KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took a flurry of phone calls from coaches, scouts and general manager Brett Veach himself, but the Chiefs wrapped up the NFL Draft with what they believes lines up as a promising crop of college free agents.
“I'm looking at three or four of these undrafted free agents that are going to come in here this weekend and sign, I'm looking at these guys having a real shot to make this team,” Veach said.
Those free agents along with the club's six draft picks and select rookies from last season will take to the field May 4-6 for the team's rookie minicamp. They will be joined by 40 to 50 first-year players invited to tryout.
Which of the undrafted free agents have the best chance to stick around on the roster come Week 1? Here are the candidates who stand out to Veach.
LB Gary Johnson, Texas, 5-11, 226
LB Darius Harris, Middle Tennessee State, 6-2, 232
Johnson sizes up as one of the smallest linebackers in this year's class, but his measureables matchup nearly identically with first-round pick Devin Bush – including his 4.43 40-yard time. Johnson tallied 90 tackles last season including 16 and a half for a loss along with six and half sacks. The club hopes to add strength and bulk to his frame without zapping his high-end speed.
Harris was a senior captain for the Blue Raiders and first-team All-Conference USA. He underwent shoulder surgery late in the draft process, so he may not be ready until the beginning of training camp or later. Veach believes he would have been drafted if not for the surgery.
“We knew that, and there was a lot of competition for him, so we got after both those guys aggressively,” Veach said.
RB James Williams, Washington State, 5-9, 197
Williams is a bit undersized for what the Chiefs normally look for in a running back, but his production explains why Veach likes him. Williams caught 202 passes for 1,437 yards and eight touchdowns in his college career, including 83 receptions for 613 yards while earning All-Pac 12 honorable mention last season.
Both Williams and sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson come from Air Raid-style offenses similar to the system in which Patrick Mahomes played at Texas Tech.
“I think both of those guys are guys that are talented enough to make an active roster,” Veach said. “I think that running back position will be super competitive.”
WR Cody Thompson, Toldeo, 6-1, 205
Thompson holds Toledo records for games and played and touchdown catches while taking second in receiving yards and yards per reception. He received a medical redshirt in 2017 after suffering a broken right leg.
The Chiefs hope Thompson can recapture the big-play abilities he showed earlier in his college. He averaged more than 20 yards per catch on 133 receptions before the leg injury, yet still earned All-MAC first-team honors as a senior with 48 catches for 647 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Veach describes Thompson as “a guy that we had as a draftable prospect, and we were happy to get him.”
CB Mark Fields, Clemson, 5-9, 192
Fields doesn't possess the size and production the Chiefs normally prize at cornerback, but he was a part of two national championship squads for the Tigers and excels at press-man coverage.
“(Fields) was a guy that played a bunch of football down there and, I think he'll be in the mix for the tail end roster spot,” Veach said.
DE Tim Ward, Old Dominion, 6-5, 265
Overshadowed by teammate Oshane Ximines who went to the New York Giants in the third round, Ward picked up 125 tackles including 30 and a half for a loss with 14 sacks during his career at Old Dominion. Ward suffered a knee injury late in his senior season, which may make his rookie season a redshirt year.
The Chiefs spent a lot of time with Ward during the draft process. Ward attended the NFL Regional Combine in Kansas City in March despite not being able to participate with the injury. The club also later hosted him on one of their top-30 visits.
“I don't know if he'll be ready this year, but he's going to be a prototypical Steve Spagnuolo defensive end,” Veach said. “We're going to take our time with his rehab, we're not going to rush him and he could be a guy that could really develop and be a player in the future.”
John Lovett, Princeton, 6-2, 234
Lovett was a two-team Ivy League player of the year at quarterback, and he went through drills at tight end, fullback and even linebacker at his pro day. Veach sees him as a potential H-back/fullback hybrid, comparing him to how the Philadelphia Eagles used Trey Burton.
Lovett broke his wrist during his senior season yet only missed one game. A clean-up procedure left him wearing a cast during his pro day in February.
“During the tight end drills, he had a cast on and I think he caught almost every single ball with one hand,” Veach said.
Lovett is the breakout candidate to be the fan-favorite among the rookies due to his longshot chances and hardworking reputation. At Princeton, they called him their own Johnny Football.
“He's an interesting guy because I think he can take some snaps at fullback and kind of that H-back tight end position, play some (special) teams,” Veach said.