The Kansas City Chiefs will be without Pro Bowl right end Travis Kelce, starting inside linebacker Nick Bolton and starting right tackle Lucas Niang for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team announced Sunday morning.
All three players had been activated from the COVID-19 list on Saturday, but given a questionable designation because they had yet to fully emerge from the NFL’s testing protocol.
Because the players are on the 53-man roster, Kansas City will not be able to recall additional players from its practice squad to take their place.
Kelce, Bolton and Niang join kicker Harrison Butker, cornerback Rashad Fenton, offensive lineman Kyle Long, punter Tommy Townsend and safety Armani Watts as players that will miss the game for Kansas City while impacted by COVID-19.
Defensive backs Dicaprio Bootle and Josh Jackson, tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart and punter Johnny Townsend were activated from the practice squad as COVID-19 replacements.
Kelce, who was named to the 2022 AFC Pro Bowl team on Monday, is second among NFL tight ends with 83 catches, first with 1,066 receiving yards and tied for fourth with seven touchdowns.
“Travis Kelce is the best in the business, and the reason he’s the best in the business is he is unquestionably the best in the business at run-after, after he catches the ball, for a tight end,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “This is a guy I think that has 580 yards this year on run-after alone. His run-after numbers make him a Pro Bowl caliber tight end.
“This guy, what he is a No. 1 receiver. Whether you identify him as a tight end or simply an eligible, he is a No. 1 receiver in our game. His stats this year but not only this year but over the course of his career indicate that. The play that he made in overtime last week is indicative of what he’s capable of in terms of once he gets the ball in his hands. That’s what makes him and them so dangerous.”
Kelce’s backup is Blake Bell, who has played 94 career games with five teams and is in his second stint in Kansas City. In 13 games this season, Bell has five catches for 41 yards.
Bolton is a rookie from Missouri that has made 11 starts at inside linebacker and has 102 tackles on the season, leading the Chiefs and 37 more than the next-nearest player, safety Tyrann Mathieu. Willie Gay Jr. and Anthony Hitchens should be expected to start at inside linebacker.
Niang has started eight games for the Chiefs at right tackle. Andrew Wylie and Price Tega Wanogho are among Kansas City’s options to start there.