Who will the new starters be?
Jarrod Thurman @JarrodChiefsFCS
Chiefs focus @ChiefsFocus
The NFL draft has concluded and the offseason is winding down. The next big question is, who will be the starters? Well, I'm going to make my best prediction for all 22 starters and a couple of extras. These predictions will be based on the roster as of writing this article. The Chiefs may acquire new players that could compete for a starting position.
To begin with, some of these starters are going to be pretty obvious. Patrick Mahomes is obviously starting over Chad Henne, and Travis Kelce is obviously starting over Blake Bell and Noah Gray. Other obvious starters include Orlando Brown at left tackle, Chris Jones at defensive tackle, and Frank Clark at defensive end. What about the rest?
I'll start with receivers. We are returning only one receiver that was on the active roster for the AFC Championship game against the Bengals, Mecole Hardman. The starters are going to be the new additions, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. I don't see any reason for them not to use players they brought in through free agency. The slot receiver is likely going to be either Mecole Hardman or the rookie Skyy Moore. I'd probably lean towards Moore so Hardman can be used in the return game.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is going to be the starting running back. He missed several games last season due to injury but should still be the number 1 back. He does however have a crowded running back room around him waiting for him to struggle and take his starting spot, including the rookie Isaih Pacheco.
The remaining offensive line that I haven't mentioned is going to be pretty much the same as last year with 1 new face. Left guard should be Joe Thuney who had a really good first season with the Chiefs, first-team All-rookie center Creed Humphrey will return to a spot he dominated as a rookie, and Trey Smith also had a good rookie season and will be returning as a right guard. We will have a new right tackle though. Despite some draft analysts predicting he'll move to guard, it's looking like 5th round selection Darian Kinnard will start at right tackle. Our starting offensive line will have an average age of 25.1 next season. So Patrick Mahomes will have a young offensive line to protect him.
Fullback is a position people tend to forget about. The Chiefs have had some good ones over the years including Ring of Honor members Tony Richardson and Kimble Anders, and more recently Anthony Sherman. Michael Burton proved to be effective at fullback last year. He picked up several first downs on 3rd and 4th and short situations. He even scored a couple of touchdowns for the Chiefs. He's the only fullback on the roster currently so he is going to be the starter.
I've already covered two defensive line starters in my “obvious” section. What about the other two though? Well, the other defensive end is likely going to be 1st round selection George Karlaftis. The other defensive tackle is going to be Derrick Nnadi. Karlaftis should help bolster a unit that struggled a bit last year struggling to stop the run and sack the quarterback.
The Chiefs said goodbye to Anthony Hitchens in the offseason to free up cap space. His replacement is going to be a new face in Jermaine Carter. Leo Chanel is a possibility as well but I'd lean towards the veteran starting instead, especially since the middle linebacker receives the defensive play calls on the field. The other two linebackers will be returning players Willie Gay and Nick Bolton. Bolton was the best defensive rookie in the league not named Micah Parsons in 2021 and is due for a good sophomore season. Gay had some injury issues and missed the Chiefs' week 15 overtime win over the Chargers after testing positive for COVID-19, but should come back healthy this season.
The Chiefs had what was statistically one of the worst pass defenses in the league last year finishing 27th yards allowed. They'll look to fix that with a couple of new faces in the secondary. First-round selection Trent McDuffie will start at cornerback along with L’Jarius Sneed. The Chiefs lost Tyrann Mathieu to the Saints but replaced him with Justin Reed. Juan Thornhill will return as the other safety for the team. The team’s nickelback will likely be Lonnie Williams Jr. who was just acquired via trade with the Texans where he was a teammate with Justin Reed.
The specialists should be unchanged baring injuries with Harrison Butker, Tommy Townsend, and James Winchester returning in their respective positions. Mecole Hardman should be the punt returner and might return kickoffs as well due to the loss of last year's kick return Byron Pringle.
In total, of the main 22 starters, we will see 7 new starters. Is that going to be enough to improve where we struggled last season? Only time will tell.