Free agency: Washington signs tight end whose last game was for Kansas City in Super Bowl LV
When veteran players are signed in May, fans often don’t pay attention, usually assuming that it’s a bottom-of-the-roster “camp body” – a no-hoper. Well, this week’s signing of Deon Yelder, who was Travis Kelce’s backup at the tight end position in Kansas City appears to be something very different. While Yelder was limited in the number of snaps and passing targets he received playing behind Kelce, who is arguably the NFL’s best tight end, he will likely have a much bigger role in Washington, where the coaching staff is in desperate need of an experienced tight end.
Logan Thomas had a breakout year in 2020, establishing himself as a true starting tight end after converting to the position when it was clear he didn’t have a future in the league as a quarterback – the position he was drafted to play in 2014.
But the rest of the tight end room is a collection of young and unproven players. Washington drafted John Bates out of Kentucky in the 4th round, and, prior to the signing of Yelder, he appeared to be the instant #2 on the depth chart. The team made a huge media splash not long before the draft by signing a Chilean basketball player, Sammis Reyes, who has never played football in his life, but is seeking to make it as an NFL tight end. Reyes has incredible physical attributes and athleticism, but seems a long-shot to land anywhere other than the practice squad in 2021. The other 4 tight ends on the roster are young players with little or no NFL playing experience and only 3 careen NFL receptions between them.
Yelder, who was active for 26 games for Kansas City over three seasons, instantly becomes the most accomplished NLF tight end on the roster when he was signed this week.
As a walk-on at the University of Western Kentucky, Yelder had his best season in his senior year when he had 703 scrimmage yards (13.0 avg) and 8 touchdowns. He was considered a priority free agent in the 2018 draft, and was signed by the Saints, where he spent part of the season on the practice squad.
When the Saints released him, Yelder’s career got a boost when he was scooped up by the Chiefs the very next day. Two weeks later, Yelder appeared in his first NFL game, playing exclusively on special teams as a rookie.
In 2019, Yelder saw limited offensive snaps, but played in all three of KC’s playoff games, including the Chiefs’ super bowl victory to cap the season.
In 2020, while Yelder continued to play special teams, his offensive snap count climbed; he played 200 offensive snaps last season, and had more targets in the passing game than any other tight end on the roster not named Travis Kelce.
At 6’4” and 255 pounds, Yelder is a stout tight end and a capable blocker. Pro Football Focus gave him an impressive 75.8 grade for his pass blocking in 2020, and he routinely lined up to block on extra point and field goal attempts.
Why didn’t Yelder stay in Kansas City for the 2021 season? The Chiefs have TE Nick Keizer on the roster, playing on a one-year vet minimum contract, and the team just drafted Noah Grey out of Duke in the 5th round of the recent draft. Yelder looked to be the odd man out in a suddenly crowded tight end group behind Travis Kelce.
By contrast, in Washington, Yelder has the chance to be part of a solid 3-man group comprising Logan Thomas as the starter, with Yelder and rookie John Bates backing him up. Reyes could figure into the mix, but it is clear that the team needed to sign a veteran tight end that they could count on. Yelder is that veteran; he has NFL experience, including playing in two super bowls, and is the proud owner of a super bowl ring. While he has had limited production on the stat sheet in his 3 years as a pro, his role on the Chiefs roster expanded every year. His arrow appears to be pointing upward, but playing behind Travis Kelce can keep a player off the stat sheet for a long time.
Yelder has the opportunity to transition from a limited backup role on a super bowl contending team, to a veteran presence on an improving Washington roster. Deon Yelder is trading in his red and white for burgundy & gold. While he will still be in a backup role behind Logan Thomas, Yelder should have a significant role for the Washington Football Team. Get ready to hear his name called on Sundays this fall.