Breaking down every player on the Kansas City roster and where they rank.
It’s easy to look at the success of the Kansas City Chiefs over the past five years and give all the glory to head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And let’s be clear: while they certainly should be the first names on everyone’s lips, it takes a lot more than a star quarterback and a head coach to win a Super Bowl championship.
In their last two championships, the Chiefs have featured contributions from all three phases of the roster (special teams, offense and defense). In this series, we’ll break down 60 players who fall into the locked to do list category or on the bubble to do list.
Players will be organized into eight categories: roster cornerstone, quality starter, adequate starter, replacement level, quality depth, off-roster caliber, rookie and incomplete evaluation. As we cover each player group, we will expand on what each category means, which players fall into that category, and who is most likely to enter or exit that category.
In this first post, we’ll reveal the “cornerstones” of the team’s roster.
What is a list cornerstone?
For this exercise, we describe a “cornerstone” as a player who is a regular selection for an All-Pro team (first or second team) and/or multiple Pro Bowls. A base player is an important roster builder – a player that a general manager can look to year after year as a fundamental.
Who are the mainstays of the Chiefs?
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Patrick Mahomes: Come on, this one is obvious.
Travis Kelce: It’s been seven straight seasons of 1,000+ receiving yards for the Chiefs tight end. Kelce shows no signs of slowing down in productivity. With the Chiefs’ new approach to attack, Kelce showed he was still Mahomes’ main target. Kelce isn’t just one of the best tight ends in football; he is also one of the best passers in the league.
Chris Jones: After a career year, the defensive tackle has shown that he is among the top two in the league in his position group. The bag’s productivity for his position is rare, and his ability to be productive and healthy year after year has allowed the Chiefs’ pass rush to thrive around him. Jones has improved against the run during his time in Kansas City, and combined with his passing skills, there aren’t many players in the league quite like Jones.
Humphrey Creed: Center play is vastly underrated in the NFL. Look at most of the quarterback’s big plays, and usually there’s a great center slamming the ball. Without a surefire Hall of Fame center (Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles) active, Humphrey would be widely considered the best at his position. Doing this after just two years in the league is a good sign for his bright future and his bank account.
Joe Thuney: Bringing in Thuney to begin rebuilding the offensive line was a fundamental part of an offensive line that won a Super Bowl. Thuney was often overlooked as he was never considered the best player in his position. However, he has always been in the top two or three, and that consistency makes him great. The three-time Super Bowl champion is one of the best pass guards in the league, making him an ideal candidate for the Chiefs’ offense.
With five “cornerstones” on the roster, the Chiefs have a solid foundation.
Of course, the most essential part of every roster is the quarterback position. Kansas City has the best player in the league. The Chiefs also have an elite offensive weapon in this category, which is usually a key component to success in the modern NFL.
That said, two of their cornerstones are inside offensive linemen, who tend to be a less valuable position than cornerback, edge, tackle, or wide receiver. Thuney and Humphrey have combined to make the offensive line floor incredibly high, but it’s hard to pay them market value (especially with Trey Smith also looming).
One concern is that the Chiefs could potentially lose two of their cornerstones next year. Jones is in the final year of his contract, and cutting Thuney next year would save the Chiefs money against the cap. Plus, the seemingly ageless Travis Kelce might not be that way forever – and Kelce’s thriving career off the court might be a factor in how much longer he plays. The vulnerability of these three players is a concern for roster construction, especially for a defense with just one baseman.
Who missed the cut?
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Right now, picking the Chiefs’ cornerstones is very easy. There may have been some debate over Thuney, but he’s a top player in his position. So which players could fall into the cornerstone category with a good 2023?
The first name that comes to mind is Trey Smith. He has pedigree and has had two very good seasons. At this point, he just needs to improve his pass protection and keep making top plays with his average streak.
Another player with a pedigree who could come into the basic conversation is cornerback Trent McDuffie. He played well in limited time during his rookie year. His underlying numbers are very encouraging and he was the third cornerback taken in a very good class. He needs to increase his ball production, but even New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner made All-Pro his rookie year with just two interceptions.
It should be noted that Andy Reid did not qualify for this activity, but he is absolutely a cornerstone of this franchise. Last season showed just how much coaching matters in the NFL.
The bottom line
The Chiefs certainly have enough cornerstones to be a championship contender again. However, there is definitely a need for further development, especially in high-value positions.
17 draft picks over the past two cycles should help answer that question.