ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – There are 90 players on the Chiefs roster fighting for 53 spots, and then 10 jobs on the club’s practice squad.
Even the casual fan can fill the first 30-35 of those slots based on returning players, 2015 draft choices and those added in the offseason for big-dollar contracts.
The fight for the remaining 18 jobs is an every-day constant for those dreaming of an opportunity to play in the NFL regular season. Every year undrafted rookies and free agents off the street seemingly come out of nowhere to land in the opening 53-man group.
Here are four current Chiefs that are flying under the radar, with little public attention from fans and the media. These players still face long odds and must have other factors fall in their favor for roster success.
When it comes to the decision makers that will shape the roster, they are very much on the radar screen.
Tight end Ryan Taylor: A veteran of four previous seasons in the NFL, Taylor was signed on May 21, about 10 days after he was released by the Miami Dolphins. The North Carolina native spent 54 regular season and postseason games with the Green Bay Packers (2011-14). Last season, he was claimed on waivers by both Baltimore, and then Cleveland, where he played eight games with the Browns. Over his career, he has eight catches for 45 yards and one touchdown, all with the Packers.
The Chiefs have their third tight end spot open for competition with Taylor, Richard Gordon and Adam Schiltz. On the PUP list is Demetrius Harris, who continues to rehab from foot surgery back in May. Gordon and Schiltz were with the Chiefs at various times last season, so they have a step up on Taylor when it comes to understanding the offense.
But it’s been Taylor who has gained noticed for his catching ability, as he’s been able to pull down throws in the intermediate routes in coach Andy Reid’s offense. The only thing that’s slowed him down was a quadriceps contusion he suffered when linebacker Derrick Johnson hit him in the thigh as he was running after making a catch. That cost him three days of practice.
“Ryan is another guy that’s improving,” Reid said. “He got banged up early; he’s come back out and he’s made improvements. He’s a tough kid and we understand that. I think it’s a matter of just continuing to get reps in this offense. This is new to him, so the more he gets, the better he’s going to be.”
Offensive lineman Jarrod Pughsley: There’s no question Pughsley caught the attention of a lot of folks in the preseason opener against Arizona and he stood as the No. 3 tackle in Monday’s practice at Missouri Western State University. When left tackle Eric Fisher went down with a sprained ankle, right tackle Donald Stephenson moved to the other side and Pughsley replaced him at right tackle. Then with the second offensive line, Pughsley played left tackle.
Throughout the offseason work, Pughsley spent the large majority of his time at guard. But he’s been almost exclusively a tackle since the start of training camp and he’s displayed good footwork and quickness playing on the edge. He’s 6-4, 310 pounds, and entered the league in 2014 as a college free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. Released at the start of training camp, he was signed by the Chiefs last October for the practice squad.
“We saw good things in the game and good things today; he had a lot of reps,” Reid said. “He’s not short on opportunities out here. He got a lot of reps in the game and then we asked him to come out here and take a lot of reps today. I’m sure he’s a little bit tired and sore, but he did a nice job of pushing through it.”
Any young player that is getting a lot of opportunities from the coaching staff in training camp is evidence enough that he’s on the radar screen for the 53-man consideration.
Linebacker Dezman Moses: He joined the Chiefs on Sept. 1, 2013 when he was claimed on waivers after he was released by Green Bay. Moses played 13 games with the Chiefs that season, but produced just four tackles on special teams. Last year, he was on the injured-reserve list due to an elbow injury.
At Tulane University, Moses was a defensive end and in the transition to outside linebacker, and he’s always shown the ability to provide an explosive pass rush. What he has never gotten, not in one year with the Packers or in 13 games with the Chiefs, is a real opportunity for snaps to show his ability.
In this camp, Moses has very quickly displayed athletic skills with his 6-2, 245-pound frame. In one-on-one situations in the pass rush, tackles have struggled to stop him. Plus, he’s had snaps at inside linebacker as well.
It’s a crowded field at linebacker with the Chiefs right now, but if he can stay healthy, Moses had a very good chance to be among the final players selected.
Defensive lineman David Irving: Two arrests while he was at Iowa State University knocked Irving out of consideration for the 2015 NFL Draft. That was too bad for him, but it has turned out to be a good thing for the Chiefs who signed him as an undrafted free agent in May. In training camp, it’s hard to miss the athletic ability Irving has displayed during drills, practices and the preseason opener against the Cardinals. At 6-7¾ and a lanky 272 pounds, he calls to mind the late-Pittsburgh defensive end L.C. Greenwood (6-6, but only 245 pounds.)
Irving has long arms and he does a good job of using those limbs and his hands against blockers. On his Pro-Day workout back in March, he was timed in 4.84 seconds in the 40-yard dash, with a 38-inch vertical jump. He has a wingspan of 87¾ inches. On top of all that, he has not yet turned 22 years old; his birthday is on Tuesday.
“He’s got to continue to grow,” said Reid. “He’s got to do better on the line against the run and the pass. He’s working, so you give him the credit of that and he’s improving.”
In November 2013, Irving was charged with domestic assault in Ames, Iowa, after an incident with the mother of his child. He was suspended for a game, but charges were eventually dropped two months later. In April 2014, he took part in Veishea which is annually the largest student-run festival in the nation, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors to the ISU campus each year. But last year, a riot ensued among those taking part in the 92-year old tradition and a picture of Irving holding a stop sign that had been ripped from the ground made its way to social media. He was charged with fifth-degree theft, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, and was dismissed from the team.
Based on his physical tools and skills, it’s hard to believe Irving won’t make the final 53-man roster. He may face an NFL redshirt season with little actual game experience, but if this young man can control himself off the field, he has a future on the field in the NFL.