As the Kansas City Chiefs enter training camp the big story will likely be on the quarterbacks. With most fans attention on rookie Patrick Mahomes, starter Alex Smith will have to up his game to prove he belongs.
We’ll also hear about Tyreek Hill and his game breaking speed. And how he is transitioning to WR1 status. Of course how Travis Kelce continues to dominate from the tight end position.
We’ll hear about the defensive stalwarts like Marcus Peters and Eric Berry. How Tamba Hali adjusts after his Twitter outburst. How Justin Houston will adjust coming off of injury. And how the Chiefs new offensive line looks.
But Chiefs fans already knew that. Fans know this team in and out and don’t really need beat reporters to tell them that Tyreek Hill is fast and Marcus Peters is a blossoming cornerback.
Instead, training camp should help shine light on some of the not-so-well-known players. These players may be undrafted free agents or just overlooked signees. They won’t get the sign of the big names, but they’re just as important.
These players are fighting for the football lives and putting it all on the line to make the roster. If they impress, they will finally get a shot to crack the 53 and make a living in the NFL. If they fail they will be cut and hopefully stashed on the practice squad, waiting for their opportunity.
Fans should have fun watching Hill make ridiculous catches and Mahomes make ridiculous throws. But these players are the true wildcards of the roster. The players to watch as they look to make their football dreams become reality.
5Ross Travis, Tight End
College basketball players making the jump to the NFL has been a natural occurrence for the past couple of years. Tight ends Jimmy Graham (Seahawks) and Erik Swoope (Colts) both played basketball at Miami before shifting to football. In the 2016 NFL Draft the Cowboys drafted former Baylor basketball star Rico Gathers in hopes that his body/athleticism can lend themselves to the NFL. In fact, one of the greatest Chiefs ever in Tony Gonzalez played on the hardwood before he stepped on the gridiron.
With more and more college basketball stars turning to the NFL, it’s important to note the Chiefs have their own basketball turned football prospect.
Ross Travis was signed by the Chiefs in 2015 as undrafted free agent. Since then he has spent most of his time on the practice squad, although he caught three passes for 15 yards in 2016.
Travis’ 6’7″ frame is comparable to both Graham and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Although he could look to add some weight as his 235 lbs is 30 pounds lighter than the two All-Pros.
Travis also ran a 4.6 at his Pro Day. If invited to the 2017 NFL Combine, he would’ve ranked fifth among tight ends. Travis clearly has the athleticism to be a star in the NFL, if he could learn the fundamentals, the Chiefs may have found themselves a diamond in the rough.
Through four days of training camp Travis has made big plays on multiple occasions. On opening day Travis made the play of the day, which lead to Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star to write:
One of the nicest catches of the day was made by Ross Travis, as the second-year tight end skied in the air to haul in a deep ball from rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes II between multiple players. It was a pretty play, though one that would have been significantly more difficult to make if contact were allowed. Travis has legitimate ball skills, but he understands his current challenge is to make catches like this in games, as he starred during camp last year, too.
Travis made a name for himself on Day Two and Day Three as well with multiple impressive catches. Paylor went on to write, “A few other highlights: Tight end Ross Travis had a couple of nice catches — he’s making a habit of it.”
Travis will have his work cut out for him as he looks to crack the roster. Obviously he is playing behind Travis Kelce and perhaps Demtrius Harris. But if he has a strong preseason perhaps the Chiefs will roster him over free agent Gavin Escobar.
The former Penn State basketball player may be new to the game of football. But he is proving he has what it takes to stick. He will certainly be a player to watch when the pads come on during the preseason.
4Seantavius Jones, Wide Receiver
The Chiefs receiving core is likely the biggest question mark on the team. Kansas City surprisingly released Jeremy Maclin, losing arguably their best receiver.
Now Hill will step up as the WR1 in a role that he is unfamiliar, yet should succeed at. Behind him is a number of athletic yet unproven receivers such as Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson. If an unknown player is going to make the roster, wide receiver may be the most likely position.
One receiver stepping up is Seantavius Jones. The former Valdosta State product has bounced around the NFL since signing with the Saints as an UDFA following the 2014 Draft. He spent time with the Eagles before the Chiefs, although he has never caught a pass at the NFL level.
Jones stands 6’3″ 200 lbs, which is eerily similar to Julio Jones’ 6’3″ 220 lb frame. Jones, of Chiefs practice squad fame not Falcons All-Pro, ran a 4.36 40 at his Pro Day. That number would’ve been the fourth fastest out of all players at the 2017 NFL combine.
Coming out of Valdosta State, Jones was described as a talented receiver who will struggle against stronger competition. He obviously has a strong body and great athleticism, but until he can get separation against NFL level cornerbacks he will fail at the highest level.
It appears as if Jones is finally finding his stride in the NFL, as he is having his strongest training camp to date. Paylor wrote of him:
The under-the-radar player who has a chance to produce for the Chiefs, if he continues his strong start, is Seantavius Jones. Jones, 24, played his college ball at Valdosta State and went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, as he stands 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and recorded a 38½-inch vertical at the combine. Jones came up with a few good catches on Saturday, but in one instance while playing with the ones, Smith hit Jones in stride after Jones blew past cornerback Marcus Peters.
Jones has been making plays all over practice, consistenly being one of the most impressive players day in and day out. While it’s just training camp, beating Peters shows that Jones may finally have what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
A couple of highlights from Jones include a pretty over the shoulder grab, him beating a DB on a corner route and him coming back to the ball on a Mahomes throw to beat two defenders.
Here's a look at the first of three nice catches from WR Seantavius Jones (6'3", 200 lbs) today. The other two were contested. pic.twitter.com/UgW5yXojPi
— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) July 29, 2017
Tyler Bray to Seantavius Jones. pic.twitter.com/b64XEQsj7F
— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) July 31, 2017
— Brandon Zenner (@NPNowZenner) July 30, 2017
Seantavius Jones has all the physical traits to succeed at the NFL level. If he continue to shine in training camp, perhaps he can prove that just because he played D2 doesn’t mean he can’t dominate the pros.
3Earl Okine, Linebacker
The offense has definitely been the star of training camp so far. It’s hard not to be with speedsters such as Hill and Conley and the defense unable to tackle.
However three linebackers have been impressive and deserve some shine. All three have gotten chances to work with the first team and are looking to make an impact as a rotational player on defense or special teams.
The first of those three is Earl Okine. Okine made a name for himself by batting down two of Mahomes passes during Day Two of training camp. He is proving he has a good eye for the ball and great football IQ.
Okine has quite the career trajectory playing for the Texans, Colts and Chiefs at the NFL level, racking up five career tackles. He has also played for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, the Orlando Preadators of the AFL and the Brooklyn Bolts in a Fall experimental league.
Okine has good size, standing 6’6″ 290 lbs, although he doesn’t have great speed, running a 5.14 40 at his Pro Day. If he could improve on that number there’s a chance he could earn more reps at linebacker.
Earl Okine has a long way to go before he is assured a spot on the team. But he is clearly making an impact and will be a player to watch as training camp continues.
2Reshard Cliett, Linebacker
The second linebacker comes in the form of Reshard Cliett. He received praise during the first week of camp for an impressive interception of Mahomes.
Cliett has bounced around the NFL, spending time with the Texans, Broncos, Jets, Cardinals and Titans before the Chiefs. He’s a bit small for a linebacker at 6’2″ 222 and he has yet to find his niche at the NFL level.
Cliett however is one of the more athletic linebackers on the roster. He ran a 4.4 at his Pro Day while completing a 38.5″ vertical leap and a 10’4″ broad jump. Cliett also managed 21 reps on the bench press.
The former South Florida Bull had a solid college career including 134 tackles, 16 for a loss and seven sacks.
Cliett has been more of a training camp body for the past couple of years. He is looking to finally break camp with the Chiefs in 2017. It is going to take a lot of hard work in a crowded LB room, but if he continues to make big plays he will get his opportunity.
1Ukeme Eligwe, Linebacker
Ukeme Eligwe gets the final spot on this list for one main reason. He appears to have earn the respect and admiration of Special Teams coach Dave Toub.
Dave Toub just praised rookie LB Ukeme Eligwe about as much as I've seen him talk about any young player before.
— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) July 31, 2017
A lot was made when the Chiefs surprisingly traded away Pro Bowler D.J. Alexander earlier in camp. Alexander was a big factor on Special Teams, although he didn’t have much of a role on defense. It appears as if Toub has already found Alexander’s replacement in Eligwe.
Eligwe was selected in the fifth round by the Chiefs, following a respectable career at Georgia Southern. In four years in college Eligwe racked up 121 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
Coming out of college Eligwe was described as an extremely athletic player with great straight line speed. That speed will certainly help him as a gunner on the Special Teams unit. He will need to work on his fundamentals to have a real role on defenses, but he certainly looks like someone who could fill in immediately on ST.
There’s no guarantee he ever makes a Pro Bowl. But it looks like Dave Toub found another stud special-teamer in Ukeme Eligwe.
Feel free to continue the conversation on Twitter: @DFappiano14 or @spot_chiefs