The range of possible outcomes for the Chiefs’ wide receiving core in 2017 is the most widespread of any position group on the team.
Kansas City will need its receivers to improve across the board if the team hopes to become a top 10 offense.
Examining the 2016 offensive attack, on the surface, is not bad at all, with Kansas City ranking seventh overall in points scored and Alex Smith setting a new career high with 3,502 passing yards.
But, when narrowing the microscope on just the wide receivers, the entire unit hauled in a total of four touchdowns on the year, accounting for only 26 percent of Smith’s scores. The receiving group also accounted for just 55 percent of the team’s receiving yards.
This lack of impact did not hinder the team’s overall success, as defense and special teams helped bring their point total up near the top of the league, but the Chiefs did just shy of nothing to improve the unit in 2017.
Jeremy Maclin had an extremely disappointing year by his standards in 2016, but in just 12 games still accounted for half of the unit’s touchdowns and 28 percent of the group’s yards receiving. Maclin now dawns the colors of the Baltimore Ravens, and the Chiefs will look in house to not only replace that production but, ideally, improve.
Tyreek Hill is the obvious choice to take a leap forward in his second year but how much better can he get? Hill brought in 61 catches for 593 yards in 2016, and now, with an increased role, figures to ascend. But with Smith under center, a quarterback that’s not known for his deep ball, Hill’s speed and overall success might not have as high of a ceiling as some believe.
The key for Hill will be to stay consistently sure handed, especially when given the opportunity to catch a deep ball, while also getting more involved in the short passing game and turning in the occasional game breaker.
Hill looked like a number one receiver at training camp and a 1,000-yard season is not out of the question, but it’s also extremely optimistic for a 23-year-old entering just his second full season as a wide out.
If third-year receiver Chris Conley can reach the potential that his combine measurables say he can, that would take an enormous load off Hill’s shoulder and give Kansas City a legitimate third weapon in the passing game. The only problem for Kansas City is that in two years he’s rarely shown signs of achieving that status.
The 2015 third round draft pick enters 2017 as the clear-cut number two option despite bringing in just one touchdown in the past two years. 530 yards on 44 catches makes for an encouraging 12 yards per catch, but bringing in three or fewer catches in 12 games is not a big enough impact for a player of Conley’s potential.
This is still Conley’s best chance of breaking out, as the competition behind him is no real threat to his playing time. He’s shown the ability to stretch the field, having completions of 40 or more yards in six games, along with the awareness to make a tough catch in traffic. Drops have not been much of a problem either, meaning all the signs are pointing to a strong campaign, but nothing’s guaranteed in the NFL.
The door is wide open after Hill and Conley, with the 25-year old Albert Wilson serving as the elder statesmen of the group, entering his fourth professional season. The Georgia State alum’s 451 yard 2015 season was almost double his total in 2016, and with the loss of Maclin and trust of Smith, he could get closer to his career high this year.
Demarcus Robinson, De’Anthony Thomas and Jehu Chesson round out a core of unproven commodities, with Thomas’ main success coming on special teams. Robinson and Chesson flashed at times in the preseason, but the inexperience might limit their opportunities when push comes to shove in the regular season.
Barring an out of the blue jump from the backend group, the unit’s success lies in the hands of Hill and Conley. It’s hard to imagine the Chiefs offense coming close to last season’s success if either regress, but both are still young enough to push their game to the next level.
In an Andy Reid offense, all wide outs will get some chances. It’s now just a matter of what they each do with the golden opportunity they’ve been given.
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