Kansas City Chiefs: Dexter McCluster's Opportunities Are Limited in 2012

Farzin VousoughianContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 31:  Running back Dexter McCluster #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes up field against the San Diego Chargers during the second quarter on October 31, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

After the Kansas City Chiefs had their first full-squad practice on Monday, the Kansas City Star mentioned that Dexter McCluster worked "exclusively" with the receivers, signaling a shift from his role on the team the last two seasons.

When McCluster was drafted with the 36th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he came out of Ole Miss as a running back and was told he would play wide receiver with the Chiefs after some private workouts.

When the Chiefs' 2010 preseason got underway against the Atlanta Falcons, fans were excited to see the debut of the team's 2010 draft class for their first exhibition game. McCluster was on that list as fans wanted to see what he could do as a slot receiver. But Chiefs fans did not get to see much of that.

In his first preseason game, McCluster entered the game in the second quarter and only caught three passes while he ran five times for 25 yards. For some fans, it was not a surprise since McCluster played running back in college. However, fans were curious to know how he would be used.

During his rookie season, McCluster ran the ball 19 times and caught 21 passes in a year where he missed five games and was limited in his return due to a high ankle sprain.

In his second season with the Chiefs, McCluster saw a lot of action at running back after Jamaal Charles suffered a season-ending injury early in the season. Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle struggled as a duo, so the Chiefs decided to put McCluster as a running back.

He ran the ball 114 times for 516 yards and had the team's highest yard-per-carry average with a 4.5. He caught only 46 passes last season.

The Chiefs have tried to take advantage of McCluster's speed by placing him as a returner, but his only significant game as a special-teams player was in his regular season debut against the San Diego Chargers. McCluster shattered Dante Hall's record for the longest punt return in franchise history, taking a touchdown back off of a punt for 94 yards.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 01:  Running back Dexter McCluster #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes with the ball against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Fast-forward to today. McCluster has not panned out the way Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli thought he would.

How will McCluster be able to prove himself in 2012? It is clear that McCluster won't be able to get many carries in 2012 with Charles returning and Peyton Hillis joining the team.

As for wide receivers, the Chiefs have two first-round picks in Dwayne Bowe—when he signs with the team—and Jonathan Baldwin. The Chiefs also have Steve Breaston as part of the receiving corps and fans believe rookie Devon Wylie may get a lot of time as a slot receiver this season.

The Star also mentioned that McCluster was first in line while practicing punt returns. Breaston, Wylie and Javier Arenas were also part of the mix.

If the Chiefs avoid the injury bug this season, McCluster might not be able to contribute much as a receiver or as a rusher. But McCluster does have a chance to take a big role with the team as a return man. The Chiefs do not have a dominant return man, so the spot is wide open.

If the team names McCluster the top returner on the team, all McCluster has to do is live up to his potential to make sure he has a roster spot and to rejuvenate his professional playing career.

McCluster must use special teams as a way to make sure he does not get released. If he struggles, it would not be a surprise if he was let go mid-season.

This is his final opportunity to make an impression in Kansas City.