Dexter McCluster is not a wide receiver... but he's been impersonating one for a few years now.
Dexter McCluster, he enigmatic young player from Ole Miss, seemed to carve-out a place in the NFL in 2013 as a gifted punt returner, being named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams as a specialist. Well isn't that nice?
I remember my good friend Nick Wright's reaction when the Chiefs selected McCluster (and Javier Arenas) with second round picks in 2010 - a hilarious analogy about putting a set of rims on a beat-up old Pontiac. Strong debate has endured through four seasons as McCluster's offensive impact still hasn't matched his college production.
As a running back in his junior and senior seasons combined, Dex had 88 receptions for 1150 yards and 8 TDs in addition to his 290 carries for over 1800 yards and 14 TDs. He was one of the most electric playmakers in the NCAA's top conference, with dozens of NFL teams going gaga over potential gadgetry.
Our modern era of the NFL is all about match-ups. Where can we find an edge; a mismatch?
This is a player with below average height and weight and no better than average speed, elusiveness or route running. He's never broken a tackle, can't over-power anyone, can't run away from defensive backs and rarely creates enough separation to flash any of the same skills he puts on display when returning punts.
In order to put McCluster in a position to succeed, he needs to at least feign being a running back. There are plenty of linebackers that can run with McCluster, but his chances of getting loose against a defensive back are so much lower that he's basically washed-out as a full-time receiver. The ideal matchup for Dex is always going to be drawing a linebacker on passing routes. The fact that he's so rarely afforded opportunities out of the backfield is mystifying to me, most notably in the screen game.
One of the most glaring weaknesses he has as a receiver is that he doesn't have any remarkable skills. Other small-statured receivers either have elite speed (DeSean Jackson), exceptional route running (Wes Welker) or the total package, minus ideal height (Steve Smith). This limits the routes he can run effectively and even where you can line him up based on favorable matchups.
When the dust settles from NFL free agency, your boy Dex is probably going to get a decent chunk of money. I'm not going to be upset if the Chiefs make him a priority, but the price has to be right. Personally, I wouldn't go out of my way to keep him.
Truth is, Dexter McCluster is one of two things:
A) Not as good as we hoped
B) Not being utilized correctly
I'll let you pick one or the other on your own, but neither option inspires much confidence ... especially at contract time.
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