Which Kansas City Chiefs Receiver Is Primed for a Breakout Season?
The Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to take a receiver in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Ask anybody. As seen on NFL.com, most mock drafts created after the final whistle blew in the Super Bowl had the Chiefs set to take a receiver.
NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock went on record more times that I'd like to count stating the 2014 draft class—and specifically the receiver position—was the deepest he had seen in at least 10 years.
Mayock had this to say during a predraft conference call:
From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably ten years. That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top‑10 pick last year.
After the Chiefs turned in one of the least productive receiving seasons in the NFL in 2013, nearly everyone was sure that the team would take one of the top pass-catching prospects.
As we all now know, that never happened.
In fact, not only did Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid not take a receiver in the first round, they didn't draft one during the entire three-day event.
While this may have angered many Chiefs fans and befuddled the so-called experts, it only goes to show that Reid and Dorsey clearly have faith in the players currently on the roster and their ability to have a breakout year during the 2014 season.
But who will rise to the top of the Chiefs' receiving corps?
While making these predictions during mandatory minicamp in June may be premature, the following slides depict the clear front-runners in the Chiefs' receiving game.
Junior Hemingway found a way to make a contribution to the team every time he was on the field in 2013. Whether it was on special teams, making tackles down the field or catching nearly every ball thrown his direction, he did all the right things last season.
Hemingway was drafted by the Chiefs with the 238th overall pick in 2012. Playing his college ball in Michigan, the 6'1", 225-pound receiver found himself struggling to make the Chiefs' roster during his rookie year.
He was originally cut from the team before being placed on the practice squad. He was then elevated to the active roster prior to the Chiefs' final game of 2012.
Last season, Hemingway made his presence known early. He was the team's top receiver during the preseason and even hauled in a touchdown during Kansas City's Week 1 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished the season with 13 receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Hemingway has the potential to make a huge impact with the team this season. Without a clearly defined No. 2 receiver or solid slot receiver, he could find himself at the top of the roster before the end of training camp in August.
In fact, according to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, he's already taking the majority of snaps at the slot position.
Whereas Hemingway was taken in the final round of the draft, Jenkins was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Considered universally a bust by his coaches in The City by the Bay, Jenkins came to the Chiefs last year following a preseason matchup between the 49ers and the Chiefs.
The deal between Dorsey and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was a rare one-for-one swap of former first-round receivers. In exchange for the services of Jenkins, the Chiefs sent oft-maligned receiver Jon Baldwin to San Francisco.
Jenkins didn't come to the Chiefs and burn up the record books by any means. Entering a new system on a new team without the benefit of training camp, it took some time for Jenkins to even see the field.
However, despite a couple of drops early on, Jenkins became quite sure-handed when called up. He made a huge reception for 48 yards during the Week 17 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, when the Chiefs' backups nearly sent the Chargers' starters home with a loss.
Jenkins' biggest enemy heading into the 2014 season is his own confidence. Overcoming the label of "draft bust" can be insurmountable for some players.
Securing the starting role across from Dwayne Bowe would go a long way toward making people forget about his first three unsubstantial seasons.
When Donnie Avery signed a free-agent contract with the Chiefs last offseason, many thought he would be the fleet-footed, sure-handed answer across from Bowe in the team's receiving corps.
Despite the concerns many had about Avery's tendency to drop the ball, he quickly became the Chiefs' No. 2 receiver after Baldwin was traded to the 49ers.
Unfortunately, those fears materialized quickly when it became clear Avery had a problem catching the ball. Even though he scored the first touchdown of the Chiefs' 2013 season, he only went on to haul in one more score during the entire year.
According to ESPN.com, Avery was targeted a total of 72 times in 2014 but only caught 40 passes for a total of 596 yards.
If Avery wants to take that next step and not find himself on the outside looking in at the end of training camp, he needs to get better at catching the ball. With his size (5'11", 200 lbs) and quickness, he could prove to be a very productive receiver in Reid's system, but it all starts with catching the pass when targeted.
Should the Chiefs make an adjustment and push Avery to the inside slot receiver position, he could potentially be more productive on short crossing routes.
That seemed to be where he made the majority of his impact last season, as he would constantly find a way to get open in space and make something out of nothing.
Dwayne Bowe is the Chiefs' No. 1 receiver. There is no disputing that fact. He has the contract and skills to back that claim up. However, coming off the worst season of his career, he needs to have a bounce-back year in the absolute worst way.
With the exception of a suspension-shortened 2011 season, Bowe posted career-low numbers in receptions and yardage last season.
Granted, he didn't get much help from quarterback Alex Smith, whose favorite target was running back Jamaal Charles.
Still, even with the contract he was given last season—Spotrac indicates it will make Bowe the highest-paid Chief in 2014, barring a new deal for another player—Bowe has to take a serious step forward. That seems to already be happening during this past week's minicamp.
"I think Dwayne came back in phenomenal shape, that's one thing," he told The Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor (h/t NFL.com's Mike Coppinger). "It looks like it out here. He's really moving around well."
Time will tell if "moving around well" will translate into Bowe being a top-10 receiver, which his contract would suggest.
Who Will It Be?
The Chiefs currently have 12 players listed at wide receiver on their roster. As this week's minicamp comes to an end and the dog days of summer get underway, training camp will be upon the NFL in no time.
The 12 receivers will most likely be trimmed down to six by the time the season rolls around in September.
The Chiefs fielded one of the worst receiving corps in the league last year. If they hope to even come close to repeating their success from last year, which included a nine-game turnaround and a playoff appearance for the first time since 2010, that group of players will have to get better.
Whether it's Hemingway, Jenkins, Avery, Bowe or one of the unknowns on the roster hoping to make an impact in the NFL, one or more of these players must make a huge impact this season.
Otherwise, it's back to mediocrity for the storied Chiefs franchise.