One of the big questions going into training camp for the Kansas City Chiefs is who is going to be the #2 WR and what kind of production will they be able to put up? I’ve debated this topic with a few different people around AA and have found that I have a different take than most. I don’t think KC needs a true #2 WR to step up.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying one won’t step up or that I don’t want one to. I just don’t think it’s essential for one guy to put up big numbers in order for the offense to succeed. If Reid figures out how to get the most out of Jon Baldwin and he has 70 receptions for 800 yards and 6 TDs, I’ll be thrilled. It just seems like most KC fans think that either Baldwin or Donnie Avery must put up those kind of numbers in order for the offense to work. My argument has been and continues to be that if a team has a true #1 (Bowe) to go to in crunch time and then a bunch of other weapons to spread the defense out so they don’t know where the ball is going, they’ll be fine. The Chiefs are going to camp with Baldwin, Avery, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Tony Moeaki, and Jamaal Charles all as legit options for Alex Smith to go to in addition to their top option Dwayne Bowe.
There are only so many receptions to go around. Over the course of his career Bowe has averaged about 75 receptions per 16 games (with some really bad QBs). Let’s bump that number up to 85 just to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll benefit from good coaching and improved QB play (it could easily be more than 85). I put in last week’s post that if Alex Smith completed the same percentage of passes as he has the past two seasons and Reid throws the ball the average amount he has in the past Smith would go 354-562 (63%). That’s 354 receptions. Take away 85 for Bowe and that would leave 269 receptions left to go around. That seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. Everyone seems to agree that Charles will get a lot of passes out of the backfield in this offense. His previous career high for receptions is 45. Let’s assume he just beats that out and has 50 receptions. That leaves 219 receptions left.
The Chiefs currently have three solid options at TE in Fasano, Kelce, and Moeaki. The tight end has been a much utilized position in Reid’s offense and in San Francisco Smith looked to his TE Vernon Davis as his #1 target. I don’t know how it will shake out on the depth chart, but I don’t think it would be unrealistic for the #1 TE to have 40 receptions, the #2 to have 30, and the #3 to have 20. That’s 90 total receptions for TEs. That leaves us with 129 receptions left to go around. Let’s subtract 20 more for other running backs, fullbacks, and other WRs on the roster other than Baldwin, Avery, and McCluster. That leaves 109 receptions to go.
Now, can anyone make a strong case as to why the majority of those 109 receptions has to go to one guy as opposed to being divided evenly between the three? If Avery has 40, McCluster has 40, and Baldwin has 29 are the Chiefs worse off than if Baldwin has 70, McCluster has 25, and Avery has 14?
Keep in mind this is assuming that Reid throws as often as he did in Philly and that Bowe doesn’t catch more than 85 passes. If Reid throws less because of KC’s running game or Bowe catches over 100 balls then those numbers for the other guys will be even less.
The other question is if teams need a productive #2 WR to be successful in today’s NFL. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year 50% of them didn’t have a #2 WR catch more than 50 passes, including both of the Super Bowl teams. The average number of receptions for the #2 WR of last year’s playoff teams was 56.2. Only three playoff teams had a second WR catch more than 70 passes during the season (NE – Lloyd – 74, Atl – Jones – 79, and Den – Decker – 85). So the idea that you have to get big offensive production from the #2 WR doesn’t seem to hold water.
Next, given Reid and Smith’s track records, should we expect big numbers from the #2 WR spot?
I went back and looked at the pass distribution of the past 5 seasons of Andy Reid’s offenses in Philadelphia. What I found is that the bulk of the passes go to 5 players: The top three WRs, the starting TE, and the starting RB. I didn’t actually do the math, but if you look back over the numbers it looks like that’s where 90% of the passes go.
Over the past five seasons here are the average numbers for each of those spots.
#1 WR – 65.2 receptions, 949.6 yards, 6.6 TDs
Starting TE – 54.8 receptions, 655 yards, 4.2 TDs
Starting RB – 54.8 receptions, 398 yards, 2.6 TDs
#2 WR – 50.2 receptions, 679 yards, 2.4 TDs
#3 WR – 43.6 receptions, 682 yards, 2.8 TDs
A few observations: First, you can see that Reid’s offense spreads the ball around and the TE and RB are clearly major parts of the passing game. In fact, one season Brent Celek led the team in receptions and LeSean McCoy did in another. Second, the numbers for the #2 and #3 WRs are almost identical. In fact, because DeShaun Jackson finished 3rd among WRs in receptions in a couple of seasons the #3 WR spot acually averaged slightly more yards and TDs than the #2 WRs. Based off these numbers it appears the question shouldn’t be will one of Baldwin, Avery, and McCluster step up and be a highly productive #2 WR. The question should be can two of them be reliable targets to share the ball along with the TE and RB. Once again, if Reid throws the ball less and the #1 WR (Bowe) catches more, those numbers will be even smaller.
Finally, a look at how our new QB uses his #2 WR. In 2011 when Alex Smith started the entire season and was two fumbled punts away from going to the Super Bowl, these were the 49ers reception leaders:
M. Crabtree – 72 rec, 874 yards, 4 TDs
V. Davis – 67 rec, 792 yards, 6 TDs
K. Williams – 20 rec, 241 yards, 3 TDs
T. Ginn – 19 rec, 220 yards, 0 TDs
D. Walker – 19 rec, 198 yards, 3 TDs
F. Gore – 17 rec, 114 yards, 0 TDs
K. Hunter – 16 rec, 195 yards, 0 TDs
J. Morgan – 15 rec, 220 yards, 1 TD
B. Edwards – 15 rec, 181 yards, 0 TDs
B. Miller – 11 rec, 83 yards, 1 TD
So Smith used his #1 WR, his TE, and then had 8 players between 11-20 receptions. Basically, there wasn’t a #2 WR that season. Then last season they went out and got Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Manningham finished with 42 receptions and Moss finished with 28. Donnie Avery had 60 receptions last year and Dexter McCluster had 52. My point being that if KC get’s #1 WR production from Bowe, JC stays healthy and is productive in the passing game, and they can utilize their trio of TEs it appears that Avery, McCluster, and Baldwin should be more than enough to fill out the remaining Chiefs WR production.
So yes, I will be watching to see how the Chiefs WRs look and shape out during training camp, but I stand by my stance that this team doesn’t need a lot of statistical production from any one WR not named Dwayne Bowe. The increased use of the TE and RB in the passing game under Reid and Smith should make up the bulk of the increased production. KC just needs Avery, McCluster, and Baldwin to give them some more options to keep defenses on their toes and KC will be just fine (assuming Smith is up to the challenge at QB, but we’ve already had that debate and will probably do so again in the near future).
Today I’m focused on the Chiefs WRs and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on them in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!