Back with another installment in our Q&A with Football Outsiders. As I noted yesterday, in honor of the release of the Football Outsiders Almanac, which helps make the rest of us look smart, we're doing a Q&A with the Football Outsiders folks about the KC Chiefs.
Today's question: How much can we expect the return of Tony Moeaki to help Dwayne Bowe?
From Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders:
Moeaki's rookie numbers in 2010 (47 catches, 556 yards, three touchdowns) were nice enough, but they pale in comparison to the Gronkowskis and Wittens and Grahams of the world.
Moeaki does not bring elite production to the table, but he does have a rare ability to get open downfield. Moeaki was the target on 31 passes that went at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage in 2010. Only six tight ends were thrown so many balls at that distance, and remember that Kansas City ranked 29th in pass attempts that season. His success rate (including defensive pass interference flags) on those throws was 65 percent. The average for tight ends at that range was 52 percent.
Without Moeaki, Kansas City's tight ends (primarily Leonard Pope, with Anthony Becht and Jake O'Connell backing up) were basically non-factors as receivers. The Chiefs threw to their tight ends only 50 times in 2011, less than any team except Chicago. And those throws usually didn't go far. Only 11 times all season did Kansas City throw to a tight end more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, easily the lowest total in the league.
Moeaki's presence changes how teams can play defense against Kansas City. Any Cover-2 or Tampa-2 scheme is likely to leave Moeaki out-running linebackers and splitting the safeties down the middle. That should make life easier for Bowe, but we also need to temper our enthusiasm. In 2010, with Moeaki around, Bowe was still seventh in receiving yards (although he led the NFL in touchdowns). And that was the only time in his career he has ranked in the top 10 in that category. His catch rate has never been as high as 60 percent. Bowe is pretty average for a No. 1 receiver. He's clearly on a lower tier than guys like Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, and Mike Wallace, and expecting him to suddenly turn into that kind of player in his sixth season is not realistic.