The Kansas City Chiefs made a little bit of news on Thursday, signing former Tennessee Titans (and Minnesota Vikings) wide receiver Tajae Sharpe to their practice squad.
Coming on the heels of the team’s release of wide receiver Marcus Kemp (and his subsequent signing to the Miami Dolphins), the move could simply be adding another reserve wideout to a team with only four on the active roster — although Byron Pringle has also been designated to return from injured reserve. Given the timing of the move, it could be to replace Kemp — but Sharpe has rarely played special teams in the NFL, which makes it hard to believe that’s the case.
More likely, the Sharpe’s signing is about adding depth to the wide receiver group — which given the injury history of Pringle and Sammy Watkins, would make sense. Sharpe brings some size to the wide receiver room, providing the base-level skillset of an “X” (or possession wideout) a need the Chiefs have long struggled to fill when Watkins has missed time.
As a practice squad player, his ultimate impact on the team could be minimal. But let’s take a look at what Tajae Sharpe brings to the Chiefs.
Tajae Sharpe | WR
6’2” | 194 pounds
While Sharpe doesn’t have the greatest density — and may not be the most aggressive while the football is in the air — he has a lot of length and knows how to use it.
Tajae Sharpe— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 17, 2020
Shouldn't be expected to have a huge impact but does some things pretty well that the Chiefs WR room could use.
At 6'2" w/ over 32" arms, he makes a quality RZ target. 5 of his 8 NFL TDs have been from inside the 20. Quality route to the backline + full extension pic.twitter.com/03LLgivbYJ
Sharpe has scored eight NFL touchdowns. Five of them have come from within the red zone. His length and body control allow him to work both high and low in the end zone, providing a wide target area for his quarterback.
On this play, Sharpe — after a very nice route — is working to the back, inline across the field. The throw comes in high — and a good bit out in front of him. He’s able to track the ball through traffic and adjust his body on the move to snag the pass outside of his frame.
Sharpe has pulled in red-zone touchdowns on two fade routes and on in-breaking routes — and done so both from the slot and outside. When he’s been given opportunities, he’s been a quality weapon in the red zone — an area of the field where current Chiefs receivers do not excel. While Watkins and Pringle are both very physical receivers. neither are known for going up to attack the ball against tight coverage — whereas Sharpe has shown some ability to do that.
Sharpe isn’t the biggest (or fastest) wideout, which does limit his ability to separate; he’s not going to be a player who is consistently running wide open based on his physical ability. But he makes up for that by running really nuanced routes.
Add quality route runner to the list as well giving him some potential as a possession WR.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 17, 2020
Works the switch release spacing to get a free runway up field. Chest forward, eyes down, arms moving sells the vertical. Great job w/ the long step to decelerate, drop hips, explode out pic.twitter.com/xBoyPSNLOD
Going back to his days in Massachusetts, Sharpe has always impressed as a route technician, displaying eye discipline, body control and the ability to adjust his speed. He has a full grasp on how to manipulate defenders to generate enough space in which to work. He doesn’t have the best change-of-direction or acceleration, so even coming out of very nicely-executed routes there won’t always be a lot of space — but there will be some.
On this out route, Sharpe sells the vertical from the get-go. When he works into his break, he does so on a dime — while working back to the quarterback to keep the defensive back out of the play.
This kind of route-running ability is essential for an “X” wide receiver — think Sammy Watkins — and opens up timing routes, too. One of the issues the Chiefs have been having this season is that the timing between Patrick Mahomes and some of the wide receivers has been just a little bit off. It hasn’t been a major deal, but there have been some times in which Mahomes has thrown passes with anticipation — and the receiver has ended up in a different spot. Even though there isn’t a big dynamic element to his game, Sharpe knows how to get to the right spot — and create just enough of a window to make the play.
Sharpe is not a deep threat, as he lacks the top-end speed and acceleration to really eat up space on the field. Opposing defenses know this — which gives him a unique opportunity.
Not the fastest guy on the field but a good release and technique stacking CBs allows Sharpe to work vertically on occasion.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 18, 2020
Skip release off the LoS to freeze the DB and does a good job chopping down the hands as he works vertical. Bends back over towards green grass pic.twitter.com/Ku1cVrZvac
On this play, Sharpe not only destroys the press coverage — another great X receiver skill — he’s able to work over the top and stack the cornerback vertically. He doesn’t have the speed to simply run by the corner, but he is able to freeze the defender with his release from the line of scrimmage — and then be physical enough to work through the re-route.
Sharpe then shows a good feel for how to bend the route back to green grass, stacking the cornerback and opening up the entire field as a throwing window. Unfortunately, the quarterback is late with the ball — and throws it to an area on the field that isn’t open — so Sharpe is unable to bring in the contested catch.
Don’t get it twisted. Sharpe is not going to average 15+ yards per reception or be a dynamic deep threat. But thanks to his technique and understanding of the game, he does have the ability to stack corners on a vertical plane — and the ability to be competent on deep routes is a must in Andy Reid’s offense.
The bottom line
Most likely, Sharpe’s signing is a depth move; he could be called up once or twice this season in case of emergency. At this point in his career, he’s offered little to special teams — and couldn’t earn a significant share of snaps in Minnesota this season. To have substantial expectations for Sharpe would simply be unreasonable.
That being said, Sharpe has a quality set of skills that directly fill some weaknesses in the Chiefs’ wide receiver group. Outside of Sammy Watkins, Sharpe’s ability to run technical routes, excel as a red zone target and beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage are things the Chiefs have often lacked.
While I won’t go as far as to say Sharpe was brought in specifically because of these particular attributes, for the rest of 2020 (and into 2021), he’s worth monitoring. He does fit the general mold of an “X” wide receiver — where the Chiefs have been lacking depth.