Brett Veach was talking about his team’s receiver position, but his mind soon went in another direction.
It was late July at Chiefs training camp and the Kansas City Chiefs general manager was asked by a reporter how he felt about his team’s talent on the outside following the Tyreek Hill trade.
Veatch spoke for a few seconds about it, then turned away. It was only right, he said, to talk about the team’s talented indoor division with this discussion as well.
And also someone who could play a more important role in 2022.
“I think Noah Gray is going to have a really good year,” Veach said at the time. “He’s gotten better and better and better.”
About six weeks later, the Chiefs’ season-opening win certainly seemed to support Veach’s claim.
Gray, a fifth-round draft pick of the Chiefs last season, had one of his most productive games in Sunday’s 44-21 win. He played 37 offensive snaps against Arizona — the third-highest mark of his career — while also posting the second-highest grade of his career according to an analysis at Pro Football Focus.
The shift to getting bigger players on the field could be part of a bigger-picture trend for the Chiefs this season while also addressing defensive looks against them. Buffalo, for example, often faced two high-safety shells last season by taking a back more often into the game while picking on an opposing team’s smaller defenders.
With Hill no longer on the Chiefs roster, KC could have more opportunities for personnel flexibility. Coach Andy Reid said in his opening statement after the win that the team did “a lot of two-close sets and three-close sets, so the tight ends did a good job today.”
Meanwhile, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said Sunday’s multiple plays were in part the result of the team trying to exploit Arizona’s weaknesses from film study.
“We thought we could create some matchup problems,” Bieniemy said. “We also thought we could create some things in the run game as well.”
That was evident early when Gray checked in for the first time in KC’s third game. His kick-out block helped open a hole for a seven-yard Clyde Edwards-Helaire run.
In the next game, Gray also joined teammates to seal the edge as Edwards-Helaire racked up another 18.
When asked about Gray specifically, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce described him as “a guy who just puts his heart on the line every day, every game.”
“He was working, from the first quarter to the fourth, playing all phases. The special teams, the offense and the movement, they asked to do a lot for a young player,” Kelce said. “And it continues to rise to the occasion.”
The cat and mouse game will be worth watching again this week as the Chiefs host the Los Angeles Chargers. Their head coach, Brandon Staley, rose to prominence thanks to his innovative performance as a defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020.
Gray and teammate Jody Fortune appear to be giving KK another shot at a counter punch.
With more tight ends, the Chiefs can potentially go to a wider playbook with more calls available under center. This could add more variety to the running game, while also giving Chiefs more flexibility to run either left or right (some shotgun games limit these possibilities).
KC can also use Gray creatively as a pass blocker, which is where he held his own against Arizona. And even though Gray had just one catch for 10 yards on the first drive, quarterback Patrick Mahomes singled him out at the end of training camp, saying he was one of the team’s top pass rushers.
“Noah, Jody, Kelk, they’re all just great playmakers,” Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore said after the game. “Our closed group is very strong.”
It was a comment that echoed the Chiefs GM from two months earlier.
With these Chiefs – for one game – showcasing a collection of talent in their quest to replace a traded superstar.
“I feel like we have a lot of weapons, a lot of playmakers and a lot of ways to get the ball in the end zone,” Moore said. “That’s how I feel we showed in the championship (on Sunday).”