Justyn Ross Could Be 2022 NFL Draft's Biggest UDFA Steal

Alex KayContributor IMay 4, 2022

Clemson's Justyn Ross (8) runs for a touchdown against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The Kansas City Chiefs landed one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2022 NFL draft without using a pick on him.

After watching Justyn Ross go unselected in any of the seven rounds, Kansas City capitalized on the Clemson wideout's surprise availability by signing him as a free agent Monday.

Boardroom's Jordan Schultz reported the deal, noting that Ross only went undrafted because of his medical history.

It's understandable that teams were leery about spending draft capital on Ross after he suffered several major injuries during his collegiate career. Nothing was more concerning than the rare spinal condition that was revealed after he took a hit in spring practice leading up to the 2020 campaign.

Ross missed that entire season and was told he may never play football again. 

But the wideout returned in 2021 and appeared in 10 contests while nursing a stress fracture in his left foot that eventually cost him the Tigers' final three games. He posted respectable numbers—leading the program with 46 catches and 514 receiving yards—but didn't appear to be the same game-breaking player who racked up 112 catches for 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns across his first two years with the program.

A concerning pro day performance didn't help Ross' draft stock either. He couldn't participate in all the available drills and ran a slow 4.64-second 40-yard dash and posted a vertical of 31.5 inches in the ones he did test in—numbers that aren't indicative of the athleticism he displayed during his earlier years at Clemson.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAR 02: Justyn Ross #WO29 of the Clemson Tigers speaks to reporters during the NFL Draft Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on March 2, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Despite all this, the Chiefs are still getting a prospect with massive potential.

The Bleacher Report Scouting Department graded the 22-year-old at a 7.9, a score generally reserved for late-first- to second-round draft picks with a great shot at starting as rookies. He was the No. 8 wideout and No. 36 overall prospect on their final big board and their top remaining wideout going into Day 2 of the draft.

No other prospect with a grade in the same stratosphere slipped out of the draft entirely. 

Ross' build—he stands 6'4" and tips the scales at 205 pounds—athleticism, strength, route-running skills, catching ability and competitiveness are all reasons he could become one of the top wideouts in a loaded class, per the B/R Scouting Department.

While Ross isn't a perfect prospect—he's almost exclusively an outside receiver and lacks experience with complex routes in addition to his injury concerns—he was one of the best X wideouts on the board going into the draft.

Although going unselected can be a dubious distinction reserved for heavily flawed players or those with major character concerns, Ross may end up greatly benefiting from this situation. It has allowed him to start his NFL career in an ideal spot, one he likely was able to choose out of several offers given his status as a marquee UDFA target.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Trevor Lawrence #16 and Justyn Ross #8 of the Clemson Tigers react after connecting on a 42 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goody
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ross did his best work at Clemson with Trevor Lawrence as his quarterback and could see similar results while running routes for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. The Chiefs have ranked among the top five passing offenses in all four of Mahomes' seasons as a starter, including in 2018 when he threw for a league-best 50 touchdowns and earned NFL MVP honors.

While Mahomes is coming off a relatively down year—his 13 interceptions were a career high and his five regular-season losses were the most he's suffered as a pro—he still lit up opposing defenses for over 4,700 passing yards for the second straight season.

This is the perfect time for Ross to get onboarded. The Chiefs are crafting a new offensive identity after trading star receiver Tyreek Hill earlier in the offseason. They also let Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson walk in free agency, leaving Mecole Hardman as Kansas City's only notable wideout returning for the 2022 season.

Although Hill's loss will sting—it will never be easy to move on from one of just four receivers to post at least 450 receptions, 6,500 receiving yards and 55 touchdowns over their first six seasons—the addition of Ross should help ease the blow and get the Chiefs back on track.

The organization has left no stone unturned in its search to replace the superstar wideout, coming to terms with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency, retaining Josh Gordon after beginning the process of integrating the mercurial veteran last season and drafting Skyy Moore in the second round.

CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 02: Wide receiver Justyn Ross #8 of the Clemson Tigers warms up before their game against the Boston College Eagles at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Get
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Adding Ross is the cherry on top, a move that carries almost no risk while providing Kansas City with a potential superstar at a bargain-bin price.

Even if Ross takes time to get up to speed, the Chiefs have the depth to remain competitive offensively while bringing him along. 

Tight end Travis Kelce is still one of the league's most dangerous pass-catchers, and the backfield received a boost with the addition of Ronald Jones II to complement incumbent starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Those assets, coupled with a surprisingly deep receiving corps that could heavily feature Ross—assuming he can stay healthy and return to form—make the Chiefs as dangerous as ever.

According to SI.com's Wilton Jackson, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach confirmed Tuesday that team doctors have medically cleared the receiver to play. It is a big step toward Ross' goal of becoming the first known player to make the NFL with a congenital fusion in his spine.

He will compete against 16 other Chiefs wideouts for a roster spot this offseason. His place in the lineup is far from secure, but Ross has more than enough talent to earn a prominent role within the Kansas City offense when he's at his best. 

The team is already one of the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl and will only see a boost if Ross lives up to his potential.