Since 2014 — when Travis Kelce became the unquestioned starter at tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs — the team’s second tight end has been like a revolving door of middling talent. As Kelce has gone on to become the league’s best at his position, the quality of the talent behind him has seemed to diminish on an almost annual basis.
So when the Chiefs traded up in the fifth round to select Duke tight end Noah Gray in the 2021 NFL Draft, Chiefs fans — and some members of the media — rejoiced that the team was finally investing in what has long been perceived as one of the team’s weak points.
When speaking to reporters on Saturday, Gray said that this year’s rookies are lucky to have a full in-person offseason program — rather than the 2020’s virtual program. He called the team’s organized team activities a “blessing” — and even questioned how last year’s rookies were able to do without them.
“OTAs really helped just from a knowledge standpoint, just understating the basic concepts that this offense asks you to know,” said the rookie tight end. “So it was definitely a huge help from that perspective.”
Although he did not attend Kelce’s much-publicized “Tight End University,” Gray twice pointed out how much Chiefs tight ends have helped him prepare for the season.
“To be able to learn under Travis Kelce — one of the best tight ends in the league right now — it’s a blessing,” he declared. “To come out here and be able to gain that knowledge from him — and to learn from him every day and to be able to visualize and watch him on the field — that’s something that’s been extremely key to me coming out and being able to execute my assignment.”
Gray also credited tight ends Evan Baylis, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and Nick Keizer with helping him prepare for his first NFL season.
When draft analysts evaluated the Chiefs selection of Gray, a common concern was his ability as a blocker. Gray acknowledged that he has yet to practice in pads — and that his blocking would need to progress in training camp. But he also said that he was prepared for the accompanying uptick in intensity — and contact.
“I’m just going to continue to keep playing ball and doing what they ask me,” he said confidently. “Pads or no pads.”
Route running, however, is widely perceived to be one of Gray’s strengths. He praised Duke football coach David Cutcliffe for using him in a variety of roles — giving him solid preparation to work with one of the league’s most creative offensive minds.
“There are a lot of things that Duke taught me that are very similar to Coach Reid’s offense and his philosophy,” he noted. “And I’m very grateful for that.”
Gray enters camp with strong hype created during the offseason program, with his performances lauded by both Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who described Gray as having a “veteran-like skillset” — and as someone who “knows how to get himself open.” ESPN’s Louis Riddick — one of the national analysts who is thought to be most connected with Reid and Chiefs general manager Brett Veach — reported in June that the Chiefs were very high on Gray. “They like him. A lot,” he tweeted.
With years of disappointment about the depth behind Kelce — and all of this hype — Gray will have one of the most anticipated debuts during the team’s first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. As the full squad reports to camp in the coming days, expect Gray to continue asking questions and learning from his new teammates — while doing everything he can to meet the standard his new team has set.