Kansas City Chiefs: Full Position and Depth-Chart Breakdown at Wide Receiver
Wide receiver is the most contentious position on the Kansas City Chiefs' roster. It is seen as the main reason why the offense struggled to match the heights of the defense during the early stages of last season.
Yet despite the obvious question marks, the position was largely ignored in both free agency and the 2014 NFL draft. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson seem content to manufacture plays in the passing game via scheme, rather than elite talent.
That means two often-maligned starters from last season remain in place. Their only credible challenge comes from a player recently regarded as a first-round bust.
Where things get intriguing is with three unheralded players who could be utilized in different ways. Here's how things look for the Chiefs at wide receiver.
He's not everybody's idea of a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but Dwayne Bowe remains the main man at the position in Kansas City. The 29-year-old is actually a useful scheme fit for Reid and Pederson's version of the West Coast offense.
The Chiefs rely a lot on slants, the type of in-breaking routes that suit Bowe. The 6'2", 221-pounder still has the frame to win inside and across the middle.
Sadly, the experienced pass-catcher doesn't always use his physicality to his advantage. Bowe should be a much more consistent force across the middle, particularly in this scheme.
Many of the other familiar criticism's also still apply to Bowe. His production is meager, evidenced by the 673 yards he tallied from 57 catches in 2013, per stats from NFL.com.
The veteran is also still guilty of the occasional drop, and his conditioning is often poor. However, Bowe appears ready to put the latter issue behind him, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.
As it relates to his play in OTAs, perhaps this is a good time to remember that yes, these practices are non-padded, and yes, it’s much harder to make a contested catch when there’s a real threat of taking a hit. But these practices are also about getting a jump start on continuity for the fall, and there are some early signs that Bowe may be primed for a bounce-back season.
For one, Bowe — who said he played between 212 and 214 pounds last season — said he is a little slimmer than he was at this point last year.
It’s no coincidence, either, that Bowe hired a nutritionist and personal trainer this offseason for the first time in his career.
None of this erases a disappointing 2013 season for Bowe. And being in good shape in June is nice, but it doesn’t matter without production in the fall and (the Chiefs hope) winter. So we don’t know what this means. We can’t know what it means, yet.
If Bowe's ability to work over the middle is crucial to the Kansas City passing game, Donnie Avery's talent for stretching the field is just as significant.
The 30-year-old speedster averaged 14.9 yards per catch in 2013, per numbers via NFL.com. He represented the team's only credible deep threat.
Avery has used OTAs to show that skill hasn't diminished, according to Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star:
Donnie Avery demonstrated during Wednesday’s offseason practice why the Chiefs think their passing game will improve this season even though they didn’t draft or sign a free-agent wide receiver.
Avery, whose first season with the Chiefs was marked by inconsistency, flashed his speed while burning cornerback Ron Parker for a 50-yard completion from Alex Smith in seven-on-seven drills. In team work, he leaped high to grab another pass from Smith.
Avery has always possessed talent. Sadly, his gifts have not been matched with an ability to stay healthy. He was on the shelf all of 2010 and appeared in only eight games for the Tennessee Titans in 2011.
But Avery's last two seasons have been significantly better. He made 15 starts for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, before making 14 for the Chiefs during the last campaign.
He responded well in an offense based on consistently producing yards after the catch. Avery thrived whenever Reid crafted ways to get him the ball in space.
That's because his natural speed is a major asset. But it's a weapon best used to attack defenses vertically.
It's a vital quality in Reid's offense. When Avery is on the field, defenses have to respect the deep threat he poses.
That means quarterback Alex Smith will see a lot of single-high and Cover 2 looks. That's always good news for the Chiefs, whose best pass-catching weapons thrive when outrunning underneath defenders.
Avery is never likely to make the consistent impact a more physically versatile, complete receiver will. But his ability to stretch the field makes him an essential feature of this offense.
Junior Hemingway is one of the more intriguing players at this position. He offers the Chiefs excellent size at 6'1" and 225 pounds, while still possessing deceptive speed.
Those qualities make Hemingway a potential mismatch, provided he is used correctly. One possible role could be as a slot receiver, something ESPN.com Chiefs beat reporter Adam Teicher has suggested:
So it's no surprise that Hemingway has been first in line at offseason practice as the Chiefs' slot receiver. De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs' fourth-round draft pick, hasn't been able to participate under NFL rules because classes at his college, Oregon, are still in session. The Chiefs will give him a look as the slot receiver when he arrives.
Thomas is fast and the Chiefs need to find a way to get him in their lineup. Still, he'll have to produce a lot if he's going to be more efficient than Hemingway, who believes being 225 pounds as a slot receiver has its advantages.
Hemingway's point about his size being useful on the inside is a valid one. He's big enough to stand up to strong safeties and linebackers, while being quick enough to outrun them.
Hemingway can also be counted on to physically dominate cornerbacks in the slot. He is brimming with untapped big-play potential.
Trusting Hemingway as a slot receiver might be the best way to unleash his hidden playmaker.
A.J. Jenkins crashed and burned as a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. Yet following Reid's decision to trade for him during last season, Jenkins offered glimpses that his career can still be salvaged.
The ex-Illinois burner displayed true deep speed, a quality otherwise in short supply in this passing game. Figures taken from NFL.com show that Jenkins averaged 16.3 yards on his eight catches as a Chief last season.
Like Avery, Jenkins is a threat to produce a big play whenever he gets the ball in his hands. His ability as a runner after the catch perfectly suits Reid's myriad of creative screens, particularly those targeting the middle of the field.
Staying healthy and in shape is the challenge for the 24-year-old. If he can, then Jenkins' role in the offense will grow.
The 6'0, 200-pounder's open-field speed is something Reid and Pederson can utilize effectively, particularly whenever they unleash it in space.
Don't count on Jenkins winning a starting role, but he should be active as a third or fourth pass-catcher in the rotation. If Jenkins can't make it in this receiver-friendly system, then his NFL career is likely doomed.
Rookie De'Anthony Thomas is the ideal "Joker"-style weapon a creative play-caller like Reid loves to make a feature of his offense. Ostensibly a running back during his collegiate days at Oregon, Thomas is most effective as a roving pass-catcher.
The mighty mite is a dangerous burner who can attack a defense from multiple alignments. That's just how Reid and the Chiefs used Thomas during rookie minicamp, per ESPN.com reporter Adam Teicher:
The Chiefs continued to utilize De'Anthony Thomas in a variety of spots but he received more work as a wide receiver than he did on Saturday. Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, still lined up plenty of times as a running back.
Though he could get some work there when the regular season begins, I still don't see how the Chiefs will get much out of him as a running back.
Wherever he lines up, Thomas will see plenty of work as a pass-catcher. Reid showed last season that he is fond of splitting his running backs out in wide receiver alignments. Both Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis made plays thanks to that kind of scheming.
Thomas appears to be ticketed to take over the dual-threat position occupied by Dexter McCluster in 2013. With McCluster now a member of the Tennessee Titans, coaches are encouraged by Thomas' potential for the role, according to Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star:
Final exams for Oregon — which runs on the quarter system — weren’t done until Friday.
Thomas did attend the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp, however, and the coaches are eager to get another look at him.
Receivers coach David Culley agreed, and said Thomas had a little bit of Dexter McCluster in him.
McCluster made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner and had the best receiving season of his career as a slot receiver under Reid last season.
The comparison to McCluster is an apt one. It hints that Reid and Pederson should have plenty in store for Thomas once the new season begins.
While McCluster often attacked from the slot, he was also utilized from the backfield. Similarly, Thomas can be moved around as both a pass-catcher and a ball-carrier.
Screens, jet sweeps and swing passes are just some of the concepts that will maximize Thomas' naturally explosive talents.
Reid and Pederson love to move their personnel around and get speed into space. Given his natural versatility and quickness, Thomas should play a major role in this season's receiving rotation.
But Thomas' potential significance does strike at a central issue for Kansas City's receiving corps this season. He is a 'tweener who will be schemed into space, rather than a classic receiver who will win physically.
Thomas is the kind of gadget weapon that shows the Chiefs are content to rely on creativity rather than personnel in this season's passing game.
Former Canadian Football League star Weston Dressler is another diminutive speedster who could add plenty to this offense as a versatile weapon from the slot.
Dressler had already made a positive impression at OTAs, at least before injury struck, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star:
Slot receiver Weston Dressler made the Derrick Thomas Memorial Play of the Day when he juked third-round cornerback Phillip Gaines out of his shoes and beat him deep on a go route. The throw from quarterback Chase Daniel was on the money, too. Unfortunately for Dressler, he missed most of the practice because of a hamstring injury.
I think it will be difficult for Weston Dressler to make the regular-season roster. The Chiefs signed him from the Canadian Football League, where he was a star slot receiver. The drafting of De’Anthony Thomas might have doomed his chances. The Chiefs don’t need two small slot receivers.Dressler has been running behind Junior Hemingway as the slot receiver in practice, and Thomas isn’t even here yet. Dressler will get a shot but I don’t expect him to make it.
Frankie Hammond Jr. and the Rest
Not surprisingly, the rest of the position group features pass-catchers who face a major challenge surviving final cuts. Perhaps the player with the best chance of making the grade is Frankie Hammond Jr.
He impressed during OTAs, according to ESPN.com writer Adam Teicher:
One of the developmental veterans participating in camp is wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., who has made several nice catches. Hammond is fast and would challenge for a roster spot with a strong training camp. Hammond joined the Chiefs last year as an undrafted rookie and spent all season on the practice squad.
Again, Hammond offers that precious commodity of speed. That's something vital to a passing game that must be more expansive in 2014.
Defenses naturally pinch the field with Jamaal Charles in the backfield and Alex Smith at quarterback. Showing more proficiency for getting behind a secondary is essential to developing an offense that can effectively complement a stout and opportunistic defense.
If Hammond proves he can stretch the field, he'll still be around when the new season starts.
Competing with Hammond is ex-San Francisco 49ers special teamer Kyle Williams. He's another speedster, but one little used as a receiver throughout his pro career.
It's difficult to imagine that changing, even in a rebuilding position group. Football's third phase is where Williams' value will continue to lie.
Undrafted rookies Albert Wilson and Darryl Surgent must make major impressions to stay relevant. Surgent perhaps has the best chance, due to his superior size, along with skills as a returner.
Reid and general manager John Dorsey have largely trusted what they have at this vital position. It's a roll of the dice by a regime that rightly earned a lot of plaudits for this team's turnaround in 2013.
The fate of their gamble depends on belief that receivers such as Bowe and Avery can become more consistent. A lot also rests on the development of a player such as Jenkins, who has the talent to flourish in this offense.
If Thomas embraces his roving role, he'll go some way to keeping this passing game relevant. As it stands, though, creative scheming will have to outweigh talent for the Chiefs' receiving corps this season.
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