Offseason needs: a reliable veteran
The Chiefs wide receivers were part of Alex Smith’s best passing season in 2017. When Tyreek Hill was getting the ball on a regular basis, the offense was explosive.
After Hill, it was a mixed bag of youth and inconsistency. The Chiefs liked the upside in Demarcus Robinson and Jehu Chesson, among others, but when the game was on the line and they needed a catch, who did they rely upon? Albert Wilson.
Whether Wilson returns or a veteran is acquired in free agency, another receiver would be a smart addition to the offense around Patrick Mahomes.
Returning: Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson
Tyreek Hill has erased all (reasonable) doubts about his ability to be among the league’s elite receivers. He helped turn Alex Smith into the best deep passer in the league in 2017. What do you think he will do with Mahomes?
Let’s just say you’ll want to draft him early on your fantasy team next season.
Robinson was pretty frustrating to watch in 2017. He had some highlights, including when he blocked three defenders on the “Hill Mary,” and later when he scored a touchdown in the playoff game.
Robinson ended the regular season with 212 yards and zero touchdowns. The connection he showed in the final preseason game with Mahomes (three catches, 127 yds and a TD) didn’t translate as much in the final regular-season game against Denver (four catches, 31 yds, no TDs).
The hope at this point is that Robinson can thrive with Mahomes and a more improvisational style of offense. Robinson has the ability to make plays downfield and run after the catch. He’s still an unknown, but an unknown to watch in 2018.
Additions: Chris Conley, Daniel Braverman
Just as I mentioned Spencer Ware as an underrated addition this offseason, don’t forget Chris Conley will be rejoining the Chiefs after missing nearly all of 2017. Conley could pick up where he left off as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver. He can block downfield and had shown an improved ability to catch the ball in traffic. He could be a nice complement to the passing and running game, whether Albert Wilson is back or not.
Daniel Braverman entered the league in 2016 with a bit of a cult following, but has yet to get an opportunity in the NFL. Braverman has the skillset to thrive in the slot or perhaps as a punt returner. He signed a futures contract with the Chiefs and will be a long shot to make the team. However, he could make some noise in training camp this summer.
Subtractions: Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas
Two longtime Chiefs will hit the market heading in opposite directions. Wilson enters free agency coming off of a strong season, when he proved a valuable blocker and reliable receiver (42 catches on 56 targets). PFF called him a “must re-sign“ for the Chiefs.
If Robinson didn’t really capitalize on his regular-season start with Mahomes, Wilson sure did. He caught 10 of 11 targets for 147 yds against Denver. The strongest argument for bringing Wilson back is the Chiefs offense seemed to stall without him on the field this season. We may have undervalued “Bert” in prior years, but we’ll now see how much the Chiefs value him in unrestricted free agency.
On the other end of the spectrum, Thomas ended a quiet season with a nasty leg injury, and now he becomes a free agent at the worst possible time. His timetable for recovery hasn’t been made public, but the fact that he only had 14 catches for 143 yards this season and may or may not be ready for camp will likely mean he’s waiting a while before finding a new team.
Unknowns: Jehu Chesson, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp
Three young wide receivers enter the offseason with a shot to make the Chiefs and at least contribute on special teams. Chesson made his mark on Toub’s squad in 2017 but didn’t get much of an opportunity on offense. He does have the size and athletic ability that the Chiefs liked enough to trade up for him in the draft.
While Chesson is likely a lock for the roster, Dieter and Kemp are the type of player you want on the practice squad and in training camp fighting for a job. Either could be a surprise contributor or an injury replacement.
Comparison to 2017
The team has a significant amount of time and coaching invested in guys like Conley, Wilson and Robinson. Most people agree that it takes a couple of years in the offense before receivers are really comfortable given the complexity and precision expected by Reid. We’d expect the Chiefs to continue adding to the position while also relying upon veterans who know the playbook by heart.
If the Chiefs’ wide receivers are better in 2018, it’s likely because of one of two factors. First, they’ll be playing with a quarterback who can deliver a strike at any time from anywhere on the field. Any wide receiver who can get open and not give up on routes can put up bigger numbers with a player like Mahomes.
Otherwise, the Chiefs will be relying upon the development of young players like Conley, Robinson and Chesson to improve upon their production from previous seasons.
Of course, the team could surprise us all and acquire a big-name veteran in free agency, but I wouldn’t expect it. This is already a productive offense that should only improve as the young quarterback takes over and grows alongside his receivers.