According to multiple reports, the Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to terms on a contract with undrafted free agent wide receiver Justyn Ross. News quickly began breaking at the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft regarding the landing spots of prominent undrafted free agents, yet Ross’ situation took a bit longer to sort itself out than expected.
Once considered to be a top receiver prospect in college football, Ross exploded onto the scene as a freshman at Clemson in 2018 by recording an astounding 46 receptions for 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns while averaging a whopping 21.9 yards per reception. In the 2019 CFP National Championship against Alabama, Ross totaled six receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown in a triumphant 44-16 victory over the Crimson Tide. Ross accomplished all of this before turning 20 years of age.
Ross built upon that success with a solid follow-up campaign as a sophomore in 2019 before a career-altering disaster struck. Ross missed the entire 2020 college football season due to a congenital fusion condition of his neck and spine that required a complicated surgery. It qualified as a rare injury/condition that unfortunately threatened the future of Ross’ promising career. Ross was eventually medically cleared to continue his playing career and appeared in 10 games as a junior for the underperforming Tigers this past season while playing through a foot injury.
It’s been quite the tumultuous journey for Ross, but if he remains healthy, the Phenix City, Alabama native should possess an excellent chance to make a Chiefs roster that features a completely revamped and retooled receiver room.
As things currently stand, the Chiefs possess four receivers that should be considered locks to make their final 53-man roster: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, and recent draft selection Skyy Moore. Using history as an indicator, the Chiefs initially kept five receivers on their 53-man roster last August. They also kept four tight ends and 10 offensive linemen, so it’s possible one of those positions gets sacrificed in order to roster a sixth receiver. General Manager Brett Veach potentially felt comfortable going lighter at the position a year ago due to the presence of superstar receiver Tyreek Hill. With Hill no longer in the picture, it’s plausible to believe the Chiefs could consider keeping a sixth receiver. It would mean Ross is potentially competing for one or two final-roster spots.
It thrusts Ross into contention with the likes of Josh Gordon, Gehrig Dieter, Daurice Fountain, former first-round bust Corey Coleman, Justin Watson, and last year’s fifth-round selection and fellow Clemson alumni, Cornell Powell. It certainly won’t be easy for Ross to make Kansas City’s final roster given the number of receivers in contention, but it’s also far from an impossible task. There is a clear pathway for Ross.
Analysts may view Gordon as the early favorite, but NFL general managers typically see little point in rostering a 31-year-old receiver as the No. 5 option on the depth chart, especially one that offers nothing on special teams. Gordon failed to make an impact as a member of the Chiefs last season, recording just five receptions in 12 appearances. The Chiefs would be wise to prioritize Ross’ potential development over what an over-the-hill Gordon brings to the table at this point.
Powell could be viewed as a player that has a leg up on a roster spot due to being a sophomore draft selection, but after failing to appear in a single contest last season, Powell likely won’t be handed anything this training camp. The leash for a player selected on Day 3 tends to be shorter. It’s also tough to envision Dieter, Watson, or Chris Finke doing enough to make the Chiefs’ final roster. This battle likely comes down to Ross, Fountain, and Gordon, and it’s clear that Ross is the player that possesses the most upside of that bunch while also being the youngest by several years.
Ross’ ability to return to the field in 2021 was admirable. Clemson’s offense sputtered due to a lack of high-level quarterback and offensive play, but Ross managed to string together a respectable 46 receptions for 514 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Ross was later a participant at the NFL Scouting Combine and Clemson’s Pro Day, further proving he’s healthy and ready to attack an opportunity at the next level.
Monitoring Ross’ progress with the Chiefs throughout training camp will qualify as a fascinating exercise. One of the most intriguing and dominant receiver prospects of the previous five years has overcome an abundance of adversity in order to claim the opportunity of his dreams. Playing alongside the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce could help further unlock Ross’ next-level abilities. Staying healthy from now to August remains of the utmost importance for Ross should he hope to claim a spot on Kansas City’s final roster. We’re certainly rooting for him.