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Rosterology: Offseason workouts shuffle depth chart

Jun 17, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of the Kansas City Chiefs fields during minicamp at the team's training facility. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 17, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of the Kansas City Chiefs fields during minicamp at the team’s training facility. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The conclusion of the Chiefs’ final offseason workouts before training camp next month answered many question about the team’s depth chart and roster makeup, but also generated more buzz regarding several key positions, especially defensive back and tight end.

The biggest roster move during workouts was the release of cornerback Brandon Flowers, a move that caused a domino effect throughout the Chiefs defensive backfield. Coupled with the arrest for an alleged DUI of last year’s other starting corner back Sean Smith, no position group on the team is in greater flux than cornerback.

Smith found himself running with the second-team defensive the last week of OTAs before missing minicamp with an illness. Second-year player Marcus Cooper moved from the left side to fill Smith’s spot at right cornerback with Chris Owens playing the nickel role. Ron Parker took the left cornerback position with the first-team defense.

Widely regarded as the rising star of offseason training is tight end Demetrius Harris. An unsigned free agent rookie project a year ago who spent the entire season on the practice square, Harris has demonstrated both athleticism and knowledge of the offense in offseason drills. It will be next to impossible for the Chiefs to hide Harris on the practice squad again in 2014. If he continues to raise his level of playing during training camp and the preseason, Harris can secure a spot on the final 53-man roster.

Several questions have also arisen among the offensive and defensive lines. Draft pick Zach Fulton saw extensive practice time with the first- and second-team offense, raising the likelihood that he will definitely make the 53-man roster and not relegated to the practice squad. However, the rise of Fulton potentially puts 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster. While the Chiefs carried that many offensive lineman at the end of 2013, that was in anticipation they would lose two starting linemen. Ten is a lot to carry, and would likely come at the expense of depth at wide receiver or defensive line.

On the defensive side of the line, Allen Bailey has emerged as the early front runner to occupy the starting position vacated by Tyson Jackson. Bailey will still face competition from Vance Walker, but Bailey appears in the lead heading to training camp.

Throughout the 2014 offseason, “Rosterology” on ChiefsSpin.com projects what the Chiefs roster would look like if the season started right now. During the offseason, this provides an opportunity to follow the building of the team throughout the offseason as players win spots on the team, sleepers play their way to starting positions and seeming locks fade down the stretch.

Here’s a best guess and the unofficial depth chart as it stands now. Players marked with an asterisk (*) are considered 90 percent likely or better to make the 53-man roster. Players without an asterisk are on the bubble, meaning they would currently make the team but are not guaranteed a roster spot. Spots marked “OPEN” indicated there is no one currently under contract to likely fill that spot on the depth chart.

OFFENSE

WR Donnie Avery* A.J. Jenkins De’Anthony Thomas*
LT Eric Fisher* J’Marcus Webb
LG Jeff Allen* Jeff Linkenbach
C Rodney Hudson* Eric Kush
RG Rishaw Johnson* Rokevious Watkins Zach Fulton
RT Donald Stephenson*
TE Anthony Fasano* Travis Kelce* Demetrius Harris
WR Dwayne Bowe* Junior Hemingway Kyle Williams
QB Alex Smith* Chase Daniel* Aaron Murray*
RB Jamaal Charles* Knile Davis* Joe McKnight
FB Anthony Sherman*

——

Projected practice squad: G Zach Fulton, T Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, WR Weston Dressler
Unsigned free agents:
 None
On the bubble: QB Tyler Bray, TE Sean McGrath, TE Richard Gordon, RB Cyrus Gray, G Otis Hudson
Other returnees from last year:  WR Frankie Hammond Jr., WR Fred Williams, TE Demetrius Harris, C Chandler Burden, G Ricky Henry
Free agent signings: T R.J. Dill, WR Jerrell Jackson, WR Mark Harrison, FB Jordan Campbell, G/T Jeff Linkenbach
Undrafted free agents: FB James Baker, RB Charcandrick West, WR Darryl Surgent, WR Albert Wilson, WR Deon Anthony, G Ben Gottschalk

Other than rookie De’Anthony Thomas, no player during offseason workouts appeared to impress more than Harris. Signed a year ago based entirely on potential, Harris appears to be transitioning from project to prospect. In a competitive race for tight end positions on the team, Harris has made his case loud and clear to make the active roster. That puts Sean McGrath and Richard Gordon on the bubble, depending on where Travis Kelce stands as he continues to rehab from microfracture knee surgery.

There is no doubt the electrifying rookie Thomas figures in the team’s offensive plans this season, but there continues to be doubt whether the Chiefs seem him as running back or wide receiver. Listed as running back by the Chiefs for now, Thomas has lined up all over the field, and could be reclassified as a wide receiver.

That’s bad news for Weston Dressler, but great news for running back Joe McKnight. McKnight picked up reps through offseason workouts, and his flashes both out of the backfield and on special teams boost his prospects significantly. McKnight is a more traditional running back, while Thomas’ slight frame would unlikely withstand the rigors of a full-time back if both Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis were out of action — a scenario the Chiefs faced in the playoffs against the Colts. There’s still plenty of competition, yet McKnight appears to be edging ahead of returning veteran Cyrus Gray as the third back. If the Chiefs keep Thomas at running back, McKnight’s prospects dim.

If Thomas prevails as the Chiefs’ primary slot receiver, it does not spell complete doom for Dressler. The free agent from the Canadian Football League showed flashes of brilliance before suffering a hamstring injury, but the uphill challenge for Dressler is that both he and Thomas are similar in size and skill set, making it difficult for the Chiefs to keep both — unless Thomas takes a running back roster slot and Dressler is needed on special teams.

The big story on the offensive line has been the work given to sixth-round draft pick Fulton. Jeff Linkenbach’s flexibility to play almost anywhere on the line puts him in a good spot, but Fulton is definitely going to make it difficult to keep a 10th lineman. That would most likely put Rokevious Watkins on the bubble.

With the Chiefs now headed to training camp, guard Rishaw Johnson and fullback Anthony Sherman earn virtual locks to make the team. While Johnson continues to face competition for the starting right guard position, it appears he’s highly likely to make the squad regardless. While fullback can be a very volatile position on the roster, Sherman does not have any serious competition on the roster as of now.

DEFENSE

LDE Allen Bailey* Vance Walker Mike Catapano
NT Dontari Poe* Jaye Howard
RDE Mike DeVito*
LOLB Justin Houston* Frank Zombo*
LILB Joe Mays* Nico Johnson*
RILB Derrick Johnson* James-Michael Johnson
ROLB Tamba Hali* Dee Ford* Dezman Moses
LCB Marcus Cooper* Ron Parker* Phillip Gaines*
RCB Sean Smith* Chris Owens
SS Eric Berry* Malcolm Bronson
FS Husain Abdullah* Sanders Commings*

—–

Projected practice squad: CB David Van Dyke, S David Sorensen
Unsigned free agents: None
On the bubble: DT Jermelle Cudjo, DT Kyle Love, CB Justin Rogers
Other returnees from last year: CB Vernon Kearney
Free agent signings: DE Dominique Hamilton, LB Alonzo Highsmith, LB/DE Josh Martin, S Jerron McMillian, CB Kevin Rutland, CB Demarcus Van Dyke
Undrafted free agents: DT Kona Schwenke, LB Ben Johnson

The roster bubble can change quickly, and nowhere on the Chiefs depth are changes more fluid than in the defensive backfield. The release of Brandon Flowers opens up a starting spot for Cooper, and also opens up the path for Parker to move from the bubble to a solid spot on the roster. Owens and draft pick Phillip Gaines continue to hold down the final cornerback spots. During Sean Smith’s absence following his recent arrest and illness, Cooper and Parker have taken reps with the first team with Owens lining up against the slot receiver. The addition of veteran free agent Justin Rogers offers additional depth, and he could be in position to move up if one of the younger cornerbacks falters or falls to injury.

The safety depth chart is continuing to solid, and the prospects of Malcolm Bronson are continuing to blossom. Bronson is the definite front-runner for the fourth safety slot, but this will also be a position to watch at training camp.

In a small surprise, Bailey has thrusted ahead of Walker for the starting position at left defensive end. Walker has fluctuated in his reps from the first to the third team, but Bailey has been consistent as a first teamer.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Dustin Colquitt*
K Ryan Succup*
LS Thomas Gafford*
PR De’Anthony Thomas Joe McKnight
KR Knile Davis* Joe McKnight

—–

Undrafted free agents: K Cairo Santos

If McKnight makes the team, special teams will be a big reason why. A backup running back who can reliably return punts and kickoffs has significant value. Thomas is likely the best punt returner on the team, but Knile Davis may be the best kickoff returner. If McKnight doesn’t make the team, other special team prospects include wide receivers Frankie Hammond Jr. and Albert Wilson.

Punter Dustin Colquitt does not have a challenger on the roster, but kicker Ryan Succup does and Cairo Santos has proven a serious challenger. Santos has a booming leg, with the only question if he has the accuracy to top Succup. Santos gained ground in offseason workouts, and this is a battle to watch at training camp.