself regardless of camp, but a regular role as the third best option is completely up for grab.
Whether or not anyone steps up will ultimately define whether or not cutting Jeremy Maclin was a good move.
Most teams don’t carry four tight ends, but history says that it would actually be more of a surprise if the Chiefs do not carry all four. It’s what they’ve done in the past, and they’re not likely to cut ties with Harris or Travis after their strides made in 2016.
Escobar was brought in as a free agent for a reason, but still, if one shows they’ve lost the ability to catch the ball in August this could be an area for a surprise cut.
It would be a upset if any of these names don’t crack the roster, although Ehinger could end up on the PUP.
Camp will mainly be a time to solidify the starting five, as Witzmann and Ehinger have each shown signs worthy of sliding into the left guard spot over Fulton.
However, if a younger name like Mike Person or Jordan Devey really shine, the Chiefs could save cap space by cutting Jah Reid, a John Dorsey signee.
The Chiefs may only take five defensive linemen into New England week one, as the timetable of Jones’ injury is unknown. That means camp is a great opportunity for Kpassagnon, Nunez-Roches and Jenkins to battle it out for a starting spot.
Kpassagnon is a top draft pick, while the others have shown real NFL production, and how they do with Jones out will be the biggest indicator for what their playing time will be when Jones eventually comes back.
The number of linebackers a team always keeps fluxuates, and Dadi Nicolas is probably the first option to make the 53 if Jones or Ehinger start on the PUP list.
That speaks to the depth at the outside and inside positions, both young and old, as younger players like Ford spell Hali and Houston, with March and Wilson spelling Johnson and Mauga.
Special teams is a crucial role that non-starting linebackers have to play, it cost Wilson a few games last year, and it may be the difference in a roster spot this year.
March is a name who really stood out in the preseason last year, before his season ending injury, look for him to potentially slide next to Johnson. Zombo and Mauga would be surprise cuts, or Pierre-Louis, since the team just traded for him.
This group enters camp pretty set, but it could be an area open to trimming if the team wants to keep an extra running back or linebacker. D.J. White is no longer a rookie and struggled at times last year, he and McQuay III have to show their worth keeping around.
Mitchell, Nelson and Gaines will battle it out for perhaps the lone starting spot still open. Mitchell emerged in spades late last year, Gaines is the most talented and Nelson is a combo of the two. How those three fare against preseason competition or the likes of Hill in practice will determine who starts week one.
The Chiefs have arguably the best special teams unit in the NFL. These three are a big reason why.
Outside looking in:
The top candidates to watch for are Spiller, Person and Nicolas, but the others listed could fill in if the team experiences any preseason injuries.
Spiller is the only notable veterans not likely to make it through waivers, while the others could slip to the practice squad instead. There’s always a surprise or two when cut day rolls around, don’t be shocked if one these last names makes it inside the bubble.
NFL teams are expected to announce their official 53-man rosters on Sept. 2.
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