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How the Kansas City Chiefs will replace Chris Conley

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Hi, Demarcus Robinson

A 5-0 start doesn’t mean the Kansas City Chiefs have escaped unscathed. Injuries continue to pile up for this team. GM Brett Veach and the depth chart continue to be tested. WR Chris Conley was the latest to fall, rupturing his Achilles late in the Chiefs win over the Texans.

As is the mantra in football, it’s next man up. Who will be the next man up though?

First, let’s talk about Conley’s role. He predominately plays what we call the X receiver. That’s what I was taught it as and how I chart it. Conley played the X receiver on a little over 81 percent of snaps in the first four games. 7/8 catches I recorded from Conley came at X.

The X receiver almost always lines up formationally on the opposite side of the Y (often the tight end role, obviously most often played by Travis Kelce). If it’s a standard 3x1 formation, Conley is typically your lone receiver to one side. In 3x1 formations, X receivers should expect to get a dose of press coverage. Even in some zone coverages, X will be locked with the corner opposite him who have man principles in playing a single receiver side.

Sometimes the Chiefs will use what is called Y-Iso, which isolates Kelce to one side and puts Conley on the three receive side. Tyreek Hill also will play some X at times as well.

Conley, through the four games I charted, ran a lot of verticals (nine routes), slants, deep outs, deep corner and curls as an X receiver. Those routes are common to X receivers, especially how Andy Reid designs it. You are running a lot of vertical stems to your routes, often selling downfield.

They’re often an outside receiver in 2x2 formations, or a lone wolf in 3x1 looks. X can be a coverage alert for Smith. If teams are playing man or press coverage for instance, Smith may opt to through a fade route to Conley whether the play was called or Smith audibles. A lot of route adjustments for the X receiver based on coverage turn into vertical routes. Conley’s 35-yard catch against the Eagles came as a result of a press look that Smith exploited on a vertical, outside release downfield route by Conley. The X route is also often a very stationary position. Conley only motioned once through four games.

My guess for the next man up is Demarcus Robinson. Through the first four games, Robinson played the X role 72 percent of his snaps. He’s proven he can win downfield in the preseason. He is a vertical threat, can run a good slant and profiles better at the position than Albert Wilson or De’Anthony Thomas. Neither of those guys really fit the prototype. Jehu Chesson does and could also get a look as well in the coming weeks.

Hill will continue to be used in that role in certain looks, but as much as the Chiefs move him on the field, it’ll be hard for him to be used in the role predominantly. Kelce will continue to be utilized in the Y-Iso looks. But the Chiefs will need to find someone who can win and sell vertically and provide the steady presence that Conley gave to the Chiefs offense. He was a valuable weapon, and a good blocker.

If Robinson can’t be trusted, I expect Demetrius Harris to be the benefactor of the Conley loss, as the Chiefs could just move to more two tight ends looks to help with the lack of production at X. Harris allows the Chiefs to play around with Kelce more. When Harris comes in, he takes on the Y role, allowing Kelce to be more of a moving chess piece. Whether or not Robinson steps up, we may see more Harris anyway. HisDirkness is probably thrilled.

As long as the big three of Hill, Kelce and Kareem Hunt are healthy and on the field, the Chiefs will be able to continue to have success. How they work around losing an important part of their offensive structure will be interesting to watch the rest of the season.