Kansas City Chiefs: Early depth chart prediction for 2017

Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) looks to pass during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is over, rookie free agents have been signed, so let’s predict the Kansas City Chiefs week one depth chart will look like.

The Kansas City Chiefs have proven that they believe their roster is good enough for their goals to become reality. It might be that the roster as a whole is Super Bowl caliber, but their quarterback is not. He is good enough to take a very talented team to the championship, but if that team struggles, he won’t be able to lift them.

For the Chiefs to make or win a Super Bowl, though, the roster will have to stay healthy. As for why that’s the case, let the depth chart do the talking as we predict what it will look like in Kansas City come Week 1.

Quarterback: 1. Alex Smith, 2. Patrick Mahomes, 3. Tyler Bray

This is a given as Smith has at least one year (via ESPN) to teach Mahomes before either retiring or moving on. If he finally gives the Chiefs what they have been hoping for, then he is likely to stay one more year after 2017. Mahomes needs as much time as the Chiefs can give him to develop.

He has a cannon for an arm, but like a gunslinger, has a tendency to force throws and lose focus on his footwork. He should easily beat out Tyler Bray, who will likely be a healthy scratch for most of the season.

Running Back: 1. Spencer Ware, 2. Charcandrick West, 3. Kareem Hunt

The Chiefs will have three running backs on the roster for 2017. That doesn’t mean that all will get solid playing time. Ware will receive most of the carries with West getting most of the subs. However, I expect that to change around Week 5. Hunt will become the main sub for Ware, and West will see his role diminish. As for Spiller, he might be tucked away on a reserve list, but most likely he will be cut.

Fullback: 1. Anthony Sherman

This is an obvious deduction, but really the Chiefs don’t use Sherman much in the run game. He has made his money on special teams. Sherman tackles return men as well as any defender.

Wide Receiver: 1. Jeremy Maclin, 2. Chris Conley, 3. Tyreek Hill, 4. Albert Wilson, 5. Jehu Chesson, 6. Marcus Kemp

Maclin had a down year in 2016, but he should bounce back this year, or else he will not be on the team in 2018. Conley has steadily matured since being drafted in the third round in 2015. Conley will continue to be targeted and grow into a true number two receiver. Hill is a rising star and will be a viable deep threat from the slot. The remaining spots will be up for grabs in training camp. Wilson, Chesson, and Kemp will beat out the other receivers — just barely. Kemp and Chesson will spend a lot of time on special teams.

Dec 25, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after a catch as Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart (26) defends during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End: 1. Travis Kelce, 2. Demetrius Harris, 3. Gavin Escobar, 4. Gehrig Dieter

The Chiefs like having four tight ends, even if they don’t dress all of them for each game. Out are Ross Travis and James O’Shaughnessy. Harris is skating on thin ice with his recent arrest, but he played much better this past season, which gives him another chance. Escobar has a chance to take Harris’ spot should he slip up again. But for Week 1, he will remain the third tight end. I see Dieter as a tight end simply because of his ability to block and catch near the end zone. One will be left out on game day but all will see the field at some point.

Offensive Tackle: 1. Left – Eric Fisher, 1. Right – Mitchell Schwartz, 2. Jah Reid

Nothing changes here. The tackles for the Chiefs performed well enough last season, if not spectacular. Von Miller still got to Alex Smith, but both games were won, so the damage was minimal. Reid hasn’t shown a lot of promise, but he stays because of a lack of talent behind him. Fisher will continue to fail to live up to his draft status, but steady is better than complete bust.

Offensive Guard: 1. Left – Parker Ehinger, 1. Right – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 2. Zach Fulton, 3. Damian Mama

There are usually eight offensive linemen on the Chiefs roster during the season. That leaves room for an extra guard and I believe Mama will make it. He was fairly touted coming out of college, but went undrafted due to inconsistency. The starters, Ehinger and Duvernay-Tardif, performed well, though Ehinger is coming off of a knee injury. There is some possibility that Tardif could be sent to a reserve role with Morse moving to guard and Fulton starting at center, but I don’t buy it.

Center: 1. Mitch Morse, 2. Zach Fulton

Morse has been the best offensive lineman on the Chiefs since his rookie season. He is excellent at getting his blockers lined up and figuring out blitzes. With him, the Chiefs know that the center of their line will produce effectively. Fulton is also a very capable center as well, but should see more time at guard.

Nov 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Kendall Reyes (98) reacts after a play in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos with outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Nose Tackle: 1. Bennie Logan

Everyone in Chiefs Kingdom knew that it was going to be very difficult to keep Dontari Poe on the roster. Poe had grown to become a fan favorite for his gadget plays on offense. It helped to mask his plateau on the defensive side of the ball. Poe dealt with back issues for most of 2015, and the Chiefs run defense suffered well into 2016. Logan had a stellar season with the Eagles and should fill in quite nicely. Chiefs fans will have to live without “Hungry Pig Right.”

Defensive End: 1. Left – Allen Bailey, 1. Right – Chris Jones, 2. Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 3. Tanoh Kpassagnon

In the absence of both Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey last season, Chris Jones and Nunez-Roches performed admirably. Jones earns the starting spot opposite Bailey for Week 1, but there will be a heavy rotation with Roches. Rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon will get a few plays in, but could be moved around the whole defensive front during camp. Once he finds a good fit, he will be a serious threat to the health of runners and quarterbacks.

Outside Linebacker: 1. Left – Justin Houston, 1. Right – Dee Ford, 2. Tamba Hali, 3. Dadi Nicolas, 4. Frank Zombo

Health is the key for this group. Justin Houston looked like his old self at Denver last season, but struggled to make a major impact the rest of the year. All the money the Chiefs are giving him will have to pay off this season. Dee Ford will get the start ahead of Hali as he continues to progress.

As for Hali it could be his last season in the league. He will work hard as always, but has really shown his age the last few years. Nicolas is coming off a knee injury, but showed some promise on special teams. Zombo is effective when making plays near the line of scrimmage, but don’t ask him to drop in coverage too much.

Inside Linebacker: 1. Right – Ramik Wilson, 1. Left – D.J. Alexander, 2. Derrick Johnson, 3. Justin March-Lillard, 4. Ukeme Eligwe

The start of the year will see the Chiefs take it easy on Derrick Johnson. It all depends on his rehab but I don’t see him getting into the game against the Patriots. He will take back the starting spot by week three. Wilson and Alexander did well late in the season last year, but it showed against Pittsburgh that leadership was lacking. March-Lillard struggled at the beginning of last season when asked to start. He will need to take a major step forward to see the field more often. Eligwe will likely not dress many games once Johnson comes back, but the Chiefs will keep him around.

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters (22) breaks up a pass intended for Oakland Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes (18) during the game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback: 1. Right – Terrance Mitchell, 1. Left – Marcus Peters, 2. Steven Nelson, 3. Phillip Gaines, 4. D.J. White, 5. De’Vonte Bausby

I was one of many who thought that corner would be addressed early in the draft. I was wrong. Andy Reid and John Dorsey must believe that their current crop is where they need to be. That puts a lot of pressure on Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell did as well as any during his time as a starter last season. As long as he doesn’t regress the Chiefs will shut down a lot of passing attacks.

Peters is an All-Pro who keeps getting better. After the game in Denver, Phillip Gaines struggled to find time on the field. He will lose time to Steven Nelson and maybe even White and Bausby. The Chiefs won’t give up on him yet but he will need to prove himself in a major way.

Safety: 1. Strong – Eric Berry, 1. Free – Ron Parker, 2. Daniel Sorensen, 3. Leon McQuay

Eric Berry and Ron Parker represent the heart of the Kansas City defense. Parker flies under the radar despite his spectacular play and work ethic. Berry gets the most time in the spotlight and deservedly so. Daniel Sorensen had his best season yet in 2016 with 63 tackles, six pass deflections, and three interceptions. He will see a lot of playing time in dime packages, playing close to the line. McQuay will beat out Eric Murray for the last spot at safety.

Special Teams: K – Cairo Santos, P – Dustin Colquitt, LS – James Winchester

Nothing here changes from 2016. Santos had a good year kicking the football and even if competition is brought in, his clutch should pull him through. Colquitt is a weapon at punter though the Chiefs would like to see him have fewer opportunities to use his talents in 2017. Winchester doesn’t just snap the ball, he makes plays during punt returns as well.

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