To rebuild their receiving corps following the trade of Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City Chiefs have shelled out millions in free-agent contracts and drafted Skyy Moore in the second round. Then there’s another intriguing prospect who wasn’t even drafted.
Justyn Ross was not selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, even though the one-time freshman phenom looked poised to be a top 15 pick four years ago. The 6-4, 205-pounder starred on the biggest stage at Clemson before suffering neck and foot injuries. “Everyone kind of knows his story,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “He’s certainly a really talented individual that had gone through his share of injuries at Clemson.”
As a mere freshman in 2018, Ross caught 46 passes for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns, including six receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in the national championship game. The next year he had 66 catches for 865 yards and eight touchdowns, but a congenital condition of his neck and spine required fusion surgery, putting his ability to ever play football again in serious doubt.
Ultimately, he missed 2020 with a medical redshirt and returned in 2021, but his production declined to 47 catches, 524 receiving yards and three touchdowns. During that final season at Clemson, he also fractured his foot, which required another surgery. Veach said the University of Kansas Health System doctors cleared the 22-year-old Ross to play.
On the first day of Chiefs rookie camp, Ross didn’t receive a lot of action — making one catch on two targets. (The incompletion was a pass thrown too high.) But he looked smooth. “I feel good,” Ross said, “just trying to get back to that normal me.” Ross’ old self excelled at the highest level in college football, but he had come to grips with the fact that he might slide in the draft and go undrafted.
JUSTYN ROSS IS A GROWN MAN pic.twitter.com/658c9uspno
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2019
When Ross was looking for a team to sign with as an undrafted free agent, the Chiefs had an edge because Veach has a good relationship with Tory Dandy, Ross’ agent. Dandy also represents another former Clemson receiver, Sammy Watkins, who Veach signed to a three-year, $48 contract, a deal which was considered a bit overpriced deal at the time. Veach and Dandy agreed on a three-year, $2.56 million contract for Ross that is slated to have a base salary of $705,000 in 2022.
The presence of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes were other reasons Kansas City made for an enticing free-agent landing spot for Ross. “It feels like a family here,” he said. Ross also has former Clemson teammate Cornell Powell on the roster. A fifth-round pick last year, the wide receiver was on the Chiefs’ practice squad in 2021 and has been a mentor while Ross tries to digest the playbook and adjust to his new city. “He been helping me a lot throughout this whole process,” Ross said.
Powell has been battling a hamstring issue that has limited him in rookie minicamp. Like Powell, Ross faces a battle to make the final roster. One positive is that Veach emphasized that he will keep the most talented players, and where one was drafted has no bearing. “Talent-wise, as long as (Ross) stays healthy,” Veach said, “he’ll have a shot.”
After trading away Hill, the Chiefs don’t have a definite No. 1 wide receiver, but they have good depth. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year, $3.25 million deal and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year, $30 million deal. Kansas City then drafted the rookie Moore with the 54th overall pick.
Those newcomers will compete with incumbents Mecole Hardman, Daurice Fountain and Josh Gordon along with two free-agent-signings, Corey Coleman and Justin Watson, among others. “It’ll be a very interesting competition for only five or six spots,” Veach said. “We have a lot of talent there.”