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Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin is really good at this football thing

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

So we've sifted through some rough stuff over the last week. We've tried to adapt to the idea that the Kansas City Chiefs might not be all that good (though it's later in the week so I'm already feeling optimism fighting through), we've talked about how the Chiefs offense should play a little differently, we've argued about Alex Smith a few hundred more times ... it's been taxing.

It's time we talk about something good.

Jeremy Maclin is good. Really, really good.

When Maclin signed with the Chiefs, I wrote a film review based on watching several hundred of his snaps on All-22. I came away highly impressed and insisting to anyone who would listen that Maclin wasn't just a "slight" upgrade over Dwayne Bowe, but a player in another ballpark altogether. Viewed largely as a deep threat guy, I saw a player who ran fantastic routes, possessed good speed, and had terrific hands. I was cautiously optimistic that he'd do good work in Kansas City.

He's been even better than I expected.

Now, does the offense have other issues? Absolutely, and we can talk about those until we're blue in the face. But this article is all about celebrating Maclin being the best receiver Kansas City has had since Otis Taylor (too soon?). And it's not particularly close. Even Bowe at his absolute peak wasn't the receiver Maclin is. He's been remarkable.

Maclin had a relatively quiet first two games with the Chiefs, collecting  only nine catches for 109 yards. People were already beginning to question the signing, saying that the Chiefs offense (and Alex Smith) would never be able to use Maclin enough to justify paying him fairly high level WR money (though not top-tier money). And for a little bit I was afraid they might be right.

The last two games have erased those fears. Alex Smith has starting targeting Maclin more, and as Reid has gradually (far too gradually, but that's another article for another day) shifted from a packaged-plays-based offense to a more traditional one, we've seen Maclin targeted on more genuine "routes." As in, something besides a WR screen or quick toss to the flat.

In the last two games, Maclin has been targeted 24 times. And he's done some fantastic stuff with those targets.

Targets Catches Catch Percentage Yards Yards Per Target
24 19 79.17% 289 12.04

Pro Football Focus reports that Maclin has caught all 28 "catchable" passes thrown his way on the season.

The "yards per target" stat sticks out, particularly. Essentially, if you target Jeremy Maclin you're likely to get good yardage. Naturally, some big plays have helped out with that, but his big play potential is a big thing that makes Maclin special.

Maclin is just naturally a very, very difficult player to cover. His combination of speed, footwork, smooth hips, veteran savvy, and hands make him difficult to contain.

Even when getting mauled down the field (yes, that's absolutely illegal contact by modern rules), Maclin's ability to stop on a dime and get his body turned (he does not waste steps in his routes. It's a fantastic trait) while the defender stumbles forward wondering where it all went wrong.

Obviously, we've seen a couple of the deep passes down the field to Maclin (they've happened just frequently enough and with just enough success that I'm encouraged we'll continue to see it going forward), so we know that he's got the speed to get behind defenders. But speed is about more than just running go routes. Functional speed within routes (which generally requires good route running) allows a wide receiver to take shorter gains and turn them into longer ones.

On this play, Maclin runs a simple slant, which takes advantage of the ample cushion the defender is providing him (isn't it something having a receiver defenders must respect enough to give cushion from time to time?). Remember what I said about Maclin not wasting steps? You can see it here. He accelerates quickly, and on his third step plants his foot and shifts direction. It's so quick the defender has absolutely no chance to step up on the route and is stuck doing damage control to try and make a tackle. That alone is a good play.

Maclin is able to make it go from good to "extremely good" due to his speed. Neither the corner nor the safety take a particularly good angle, but Maclin makes both of the angles look worse than they were by simply being faster than the defenders anticipated. He's not Desean Jackson fast, but he can fly.

The only thing that saved the touchdown was the corner getting cut off by the safety and realizing he needed to take a MUCH "longer" angle at Maclin if he wanted to have a shot at him down the field. Additionally, Maclin was forced to go horizontal momentarily while outrunning the safety. This gave the corner time to get down the field and take a better angle. Again, Maclin's route running made the slant a gimme first down. His speed made it a huge gainer.

I'm hoping the Chiefs take a look at that play (and others) and talk about using slants more often with Maclin. Because of the threat his down the field speed represents, it's nearly an impossible route for corners to handle effectively.

What's the corner supposed to do there? He's not even in off man coverage, but actually fairly close to the line of scrimmage; THEORETICALLY the ideal coverage to protect against a slant. Maclin's footwork is just so smooth and his movement so flawless that the separation just materializes out of thin air. See the ever-so-slight fake to the outside? That route is exceedingly simple, but a thing of beauty in its execution.

Moving forward, the Chiefs need to continue to make Maclin a focal point of the offense. He's shown that he will consistently be able to "win" his routes (the only corner who gave him trouble was Talib, who is having a fantastic year). Additionally, his targets in the deep and intermediate zones must continue to climb (they have several weeks in a row now). Him being successful in those areas will absolutely affect the rest of the offense, as defenses will have to start scheming to stop him.

I was thrilled with Maclin when the Chiefs signed him. I'm even more thrilled by the fact that he's not only finding a niche with Smith and Reid, but playing well enough to forge new paths for the offense.

Also, he did this to some poor soul.

Mercy.