Jody Fortson impressing Kansas City Chiefs coaches with switch to tight end

Former free agent receiver has added size, strength

Herbie Teope
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Jody Fortson (88) runs against cornerback Marlon Character (39) during training camp at Missouri Western State University.

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Jody Fortson looks different this summer.

At 6-foot-6, he's already hard to miss among teammates on the football field. He's also looking bigger in the weight department, too, far more than his previous official listing of 230 pounds.

And he's no longer a wide receiver.

Fortson, who joined the Chiefs in 2019 as an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State, made the switch to tight end this offseason. And so far, he's impressing the coaching staff.

"Jody has really stepped up," Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "He put on like 20 pounds of muscle and you can see it in his play.

"He's playing a lot bigger, he's playing with a lot more confidence, and the same thing is going on special teams. He's holding up guys stronger. He doesn't look like a wide receiver anymore; he looks like a tight end."

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy agreed.

"Jody is doing a heck of a job," Bieniemy said. "Obviously, he's benefiting because he's had an offseason where he can go out there and work. And then, on top of that, he has an opportunity to come back after going through that process of having the offseason, the OTAs (organized team activities) and going out here for training camp."

It's been hard to ignore Fortson at camp. He's making plays in the passing game while rotating between the first- and second-team offenses during drills. He said he packed on weight this offseason by drinking protein shakes and lifting weights, and he has also turned heads during individual one-on-one pass protection drills.

During a recent blocking drill, Fortson locked up against All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. Fortson utilized choppy steps and his large frame to hold off Mathieu's rush off the edge.

All in a day's work for Fortson, who said he improved his blocking during the offseason by training with former NFL tight end Delanie Walker, the Central Missouri product who was once widely regarded as one of the league's best blockers at the position.

"I know transitioning from receiver to tight end is a lot more mental than it is, actually," Fortson said. "I was going out there relying on my athletic ability, but you have to know what front is going on; you have to know which linebacker is pulling to you. You have to know a lot more things."

With dedication to improving his craft, it's clear Fortson fully embraced the position change.

"It allowed me to just play faster — not a lot of guessing, not a lot of thinking," he said. "It allowed me to just utilize a lot of my strengths as far as being aggressive and dominant.

"I'm thankful for the move. I've been told I should've been a tight end a long time ago, but I wanted to keep my wide receiving genes alive. Tight end is where I am now, and I'm blessed to be here."

All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, who knows a thing or two about playing the position, likes what he's seen from one of the newest members of the Chiefs' tight ends corps.

"I think now, being in his third year in this offense, he understands all those things just like the back of his hand and now he can actually think and react to what the defense is doing knowing his job," Kelce said. "And then, you put him at the tight end position and he's a big, physical guy, one of the most explosive guys on this team. He's very strong and it's been awesome to see him transition in the tight end room because right now he's playing really well."

The Chiefs might elect to keep just three tight ends, with Kelce, Blake Bell and rookie Noah Gray, the team's fifth-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, projecting as their top options.

Fortson, who has spent time on the Chiefs' practice squad over the past two years, said the 2020 season taught him patience. But he knows he must continue shining in camp, and then make plays in the team's three preseason games.

"I feel like I've belonged here since Day One," he said. "I feel like I should've been playing, but that's not the hand that was dealt. Now, it's time to work and go out here and prove myself, like I've been doing every day that I've been out here. Put it all on tape, put it all in the games."

So far, he's done his part to make the right people take notice.

"Jody is having a great camp, so there will be some decisions," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. "We typically go with three tight ends. I mean, do we keep four? Do we keep an extra here, an extra there?

"So, that's the beauty of this, where these guys really get to come and earn a spot. I mean, if guys continue to play the way they've started out, then they'll make decisions hard. And that's their job, and our job is to allow these guys to compete and earn spots."