Lottery Tickets is a breakdown series of the lesser known players who have a chance to make the Chiefs Week 1 roster. Leading up to training camp, we’ll be profiling the intriguing undrafted free agents and reserve/future contract players that show the ability to potentially stick in the NFL.
Why is this series called Lottery Tickets? The players we discuss are high-upside players that haven’t significantly affected the Chiefs bottom line, but the returns could be substantial.
“I think he’s a good young prospect,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has said on tight end Deon Yelder.
Reid singled out the second year tight end out of Western Kentucky when discussing the depth behind Travis Kelce on Thursday. Yelder was the only player the Chiefs head coach mentioned, and he did it unprompted. There are a lot of questions about the Chiefs’ backup tight end position, and with good reason. Kelce is coming off surgery and is hoping to be 100 percent healthy for training camp. If he’s slow to come back, then whoever is behind him needs to step up. It sounds like Yelder has made an impression.
The Chiefs signed Yelder in the middle of the season last year to the practice squad. In late October, he was signed to the 53-man roster and saw time on special teams in three games last year. There is limited tape out there of Yelder’s time in the NFL, including the preseason of his first season in the league. I went and found a game from his time with the Hilltoppers in 2017 to show some of the traits that likely intrigued the Chiefs.
Yelder is big target, but he moves well for a man his size.
TE Deon Yelder moves well for a man his size. He looks more than capable of running the over routes and verticals that you can expect from tight ends in Andy Reid's offense. pic.twitter.com/ejbdLU1uJp— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 15, 2019
At his pro day in 2017, Yelder ran a solid 4.72 40-yard dash, which is good for a player with the size he possesses. You saw Demetrius Harris run a lot of vertical routes last year, be it corners, overs or seam routes. Yelder will have no problem executing those in the Chiefs offense if he earns the job of TE2.
One of the gripes people had with Harris last year was inconsistency catching the ball. There are some positive indicators in Yelder’s tape.
This is a good example of the highs of Yelder’s college tape. He works through contact at the line of scrimmage, sticks his foot in the ground, works across the field, tracks the ball, makes a great adjustment with his big body, focus through the defender’s arms and strong hands to finish the play. These are all things that will serve him well if he earns playing time in Kansas City. If he’s showing some of these abilities in the offseason, then we know why Reid singled him out.
You can’t give up on a play if Mahomes is your quarterback and Yelder showed in college that he won’t.
You better be capable of playing out of structure with Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback. Yelder doesn't give up on this play, runs the backline with the QB and is rewarded with a touchdown. #LotteryTickets pic.twitter.com/M8hP3BxbqN— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 15, 2019
Yelder ran a corner, saw the only place this play was heading was out of structure to the quarteback’s left, puts his foot down and is quick to start working with the play across the field. He ran the back line with the quarterback and was rewarded with a touchdown. Nice play by Yelder that ends up with a score.
I wish I saw more consistency as a blocker from Yelder, but he flashes ability.
You want to see this more consistently with Yelder as an inline blocker, but there's plenty to work with. Reid noted the need for a capable blocker at TE2 this week. #LotteryTickets pic.twitter.com/zgbf6qaZTu— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 15, 2019
This is a quality rep attached to the tackle in the run game. Yelder gets his hands inside on the edge player, drives his legs and finishes him to the ground. This rep isn’t the norm. He showed struggles blocking space at times and was inconsistent at the point of attack, but seeing plays like this tells you there is enough in there to make him a functional blocker.
The bottom line
We’re nearly two years removed from this game, but there are some workable traits in there that very well could’ve developed further through the draft process and then last season. Clearly, Reid is fascinated by Yelder and in a wide open competition, he certainly has a shot at making the final 53.
The tight end competition will be worth watching from day one of training camp and may not be clearly resolved until the season starts. Yelder is well positioned to be in the mix and potentially grab the job for Week 1 in Jacksonville.