The return of Matt Cassel should mark the return of the passing game in Kansas City. Maybe it wont be pretty all the time, but Cassel is still a significant upgrade over Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton. The Chiefs have the opportunity to return to the playoffs if the passing offense can get on track.
Franchise player Dwayne Bowe will continue to be the No. 1 target in the passing game, but the Chiefs need a complimentary player to step up. Cassel's other receivers include Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin, and they will be given opportunities to help the Chiefs get back to the playoffs. It's Breaston though, that will have a significantly greater impact in 2012.
The Chiefs drafted Baldwin in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft to eventually replace or compliment Bowe, but he got off to a rough start with the team. First a hamstring injury limited him during training camp and then he hurt his wrist in an altercation with Thomas Jones. When Baldwin finally did see the field, he wasn't very effective despite a few highlight-worthy grabs.
Perhaps the lockout-shortened offseason hurt Baldwin's development, but he only showed flashes of becoming the receiver Scott Pioli hoped he would be when he drafted him. Receivers can take a couple years to develop, but will Baldwin make his jump in 2012, 2013 or 2014? There's just not a lot to indicate that Baldwin is going to be a reliable option for the Chiefs in 2012. Baldwin will need to add consistency to go along with his acrobatics to become an impact player.
Baldwin has the ball skills and physical size to be dominant if he improves his catch rate. Baldwin only caught 41.2 percent of his 51 targets in 2011 according to ProFootballFocus. It's an indication that Baldwin struggled in 2011. Part of that is to be expected with a young receiver and a shaky quarterback situation. If he starts to develop consistency during training camp, Cassel and the Chiefs may start to use him as something more than a jump-ball specialist.
Like Baldwin, Breaston didn't produce much as a rookie, but he's been a model of consistency for the past four years. He's a smaller receiver that many believe is best suited for the slot even though he's played effectively on the outside. Breaston caught 63.5 percent of his targets in 2011 according to ProFootballFocus and put up respectable yardage stats for a No. 2 receiver. While the attention shifts to Baldwin, Breaston will continue to put up respectable stats and make a bigger impact than the more heralded youngster.
Something about Breaston just isn't conducive to him getting the credit he deserves as an extremely solid receiver that's still in his prime. Maybe Breaston makes too few highlight-reel plays or his reputation as a skinny return man has never totally dissipated. Whatever the case, it's not fair and Breaston will be an impact player on offense third only to Bowe and Jamaal Charles.
It's the reliability that really separates Breaston from Baldwin as an impact player. Breaston caught at least four passes in 11 games in 2011. Baldwin's best game was five catches and had six games where he caught one pass. Baldwin still has plenty of time to develop, but until then, Breaston will continue to be one of Cassel's go-to weapons in the passing game.
The Chiefs need to give Baldwin as many reps during training camp to see if he might eventually be the receiver that can replace Dwayne Bowe, but when the season gets started the Chiefs would be wise to keep Breaston on the field as much as possible.