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Hidden Gems: Nikko Remigio can be a dangerous return man

Fresno State’s undrafted free agent receiver State may have elite traits for his one path to the NFL.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Mountain West Championship - Fresno State at Boise State Photo by Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After acquiring SMU’s Rashee Rice with the 55th selection, the Kansas City Chiefs did not get another wide receiver during April’s NFL Draft.

However, within hours of the draft’s conclusion, they signed undrafted free agent Nikko Remigio of Fresno State, who had previously played four seasons at the University of California-Berkeley.

After leading the Golden Bears in receiving as a true sophomore in 2019, Remigio was often used as a return man during his final two seasons in Berkeley. So he took advantage of the extra year of eligibility made possible by the coronavirus pandemic, transferring to Fresno State for an additional season.

There, Remigio had his best college campaign, catching 74 passes for 852 yards and six touchdowns in 2022. He also continued to be a lethal force in the return game, averaging nearly 20 yards per punt return and registering two more touchdowns. He also averaged 22.9 yards on 21 kickoff returns.

Given this production, it’s likely that Remigio’s underwhelming testing numbers at his pro day kept him from being drafted. At 5 feet 9 and 183 pounds, his 4.56 second 40-yard dash time wasn’t likely to open many of the NFL’s doors.

His exciting moments are tantalizing, however. Let’s look at what the Chiefs may see in Remigio:

Return game monster

Remigio’s one chance to succeed at the next level is obvious: he has to stand out as a return man. After suffering through inexperience in the return game in 2022, the Chiefs have acquired a player with plenty of experience at both punt and kickoff returns.

Although Remigio is not the fastest punt returner, Kansas City fans may see this run against Connecticut and be reminded of a recent tackle-breaking return that helped deliver a championship. Remigio’s decision-making is almost instantaneous, allowing him to hit his full speed almost immediately. He’s also tough to bring down; six Huskies miss tackles on this play.

Remigio also displays outstanding vision on kickoffs. On this return from 2021, he runs straight through a very narrow opening — and would have scored a touchdown without a slight step out of bounds.

Now that starting running back Isiah Pacheco has had two offseason surgeries, the Chiefs will likely want to take him out of kick returns. They may also want to limit Kadarius Toney’s use on punt returns to help keep him injury-free. Remigio could use his experience in both roles to find a place on the Kansas City roster.

Big offensive plays

In college, Remigio’s quick decision-making and ability to slip tackles also led to some impressive offensive plays — although there are reasons to be very skeptical he can be as successful on Sundays.

While this play against San Diego State is exciting, he will be unable to outrun NFL coverage as quickly as he does here. During his best season at Cal — a program that has not produced a drafted wide receiver since 2017 — he led the team in receiving with only 513 yards before having a diminished offensive role for the remainder of his Pac-12 career.

Many of last season’s highlight-reel plays came against Fresno State’s weaker opponents. Against USC — easily the best team he faced in 2022 — Remigio was held to only a single catch for six yards. So his breakout season may be the result of a very experienced player facing a weaker slate of opponents.

Still, if schemed into space, the traits that make him a dangerous return man could produce a few memorable plays.

Terror in short-yardage situations

If Remigio ever sees significant offensive playing time in the NFL, it likely will be for what he can do on short routes. Even when he has little time to build momentum, he is very hard to bring down — and he can make the most of a small opening.

Late in this game against a ranked opponent, Remigio is trusted in a crucial fourth-down situation. While he should be stopped short, he can will his body forward for a new set of downs. Also, note how well he sells the misdirection at the beginning of his route.

Remigio can also use his instincts on screens and wheel routes — almost like a passing-game running back.

While he made many bigger plays for the Grizzlies last season, plays like this touchdown against San Jose State are much more likely to be repeated in the NFL.

This option route against TCU in 2021 begs the question: might Remigio have found more success by transitioning to running back earlier in his career? While no one will mistake him for a dynamic player, he is decisive; he breaks tackles and almost always moves forward as he goes down.

The bottom line

Remigio made a good impression on Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney at the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp earlier this month.

His biggest obstacle to making the roster is the numbers game. Kansas City currently has 12 wide receivers on the 90-man roster. Another factor complicating his chances is that the Chiefs guaranteed over half a million dollars to a similar player: former New York Giants wideout Richie James.

Remigio would be a good depth option if injuries force James into a more significant offensive role. Still, the players in front of him on the depth chart will make it hard for him to win a roster spot; his unfortunate combination of size and speed means he will need to do a lot to carve out an offensive role — even as a rotational receiver.

Expect Remigio to be a strong candidate for the practice squad, where his skills should make him a valuable scout-team player. And don’t be surprised if he sees a couple of gameday elevations to help in the return game — possibly giving him a chance to establish himself.

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