Every action and non-action by the Kansas City Chiefs points to a much higher opinion of Deon Yelder than anyone could have anticipated.
Even for passionate Kansas City Chiefs fans, the name Deon Yelder is likely to draw a blank stare. After all, it’s not uncommon for players on the practice squad or even the inactive part of the active roster to turn over on a regular basis, as general manager Brett Veach wants to see a variety of players on the scout team and in drills during the season. It is a never-ending process to stock the most talent, top to bottom.
Yelder is now a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was given a major bonus—$90K—by the New Orleans Saints after the 2017 draft but failed to make the active roster. He was placed on the practice squad and ultimately waived. The Chiefs signed him in early October and he was elevated to the active roster in late October. He even was active on special teams duty for three games. Largely, however, he was stashed as an inactive for several weeks.
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This offseason, the Chiefs lost Demetrius Harris to free agency as he signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns. The roster already looked thin behind Travis Kelce even with Harris on the roster, a man who was always very athletic with an obvious frame to develop. Unfortunately he also had a penchant for drops and the Chiefs let him walk.
Beyond Harris, the Chiefs had very little to speak of, save for two names that no one knew much about: Yelder and David Wells. The assumption all along has been that the Chiefs would bring in someone to serve as Kelce’s understudy. Mock drafts were continually giving the Chiefs access to names like Jace Sternberger, yet the official 2019 NFL Draft went by and the Chiefs didn’t bother with the position. Free agency is now several weeks old and the Chiefs still have yet to address the position.
What is most interesting about Yelder, at this point, is that he’s not even having to compete for minutes. Right now, David Wells is taking part in rookie minicamp next to dozens of other NFL hopefuls. Yelder is not. Wells joined the Chiefs one month before Yelder, as a former UDFA from last year (same as Yelder) from the Dallas Cowboys cut before the regular season.
In short, the Chiefs activity (protecting him on the active roster) and inactivity (lack of other roster moves, keeping him out of minicamp) point to one main idea: it looks like Yelder is more important than any of us thought.
The Chiefs, of course, could add someone even today with a roster move, a trade for a pricey veteran who could be dropped soon (a la Kyle Rudolph). Maybe they’ll make a veteran signing to bolster the position. Blake Bell is also around for those paying attention, but 30 receptions in 4 full NFL seasons isn’t going to make anyone think he’s the next great prospect. Important, experienced depth, yes.
So what do the Chiefs have in Yelder? Remember, K.C. turned heads giving Jamal Custis a bonus of $100K this offseason as an undrafted free agent. The Saints gave Yelder just $10K less than that to not make the team. Yelder was the very model of a one-year wonder at Western Kentucky with 52 catches, 688 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns in a single season of production for the Hilltoppers. The stats, size, and speed were enough to earn an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. From there, the Saints were interested enough to offer such a bonus.
Unfortunately for Yelder, there wasn’t room on the active roster and the Saints moved on shortly into the regular season. The Chiefs struck next and he’s been around ever since. It now looks like he’s got a safe roster spot—or at least he’s safer than others—given his lack of presence at rookie minicamp.
It’s possible that Yelder has some extenuating circumstances that keep him from competing this weekend. It’s also possible that K.C. signs a Ben Watson on the open market and renders all of this moot.