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Chiefs draft pick WR Chris Conley: The good, bad and not so ugly

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone expected the Chiefs to take a receiver in this draft.

Of course, that's hardly a new feeling for Chiefs fans. Pundits have been predicting a wide receiver to the Chiefs for something like 800 years, give or take a century.

To be fair, this desperate need for a wide receiver was a LITTLE overblown. As you may or may not have heard a thousand times, the Chiefs wide receivers did not score a touchdown last year (that one wasn't an exaggeration. I think it was actually said a thousand times. At least). That's bad.

On the other hand, the wide receiver group that saw the vast majority of the playing time last year isn't what the Chiefs were using in the latter part of the season. When you're thinking of the worst of times with that group, you're thinking of AJ Jenkins / Frankie Hammond / Junior Hemingway. You know how many combined snaps that trio had in the last game of the season (when the Chiefs still had a glimmer of playoff aspirations)? Two. As in, two total snaps. One for Hammond, one for Hemingway (Jenkins was on IR).

In the meantime, Albert Wilson logged 41 snaps, Jason Avant logged 26, and De'Anthony Thomas had 14.

This wasn't a total fluke, either. In the previous game Wilson, Avant, and Thomas logged 58, 32, and 25 snaps, respectively. Hammond had 10 snaps and Hemingway didn't see the field.

Long story short, the Chiefs didn't start the year the way they ended the year.  Wilson and Avant were much more successful statistically than the previous WRs who had seen the field for the Chiefs were.

So yes, wide receiver was a need. Just not QUITE as desperate a need as people made it out to be. That said, we were all expecting a wide receiver. Some of us were in love with a certain guy (like DeVante Parker or Tyler Lockett). Some of us just wanted ANY receiver who could add depth to a troubled unit.

Well, the draft came and went, and now Georgia's Chris Conley is a Chief.

I'll be up front; prior to the Chiefs drafting Conley I'd never reviewed his tape as far as I knew (I know, I know, how could I review his tape and not know it? We'll get back to that). I saw a few analysts I respect basically refer to him as a Combine warrior of sorts who couldn't translate his physical gifts onto the field.

Let's get one thing out of the way: the man can absolutely fly. He's got a second gear when he sees daylight that is absolutely startling.

And boy, what physical gifts they are. Conley absolutely destroyed the Combine, with a 4.35 40-yard dash (third best WR), 18 reps on the bench (fourth best WR), a 45-inch vertical leap (far and away the top WR, three full inches above anyone else), and an 11'7 broad jump (again, tops by a wide margin). He was on fire.

That said, you don't play the game in shorts (I mean, unless you're just playing in your backyard. Then I suggest shorts). And so, with shattered dreams of Tyler Lockett weighing heavily on my soul, I decided to at least give Conley a shot to impress me.

While only two videos of Conley are available currently on Conley via Draft Breakdown, I quickly realized there was a way to view quite a bit of Conley's film in 2013 ... by simply going to Aaron Murray's Draft Breakdown page and watching HIS snaps. There are a ton of Murray videos, and so through that a ton of Conley videos.

It was through this process where I made a discovery that startled me. I HAD watched Conley's film before. I spent hours reviewing Murray's film prior to last season after the Chiefs had drafted him. And Conley was actually a familiar face. I was stunned, to say the least.

So now I was paying attention. In my notes when studying Murray I'd actually noted that one of his wide receivers made his job really easy by simply being way too fast for anyone to stick with when Murray looked his way. Turns out, that receiver was Chris Conley, as was told to me by the comment section in that article. I'd actually mentioned to people that "Coleman" (I couldn't remember his name) might turn out to be something, as he could really move.

And now a full year later, here's Conley with the Chiefs. Small world we live in, no?

Anyway, Conley's tape ...

First of all, let's get one thing out of the way: the man can absolutely fly. He's got a second gear when he sees daylight that is absolutely startling. Highlight videos are deceiving in many ways, and I don't base my actual review on them, but check out the highlight video at the end of this post. He has a catch and run against Nebraska where he just ... goes away.

However, that second gear can be easily seen without a highlight video. Once Conley has any daylight he can simply accelerate away from a defender who is doing everything he can to keep up. Watch Conley at the top of the screen.

Aaron Murray lays the ball out as far to the back of the end zone as he can, too far for the defensive back to get to the ball. That leaves it on Conley to simply run down the ball, and he does it. You can see the corner scrambling to try and recover, but Conley just ... goes away. He takes long strides but also fast strides. He's a very, very smooth runner who, once he hits that second gear, is not going to be caught.

But you knew that when you heard "4.35 40 time." The knock on some players is that they aren't as fast as their 40 time. In fact, some people say this about Conley. Frankly, that doesn't ring true from what I've seen. When Conley has a free release he's able to get to top speed as quickly as the majority of players I watched this offseason. The difference with Conley is that even once he's at top speed, he's not REALLY at top speed. Once the ball is in the air or he has it in his hands, you see that special gear that 99.9 percent of wide receivers simply don't possess.

Conley does not seem like a particularly good route runner from the games I watched. That's concerning to me, as route running is a concept many players simply never pick up on (it was one of my issues with DGB, in fact). However, the raw material is absolutely there. Conley, as mentioned, is an incredibly smooth runner. Right now this doesn't always translate into his breaks and he slows down or rounds them out.

However, when Conley uses his footwork he's able to just shake off defenders with little to no apparent effort. Watch him at the top of the screen here.

Nothing fancy here. Just a nice smooth fake and a cut inside, and Conley's natural acceleration allows for very quick separation from the defender. Again, the raw material is there for a VERY good route runner. He's got the smoothness and the acceleration. If he's willing to apply himself he'll be open constantly with his natural gifts.

Another thing to like about that clip is another strength of Conley's I was pleasantly surprised with; his catch technique. Conley very consistently snatches the ball out of the air and isn't often seen trapping the ball against his body. Again, I did not expect this going into his film review, as the vast majority of speed freak wide receivers have stone hands (which is why they aren't top prospects).

Only a handful of WRs at the Combine were measured with larger hands than Conley (one of them, Da'Ron Brown, was also a Chiefs pick. Hmmm ....).

Conley has a reputation for drops, but I'm not sure it's a fair one. He did have a couple of concentration drops and a couple of drops in contested situations, but by and large he demonstrates the hand technique you want from a wide receiver.

Additionally, Conley has very large hands (something certain kinds of draft pundits drool over) at 9'7/8". Only a handful of receivers at the Combine were measured with larger hands (one of them, Da'Ron Brown, was also a Chiefs pick. Hmmm ....). Conley demonstrates that he's got strength in his hands as well with many of the grabs he makes.

You know, like this one.

Come on, admit it. That got you fired up a little bit. That's a "HOLY SMOKES!!!!" kind of catch. Conley's hands are fine, and will continue to be fine so long as he continues to show a willingness to use proper technique (which he has) and his hands don't shrink three inches (which seems unlikely).

So if Conley is all of these wonderful things, why did he drop to the third round? That's a fair question, and I believe there are several answers to it. One doesn't worry me one bit. The other does.

The first reason could easily be Conley's relative lack of productivity last season. 36 catches just isn't all that impressive, even when you average 18.3 yards a catch and snag eight touchdowns with those catches. When you consider that Amari Cooper had something like 1,500 catches this last season (again, all numbers approximate), you can see why teams would be leery of a pure speed guy.

However, I'm not sure that paints a complete picture. Based on the limited action I was able to view and conversations with several Georgia fans, the 2014 quarterback Conley was working with was ... well, he was a marked downgrade from Aaron Murray. Additionally, there were multiple people who expressed frustration over Conley's relative lack of targets in the offense. Both of those things could combine to mess with Conley's overall productivity and thus hurt his draft stock. I'm not worried about that at all.

However, Conley does have two major warts as a receiver right now that absolutely hindered his stock; he doesn't handle physical coverage particularly well, and he isn't good at winning contested catches.

Conley has all the physical tools to deal with press coverage as good or better than any wide receiver out there. He's got decent size (6'2, 213 pounds, with room to add a few more pounds on his frame), he's extremely fast, and he's a guy who shows the ability to make smooth cuts.

But despite having the tools, Conley hasn't put them together to be successful against press coverage or even physical coverage. He can be bumped off his route and / or slowed down by a defender, and doesn't use his hands as effectively to catch the ball when it's a contested situation as he does when he's got some separation.

Those two flaws have to be the reason Conley fell to the third round. Because otherwise he's got everything you want in a wide receiver. Some claim he takes too long to accelerate (kind of a Breshad Perriman situation) and that negates his speed. I guess I didn't see too much of that. His explosion off the line generally looks fine to me (top of the screen here).

With a very specific weakness dealing with physical coverage right now, Conley might be best served playing out of the slot to start out (unless he's able to iron out the issues more quickly than I anticipate. Which would just be peachy). Playing him back off the line will prevent defenders from getting their hands on him and they'll have to turn their attention to trying to prevent Conley from blowing right past them.

I can't help but cheer for this result, partly because I think it'll help Conley be productive sooner and partly due to all the misunderstandings about slot wide receivers in the NFL. For some reason people are still obsessed with the idea that a shorter WR is a slot WR by definition, an a taller WR is an outside guy. Wouldn't it just be delightful to see the Chiefs line up Jeremy Maclin (6') and Albert Wilson (5'9) on the outside with the taller Conley in the slot?

With a weakness dealing with physical coverage right now, Conley might be best served playing out of the slot to start out.

Well, I think it would be delightful, at least.

Chris Conley is not a perfect wide receiver. He's got some serious flaws to deal with regarding physical coverage if he wants to be able to make a difference at the professional level. That said, he also has a rare combination of size, smooth speed, and hands. Oh, and he's a very active and willing blocker (a major plus in the eyes of many Chiefs fans). He's got all the tools in a way very few wide receivers do.

Here's hoping he puts it all together and makes me forget Tyler Lockett exists. Enjoy the video and let's all dream dreams together.

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