2019 Kansas City Chiefs roster battle preview: Running backs

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Damien Williams #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after rushing for a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Damien Williams #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after rushing for a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs have an interesting roster battle ahead at the running back position with an established starter and a slew of young talent. Who makes the cut when the Chiefs name their final 53?

The Kansas City Chiefs have several position battles which bring a great deal of intrigue, not only to the offseason but specifically to training camp and the preseason. We’ve already detailed the wide receivers, linebackers and defensive linemen , and here we will look at the running back position. Who will stay and will who go as the Chiefs go through the process of putting together their roster?

This is an interesting battle primarily because of what the Chiefs have done at the position this offseason. They started off the process by signing veteran running back Carlos Hyde to the roster in March. Seemingly set with Hyde, Damien Williams, and Darrel Williams to the roster, the Chiefs then used their sixth round pick to select Darwin Thompson in April. The Utah State product quickly became a fan darling and also seemed to turn heads at rookie minicamp. The Chiefs also added two undrafted rookie free agents in James Williams and Marcus Marshall.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said of the running back battle:

"“[James Williams is] a guy that put up a ton of production in the pass game…As you guys know with our offense and the amount that we throw the football, I think that he’s a guy that’s going to be in the mix. I think that running back competition is like it was last year with Damien (Williams) in the mix, Carlos Hyde coming over, Darrel Williams who had a chance to get elevated late and did some good things. Now you throw in (Darwin) Thompson from (Utah State) and now this James Williams, I think it’s going be a very competitive battle for tail end of the roster, there.”"

So, who will make the cut when head coach Andy Reid, and Veach, make their final roster decisions in August.

Any discussion of what the running back roster may ultimately look like should start with investigating what running back rooms have looked like under Reid since arriving in Kansas City. Those are as follows (note: I have excluded fullbacks from this list):

  • 2013: 3
  • 2014: 4*
  • 2015: 3
  • 2016: 3
  • 2017: 3
  • 2018: 4

(*The fourth was wide receiver/running back De’Anthony Thomas, who was exclusively used as a wide receiver in subsequent years.)

The data seems to suggest that Reid is significantly more likely to go with three running backs (plus fullback Anthony Sherman) than four running backs. Though last year Reid did go with four and needed them often in 2018. I truly do not have a good sense of where the Chiefs will go this year in terms of roster alignment, but I think that last year’s needed running back depth coupled with a relatively thin receiving and tight end corps heading in to 2019 make it likely that Reid continues to buck his own history and keep four backs on the roster, at least initially.

There are currently six running backs on Kansas City’s roster:

  • Carlos Hyde
  • Marcus Marshall
  • Darwin Thompson
  • Damien Williams
  • Darrel Williams
  • James Williams

Of the six of them, only Damien Williams seems to be a lock for a roster spot, given that he has already been named the team’s starter in the backfield. The other five running backs appear to be battling for three spots on the final 53 man roster.

Marcus Marshall

Marcus Marshall is not going to be a member of the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs. The former James Madison University runner tried out for Kansas City in early May and earned a spot on the 90 man roster as a result. Marshall is an intriguing inclusion in to the mix of an already very competitive running back room. While the kid clearly did enough to merit sticking around through OTAs, I suspect the Chiefs are more likely to try to put him on the practice squad in the event of injury, rather than carry him in to the regular season.

None of the other four running backs remaining in competition will make it to the practice squad, and that is part of intrigue of this battle throughout the summer. The Chiefs clearly hate losing talented young players to other teams, but something has got to give here.

Carlos Hyde

While some have speculated that veteran free agent signing Carlos Hyde could find himself out of a job due to age, lack of pass catching ability, and depth of youth on the team, I happen to believe that he’ll be kept on the team for all of those reasons. I think that the Chiefs will value the veteran presence, and a run-first back who happens to be solid in pass blocking. Hyde is also a bigger, stronger back, so having him in for third down and shorts or obvious passing downs may be good choices for Kansas City. Primarily, it gives them a trusted backer with experience in zone rushing offense who can steady the ship in case of injury or young players failing to produce.

Darwin Thompson

The Chiefs selected former Utah State running back Darwin Thompson in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was rated as the most elusive back in the entire draft class by Pro Football Focus and his small stature still packs a surprisingly physical punch—to the tune of 14 rushing touchdowns and a 6.8 yards/carry average last season. Check out more from PFF’s pre-draft profile.

It didn’t take long for the small school, late round draft pick to start turning heads in Chiefs’ camp. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been quick to sing the praises of the young back:

Its certainly far from a guarantee, but I think most would agree that it would be more surprising than not to see Thompson playing anywhere but in Kansas City in 2019.

Darrel Williams

Darrel Williams was a Chiefs’ undrafted rookie free agent signing in 2018 who Reid and company quickly fell in love with. He probably is single-handedly responsible for Reid breaking with tradition and keeping four running backs last season. As it turned out, the Chiefs were fortunate to have done so, but if they do so again, will Darrel Williams be afforded another chance?

The former LSU halfback was afforded 250 snaps last season but was only given 13 rushing attempts. On those, who averaged a pedestrian 3.4 yards per carry. I don’t think it matters how much the coaching staff loved him last year. I think that Darrel Williams is fighting with James Williams and an extra spot at any other place on the roster (to convince Reid to keep four backs again) this summer.

James Williams

James Williams is this year’s version of Darrel Williams. He was signed by the team immediately following the draft as an undrafted free agent out of Washington State. Williams played in Mike Leach‘s offense in college and, as such, was given a number of opportunities to make catches and plays in space, hauling in 202 receptions in his college career. Like Thompson, Williams has already turned heads in Kansas City, with some already speculating that he will make the roster. Like Darrel, I think James is competing against the bottom of every other position group, and Darrel, for this spot on the roster.

Must Read. The best performances of Derrick Thomas' pro career. light


I think that the Chiefs will keep Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson in three easy decisions that we can all predict today. In a surprise move, I think that they choose James over Darrel for a fourth running back spot, giving the shot to the person with more pass-catching experience, and passing on a second season of Darrel after he failed to produce much in 2018.