When the Kansas City Chiefs unveiled their 53-man roster earlier this week, there were a few interesting wrinkles in the ultimate decisions made on who to keep and who to potentially lose on the waiver wire to the claims of other teams. The Chiefs came out relatively unscathed and, in fact, are likely thrilled with the results of those who slipped through to the practice squad, but it’s interesting to see why they did what they did.
One position in particular that was eye-opening with the number of players making the final roster was at defensive end. The Chiefs kept a whopping six players there and went with only four interior players, even as the most productive players were found inside during the preseason.
The Chiefs ended up going with Frank Clark, Carlos Dunlap, George Karlaftis, Mike Danna, Malik Herring, and Joshua Kaindoh. Not a single one of those players is all that shocking—even Kaindoh or Herring—by himself, but the fact that all six of those players made it—and that it was both Kaindoh and Herring—was a total surprise.
Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach stated that the team kept six defensive ends on the active roster because of vulnerabilities at the position.
First, the quantity of players was one major hurdle here when trying to understanding the logic of roster building. Going with five defensive ends is the typical route and even then, the Chiefs could actually flex interior players like Chris Jones or Turk Wharton outside with little problem if they ended up lighter outside due to an in-game injury.
Second, the quality of players were greater inside. The Chiefs ended up cutting Taylor Stallworth and Danny Shelton, both of whom had stronger backing from fans, than the duo of Herring and Kaindoh. The former flashed a bit more than the latter overall, but it’s not as either player put up a demonstrable preseason that forced the GMs hand (unlike, say, Khalen Saunders who played like a man possessed).
However, in recent comments from his mid-week press conference, Veach provided some understanding for why he approached the position as he did:
"I think that defensive end is one position where we always accumulate injuries for some reason. We’re always a little short at that position. We have a couple older, veteran guys at that position as well, so we [decided] to go heavy there."
In these few sentences, we begin to see that everything makes sense. The Chiefs have some previous wounds that Veach would like to avoid at a position that’s so important. In addition, it seems as if the team knows that it’s a fool’s errand to try to rely on Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap for significant snaps for 17 games and then a postseason run.
It’s also possible that active roster reps and readiness will bring something greater from Kaindoh and/or Herring that the team hasn’t already seen. Kaindoh has all the intangibles as a former fourth-round project and just needs to put it all together on the field. Herring was an interesting IR stash for the Chiefs last year and flashed on a few key plays in the preseason. Is there more there in terms of consistency? How high is the ceiling for Herring or floor for Kaindoh? It’s hard to tell.
At least now there’s some understanding about why the Chiefs are keeping who they are. Ghosts of the past and warning signs in the present create enough vulnerabilities for the Chiefs to do what they must, even if it seems like odd roster construction.