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3 wide receiver sleepers the Chiefs should consider in the NFL Draft

Let’s take a look at some middle-round pass catchers that could contribute in Kansas City

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).

With all the attention on the players Kansas City will be selecting with their first few picks, let’s not lose focus on some other prospects who may be available in the later rounds.

These players could become nice depth on a roster that needs to be injected with more athleticism and talent.

It could be argued that Rounds 4-7 may be where general manager Brett Veach has had his best selections. Cornerback Rashad Fenton and utility lineman Nick Allegretti were late-round selections in 2019 who were contributors on a Super Bowl team. 2020 draftees L’Jarius Sneed and Mike Danna have made significant contributions. And 2021 picks Trey Smith and Noah Gray both seem primed for improved seasons in 2022.

Even after the signings of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the Chiefs need playmakers on the field not only for this year but under contract moving forward. Smith-Schuster is on a one-year deal, Valdes-Scantling could be gone after one year and Mecole Hardman is also on the last year of his rookie contract.

If the Chiefs keep most of their picks in the upcoming draft, it is easy to conclude that one receiver will be selected early on, and another complimentary receiver will be selected in the later rounds.

Here are a few to spotlight:

Tyquan Thornton – Baylor

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big 12 Championship Game - Oklahoma State v Baylor Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s no replacement for speed, and Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton has it in abundance. It's difficult to start evaluating Thornton without mentioning his speed first. With an explosive first step out of his stance, he accelerates quickly, covers a lot of ground down the field and pressures defenses vertically. His long strides open up his explosiveness, and, with that burst, he quickly gets a step on his defenders. Thornton’s speed also shows up after the catch. He catches passes in the short range and explodes through seams with his fast, efficient strides for game-breaking plays.

Thornton was effective as he hand-swiped jams from corners and wasn’t afraid to be physical at the stem to compound separation. His quick, efficient footwork on slants coupled with a jab step to explode up-field instantly create space. Additionally, Thornton has great concentration and focus at the catch point.

Thornton's route running isn’t elite. He flashes good hip sink but tends to be upright in and out of breaks. He sometimes rotates around and doesn’t always chop his feet on in-breaking routes allowing the corner to recover.

He has some wasted movement with choppy feet and the ability to use head fakes. Overall, Thornton’s route tree features a lot of go-routes, slants and some drags, leaving room for development.

If Thornton can use his twitch to expand his route-running arsenal, he can be a legitimate starting talent and a steal in the draft's later rounds. But even in his current form, he offers the dynamic ability to be a spark plug for the Chiefs. His speed, size, and wingspan alone make Thornton a danger downfield in an offense that is looking for more vertical weapons.

Danny Gray – Southern Methodist University

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Abilene Christian at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SMU wide receiver Danny Gray is another burner on the football field. His straight-line speed poses a threat on go routes, but it also translates well in other areas of his game. The nuance of his speed allows him to manipulate his defender to create that separation in his route by lulling his coverage into a false sense of security before accelerating with incredible explosion.

For a smaller wide receiver. Gray is a good vertical athlete who can compete for the ball with above-average ball tracking and timing.

His ability against press coverage will be something that will need to be developed in the NFL. He wasn’t exposed to significant snaps against top-tier cornerbacks in press. Gray will need to improve on using his hands at the line of scrimmage to help gain separation against press coverage or will need to be schemed open with formations and gadget plays.

Gray was one of the better receivers during the first day of Senior Bowl practices before he suffered a minor heel injury. He wasn’t out long as he could participate in the combine, where his speed was showcased. Gray possesses an upside because of his speed. While he is still a project, he has enough ability to contribute to the Chiefs this season in sub-packages and special teams.

Justyn Ross – Clemson

FSU v Clemson Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

As a freshman, Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross seemed destined for the first round. At 6 feet 4, Ross is a big target on the boundary or in the end zone. With his above-average arm length, his catch radius helps him pluck the ball out of the air. That combination of size, catch radius, and physicality makes him a nightmare for the opposition in contested-catch situations, something the Chiefs haven’t had in recent years.

Because he’s not fast or explosive, Ross relies on suddenness in his movement to create separation. This shows up frequently when he tries to sell route fakes and in his release at the line of scrimmage. It does force him to rely on winning contested catches because he’s not running away from defenders. It also limits his ability to make big plays after the catch. He isn’t very shifty and rarely makes a man miss, offering little opportunity for after-the-catch yardage.

Obviously, the biggest concern for Ross’s 2022 NFL Draft stock is his medical profile. Ross looked like an early first-round pick at the start of his Clemson career, but then he suffered a neck injury and struggled with even more injuries last season, which has made projecting him more uncertain.

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