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Draft Darlings: Cedric Tillman would bring size to the Chiefs’ receiving corps

Here’s a player who can bring translatable strength and movement skills to Kansas City.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a common theme among the members of the Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver corps: a lack of size.

The team’s main playmakers this season could be Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore — two receivers weighing less than 200 pounds — while Marquez Valdes-Scantling is taller than he is strong. If the Chiefs think they are missing size and strength among their receivers — something that JuJu Smith-Schuster brought to the table — they may have to address that problem through the draft.

TCU wideout Quintin Johnston is regarded as the crown jewel of the NFL Draft’s bigger-bodied receivers this season — but it is unlikely he’ll be available to Kansas City. After him, though, there are intriguing options for the Chiefs to consider.

Among them is Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman, who possesses a physical profile that allows him to make plays. While he’s presently being overshadowed by his speedy teammate Jalin Hyatt, Tillman was considered a first-round prospect after his redshirt-junior season — but he elected to stay with the Volunteers for his final year.

Here’s what to know about Tillman:

Background

Tillman came to Tennessee as a three-star recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. He has NFL pedigree: his father Cedric was a wide receiver who played four seasons with the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jagaurs in the mid 1990s, while his older brother Jamir was a wide receiver at the Naval Academy.

Tillman had limited playing time through three seasons before becoming a starter — and one of the SEC’s leading receivers — in 2021, registering 1,081 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his junior campaign. The next year, Tillman was expected to play a key role in one of college football’s most exciting offenses — but he played in only six games before a foot injury ended his season.

Tillman was, however, healthy for the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. In Indianapolis, Tillman checked in at 6 feet 3 and 213 pounds, boasting 10-inch hands and 32 1/4-inch arms. He turned in a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump.

Film evaluation

Tillman spent most of his time on the perimeter of Tennessee’s offense — lining up wide on 89% of his snaps — beating press coverage off the line of scrimmage with his strong hands and big body. In the Volunteers’ spread-out passing attack, this allowed him to open up room for Hyatt (and the team’s other speed threats) to get free releases into their routes.

Tillman can play the traditional X-receiver role, winning through press coverage without losing speed. He is a big target for quarterbacks while between defenders or over the middle. He uses his strong hands off the snap, but also to create subtle separation.

Tillman combines this ability to get in and out of his routes with impressive after-the-catch skill. These plays from 2021 show Tillman’s ability to run in the open field.

While his size allows him to shake off defensive backs to avoid being tackled, he can also get going downfield in a hurry.

This ability shows up in his vertical route running, which forces defensive backfields to stay on top of him — even when they play him with tight coverage off the snap. Tillman takes advantage of that by blowing past flat-footed coverage defenders — and can finish those plays by high-pointing passes.

Tillman’s blocking effort is also superb, utilizing his strong hands (and his mass) to control off-ball defenders on downfield blocks.

How he fits with the Chiefs

Tillman is likely to be selected near Kansas City’s second-round pick at 63. He would enter a rotation that needs a player to beat press off the line, giving quarterback Patrick Mahomes a strong set of hands over the middle (and towards the sideline) while also being a blocking asset in the running game.

In short, he could fill a lot of the roles left open by Smith-Schuster’s departure.

While Tillman can do a little bit of everything — a requirement for Chiefs’ wideouts — he also has the size and contested-catch ability that is not prevalent among the team’s current wide receivers.

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