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2022 Chiefs 53-Man Preview: 2022 Draft Pick On The Bubble?

With the Chiefs’ first two preseason games now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to update the state of the team’s 53-man roster. Which players improved their stock and which ones didn’t?

The Chiefs’ second preseason game of 2022 is now behind them — a 24-14 win over the Washington Commanders — and we’re putting together a preview of what each position group looks like on the 53-man roster ahead of the season. The NFL allows teams to have up to 90 players on their roster at the onset of training camp. Over the course of camp and preseason, that number must be whittled down to just 53 players before the start of the season.

The deadline for these moves is as follows:

  1. August 16, 2022: Teams must carry no more than 85 players on their active roster by 4 pm EST

  2. August 23, 2022: Teams must carry no more than 80 players on their active roster by 4 pm EST

  3. August 30, 2022: Teams must carry no more than 53 players on their active roster by 4 pm EST

As a result of the tiered deadlines implemented by the NFL, a player’s status on the 53-man roster can fluctuate as the preseason progresses. It creates time for players to make their mark if they don’t start out in the favor of coaches. Whichever players are on the bubble today could cement their place on the roster in the coming preseason games or weeks of practice.

Here’s a look at the current state of the 53-man roster heading into the team’s third and final preseason game, this Thursday against the Green Bay Packers. Here are our past previews, taking deeper looks at each side of the ball:

On Offense, The Chiefs’ Wide Receiver Group Takes Shape

With Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman missing preseason game two (with minor injuries), the offense was able to get a deeper look at the wide receiver group. The top four wide receiver spots are all but locked up, leaving just two spots on the 53-man roster. Those two wide receiver spots will be filled by five players. Justin Watson, Josh Gordon, Cornell Powell, Daurice Fountain, and Corey Coleman are all hoping to lay claim to one of the remaining open spots.

On Saturday, with the presumed top-two starters absent, it was a perfect opportunity for the players above to shine. Justin Watson has made headlines throughout Training Camp and preseason. He did so once again on Saturday with a big-time reception from Patrick Mahomes. He once again led the team in receiving yards.

Cornell Powell looks to have surpassed Daurice Fountain in the latest 53-man preview. He made some plays in kick coverage on special teams this week. Nothing was flashy, but he did his job in a role that Fountain had locked up at one point. Beyond special teams, Powell hauled in a team-high four receptions for 35 yards.

Seriously, how nice is it to see a #Chiefs receiver catch the ball and immediately turn up field. Really liked what I saw from Cornell Powell yesterday. Hopefully, he can do enough on Thursday to make this team. — Zack Eisen (@zackeisen21) August 21, 2022

Fountain on the other hand? He finished the day with just one catch, although it was a big 27-yard gain. Powell is more involved as the preseason progresses which seems like a sign of things to come. Watson has locked up his place on the roster in the fifth wide receiver spot. The sixth (and presumably final) wideout spot has become a two-dog race between these two options. Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman each had one catch in game two and did very minimal to improve their roster standing.

The Chiefs Running Back Room Isn’t Blowing Up The Stat Sheet

Many fans are concerned this week with the lack of yardage shown from the team’s running backs so far in the preseason. No doubt, the unit has performed at a lackluster pace through two games so far. In both games so far, the backup quarterbacks have led the team in rushing. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a total of ten yards on four carries so far through two games. Isiah Pacheco has 14 yards on 6 attempts.

Although fans are concerned, they really shouldn’t be. The preseason so far isn’t about diving deep into the playbook or winning games. Instead, the Chiefs are looking at which players will make the roster and who can succeed in this offense. As a result, we saw the bubble players — Derrick Gore and Tayon Fleet-Davis — get the bulk of the rush attempts in game two. Edwards-Helaire and Pacheco have solidified their place on the team’s roster this season. There are zero reasons to risk injury in the preseason by running them more than a couple of times between the tackles.

Patrick Mahomes finds RB Isiah Pacheco out of the backfield for a 12-year pickup inside the red zone. #ChiefsKingdom — Devon Clements (@DevclemNFL) August 20, 2022

Pacheco did make a solid reception in the screen game. This shows where he can take on the role that we saw from Jerick McKinnon late last season. It’s possible that McKinnon has a role in this offense, but the writing seems to be on the wall for either him or Ronald Jones. With so much depth elsewhere on the roster, it seems the Chiefs will roster just three running backs this season. That leaves three players (Jones, Gore, and McKinnon) to fill just one remaining roster spot.

Of those three players, really none of them did much to improve their standing in this week’s matchup. All three should receive a solid workload in the coming game on Thursday to determine who will be the final running back when we reach the NFL’s August 30 deadline.

Another Week Sees More Clarity For Chiefs Defensive Backs

In a surprising move, the Chiefs cut cornerback Deandre Baker prior to the team’s first preseason game. That seemed to open the door for Lonnie Johnson Jr. to make the roster this season. Then, prior to this week’s game against the Commanders, the Chiefs also cut Johnson. He’s now with the Titans and the Kansas City secondary has more clarity.

The “Fab Five” seems to have a strong presence in this secondary moving forward. There’s little question that McDuffie, Cook, and Williams will make the team this season. The final two, Nazeeh Johnson and Jaylen Watson, have a slightly more uphill climb to make the 53. However, in the absence of Lonnie Johnson Jr., Watson seems to have the inside track at a roster spot.

This leaves Nazeeh and last year’s holdover, Chris Lammons, in a battle for one final spot on the 53-man roster. Nazeeh Johnson, a seventh-round pick by the Chiefs in this year’s draft, didn’t do much to improve his stock in the game on Saturday. He did come away with one tackle but seems like a practice squad candidate early this season. A strong showing by Lammons against Washington further cements that idea.

Chris Lammons picks off the pass and takes it inside the five-yard line! — NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 20, 2022

Lammons had a clutch interception on Saturday to essentially ice the win for the Chiefs. He also finished with a team-high five tackles on the day. The performance is certain to improve his stock as we inch closer to the start of the regular season. The battle between Lammons and Johnson is certainly one to watch in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Packers.

The Chiefs Defensive Line Roster Crunch Still Persists

If any Chiefs position group remains extremely difficult to gauge, it is along the defensive line. The front four of Frank Clark, George Karlaftis, Chris Jones, and Derrick Nnadi seem set. Veterans Carlos Dunlap and Danny Shelton will almost certainly make the team’s roster as well. Finally, Tershawn Wharton and Mike Danna have shown brilliance both this season and in the past as well and should make the 53-man roster.

With those players locked in, that leaves a roster crunch between four players to fill just two spots on the roster. Khalen Saunders and Taylor Stallworth are battling for the fifth and final defensive tackle position. Saunders, a third-round pick in 2019, seemed like the odd man out before this week’s game. He finished the game with two tackles and a big-time sack against Washington.

#Chiefs DT Khalen Saunders gets to QB Sam Howell for the sack on 1st & 10. #ChiefsKingdom — Devon Clements (@DevclemNFL) August 20, 2022

Stallworth added his own half-sack and had two tackles as well. The battle between those two will likely go down to the wire. It’s a big one to watch in Thursday’s preseason finale. Saunders likely has the edge for now, due to the team’s investment level. He was a third-round pick, but injuries have slowed his career progression and limited him through three seasons so far. Stallworth signed on a one-year deal and failed to catch on in Indianapolis as well.

Along the edge, Joshua Kaindoh and Malik Herring continue to make their case for the fifth and final defensive end spot. Kaindoh had three tackles and a pass defend on Saturday. Meanwhile, Herring had zero tackles but did log one quarterback hit. The story between these two is similar to that of Stallworth and Saunders. Kaindoh was drafted as a fourth-rounder in 2021 and has looked promising when he isn’t out with injury.

Herring, on the other hand, was an undrafted free agent signing by the Chiefs last season. He’s been mostly quiet in the preseason so far and the difference in investment likely turns the needle in favor of Kaindoh. If Herring can make his case on Thursday, he may have a place on the Kansas City roster. Otherwise, he could be cut and re-signed to the practice squad.

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