On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs reportedly signed former Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross to an undrafted free agent contract. While hundreds of undrafted players are scrambling to catch on with teams and secure tryout opportunities, Ross is likely the highest-profile player not to hear his name called in last weekend’s NFL Draft.
As a freshman and sophomore, Ross appeared likely to be a top-10 draft selection; he was the best receiver on Clemson squads that appeared in national championship games in both 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, Ross missed the 2020 season after the discovery of a bulging disc requiring spinal surgery. While he returned to the field in 2021, neither Ross (or the program in general) appeared as dominant. After a pre-draft process that was further complicated with foot injuries, he went undrafted.
In his post-draft media conference on Tuesday, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach discussed how his team became comfortable adding a talented player with a frightening injury history, citing a recent example of the team’s thorough medical approach panning out.
“With Justyn,” Veach explained, “everyone kind of knows his story — he’s certainly a really talented individual that had gone through his share of injuries at Clemson. If you kind of go back to last year during the Trey Smith set up, I’ve always said that our docs are on the more conservative side.”
Smith — the team’s 2021 sixth-round pick who himself was once considered a top prospect — fell in the draft due to blood clots in his lungs that caused him to miss much of his sophomore season at Tennessee. But Kansas City’s team doctors believed that problem was behind him — and in 2021, he started every game at right guard.
“We’ve spent a lot of time — and I know our docs at (The University of Kansas Health System) spent a lot of time talking to the experts that dealt with Justyn — and he’s cleared,” said Veach. “I know how good our medical staff is — both (Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance) Rick (Burkholder) and his crew and the docs we have at KU. If they tell me, ‘Yes,’ I feel good. If they tell me, ‘No,’ I don’t try to become a doctor all of a sudden and try to say, ‘Well, this team said this.’ No, [if] our docs say, ‘We’re good,’ we’re good. And Rick and his staff said, ‘We’re good.’”
Veach also acknowledged that the spinal surgery is not the only factor that made Ross slip down the draft boards.
“I think one of the things that popped up was a foot,” Veach recalled, “And so that hindered him late in the season. And then I think he didn’t really have time to test and train, I think. So, I think it was a combination of a lot of things why he fell — and then obviously most of it had to do with a couple seasons ago with the neck. But I think then you throw in the foot, not having time to test.”
A prior working relationship with Ross’ agent helped deliver him to Kansas City.
“I know his agent pretty well,” claimed Veach. “Tory Dandy — he was Sammy Watkins’ agent — we stayed in touch as the draft went on. When the draft ended, he was just going through some options — and we stayed in touch. Then yesterday, we connected again. He had a chance to review all the offers and the landscape of where everything was. He decided to come here.”
Ross’ prior hype will not be a factor as the Chiefs consider what he can bring to the roster.
“As far as expectations,” Veach reiterated, “like a lot of these guys — whether you’re a first-round pick or second-round pick — you’ve got to come in here and learn the playbook. You’ve got to have [the] confidence [of] the coaching staff to execute your assignments. You have to have the confidence [of] Pat (Mahomes) for him to trust you to execute your assignment. And if he can do that, I’d say talent-wise — as long as he stays healthy — he’ll have a shot. It will just come down to him and how he handles the playbook and being moved around — and staying healthy — and being diligent in regards to looking ahead and [doing] the things that he can do for his body.
“But there are a lot of these guys that are really in the same boat: in that when you come in here, it’s really a combination of talent, being smart [and] staying on top of the training — and that means when you’re away from the facility, too. So, like a lot of these young guys, if he does those things — given the talent that he has— he should be able to come here and potentially contribute.
“But I think that’s the beauty of the 90-man roster: where guys get to come in and I always tell them, ‘We’ll keep the best players.’ [It] doesn’t matter where you’re drafted or where you’re selected. If that individual is going to come in here and earn a spot on the team, we’ll be good with that. But I just think it’ll be a very interesting competition for only five or six spots. I think we have a lot of talent there.”
Ross’ first chance to impress his new coaches will come this weekend as the Chiefs host their annual rookie minicamp. To learn more about his fit with the Chiefs, please read Kristian Gumminger’s excellent breakdown.