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Brett Veach explains why and how the Chiefs traded up for Noah Gray

The Chiefs made a pick exchange with the New York Jets in order to secure their new tight end.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over as Kansas City Chiefs general manager back in 2017, Brett Veach has shown a willingness to be aggressive at certain times during the NFL Draft. 2018’s draft saw Veach trade up three times. In 2019, Veach traded up once — and in 2020, he traded back into the draft’s final round.

Veach and the Chiefs only made one draft-day trade in 2021: a pick exchange with the New York Jets to land Duke tight end Noah Gray in the fifth round.

Kansas City traded its first of two 2021 fifth-round picks (No. 175) as well as their sixth-round pick (No. 207) in to the New York Jets in exchange for the Jets’ fifth-round pick (No. 162) and one of the Jets’ sixth-round picks (No. 226). Speaking with the local media members to review the 2021 draft on Monday morning, Veach explained why the Chiefs felt it was necessary to make the move.

“We as a staff [weren’t] sure that this tight end class was super deep,” he said. “Everyone had (Kyle) Pitts there at the top of the board. I think that there was talent, though, throughout the draft. These guys were a little bit more — some guys were primarily blockers, some guys had a receiving skill set.”

Florida’s Pitts was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4 overall, the highest overall pick ever on a tight end. After Pitts was taken by Atlanta, eight tight ends — Pat Freiermuth (Steelers at 55), Hunter Long (Dolphins at 81), Tommy Tremble (Panthers at 83), Tre’ McKitty (Chargers at 97), John Bates (Washington at 124), Kylen Granson (Colts at 127), Luke Farrell (Jaguars at 145) and Brevin Jordan (Texans at 147) — were chosen before the Chiefs took Gray, who was someone the personnel staff had liked for a while.

“We took a liking to Noah Gray and just saw him as a really unique inside slot receiver, H-Back, fullback,” explained Veach. “He’s a little undersized for being an in-line player, but it’s so hard to replace Travis (Kelce) when he’s not in the game because he has such a unique skill set. Noah has a similar — again, you don’t want to compare anyone to Travis Kelce — but Noah has a unique skill set as a slot, bigger tight end, receiver.

“Looking at the board and kind of working through that Josh Kaindoh was a guy we were certainly interested in, and once we fulfilled that kind of need there at defensive end with Josh, we quickly looked at the board and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get up all that high. So once we got into that range where we felt we could do a flopping of picks that would get us up, we were going to be aggressive. So we just had to wait. So we were literally waiting for 15, 20, 25 picks to go by.”

Veach spoke to the New York Jets and another team.

“We had two different deals in place, we actually had the Jets — at first, they weren’t committing to the move,” said Veach. “I think there was a team behind them that said they would commit to the move. We had just said that if our guy was still on the board, we’d be interested. Once the Jets got on the clock, they called us back and said that they would be interested. But we were really identifying that trade about 20 picks ahead. We were just waiting, we just couldn’t get into that range. We didn’t want to surrender a pick. We could have moved up even higher by just surrendering a flat pick, but we wanted to work in volume and we identified a few teams that were willing to swap picks. And we were OK with shifting down later and allowing a team to come up higher later if we could move up a little in that fifth.”

So the combination of aggression and patience paid off for Veach, with an even-picks swap being more ideal than the alternative. The Chiefs were able to nab their target and keep a draft class of six, which has seemed to be a sweet spot in recent years.

Gray should provide the Chiefs with a legitimate No. 2 receiving option at tight end for the first time since Demetrius Harris departed for the Browns in 2019.

“That was a guy, again as soon as we selected Josh Kaindoh (at No. 144), we had our eyes locked on,” he said. “We called Josh and we welcomed him to the Kingdom, and as soon as we got off the phone, we were back in the draft room, on the phone, calling every team to see how we could flop picks with them to get back up there and get Noah.”