The Kansas City Chiefs have to make some of the toughest decisions of the NFL season between now and the Tuesday, August 31, 4 p.m. deadline: Which 53 football players will make the regular season roster?
After two very small waves of cuts since the first preseason game, the Chiefs — along with the 31 other NFL teams — must shave their rosters down from 80 to the required 53 players for the beginning of the 2021 regular season prior to the aforementioned deadline.
Kansas City is fortunate to have so much talent on its roster that there has been legitimate competition — at a high level — at multiple positions this summer. One of those positions is wide receiver, with only one pass-catcher — Tyreek Hill — locked into a surefire role heading into the team’s September 12 season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
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Rookie Draft Pick Cut in Camp?
The Athletic’s Nate Taylor dished out his 53-man roster projection following the Chiefs’ 28-25 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason finale. And there’s one move he has Kansas City making that has historical significance to it:
Taylor has rookie fifth-round pick Cornell Powell being cut.
Should that scenario come to life, it would mark the first time in general manager Brett Veach’s tenure (dating back to 2017) that a drafted rookie didn’t make the team’s initial 53-man roster.
UPDATE – Cornell Powell was waived by the Kansas City Chiefs during the final roster moves prior to Tuesday’s 3 p.m. CDT deadline
Here’s what Taylor wrote about the wide receiver group in his roster projection:
We project two changes here since the start of camp. Based on the performance of the two receivers in camp and the preseason, Pringle, a four-year player, should be higher than Robinson, a six-year player, on the depth chart. The second change is that Fountain, a third-year player who spent last with the Indianapolis Colts, is just a much better player right now than Powell, the rookie who the Chiefs selected in the fifth round.
If Powell is indeed cut, he will be the first rookie that Veach, in four years as the general manager, has selected in the draft who didn’t make the initial roster. Fountain, listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, finished the preseason with 10 receptions on 16 targets for 118 yards. Powell didn’t produce a highlight in the preseason, finishing with just four receptions on six targets for 34 yards.
Fountain, I believe, will be claimed by another team if he is waived. The chance of Powell clearing waivers is uncertain.
To add more context to what Taylor wrote — the receivers he has making the roster are Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, and Daurice Fountain. The possibility of keeping seven receivers could happen if the team wasn’t projected to keep four tight ends on the roster — Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray, and Jody Fortson.
As Taylor wrote, Powell has a greater chance of slipping through waivers — which could lead to the Chiefs potentially re-signing him as a practice squad player — than Fountain, which may be why Fountain ends up being the choice to round out the receiver room.
Thompson Another Surprise Cut?
The emergence of veteran running back Jerick McKinnon in Kansas City’s backfield has led to another very tough decision for the Chiefs’ coaching staff, as they may be on the verge of cutting a valuable, veteran depth piece at the running back position, which Taylor predicts will happen as well.
Here’s what Taylor said about the running back room, which he projects will lose third-year back Darwin Thompson during camp cuts, with the chance of him potentially making it through waivers and being re-signed.
This position is somewhat tough to predict because Thompson, a third-year player, was strong in the final two preseason games. But the Chiefs kept just three running backs last year for their initial roster, and it appears that will likely be the case this season. The most impressive player in the position in the preseason was McKinnon, an eight-year veteran who has been proficient as a rusher, receiver and core special-teamer.
During his first two seasons in the NFL, Thompson, a 2019 sixth-round pick, rushed the ball 64 times for 225 yards — 3.5 yards per attempt — and two touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. He has also reeled in 16 passes for 108 yards and another score.