After trading away Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, the Kansas City Chiefs re-stocked the receiver room by signing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But the Chiefs still needed to add at least one young playmaker on a rookie deal to ensure the offense had a long-term plan at wideout that wasn’t going to break the bank.
While the Chiefs did add Western Michigan receiver Skyy Moore to their roster with a 2022 second-round pick, there is another pass-catcher they added via the undrafted rookie pool who has a ton of upside despite not being drafted.
Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross was a playmaker during his first two seasons with the Tigers. During the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he accumulated 1,865 receiving yards on 112 catches — 16.6 yards per catch — and 17 touchdowns, according to Sports Reference.
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But that production came to a screeching halt due to a line of injuries.
Ross would be diagnosed with a congenital fusion in his spine in the spring of 2020, which had doctors telling him he would never play football again, per Adam Teicher of ESPN. The Clemson pass-catcher would undergo surgery that year and sat out the 2020 season.
During the 2021 season, which was his final year of collegiate football, Ross returned to football and caught 46 passes for 514 yards and 3 touchdowns. But a stress fracture in his foot hampered his play the entire season.
With injuries plaguing him for the backend of his time at Clemson, Ross’s draft stock plummeted in 2022. Instead of being one of the top prospects in the draft, he went undrafted. The talent is there, but it’s followed by a list of injury concerns, which deterred any NFL team from using a draft pick on him.
But the injuries weren’t enough to keep Ross out of the NFL entirely.
Kansas City signed Ross to its 90-man roster on May 2, per NFL insider Jordan Schultz.
Ross Named Biggest UDFA Steal of 2022
Because of his upside and the fact that the Chiefs didn’t have to use a draft pick to get him, Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay named Ross the biggest UDFA steal of 2022.
“The Bleacher Report Scouting Department graded the 22-year-old at a 7.9, a score generally reserved for late-first- to second-round draft picks with a great shot at starting as rookies. He was the No. 8 wideout and No. 36 overall prospect on their final big board and their top remaining wideout going into Day 2 of the draft,” Kay wrote on May 4.
“No other prospect with a grade in the same stratosphere slipped out of the draft entirely. ”
Kay went on to note that going undrafted might have actually put Ross in the best position to succeed in the NFL.
“Although going unselected can be a dubious distinction reserved for heavily flawed players or those with major character concerns, Ross may end up greatly benefiting from this situation,” he wrote. “It has allowed him to start his NFL career in an ideal spot, one he likely was able to choose out of several offers given his status as a marquee UDFA target.”
Brett Veach on Chiefs Signing Justyn Ross
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach detailed the decision to sign Ross despite his extensive injury history.
“With Justyn (Ross), everyone kind of knows the story,” Veach said during his press conference on May 3. “He’s certainly a really talented individual that has gone through his share of injuries at Clemson. One thing, trying to go back to last year and the Trey Smith setup, I mean, I’ve always said that our docs are on the more conservative side. We spent a lot of time, and I know our doctors at KU spent a lot of time talking to the experts that dealt with Justyn. He’s cleared.”
Veach also detailed the amount of trust he has in Kansas City’s medical staff to give him the proper information, which in this case led to the Chiefs’ front office being confident enough to sign Ross.
“Really, I think, when you take away the neck situation — and again our docs did a great job of exhausting all of the information — for me, it’s a little easier on how I operate,” Veach said. “I know how good our medical staff is, both Rick [Burkholder] and his crew and the doctors 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 the sudden. If our docs say good, we’re good.”
Ross’s pro day at Clemson didn’t help his 2022 draft stock, as he ran a 4.64 40-yard dash time, had a 31.5-inch vertical, and 9.8-inch broad jump, per Will Vandervort of All Clemson. Earlier in the pre-draft process, he only did the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, which didn’t help improve his stock among evaluators at the event.
However, Veach believes working back from injury might be why Ross didn’t excel during the pre-draft process.
“I think one of the things that popped up was a foot [injury],” Veach explained. “So that hindered him late in the season and then I think, he really didn’t have time to test and train. I think it was a combination of a lot of things, why he fell. Obviously, most of it had to do a couple of seasons ago with the neck. But I think then, you throw in the foot and not having time to test.”
If Ross’s injuries hold him back at the NFL level, then Kansas City can cut ties with a player they have very little invested in. However, if Ross can stay healthy and provide the type of playmaking ability he displayed during his early years at Clemson, then the Chiefs have found themselves a diamond in the rough.