The Kansas City Chiefs have brought back wide receiver Justin Watson on a two-year deal and signed free-agent wideout Richie James. While it is not yet clear exactly how the team will replace the production of departed wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, the team will still need a couple of receivers to battle for spots at the bottom of the roster.
A player who fits this bill — and is obviously intriguing to the Chiefs — is Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Ronnie Bell. The Chiefs not only met with Bell at the NFL Scouting Combine, but also brought him in for a pre-draft visit.
A Kansas City native, Bell came out of Park Hill High School as a three-star recruit who ranked 18th in the state of Missouri. At Michigan, he was a fifth-year graduate player who missed almost all of his 2021 senior year with a torn ACL suffered in the first game of the season. Before that, his only reception was a 76-yard touchdown.
Bell started 14 games in 2022, leading the Wolverines with 62 receptions for 889 yards and four touchdowns. He saved his best game for last, catching six passes for 135 yards and a touchdown during Michigan’s losing effort in the Fiesta Bowl. Bell was named to the All-Big 10 third team and was honored as Michigan’s offensive skill player of the year.
He also accumulated some kick and punt return experience with the Wolverines.
Bell checked into the Combine at 6 feet and and 191 pounds. His athletic texting was mixed. He ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and turned in a 10 foot broad jump, but had a 38.5-inch vertical jump and a quick 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle.
One of the first things you notice in Bell’s tape is his nasty swagger. Whether he is engaging a defensive back or taking on a linebacker in the running game, Bell displays no flinch. He is a sticky blocker who plays through the last echo of the whistle. Even if he initially misses a block, he fights to get back into position and recover. Bell is no prima donna. He is a blue-collar guy who goes to work on every play.
Chiefs met with Ronnie Bell WR - Mich, both at the combine and in Kansas City as well. A KC native, he is a gritty blue-collar guy who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. A great blocker, he plays through the whistle every play. All around team player on the field. pic.twitter.com/rc98Z0xXnF— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) April 19, 2023
In the first play shown here, Bell is the lead blocker on a jet-motion swing pass. As the cornerback backpedals away from him, Bell does a good job of keeping his hips square to the defender while working to close the space between them. When the time comes, he is able to lock onto his man.
In the second play, Bell shows excellent timing and body position, briefly feigning an inside move before flipping to force the defensive back outside. This springs the running back for a touchdown.
In the third clip, Bell does a little bit of everything. Once it’s clear that the ball is not coming his way, Bell looks back to see the quarterback fighting to keep the play alive. He immediately starts working back to the quarterback, hoping to give him a throwing option. When that doesn’t work, the quarterback runs — and Bell hustles to block for him, helping to pick up a first down.
Bell gets criticism for not being very fast — and sometimes slowing down heading in and out of his breaks. Both could be attributed to working his way back to full strength after his ACL injury.
Ronnie Bell - WR - Mich - does a good job shrugging off contact on the whip route, setting the hard pivot foot, and getting back toward the sideline for the easy catch and run. pic.twitter.com/KGTS7Q7sQc— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) April 19, 2023
On this play, however, Bell does a nice job of planting his foot and pivoting back outside on the whip route. Playing strong through contact, he beats the defender and gets open for an easy catch-and-run.
While Bell will never be confused for a track star, the speed he does possess — combined with his savvy route-running — is enough to get him downfield for a big play.
Ronnie Bell - WR - Mich- #17 for Maryland makes the mistake of playing off Bell, by the time he tries to jam Bell, he is already full steam ahead. Bell does a nice job of slipping the CB hands, utilizing an outside release, without losing speed- the result is a big play for Bell. pic.twitter.com/9R2NwT2XPY— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) April 19, 2023
Here we see the defender begin by playing off — but after the snap, the cornerback tries to jam Bell. Using his own forward momentum to his advantage (and the defender's forward momentum against him), Bell gets an outside release — and gets open for the big gain.
How he fits with the Chiefs
Bell isn’t a blue-chipper who is going to put up 1,000 yards in his rookie season — but the Chiefs might not need him to do that. Bell is a hard-nosed team player who understands what it takes for a football team to be successful. He is not afraid to do the unglamorous things that contribute to a victory.
One thing you don’t see in these clips — but that shows up in the film time and time again — is that whenever one of Bell’s Michigan teammates scored, Bell would consistently sprint from wherever he was to congratulate them.
The bottom line
Bell is a Kansas City boy who would be an asset to the Chiefs — even if he starts as a special-teams player who gets an occasional reception. NFL teams value players like Bell. If he is there on Day 3, Kansas City could easily grab him.