Noah Gray admits that the rookie season is fraught with plenty of “ups and downs.” Not only is it difficult for every team to win on a consistent basis—especially as illustrated this year by some of the league’s better teams—but the learning curve ahead of college prospects can be unkind at times. The good news is he has some solid company for the journey.
Sitting in the same tight end room as Gray is the NFL’s very best at the position in Travis Kelce alongside one of the league’s better blockers in Blake Bell and another promising player in Jody Forston. Also included is a new acquisition in Daniel Brown—a player who came over from the New York Jets in the Laurent Duvernay-Tardif trade before the deadline earlier this month.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Gray on the third day of the 2021 NFL Draft with the hopes of raising the ceiling at tight end behind Travis Kelce. Gray’s selection was a seed planted in the hopes of growing another pro-ready pass catcher in the near future, one who could help provide some rest for Kelce and another weapon alongside him. The challenge for both sides was for Gray to grow into the sort of tight end envisioned when the Chiefs submitted his name in the fifth round.
Rookie tight end Noah Gray spoke to reporters about his growth curve so far in 2021 for the K.C. Chiefs alongside Travis Kelce.
Very little had been invested at the position in the years before Gray, who was the first and only tight end taken by current general manager Brett Veach in the draft. Before Gray, James O’Shaughnessy was the last TE taken by K.C., back in the 2015 NFL Draft. Before that, it was Kelce in the third round in 2013. Those are the only three tight ends drafted during Andy Reid‘s tenure.
Gray was a fairly one-dimensional prospect out of Duke known for his hands and pass-catching prowess who was docked points by scouts for a lack of blocking acumen and experience. Simply put, Gray didn’t have tape for things he wasn’t tasked with at Duke, so taking him required a bit of projection on the part of an NFL front office.
So far, Gray has passed a few important hurdles on his way to playing time on special teams and the occasional series on offense, where he’s only earned 3 targets from Patrick Mahomes. He caught two of those for nine yards for his lone offensive totals so far. Alongside his 113 snaps on offense, however, he’s also earned 117 on special teams—where’s he likely going to be a core player for the next few years for Dave Toub.
On Friday, Gray spoke with reporters about the adjustment to life in the NFL. He says the biggest difference is not having to balance athletics and academics, which gives him more time to devote to a single activity here. Yet the challenge of playing at the highest level makes it hard enough to even master the one thing he can focus upon.
“I’ve learned a lot this rookie year. There’s been obviously a lot of ups and downs, but it’s been great being around some of the guys like Trav, Pat, and meeting the other tight ends like Blake and Jody. So it’s been good. It’s a learning process for sure being a rookie and trying to pick up everything, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Being able to work alongside a tight end like Kelce has provided dividends, per Gray, who says “having Kelce in the room is huge.”
“I’ve always said I’ve been grateful for that,” said Gray. “There’s a lot. You watch a lot of his film—he’s been here for 9 or 10—so there’s a lot you can learn from him, whether that’s in route-running or even in run-blocking or pass-blocking game. There’s a lot he’s been able to teach me. He does a great job of watching everyone’s reps even when we’re on scout team. It’s been helpful to have an older guy like that be really tuned into stuff like that.”
Gray, who is only 22, has played in eight games for the Chiefs so far this season.