When the Kansas City Chiefs first signed wide receiver Josh Gordon to its practice squad in late September — just after the league reinstated him as a free-agent player — there was an expectation that Gordon would immediately make it to the team's active roster and become an impactful player.
And why not?
Ever since wide receiver Sammy Watkins had decamped to the Baltimore Ravens in late March, how the Chiefs would replace him had become one of the hottest offseason topics. Yet weeks into the season, none of the many receivers available to the Chiefs had done so. Perhaps the 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver — who had once led the league with 1,646 yards over a season in which he only played 14 games — could be the guy.
Activated to the roster just a week later, Gordon has now appeared in six Chiefs games — starting three — ranging between 10% and 43% of the offensive snaps in each game. But in those 109 snaps, he has just one catch on a measly four targets — and even worse, two of his targets have ended up as costly interceptions.
So questions about Gordon have become a staple of Chiefs' press conferences.
"Right now, he's attracting attention," noted head coach Andy Reid on Monday, "which is opening up other people — which is a positive thing."
So, according to Reid, Gordon has already fulfilled part of Watkins' role — that is, to be a receiver who keeps opposing defenses from devoting too much attention to Kansas City receivers like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
Reid also said that Gordon's blocking in the running game has been "tremendous" — a point that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy echoed when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. But it was wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier who provided the most telling point.
"We're increasing the variety of both where he lines up and what he does," he said on Thursday. "With that increased variety, he's succeeded at it."
All three coaches were making points that are backed up by the data we've seen.
Note that through his first three games, Gordon's snap counts leaned toward running plays — and then when his snap counts increased against the New York Giants, they leaned toward passing plays. And in the two games since then, he's used fairly equally on both running and passing downs.
So now that he's worked through these phases, why isn't he being targeted more?
"There's just so much kind of between the lines that goes unsaid with a route that's drawn on paper or a depth we have in the meeting room," explained Bleymaier. "When we go out onto the field, the way the defense is playing, the way a look presents itself, the timing of the rush — or whatever it may be — there are all sorts of different variables that can affect it. He knows that; he's been in the league long enough to know how it pertains to this specific offense."
So like others before him (including Watkins), Gordon has been absorbing all the nuances of Reid's complicated offense — and he's having to do it when most of the team's focus is on the plan for the next opponent, rather than learning the playbook.
"It's just the whole learning curve," said Bleymaier. "That takes a little bit of time, really, just out on the field. But usually, that time comes in the offseason, in training camp [and] as you go through practice. He's just working through that right now."
But despite this, the coach said the process was going well for Gordon.
"He's continuing to grow in all facets of the offense," maintained Bleymaier. "He works crazy-hard. [He's] super smart. He's picked it up — and continues to pick it up. His time will come in production."
It's understandable for fans to be frustrated with Gordon's lack of obvious success during his first games in Kansas City. But it might be important to recall that one of the reasons he chose the Chiefs over other teams was the possibility he could spend multiple seasons with the team — as ESPN's Adam Schefter noted at the time of his signing.
SCHEFTER: Gordon had multiple teams contact him and express interest in signing him. But one of the attractions of playing in Kansas City was making it a long-term stop and spending multiple seasons there, according to his agents, Eric Dounn and Matt Leist from LAA Sports.
It might be a stretch to think that the 30-year-old wideout could stay with the Chiefs past 2021. But it's also true that he played in just 64 games over the previous nine seasons of his career; he's had the wear and tear of a 26 or 27-year-old NFL player. So it's possible that the Chiefs — rather than simply using Gordon as a single-season stopgap — actually want to see if he can fit with the team over a longer term. That could explain the cautious way they've brought him along — and why Gordon is also working to assimilate himself into the Chiefs' culture.
"The kid's having a lot of fun," observed Bieniemy. "That is a very, very unique room — and those guys have got some personalities; they're all great personalities, and they're all having fun. So it's been fun to watch him just become one of the guys."
And even though it hasn't yet resulted in offensive production, Bieniemy isn't worried about it.
"He has a better understanding of what we're doing," said the offensive coordinator. "The kid works his tail off. At some point in time, he's going to end up making a dynamic play for us."
Hopefully... more than one.