I Was Wrong About McCluster

When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.

After his first two lackluster seasons, I was ready to write Dexter McCluster off. The selections of WR Devon Wylie and RB Cyrus Gray in the 2012 Draft seemed to indicate that the coaching staff felt the same. This preseason has proved me to be utterly wrong.

In April, looking back on McCluster’s career, I wrote:

[T]he numbers don’t lie. McCluster just doesn’t make big plays, which is his only purpose. RB Jackie Battle was a guy who was able to get what was already there with the ability to break a tackle or two. McCluster basically gets what’s there plus 3 yards due to his speed, but he won’t be breaking any tackles and he’ll get stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage for a few serious losses a game. Even Battle beat him as the KC running back with the biggest ground gain of the 2011 season with a 34-yarder against Denver.

The 2010 Scout’s Inc. report on McCluster said “he has good ball skills but will struggle when competing for the ball in a crowd. He needs a lot of work on his route running and setting defenders up and will settle into crowded zones at times rather than find a window for the quarterback to throw though.”

Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Indeed that seemed to be his biggest struggle during his rookie season. Making the position switch from running back to slot receiver took longer than anticipated. Not only was it a new position, but he was learning to do it against NFL-quality defenders. In end, he had trouble consistently getting separation, which is a problem due to his small size overall. He ended the season with 21 receptions and 18 carries for a total of just 280 yards.

In 2011, Dex filled in at RB primarily because the Chiefs’ wretched depth was exposed after Jamaal Charles went down. The team was left with Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle – two guys who can pick up yardage through wide-open holes when they’re there, but neither is going to do anything special for you. Dex provided a spark, and was a popular option when the Chiefs knew they needed some dynamism. They gave him the ball 37 times on 3rd down. But, although he was a better target than Battle in those situations, he was also inconsistent. On his 16 carries on 3rd and 6+ yards, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry – just enough to not make it most of the time.

Still, he improved his overall skills and Scouts Inc. described him in their 2011 report as “explosive and extremely nimble, but lacks the great top-end speed to be a consistent home run threat. He is very elusive when he gets the ball in the open field and has excellent vision and instincts. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield as well as on downfield routes. He also shows good ball skills and the ability to reach out and pluck the ball away from his body.”

I for one was a bit worried when reports came out of training camp that McCluster was working exclusively with the wide receivers, because it seemed to me that they were forcing him back into a role that wasn’t his strong suit.

Then came this preseason.

McCluster currently leads the team in receptions with 13 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown in the first three preseason games. Furthermore, he is has shown himself to be the most reliable target for Matt Cassel. Against the Seahawks, Cassel stalled in consecutive drives due to drops by generally sure-handed targets in Bowe, Moeaki and Baldwin. Then he turned to Dexter. In a long drive that would gain the starting offense its only touchdown, he targeted McCluster over and over again. Like most KC fans around the world, I was also shouting, “Just throw it to 22!” The week before, when Cassel was forced out of the pocket, in a situation that would have normally been a throw-away situation for him, he found McCluster open for a 1st down.

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

If McCluster can keep this up he can serve a role that is just as important as the #1 receiver on the team. As the league has gradually changed, one major evolution that few people talk about is the emergence of the slot receiver. The ability to make quick high-percentage throws to quick receivers matched up on linebackers has become the cornerstone of effective offenses. The Patriots pioneered this with Wes Welker. The Chiefs saw the effectiveness of a high-end slot receiver when they got carved to pieces by Sam Bradford’s security blanket, Danny Amendola, in Week 2 of the preseason.

Whatever you think about Matt Cassel, I think everyone can agree that he can benefit greatly from having a reliable outlet guy for short, high-percentage throws. Perhaps even more importantly, if opposing defenses begin to view McCluster as a major threat that needs to be covered by a safety or CB, it will both take pressure off Dwayne Bowe and draw defenders away from the running game.

He's even a KU fan! Showing good judgment uncanny intelligence is important to the Pioli regime. Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

The Chiefs may have had an overall uninspiring performance over the last two games, but that’s not the story for me. To me the biggest story of this preseason is the rise of the midget – McCluster’s transition from liability to security blanket, and I can’t wait to see how this goes with him moving into the regular season.

Topics: Brian Daboll, Dexter McCluster, Matchups, Matt Cassel, McCluster, Passing, Running Back, Slot Receiver, Wide Receiver

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  • ArrowFan

    He has not only proved his worth he has proven Daybull’s.

  • jimfromkc

    Why is it that koolaid drinkers look at the bad things the chiefs do and shrug it off as just the pre-season and on the other side see a good play and brag about it? McCluster is a time bomb waiting for a big linebacker to light the fuse and put him on IR. I can say the same thing about Wilson, when the teams game plan for him, he is not going to put up those kinds of numbers.

    • NicholasAlanClayton

      If you look through my articles, I’m generally the guy getting knocked for his pessimism. I’m tryin’ something new. This is a development I think is an undisputed positive, even if there is a lot of negative out there as well.

    • KCMikeG

      Why is it some fans must wallow in every weakness, real and imagined while ignoring the positive realities? Why is it that a fan would want to imagine one of our rising stars ending up on IR? Why? McCluster had over 1,400 yards, was 2nd in TD’s scored, lead us in YPC even though he was misused and under utilized in a chaotic cluster of an offense w/o out it’s star. Dexter McCluster will be a star this year and you can take your IR shit and put in your pipe and smoke it. He has taken the big hits and pops right back up. Don’t take my word for it watch Ed Reed one of the biggest hitters lay a clean shot on him:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr70dwrV77I
      and here is another by Samuels: http://search.wn.com/?results_type=videos&language_id=1&search_type=expression&search_string=asante+samuel+big+hit+on+dexter+mccluster!&sort_type=-pub-datetime&template=cheetah-search-adv%2Findex.txt&action=search&corpus=current Teams won’t be able to game plan for Dexter w/o allowing the Killer Bee’s, Charles/Hillis or Boss/Mo/Maneri hurting them. Have a cup of kool aid on me – it will wash away that crappy taste of pessimism.

  • jimfromkc

    Nick, why should you change? Have the courage of your convictions. If you are wrong, admit it and move on. But never never change your mind to please anybody. Be true to yourself.

    • KCMikeG

      Exactly the response I would expect from you. He didn’t change his mind to please anyone. He saw the truth and was a man enough to admit he was wrong. It is called humility – give it a try some time. Never mind – Don’t let the facts that contradict your beliefs change your mind – just keep on being convicted by your ignorance to reality.

  • KCMikeG

    Kudos to you. I was wrong on Haley getting fired midseason. An intelligent man knows when he is wrong and accepts responsibility for his choices. Daboll will make Dexter a STAR!

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