Broccoli or spinach? Creed or Nickelback? The works of M. Night Shyamalan or getting your tooth pulled by Gary Busey?
Donnie Avery or A.J. Jenkins?
Four equally soul-withering choices that nobody with a beating heart should be burdened with making. At least, after the Kansas City Chiefs didn't draft a No. 2 wideout, that's what local critics would lead one to believe.
Is it fair? Probably not. No one should be grouped with Nickelback and Shyamalan—the gasoline and Bic of sensory suicide.
However, throughout 2013, Avery and Jenkins did little to further their respective cases, arming naysayers and cementing stereotypes throughout 18 weeks (including playoffs) of face-palming performances.
So, will 2014 simply serve as an encore for the pick-your-poison scenario? Or, did Avery and/or Jenkins show signs of progress as the season the unraveled?
Avery: Pros and Cons
Despite turning 30 years old this coming June, Avery still ranks as one of the faster receivers in NFL.
Whether working the middle of the field via slants and screens or exploiting crevices in deep coverage, the majority of his receptions—short, intermediate and long—occur between or just outside the hash marks (seams).
As long as his forward motion doesn't cease, he's a capable open-field runner.
And if given a cushion while releasing (off the line), Avery is also a sufficient route-runner, as shown when Alex Smith connects with him on this sluggo route versus San Diego.
Avery's cons undoubtedly outweigh his pros.
For starters, while he still flashes first-class speed, his lateral agility is average, which affects his game in a number of facets. If defenders contain the edge, lackluster elusiveness minimizes his ability after the catch, and his route running regresses when he's tasked with a relatively sharp break.
However, nearly all of the glaring voids in his game stem from an unwillingness to embrace contact.
Out of 94 receivers who received a quarter of their team's targets, Avery's drop percentage (11.11) ranked 67th. In the prior year (before joining the Chiefs), his drop percentage (16.67) slotted him at No. 79 of 82 receivers.
Also, he's among the worst blocking wideouts in the league. Avery shies away from contact and continually allows defenders to bypass him with ease.
Jenkins: Pros and Cons
Like his aforementioned teammate, Jenkins is a speedster (4.37 40 time) who takes the top off of defenses. However, at 6'0", 200 pounds, he owns a slightly larger frame than his 29-year-old cohort.
Throughout college, he consistently reeled in buzz-worthy catches despite bone-rattling hits. Contact (or at least the threat of it) doesn't tend to alter his mentality.
He attacks the ball at its highest point and exhibits a few veteran-savvy moves. In the subsequent example, last year's newcomer subtly pushes off to create space and convert a 3rd-and-14 prayer.
Jenkins is also a natural hands-catcher and better-than-average playmaker in the open field.
On the heels of Avery's wild-card injury, he executed the third-down screen that the veteran popularized last season, churning out 27 yards—and evading a 300-pound road block/nose tackle—along the way.
And while there isn't anything distinctive about his blocking, it's leaps and bounds better than that of Avery—there isn't a question of desire.
In the past, a handful of people have questioned Jenkins' work ethic—not that he's lackadaisical, but that the former first-rounder needs to go the extra mile (in terms of preparation).
Obviously, his preseason arrival handicapped his rapport with Smith and Chase Daniel, which was evidenced on a number of occasions.
Here, Jenkins (top)—who, at the time, was again replacing an injured Avery—runs a routine corner route and is greeted with heaps of space. But since Smith didn't trust that his wideout would be in the desired place, he prematurely dumped it off to Jamaal Charles.
Also, while Jenkins was a relatively sure-handed receiver in college, he has authored a few head-scratching drops in the NFL. At Denver, he nearly snagged a momentum-swinging reception, but since he failed to secure the pass, Chris Harris was able to club the ball free.
Furthermore, whether planting, coming out of breaks or turning upfield, Jenkins occasionally loses his balance.
False Starts and Loose Ends
So, who should be favored to win the ensuing battle?
It depends on your definition of "win."
If the bet orbits around who will be the Week 1 starter, the smart money is in Avery's corner. He's entering his second offseason in Andy Reid's system, whereas Jenkins is approaching his first. Plus, the veteran has four more years of NFL experience notched under his belt.
Throughout 2013, Avery slowly but surely established a trust with Smith. Although the wideout offers a fairly one-dimensional repertoire, No. 11 at least knows what to expect.
That being said, considering the Chiefs didn't draft a No. 2 wideout—De'Anthony Thomas will occupy the slot—Jenkins won't endure a shortage of offseason opportunities.
If he masters the playbook and polishes his rough ends, it'll will go a long way in rebuilding his confidence and recapturing the strut that he stepped onto the field with at Illinois.
Tangibly speaking, Jenkins and Avery reside in different area codes—the former reigning superior in nearly every way.
However, throughout his two professional seasons, the third-year target looked like someone who constantly second-guessed every on-field decision.
If Jenkins lays the issue to rest, his talent will secure two starts—one on the field and a fresher one off of it.
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