The Chiefs need help at wide receiver.
In related news, water is wet, gravity exists, a Lannister always repays his debts, and Jamaal Charles is awesome.
It's not as though I'm saying anything earth-shattering when I point out the Chiefs had issues at receiver this year. The mere mention of the position conjures up flashbacks of A.J. Jenkins tripping on unseen obstacles or Junior Hemingway suddenly growing boards where his hands used to be. It was a tough, tough year at that position.
Albert Wilson (in a very relative sense of the word) burst onto the scene late in the year, providing a much-needed spark in the passing game and the ability to actually stretch the field (something the offense BADLY lacked this season, for a variety of reasons). I reviewed every route Wilson ran in his first significant action against Arizona here, and I reviewed every route Wilson ran against the Raiders here. Yeah, we're pretty desperate for some wide receiver talent.
Basically, Wilson provided competent play at a position where the word "competent" had been nothing more than a fond dream. Wilson continued to play well against the Steelers, and was INCHES from a game-changing play when a spleen-lacerating hit and some illegal contact from a defensive back prevented what could have been a huge touchdown.
Some buzz was starting, and fans were at least willing to open themselves up to the possibility that the Chiefs had a diamond in the rough.
Then Week 17 came. Wilson had no catches on four targets and a drop in the red zone. And many promptly forgot about his existence.
As I've talked about before, I have ... issues leaving questions unanswered. So the only thing I could do was go back and watch Wilson's routes on All-22 to figure out what had happened. Had he finally been exposed as yet another mediocre option at wide receiver? Or was something else happening?
I charted every route Wilson ran against the Chargers. I tracked the number of times he came open, the number of times he was targeted, the types of routes he ran, and the types of coverage he faced. As always, the real gauge of a receiver isn't just how he played when targeted. It's in whether he was able to create separation and get to a position where he COULD (or maybe SHOULD) have been targeted.
We'll take a look at San Diego, then try and reflect on Wilson's game tape as a whole. Is he a receiver the Chiefs should count on to contribute next season? Or did his lack of stats in Week 17 reflect a wide receiver who (like so many others we've watched this year) couldn't get himself open.
Hey, I've got an idea. Let's take a look at the VERY FIRST ROUTE Albert Wilson ran that day.
All right, all right ... let's be completely fair to Chase Daniel. This play ended up as a first down. Daniel went with the short throw (Jason Avant moving left) on a nicely-executed misdirection play. And really, as far as decisions go, it wasn't a TERRIBLE one. In fact, had Chase made a better throw (he threw it way behind Avant, forcing him to spin completely around and slowing him up for defenders) this is a 20-30 yard gain.
(Side note: see the big guy smushing the littler guy on the bottom-right of the red circle? Don't ever change, Travis Kelce)
However, if Daniel hits Wilson here it's a HUGE gain. As in, potential touchdown huge. The only defender with a prayer of catching Albert if he's hit in stride is the safety. And even that's an iffy proposition; we've all see Wilson's speed.
Chase had plenty of time, but seemed to start his progressions short (rather than looking down the field first then checking down). That could very well be what the play called for, but I have a hard time believing Wilson wasn't at least an option. It looks like the two routes (Avant and Wilson) are the "reads" for this play. And I'd definitely prefer my quarterback to go long-to-short with his reads when he's got time. Which Chase did here.
In Chase's defense, this was an issue Alex Smith had all year, too (going short-to-long with reads rather than long-to-short). So perhaps it's Andy Reid who deserves my ire.
The main point is that Week 17 wasn't a case of Wilson all of a sudden being unable to get open. His very first play from scrimmage he was loose (due to a defense getting completely faked out) and just didn't get targeted.
Wilson's role in the offense was more limited than it had been in the previous weeks. I counted 26 total routes run by Wilson where he was actually, you know, running a route and a legitimate option. Instead, Wilson was treated as a decoy or asked to block on multiple plays. He wasn't even on the field for quite a few snaps (relatively speaking to previous weeks). This must have been a frustrating game compared to his previous three weeks.
Of Wilson's 26 routes run, he achieved separation on 10 of them. This is a lower percentage than he'd seen in previous weeks, which could account for his stat-less (the red squiggly spell check line is angry with me, but "stat-less" should absolutely be a word) day. Of the five targets I counted (PFF has him listed at two targets. I counted five, though a couple of them might be called something closer to a throwaway), three came when he was open. Which, of course, means he was twice targeted despite not having separation. Unsurprisingly, both fell incomplete.
Wilson also had a drop on a play where he WAS open. You likely remember it, as it occurred in the red zone.
When you watch the play in real time, Wilson was about to get lit up the moment he caught the ball. However, I don't believe it was a case of alligator arms or anything like that. Instead, it appeared that Wilson was already in the process of turning to run before gathering the ball in. Classic rookie mistake, and it cost the team yards (though not many, as again, he was going to be hit immediately).
Overall, it was just a bad day for Wilson. He wasn't on the field as much as he had been on passing downs, and on at least six of the plays he WAS on the field he was clearly not a target of the play (blocking or sent on a "clear" go route, trying to get defenders away from the actual target). On the plays he was actually out on routes, he just wasn't targeted the times he was open.
One thing Wilson continued to demonstrate, though, was the ability to beat corners deep. The following two screen shots demonstrate why defenses can't sleep on Wilson's speed.
There are quite a few takeaways from this play.
1) Wilson got open with a really nice swat with his left hand on a pressing corner. It was almost a club, really. Wilson, who is just 5'9 but over 200 pounds, isn't afraid to play physical, though his technique needs work. But as you can see in the first shot, Wilson's club actually sent the corner stumbling to the ground.
2) A safety who doesn't have his hips turned to run with Wilson is dead in the water. Those two shots are in very close succession. But the time the safety turns his hips and starts to go, Wilson is way behind him.
3) This play highlighted how frustrating it is being a deep threat with nonexistent pass protection. While Chase MAY have had time to make an anticipatory throw here, the first shot is a big misleading as it looks as though his feet are set. They are not. Basically, Chase was already starting to brace for the impact of a free rusher.
Now, to be fair to the line, Chase's lack of pocket presence didn't help, as he drifted right in anticipation of a throw when he should have just stayed right in the pocket. That would have bought him the necessary time. That said, this pressure never should have reached Daniel, as the Chiefs had more than enough blockers to handle the rushers (AND the rusher who eventually got there was shoved inside by Jason Avant before he went on his route. The more I watch Avant the more I like him. Hard-nosed player, competent receiver).
Instead of just staying in front of their rushers, though, a linebacker gets through Ryan Harris and Zach Fulton. Again, blame falls on Chase as well, but the offensive line has to be able to account for their QB moving a couple feet to the right, and they have to be able to pass off blocks to one another (a major problem with this year's unit as a whole).
None of that has anything to do with Wilson, really. But it's worth noting what a frustrating job Chiefs receivers had at times. And it shows that despite his completely catch-less day, Wilson WAS putting himself in a position to make big plays. He just didn't get the ball.
Which brings us to next season. The Chiefs absolutely need to upgrade their wide receiver positions. While the play of the group improved quite a bit once Wilson became the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, it still isn't a good enough (or deep enough) group to run the offense efficiently.
However, I believe Wilson is part of the solution. At the very least, he's demonstrated repeatedly (including in the San Diego game, despite the lack of catches) his ability to stretch the defense vertically and force safeties to stay deep. There wasn't a single game he played significant snaps this season where he didn't get behind the safeties at least once. Teams absolutely have to respect his speed.
Additionally, Wilson's demonstrated more than just "running fast." He also displays decent quickness in and out of breaks, functional strength at the line to break press coverage (again, he needs to clean up his technique and consistency in that area), a willingness and ability to block down the field, and solid hands.
However, his most impressive and noticeable trait is his ability with the ball in his hands. Wilson has shown over and over again the ability to make things happen in the open field. His speed and quickness are on display, but he also shows impressive vision and balance. You can see why his average touchdown in college was over 40 yards. He just finds a way to gain extra yardage, which is a big deal in the offense Andy Reid has the Chiefs running.
I'd be perfectly comfortable if Wilson were the Chiefs second option at wide receiver next season, provided they've improved the position elsewhere. For example, a grouping of Randall Cobb, Wilson, Avant, and added depth from the draft and / or free agency. Wilson can play. He did well in limited time as an undrafted free agent. Given time to acclimate to the pro game he could be a productive receiver for the Chiefs.
Now, about the rest of the WR spots on the roster...