As Kansas City Chiefs tight end Jody Fortson took his place behind the podium for a Zoom press conference on Wednesday, he had an ear-to-ear smile that he couldn’t hide.
“Hey Jody, you got a huge smile on your face there,” Kansas City Star beat reporter Herbie Teope noted to open the question portion of the press conference.
Fortson had plenty of reason to be overjoyed. After two offseasons spent trying out for the Chiefs and eventually failing to make the active roster, he has officially made this year’s initial 53-man roster. Head coach Andy Reid confirmed it in his media availability just before Fortson took the microphone.
As he beamed in front of the Zoom camera, Fottson reflected on the journey he took to go from a Division II collegiate wide receiver to an NFL tight end.
“I’ve put a lot of time into this, and there was a lot of days that I thought this wouldn’t come — but I stayed true to it, kept working, and here we are,” Fortson described. “I know there’s so much more work to do, but I was told to take my small victories as well and cherish them. It’s just been a long road; it’s been a long road.”
There have been longer NFL journeys than the three offseasons it took Fortson to make the team, but it’s the position change that made it an even steeper hill to climb.
He played wide receiver at Valdosta State before entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2019. He signed with the Chiefs and attempted to make the team at that position. After landing on the practice squad, the club began to nudge him into his current role.
“I’m a tryout, walking onto the Kansas City Chiefs,” Fortson explained about his second NFL offseason. “I’m at tight end for the first time since 2006. They’re throwing me in there, and I’m like, ‘I can’t even remember what a three-point stance is, or who to block and I’m lining up wrong.’ I’m just doing everything wrong, I’m running fast, but I’m doing everything wrong. They just gave me a chance to calm it down.”
“I did get cut,” recalled Fortson. “I had some time to reflect and say, ‘Wow, maybe this isn’t for me. They want to make me a tight end, and I haven’t done this in a long time.’ God told me just to stick with it, and it’s going to pay off for me.”
On his second shot at making the team as a tight end, Fortson succeeded. One of the first signs that it was happening was the team’s last preseason game: the first-team offense finished off a drive with a four-tight end set, Fortson being one of them. He ran an end zone route on the play, but the pass went to Blake Bell for a score.
Fortson believes that wrinkle could elevate the ability of an already powerful offense.
“We were already dangerous before I was activated. I think we just got a little bit more dangerous because I believe in my talents,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to form a lot of looks and put the defense in so many different mismatches. It’s going to be fun.”
The other sign that pointed to Fortson breaking through this preseason was his special teams role. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub noted Fortson’s improvement in that area during preseason press conferences, and it came to fruition on the field: Fortson appeared to be on multiple first-team units for the different special teams phases.
Toub directly pushed Fortson to take the third phase of the game more seriously.
“[Coach Toub] told me I need to be more dominant, that I need to go out there with an even hungrier mindset,” Fortson revealed. “I just left no stone unturned. I didn’t take any plays or reps off. I calculated everything like it was a game rep. I messed up here and there, but everything was fast, and everything was precise... I was just really intentional with how I handled special teams this time around.”
Great coaching has helped Fortson to this point, but so has veteran leadership from tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce is the longest-tenured Chiefs player on the team now and fully embraced the mentorship role with a raw, talented guy like Fortson.
“I remember going back in OTAs after practice, I would go to [Kelce’s] house and study the playbook,” Fortson shared. “He would teach me fronts and defenses and certain leverage points in order to block better.”
The time Kelce spent helping Fortson became worthwhile when he made the team this week, but it wasn’t surprising to the 31-year old veteran.
“I can’t speak for him, but it’s like he expected [I was going to make it],” Fortson admitted. “It wasn’t anything new for him, and that’s even an honor in itself. I truly feel like he’s the GOAT, that’s a great mentor on and off the field. That’s someone I will call long after I get done with this game, just to ask for advice. I appreciate Kelce.”
On the same day that Fortson’s roster spot was made official, Kelce got his chance to warn the NFL about the team’s tight end group on the “Pat McAfee Show.”
“You got to watch out for us four tight ends out there running around, scoring touchdowns,” Kelce emphasized. “You saw a little bit of that in the preseason. We got weapons across the board, and we’re going to be keeping you honest all over the field.”
While it’s a celebratory day for the newest tight end in Kansas City, he’s not satisfied with this accomplishment.
“I don’t have the mindset that I’ve made it,” Fortson asserted. “This is ultimately a step in the right direction, but this isn’t the dream, this is not my end goal. I have plans, I have dreams, and I plan to see them through... This is just the beginning. I’m just getting started.”
NFL fans sure hope he’s wrong. If the Chiefs’ offense can add the wrinkle of dynamic receiving ability from the tight ends behind Kelce, it’s just another way for opposing defenses to be exploited by the league’s most unstoppable offense.