This is a familiar time of year for Chiefs' tight end Jody Fortson, whose dream of playing in the National Football League has temporarily ended following training camp in each of the last two offseasons.
It's a brutal reality that annually informs hundreds of individuals from across the league that they didn't make the final cut as rosters trim down to 53 players, and something that Fortson has experienced twice in his pursuit of being a professional football player.
This is simply the way it is for those on the roster bubble, and it's why many players choose to move on with their lives while others continue chasing the dream. Fortson is a member of the latter, as he arrived at One Arrowhead Drive back in May with the focus of a player who would not be denied. He maintained that drive through training camp and the preseason, and while the annual reality of roster cuts arrived once again on Tuesday, the familiar disappointment did not.
Fortson is a member of the Chiefs' initial 53-man roster to begin the upcoming campaign, and as it turns out, it was quarterback Patrick Mahomes who broke the news to him.
"I was in the weight room, and Patrick came up to me and said, 'Congratulations for all your hard work man, I'm proud of you,'" Fortson said. "It really didn't hit me, so I asked what he was talking about. He was like, 'You're on the team.'"
Fortson – a big-bodied pass-catcher out of Valdosta State University – began this journey with a successful tryout in the summer of 2019. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound wide receiver made the switch to tight end upon signing his original deal with the Chiefs before moving back to wide receiver the following summer, and then back again to tight end this past offseason.
He's been a popular player in that time with his impressive frame and aptitude for the highlight-reel play, but Fortson has routinely been the odd man out when it came down to decision time. That's why Tuesday's news – which rewarded a brilliant showing this summer that included six grabs for 60 yards in the preseason – was so significant for the 25-year-old pass-catcher.
"I've put a lot of time into this and there were a lot of days that I didn't think this would come, but I had to stay true to it. I just kept working, and here we are," Fortson said. "I know there's so much more work to do, but I was told to take my small victories as well and cherish them. It's been a long road."
A long road indeed, but one in which Fortson has navigated with the spirit of a player who believed in what he could do all along. It's a mentality that stood out to Chiefs' Head Coach Andy Reid.
"He busts his tail and he's earned the right to have made that cut. It's been his attitude all the way through – just a positive attitude and [the mindset of a guy] fighting for a spot. That's been the one common denominator that's gotten him to this point," Reid said. "It was a matter of becoming more consistent and growing in the size part of it. Remember, he was a junior college quarterback, then a receiver and then a tight end, so he's kind of gone through a gamut of positions there."
Fortson's experience at different positions could lend to Coach Reid's creativity, too. He's proven he can play tight end at the professional level, but he also possesses the athleticism to play wide receiver if needed. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Fortson logged 15 snaps in the slot and 14 snaps out wide during the preseason.
Additionally, when it comes to Fortson's abilities at tight end, the Chiefs found the end zone through the air against Minnesota while utilizing an offensive formation that featured four tight ends. To contextualize just how unique that was, that kind of scheme was only used a grand total of 11 times – with only two pass attempts – last season across the NFL.
The point is that Fortson is more than just a good story, he has the tools to be a chess piece offensively who can create mismatches for the opposition. Of course, he's ready for whatever the coaching staff throws his way.
"If they needed me to go out there and play longsnapper, I could go out there and do it," Fortson said jokingly. "Wherever they need me to play, that's where I'll be."
Fortson's ascension to the active roster goes beyond his efforts on offense though, as players in his position – especially pass-catchers looking to fill out the roster – must contribute on special teams. It's why Fortson approached Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub for advice prior to last season.
"He told me that I needed to be more dominant and that I needed to go out there with an even hungrier mindset, so I didn't leave any stone unturned. I didn't take any plays off, I approached everything like it was a game rep," Fortson explained. "I messed up here and there, but everything was fast, and everything was precise. I was intentional with everything that I did."
Fortson logged the most special teams' snaps of any player in the Chiefs' initial preseason matchup against San Francisco, and according to PFF's metrics, no player fared better. He finished the preseason with 29 total snaps on special teams – the second most on the squad – and the best overall PFF grade among players with significant snaps.
"He came in my office and asked what he needed to do, so I laid it out for him," said Toub, who mentioned Fortson when asked to name a player who raised their stock on special teams this summer. "I'm so excited about him because he's done it. He's put himself in a position to be successful."
It all culminated in Fortson's arrival on the 53-man roster this week, marking an achievement years in the making. A story that began with a tryout player from a small school without a set position continued on Tuesday with the validation of a roster spot, but this journey is far from over.
"I don't have the mindset that I've made it. This is a step in the right direction, but this isn't the dream. This isn't my end goal. I have dreams, and I have plans to see them through. This is just the beginning and I'm just getting started," Fortson said. "We were already dangerous before I was [on the active roster], but I think we just got a little bit more dangerous."