A little more than a year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs added two pass-catchers in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Chiefs and general manager Brett Veach traded up to the 162nd spot in the fifth round to select Duke tight end Noah Gray, then the team used their second pick of the fifth round to take Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell with the 181st overall pick.
The Chiefs weren’t in desperate need at either tight end or wide receiver when Gray and Powell were selected. This was more of a future-focused move than anything. This year, the pair of sophomores have a chance to help that investment pay off.
Heading into the 2022 season, the Chiefs still have a plethora of options at wide receiver, although there are a lot of new faces in the room. The tight end room, as currently constructed heading into training camp, looks to be about the same as it was heading into last season as well. How can these two players break into a more significant role and make a second-year jump?
Gray didn’t produce much in his rookie season. He finished the year with seven catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. There weren’t a ton of targets for him, as the best tight end in the NFL, Travis Kelce, is still at the top of the depth chart. Blake Bell was the number two, so Gray was a bit lost in the mix during his rookie year, and it might be more of the same for Gray in 2022.
Kelce is still going as strong as ever, the Chiefs brought Bell back, and Jody Fortson, who was placed on IR early in the 2021 season, will be back for another year with Kansas City. In order for Gray to make that second-year jump, he will need to show out in training camp and preseason, when he will get the most playing time and full attention of the coaches. If he can move his way up to second on the depth chart, that would do wonders for his ability to increase production.
Coming into the league, many thought Gray could play a H-back role, but fullback Michael Burton is also projected to be back for another season, so there is potential that Gray could also fight for playing time in that role this season.
Powell failed to make the 53-man roster and was relegated to the Chiefs practice squad after clearing waivers. Powell had a slow start to his college career before turning it on in his final season at Clemson. Maybe a slow growth with the Chiefs is needed as well. He will get a fair shot to make the 53-man roster this year, but there are a lot of new faces to the roster who will be getting a lot of attention as well. If Powell doesn’t stand out, he could be lost in the mix again in 2022.
The Chiefs' only returning starting wide receiver is Mecole Hardman, but the team brought in some key names like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and 2022 second-round selection on Skyy Moore. They are also bringing back Josh Gordon, who is apparently looking very good in summer practices. This doesn’t even list some of the other names that will be fighting for a roster spot alongside Powell. This will be an uphill battle for him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win a spot if he shows improvement. He could at least give himself a chance.
In order for Gray or Powell to make a big second-year jump, they’ll likely need to see an injury ahead of them. There is a logjam at both the tight end and wide receiver positions which will make it difficult for either guy to take a big step forward. It will be up to the players to step up if they want to see an increase in workload and guarantee a spot on KC's regular-season roster.