2019 Kansas City Chiefs roster battle preview: Wide receivers

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 21: Sammy Watkins #14 of the Kansas City Chiefs stiff arms Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 21: Sammy Watkins #14 of the Kansas City Chiefs stiff arms Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs have a number of interesting position battles to figure out between now and the end of August. Here a look at the wide receivers.

One of the more interesting positional battles for the Kansas City Chiefs is the competition brewing at wide receiver. There are a number of factors which make this one of the more compelling areas of the team to watch as head coach Andy Reid, general manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs move towards the end of summer and the final 53 man roster.

The talents of Patrick Mahomes make this an obvious pass-first offense, yet the ongoing investigation of Tyreek Hill‘s household presents several question marks. After Hill and Sammy Watkins, no one else has solidified their role with the team. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in football, which alleviates significant need at the pass catching positions. Then again, Watkins has difficulty staying healthy. There are also some really, really interesting yet unproven young options on this team.

Any analysis of this team’s possible roster construction on offense must begin by looking at what Reid has done during his time in Kansas City. While Mahomes does change the complexion of the team, he does not really alter Reid’s ideal lineups all that much. Since joining the Chiefs in 2013, Big Red’s wide receiver totals on the opening day 53 man roster have been as follows:

  • 2018 – 6
  • 2017 – 6
  • 2016 – 6
  • 2015 – 6
  • 2014 – 5
  • 2013 – 6

In five of the six years, Reid has kept six receivers on the opening day roster. On the 2014 roster, Reid opted instead to keep five running backs (plus a fullback) on the roster, instead of a sixth receiver. However, this is a bit misleading because Dwayne Bowe was suspended for the first game of the season. After Week 1, Bowe was added back to the active roster and put the number back at six.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it’s very likely that Andy Reid will keep six receivers on the opening day roster. The only way I could see that number being five instead of six is if we learn that Tyreek Hill is suspended for 1-2 games, in which case it seems possible that the Chiefs will keep one of the many running backs they may otherwise have to cut.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume Hill’s suspension is 4-8 games as most seem to speculate, and as a result, the Chiefs will keep six other receivers on the opening day 53. We’ll further assume that Hill’s re-introduction to the roster occurs through attrition (injury).

The Chiefs have 12 receivers on the current roster. I was going to break them down into categories, as per the norm for these sorts of discussions, but that seems somewhat difficult to do at the moment. The Chiefs have two locks to the make the roster: Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. That leaves the following list of players competing for four spots in this hypothetical roster. To demonstrate how difficult this will be, I’ve included each player’s NFL career statistics:

  • Demarcus Robinson – 3 years, 43 receptions, 72 targets, 500 yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Gehrig Dieter – 1 year, 1 reception, 3 targets, 22 yards
  • Davon Grayson – Rookie
  • Marcus Kemp – 2 years*, 1 reception, 2 targets, 7 yards (*1 game played, no targets in year 1)
  • Byron Pringle – 1 year (IR all year), 0 receptions, 0 targets, 0 yards
  • Jamal Custis – Rookie
  • Felton Davis – Rookie
  • Rashard Davis – Rookie
  • Cody Thompson – Rookie

The nine players competing for four spots on the Chiefs opening day roster have a combined 45 receptions, 529 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Roster spot number three will go to Demarcus Robinson. Despite not getting significant opportunities yet, I actually do believe that he and Mahomes have a connection and that the league MVP will want him to be part of the team. I think that matters, and Reid seems to agree. After that, the last three spots are all up for grabs and will be based on what training camp and the preseason bring. We do not, at this point, have enough information to make an educated guess.

Fortunately, we do have some clues that can lend to our deductive reasoning.

Kemp and Dieter will be cut from the roster this summer. Both have had an opportunity to distance themselves, and the Chiefs’ investment in the wide receiver position indicates exactly how they feel about the known entities they have. Kemp has failed to make an impact in two seasons, and please don’t let me hear any of this Mahomes/Dieter BFF talk.

We have six players left with three spots up for grabs: Davon Grayson, Byron Pringle, Jamal Custis, Felton Davis, Rashard Davis, Cody Thompson.

Grayson is our next cut.  He was initially signed in 2018 as a UDFA and waived with an injury in late May. The Chiefs re-signed Grayson in mid-May, presumptively to bring more bodies in to OTA’s. He’s a nice looking young player, but nothing indicates that he’s going to be a threat to make the roster. He may work his way in to a practice squad role, but there is no place for Grayson on the active roster.

Down to five: Pringle, Custis, F. Davis, R. Davis, Thompson. Which means that two undrafted rookie free agents will make the 2019 opening day roster.

Byron Pringle is going to make this team. The Chiefs would not have kept him around through injury all of last year if they did not see potential in him. He’s going to take the spot that was occupied by Kemp/Dieter; the young kid with potential who the coaching staff thinks can develop, but Veach doesn’t think can sneak onto the practice squad without getting claimed.

Now we’re down to the UDFA class. The Chiefs invested a significant amount of money and energy in procuring the services of this group of players, and right now I’d speculate that each has an equal chance to make the team. Cody Thompson got $50,000 guaranteed at signing; that’s a big number for a UDFA. Jamal Custis is 6’4″ and brings a different flavor to the receiving corps. That big bodied, possession receiver mold may be important for this team, particularly if Watkins goes down and/or the team does not invest in a second quality tight end.

Felton Davis is the best fighter for the ball in the group. He may have the most NFL ready skills but is also coming off of an Achilles’ injury. Rashard Davis is 5’9″, 175lb and projects as a slot receiver or H-Back. He is the easiest cut from this list, as he was cut from the Raiders practice squad last year and has not really done much to prove he belongs at this level.

I think that Veach and Reid take Thompson and Custis to the 53. Which means Rashard Davis gets cut and Felton Davis goes to injured reserve.

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The receiving corps for your 2019 Kansas City Chiefs: Sammy Watkins, DeMarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Cody Thompson, Jamal Custis, Mecole Hardman.