The Kansas City Chiefs traded up only once in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it was for former Duke Blue Devils tight end Noah Gray. But despite his tight end label, Gray's role will be anything but traditional.
The Chiefs selected Gray with the 162nd overall pick in the draft, trading up with the New York Jets. The Chiefs received picks 162 and 226 in exchange for 175 and 207.
Gray is undersized for an NFL tight end and doesn't necessarily project as a one-to-one backup to Travis Kelce. So where could Gray find his niche in the Chiefs' offense? Chiefs general manager Brett Veach discussed exactly that in a press conference on Monday.
"We just saw him as a really unique inside slot receiver, H-back, fullback," Veach said. "He’s a little undersized for being an in-line player, but it’s so hard to replace Travis when he’s not in the game because he has such a unique skill set, and Noah has a similar — again, don’t compare anyone to Travis Kelce — but Noah has a unique skill set as a slot, bigger tight end receiver."
Veach also noted that the Chiefs didn't think the 2021 tight end class was particularly deep beyond No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts, but the Chiefs "took a liking" to Gray, a player with a receiving skillset that could find a spot in head coach Andy Reid's offense.
If Gray does play an H-back role, often lining up behind the offensive line instead of directly in-line with it as a traditional tight end would, he could become a unique weapon for Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Alternatively, Gray could struggle to find a secure role at the NFL level and never fully contribute to the extent the Chiefs believe he could.
Veach's first position mentioned, as an inside slot receiver, seems like the most likely position for Gray to spend most of his time. Gray is a small tight end but a big slot receiver, posing a question about his speed and explosiveness from the slot. If he can create separation with his speed and his big-for-a-slot-receiver frame, he could be a valuable possession receiver for Kansas City.
After being selected by the Chiefs in the fifth round of the draft, Gray spoke to the media for the first time and discussed his positional versatility.
"I've played a multitude of positions when I was at Duke," Gray said. "I've played tight end, I've played fullback, I also played a lot of special teams which is something that I know I'm going to have to excel at and be really good at moving forward especially with the Kansas City Chiefs. I had a lot of experience with that, and I'm just thankful for my coaches at Duke who kind of gave me that experience. My tight end coach my freshman year ended up being my special teams coordinator, and he continued to have me on special teams so I'm just grateful for that."
Gray is right to note that he'll have to make a positive impact on special teams, especially early-on with the Chiefs, and that his ability to take on a variety of roles will ultimately be what helps him sink or swim at the NFL level.
"Duke used me in a lot of ways and I’m grateful for Coach Cut [David Cutcliffe] and all the other coaches who kind of got me to this point and helped me along the way," Gray said.