Earlier this week, Ron Rivera told us he was going to be adding some veteran free agents to Washington’s roster, and he’s spared no time in doing so. On Wednesday, the team added an extra cornerback and tight end to the competitive mix for this offseason.
We've signed CB Linden Stephens and TE Deon Yelder— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) May 6, 2021
A number of folks have written these two off, and others stopping by for team visits, as “camp bodies,” just a bunch of JAGs to fill out the 90-man roster. But, as one looks a little more closely, an interesting pattern develops. Most of the players discussed probably aren’t competing for starting positions at this point, but several of them - including Deon Yelder, who will be the subject of this piece - very much appear to be legitimately in the running to serve as depth upgrades.
Washington has struggled for so long to simply field 22 competent starters that the notion that we’re now in the process of improving our depth players is almost alien. Yelder, added to an already very crowded tight end room, is one of the more intriguing options.
Welcome to the NFL, Deon Yelder. Here's to more crossers in your future. pic.twitter.com/aMuB6hxfR2— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 1, 2019
Yelder walked on to play his college football at Western Kentucky, and only really had any significant playing time his senior season. He made the most of it though, collecting over 700 yards from scrimmage and 8 TDs. It was there he also earned the nickname “Big Thump.”
Draft profiles of Yelder had him pegged as a priority free agent with upside, and they turned out to be accurate:
“I thought he looked pretty good at the NFLPA practices. He probably needs time on practice squad but he has a chance to make it.” - NFC regional scout
He went undrafted and was signed by the Saints as a free agent after the draft. He was eventually released from the Saints practice squad later in the 2018 season. At that point, he was immediately grabbed by the Chiefs, and eventually promoted to their active roster, where he played three games on special teams through the end of the season.
As an amusing aside, in 2019, Yelder showed up in one of my “Poaching players from NFL rosters” articles before the season. He ended up making the Chiefs’ 53-man roster, however, and playing in 9 games for the team in 2019.
In early 2020, Yelder signed an exclusive rights free agent tender with the Chiefs. Leading up to the regular season, there was serious speculation that Yelder was top candidate to serve as TE2 on the Chiefs’ roster, behind the best tight end in the league, Travis Kelce.
Deon Yelder has the most experience in the system — and might have the best overall combination of athleticism and size. Both in-line and in space, he’s a capable blocker. As a receiver, he excels at shorter spacing routes that allow him to collect yards after the catch.
Yelder ended up playing in 14 games for the Chiefs last year and did have the second most TE receptions on the team (7) to Kelce’s incredible 105. The Chiefs did not tender Yelder this offseason, and ended up taking a tight end, Noah Grey, in the 5th round of this year’s draft.
Yelder has had intermittent injuries during his pro career, in 2019 (ankle), 2020 (multiple groin injuries), that have caused him to miss some time, and is something to keep an eye on.
In a Washington tight end room that includes Logan Thomas, John Bates, Marcus Baugh, Dylan Cantrell, Temarrick Hemingway, Sammis Reyes, and Tyrone Swoopes, and now, Yelder, Thomas and Bates are probably the only “sure things” to make the 53-man roster this year. Will Yelder join them? If he can stay healthy, I certainly think he could, but there’s going to be a fierce tight end competition on this team over the next several months before the season begins.
What do you think the chances are that Deon Yelder ends up as TE2?
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