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2022 Chiefs 53-Man Preview: Surprise Third-Rounder Cut?

With the Chiefs’ first preseason game in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take a deep look at the state of the 53-man roster. After covering the offense, we’re on to the defense. Which players are on the bubble entering Saturday’s second preseason game?

With the Chiefs’ first preseason game of 2022 behind them — a 14-19 loss to the Chicago Bears — 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 second preseason game, this Saturday against the Washington Commanders. We’ve already covered the offense once this offseason. Now we turn our attention to the defense.

The Chiefs Secondary Enters 2022 Extremely Underrated

Locks: L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Bryan Cook, Juan Thornhill, Justin Reid, Joshua Williams, Rashad Fenton

On the Bubble: Lonnie Johnson Jr., Jaylen Watson, Nazeeh Johnson, Chris Lammons, Deon Bush

Practice Squad Candidates: Dicaprio Bootle, Nasir Greer, Devon Key

In general, the Chiefs’ secondary unit, including the cornerbacks and safeties, seems to be pretty secure and settled even though it remains early in the preseason. The Kansas City coaching staff loves their “Fab Five” from the 2022 draft. That group of McDuffie, Cook, Williams, Watson, and Johnson has received tons of praise from Steve Spagnuolo and his team so far this offseason.

Players on the bubble in this group aren’t all entirely at-risk of being released by the Chiefs. Lammons, Watson, and Johnson are all practice squad candidates if they fail to make the team’s initial 53-man roster. In our initial roster prediction, it seemed as if DeAndre Baker had the edge on a roster spot over Lonnie Johnson Jr. Instead, Baker has been released which opens the door for Johnson to step into his roster spot.

At Safety, all four players seem to be in a secure place as far as a roster spot goes. The only feasible scenario that could see Deon Bush not make the team would be if rookie Nazeeh Johnson continues to flash in the preseason. The 2022 rookie is a versatile defender and can play a mixture of cornerback and safety. If the Chiefs look to value versatility over experience, Bush could be on the roster bubble.

However, I expect both of those players to make the team at the start of the 2022 season. In total, the Chiefs are looking to fill 11 roster spots with 12 players. The odd man out right now looks to be Chris Lammons. Lammons is wrapped up in the same legal situation as Alvin Kamara and could face a suspension later this season. Kansas City could likely pass him onto the practice squad with ease in case injuries arise later on.

With Little Uncertainty Among Chiefs Linebackers, 2022 Is Set

Locks: Nick Bolton, Leo Chenal, Willie Gay Jr., Elijah Lee

On the Bubble: Jermaine Carter, Darrius Harris

Practice Squad Candidates: Mike Rose, Jack Cochrane

There isn’t much that should surprise fans in the Chiefs linebacker room to start the 2022 season. The top four of Bolton, Chenal, Gay, and Lee are pretty much solidified as the preseason progresses. The biggest question remaining is whether the rookie, Chenal, can usurp Lee for that third linebacker role before the season kicks off.

Chiefs vs Bears preseason thread @ArrowheadLive Willie Gay making a nice play to stop a big run. Chris Jones penetrates up the field and the RB cuts back. Gay sifts over the top of the blockers, identifies the ball carrier, and slips off to make the big stop. — Caleb James (@CJScoobs) August 13, 2022

Jermaine Carter was supposed to be a roster lock entering Training Camp after a standout 2021 season that saw him tally 88 total tackles. That isn’t likely to have changed to this point, although he has been very quiet in camp and preseason thus far. The Chiefs should have the room to roster five linebackers to start the season and if they do, Carter’s place on the roster remains very safe.

On the bubble for the linebacker position is a group of fringe roster players who weren’t likely to be seen by many as true contenders for a roster position, to begin with. Harris signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent following the 2019 NFL Draft. He has spent a good chunk of time on the team’s practice squad since he signed after missing most of his rookie season due to injury.

Rose and Cochrane were 2022 Undrafted Free Agent signings by the Chiefs and could find their way onto the team’s practice squad this season as well. Neither figure to play an integral role on the roster this season.

The Chiefs Defensive Line Sees The Largest Roster Crunch So Far

Locks: Carlos Dunlap, George Karlaftis, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Mike Danna, Tershawn Wharton, Danny Shelton, Derrick Nnadi

On the Bubble: Khalen Saunders, Taylor Stallworth, Joshua Kaindoh, Malik Herring

Practice Squad Candidates: Austin Edwards, Matt Dickerson

The Chiefs’ defensive front is where we start to see the most dominoes fall ahead of the NFL’s roster reduction deadlines. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen for a defensive line that is seeking a new identity. This certainly seems to be by design by General Manager Brett Veach. Kansas City didn’t spend up on many big-name free agent targets but they still seem to have found something in this group.

The team’s first preseason game saw this unit combine for five total sacks which look to be a significant upgrade over last season. The group at the top, like many other Chiefs’ position groups, seems rather secure ahead of the 2022 season. On the outside, Clark, Dunlap, Karlaftis, and Danna make up a fairly deep group of edge rushers. If Clark can truly have a bounce-back year and Dunlap remains in his usual fashion, this could be a big upgrade over last year.

On the inside, Jones, Wharton, Nnadi, and newly-signed Danny Shelton seem like locks to make the team’s roster. Where the roster crunch starts to kick in is towards the tail end of the depth chart. Khalen Saunders is the surprise name here. Saunders, a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not panned out for Kansas City. He’s suffered numerous injuries throughout his career. As a result, he’s appeared in just ten games combined over the last two seasons.

CHRIS JONES WITH THE SACK! — Chiefs Hive (@chiefshive) August 13, 2022

With the signing of veteran nose tackle Danny Shelton, Taylor Stallworth’s time in Kansas City may be short-lived. Stallworth signed as a free agent with the Chiefs this offseason but always factored in as just a depth piece. With four better options ahead of him, it seems likely the Chiefs are unable to find a role for him this season.

Malik Herring may be the final man out for the Chiefs. He did earn a half-sack in the team’s first preseason game. If he can continue to state his case on the field, it’s possible he can overtake Joshua Kaindoh for the team’s final roster spot along the defensive line. However, Kaindoh was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Herring signed with the team as an undrafted free agent. That massive difference in investment may be enough to secure the edge for Kaindoh this season.

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