The Kansas City Chiefs swapped out a couple tryout players for two of the most heralded undrafted free agents brought in by Brett Veach earlier this spring.
On the one hand, we all know that anyone categorized as an undrafted free agent is a longshot to make a team’s active roster. Each and every player who goes undrafted weathers the process for a reason—character concerns, injury history, a lacking skill set, poor scheme fit—and being available post-draft means every single franchise decided to take someone else multiple times. That’s a shaky foundation for any player.
On the other hand, every single year, undrafted free agents make the roster of every team in the league. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs carried multiple UDFAs on the roster, and this year’s class earned all kinds of praise. While the Chiefs still have a number of impressive young talents who went undrafted on the current 90-man roster, general manager Brett Veach also decided to cut a couple players that left us scratching our heads.
In short, Veach showed us exactly how much we don’t know.
On Thursday, the Chiefs announced a flurry of roster moves as they signed tight end Neal Sterling and released three players in the process to clear room for not only Sterling but other candidates. Among those names were offensive lineman Justin Senior, running back James Williams, and linebacker Gary Johnson. It’s the latter two that came as a fairly big surprise to Chiefs fans paying attention, since those were among the best bets to make the active roster.
Johnson was an exemplary linebacker from the University of Texas who signed on with the Chiefs after the draft. The Chiefs linebacking corps in general has been a sore spot on the defense for the last couple years, and the idea that another Longhorn from Texas surnamed Johnson sounds romantic to Chiefs fans who grew up watching the one and only Derrick Johnson solve the Chiefs woes in the heart of the defense.
Johnson was a sure tackler for Texas the last couple years and had 90 last season for the Longhorns, 16.5 of them for a loss. Johnson was named second team All Big 12 in the process, a way to celebrate his 6.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles as well. Questions about his athleticism at the pro level surfaced, but the Chiefs felt like a good spot for Johnson to prove his doubters wrong and fight the odds to make a roster. Instead, the Chiefs made it clear that Johnson’s pro potential might not be what many thought it could be.
The same can be said of James “Boobie” Williams. With over 200 catches in his collegiate career, Williams came to the Chiefs as another solid pass catching halfback in a room already filled with options. Maybe the Chiefs wanted to give Williams the chance to land somewhere early at this point knowing they were simply too crowded out with talent, but if the Chiefs really liked Williams, it would make sense to keep him as long as possible and try to sneak him onto a practice squad slot.
What’s even more interesting is that Williams was replaced on the roster by a small school prospect who intrigues the Chiefs in Northwest Missouri State’s Joshua Caldwell. Caldwell only made five starts at running back for his own school last season, but his natural abilities stood out in a tryout and rookie minicamp enough to earn a contract offer from Brett Veach. Caldwell did lead the team in carries with 139 and had 830 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Coming into training camp, Williams and Johnson would have been solid bets to make the franchise like Darrel Williams and Ben Niemann before them, UDFAs as the same positions who made the active roster. Instead, neither one even made it to camp at St. Joseph. Shows what we know.