The final picks of the 2019 NFL Draft were still being made Saturday afternoon, but the Chiefs were already on to the next phase of roster-building.
That’s why, as soon as Arizona’s Mr. Irrelevant pick was revealed, the Chiefs had agreed to terms with Texas linebacker Gary Johnson, beginning their run of undrafted free agent (UDFA) signings.
Johnson is one of nearly 20 UDFAs the Chiefs expect to sign when they arrive in Kansas City for rookie minicamp this weekend — and he’s one of the players who has the best chance of making the roster.
Johnson and Darius Harris from Middle Tennessee State were two players general manager Brett Veach mentioned in his Monday afternoon draft recap conference call.
“We didn’t draft a linebacker early on, so we kind of targeted guys and we were aggressive with those guys because we wanted to make sure we were creating as much competition as we can,” Veach said.
While Johnson is healthy, Harris is recovering from an undisclosed shoulder issue that occurred after the season ended that could keep him out of offseason workouts and training camp. But Veach liked what he saw out of the All-Conference USA linebacker at the NFL Players Association game and his own pro day.
“He can be a guy that doesn’t just makes the roster but starts one day,” Veach said. “We are excited about him, we are excited about the speed that Johnson brings.”
The Chiefs have had success in finding talent among undrafted linebackers before. A year ago, the team picked up Ben Niemann as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa. He appeared in 14 games, starting one, and finished with 10 combined tackles.
Outside of the linebacker spot, the Chiefs also picked up a couple of other prospects who have solid chances to make the roster including running back James Williams. Williams, who is the third Williams in the running back group so far, will add competition for one of the final spots on the roster at that position. He’ll likely challenge sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson for one of those spots.
“He’s a guy that put up a ton of production in the pass game,” Veach said of Williams, who averaged 7.1 yards per reception at Washington State. “As you guys know with our offense and the amount that we throw the football, I think that he’s a guy that’s going to be in the mix.”
Veach also noted Clemson cornerback Mark Fields, wide receiver Cody Thompson and Princeton quarterback John Lovett as two players who he was intrigued to see at rookie minicamp.
Though Lovett was named the Ivy League offensive player of the year at quarterback, the Chiefs want to convert him to another offensive position. Veach was most impressed by Lovett’s toughness and said he played through a broken hand.
“We’re kind of looking to see if we can make him a hybrid H-back/tight end, kind of how the Eagles used Trey Burton when he came out of college,” Veach said. “Trey was a quarterback and played some wildcat stuff there. I think the kid was 6-2-ish, 235 (pounds), ran a 4.58. At his pro day they worked him out at linebacker and they worked him out at fullback and tight end.
“During the tight end drills he had a cast on, and I think he caught almost every single ball with one hand.”
And while there are some players Veach wants to see work out at this weekend’s rookie minicamp, there are others like Old Dominion defensive end Tim Ward who may be future investments after recovering from injury.
“You may not see him this year, but we’re going to take our time with his rehab, we’re not going to rush him, and he could be a guy that could really develop and be a player in the future,” Veach said. “A handful of guys that we’re excited about and this should be a really exciting camp and there should be a lot of competition all across the board.”