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On the Chiefs’ draft board: Texas tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders

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By: Ron Kopp

Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

One of the top draft prospects at his position has revealed he met with Kansas City at the Scouting Combine.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense will have a makeover this offseason. This started with the release of wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. We can expect that in 2024, there will be new players in all of the offensive skill positions.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Chiefs took another step in that makeover. According to a report by Ryan Fowler of The Draft Network, the Chiefs were among the teams that met with Texas tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders — one of the top tight ends in the 2024 draft class.

Here’s everything to know about Sanders:


A native of Denton, Texas, Sanders was a five-star high school recruit. Since he played on both sides of the ball — and also played basketball — he was 2021’s No. 1 athlete prospect. As a true freshman with the Longhorns, he played in every game — mostly on special teams.

But as a sophomore, Sanders burst onto the scene. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in both 2022 and 2023, totaling 99 receptions, 1,295 yards and seven touchdowns over his two seasons at Texas. He was a versatile pass catcher in the Longhorns’ offense, aligning in the slot or as an outside receiver on 37% of his career receiving snaps, per PFF.

He declared for the draft after his junior season and received an invitation to the Combine. In Indianapolis, he was measured at 6 feet 4 and 245 pounds. His hands were recorded at 10 1/8 inches, while his arms came in at 32 7/8 inches.

Sanders did not test in the explosion or agility drills. He did, however, run the 40-yard dash, earning a 4.69-second result on his second attempt. That was the ninth-fastest time among the 2024 Combine’s tight ends.

Film evaluation

In an offense filled with playmakers, Sanders was a consistent presence in the Texas offense for quarterback Quinn Ewers. He played in all 27 games of the past two seasons, often making plays in the passing game.

The first thing that stands out about Sanders is how natural and comfortable he is while making catches downfield and in between defenders. Over the last two seasons, he has completed 54% of his contested-catch opportunities — and this shows up on tape; he has strong instincts for attacking the ball in traffic. These two plays against TCU show his strong hands and concentration through contact.

It made him a very reliable target over the middle of the field: on passes thrown between the numbers and 10-19 yards downfield in 2023, Sanders caught 13 of 17 targets and hauled in all six contested-catch attempts.

That ability to win over the middle is set up by his feel for route running. He has the flexibility to bend around coverage defenders and quickly make himself available in a throwing window. Sanders also has strong hand usage as he gets out into a route, using fluid swipes to maintain his speed or acceleration.

Sanders’ fastest moments tend to come in short bursts — which may have been confirmed by his 40-yard dash. While he does have functional speed when given a runway, he doesn’t have the stride that some tight ends display as they become galloping horses in the open field.

To nitpick a highly-touted prospect, he often shows a false step as he releases into routes. This can create a slight delay in getting into the route — and could be limiting how explosive he can be from a standstill. But since he is a young prospect, this is probably something that can be corrected.

It’s also important to note that Sanders’ blocking profile is not that of a traditional Y tight end, who sets the tone at the front of outside runs. His physical build is lighter and more compact than a typical inline tight end — but his effectiveness in those spots could improve with development.

How he fits with the Chiefs

If the Chiefs want to add Sanders to the team, it may have to happen early in the draft — possibly with their first selection. The Athletic’s 2024 consensus board listed Sanders 41st, while NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah ranked him 46th in his latest Top 50.

But Sanders does appear to have a playmaking upside that Kansas City’s reserve tight ends lack. While Noah Gray has proven to be a very reliable target, Sanders already looks reliable — and also displays a developmental track that’s exciting for a player who will turn 21 on March 27.

And Sanders has a blocking foundation that does look like it can be improved. He attacks the right shoulder on kickout blocks and plays with a good base. The inconsistency we sometimes see on tape could simply be fatigue that causes a breakdown of fundamentals.

There is a lot to like about the idea of Sanders joining the Chiefs. He would instantly upgrade the team’s ability to play from multi-tight end sets, because the team would have a reliable pass-catcher in all three tight end spots; Gray and Sanders can both be strong against tight, zone coverage.

But with good coaching, Sanders could flourish even beyond that. In the NFL, he could be a long-time playmaker.

Originally posted on Arrowhead Pride