Chiefs free agency: On WR Justyn Ross, GM Brett Veach trusts team doctors

On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs reportedly signed former Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross to an undrafted free agent contract. As hundreds of undrafted players scramble to catch up with teams and secure tryout opportunities, Ross is probably the most high-profile player who didn’t hear his name in last weekend’s NFL Draft.

As a freshman and sophomore, Ross seemed likely to be a top 10 pick in the draft; he was the top receiver on Clemson teams that appeared in national championship games in both 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, Ross missed the 2020 season after discovering a bulging disc that required spinal surgery. While he did return to the field in 2021, neither Ross (or the show in general) came across as dominant. After a pre-draft process further complicated by foot injuries, he went undrafted.

In his post-draft news conference Tuesday, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach discussed how his team felt comfortable adding a talented player with a terrifying injury history, citing a recent example of the team’s comprehensive medical approach. team.

“With Justyn,” Veach explained, “everybody knows his story — he’s definitely a very talented person who’s had a lot of injuries at Clemson. If you go back to last year during the Trey Smith setup, I’ve always said our docs are on the more conservative side.”

Smith, the team’s 2021 sixth-round pick, once considered one of the top prospects, fell out of the draft due to blood clots in his lungs that caused him to miss much of his second season in Tennessee. But Kansas City team doctors believed that problem was behind him, and in 2021, he started every game at right guard.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, and I know our doctors at (the University of Kansas Health System) spent a lot of time talking to the experts who treated Justyn, and he’s clean,” Veach said. “I know how good our medical staff is, both (vice president of sports medicine and performance) Rick (Burkholder) and his team and the documents that we have at KU. If they say yes, I feel good. If they tell me, ‘No,’ I’m not trying to suddenly become a doctor and try to say, ‘Well, this team said this.’ Do not, [if] our doctors say: ‘We’re fine’, we’re fine. And Rick and his staff said, ‘We’re fine.’”

Veach also acknowledged that spinal surgery isn’t the only factor that caused Ross to slide down the draft boards.

“I think one of the things that came up was a foot,” Veach recalled, “and that got in the way at the end of the season. And then I think he didn’t really have time to test and train, I think. So I think it was a combination of a lot of things that he fell for, and then obviously most of it had to do with his neck a couple of seasons ago. But I think then you throw your foot away, you don’t have time to try.”

A previous working relationship with Ross’s agent helped lead him to Kansas City.

“I know his agent pretty well,” Veach said. “Tory Dandy, he was the agent for Sammy Watkins, we kept in touch as the draft progressed. When he finished the draft, he was just looking at some options, and we kept in touch. So yesterday, we connected again. He had a chance to review all the offers and the picture of where everything was. He decided to come here.”

Ken Ruinard / Staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ross’ previous hype won’t be a factor when the Chiefs consider what he can bring to the roster.

“As far as expectations,” Veach reiterated, “like a lot of these guys, whether you’re a first-round pick or a second-round pick, you have to come here and learn the playbook. you have to have [the] confidence [of] the coaching staff to carry out their tasks. you have to have the confidence [of] Pat (Mahomes) to trust you to execute your task. And if he can do that, I would say in terms of talent, as long as he stays healthy, he’s got a chance. It’s all going to come down to him and how he runs the playbook and moves and stays healthy and is diligent about looking ahead and [doing] the things you can do for your body.

“But there are a lot of these guys who are really in the same boat – when you get here, it’s really a combination of talent, being smart. [and] stay on top of training, and that means when you’re off-site, too. So like a lot of these young guys, if he does those things, given how talented he is, he should be able to come here and potentially contribute.

“But I think that’s the beauty of the 90-man roster: where the guys come in and I always tell them, ‘We’ll keep the best players.’ [It] no matter where you are drafted or where you are selected. If that individual is going to come here and earn a spot on the team, we’ll be fine with that. But I think it will be a very interesting competition for only five or six places. I think we have a lot of talent there.”

Ross’s first chance to impress his new coaches will come this weekend when the Chiefs host their annual rookie minicamp. For more on his fit with the Chiefs, read Kristian Gumminger’s excellent analysis.

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