In case you didn’t know, the Kansas City Chiefs have the opportunity tomorrow against the Washington Redskins to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season when this teams was quarterbacked by Matt Cassel and coached by Todd Haley. As the regular season winds down and this team looks forward to the playoffs — which at this point seems to be a lock unless there is a meltdown of record breaking proportions — there are still things than need to change.
This Chiefs team has a good offense. They’re not the Denver Broncos. They’re not the New Orleans Saints. But they are a good offense. Yes, they needed the first two thirds of the season to click. Yes, the play of Alex Smith has been under what most expected of him this year. Yes, Dwayne Bowe hasn’t earned his big offseason contract yet. However, in case you haven’t been paying attention the last couple of weeks, the offense has arrived.
The Chiefs’ current depth chart lists Bowe as the team’s #1 receiver. This is not in dispute. Even though this is a decidedly down year for the former first round draft pick, Bowe has picked up his game over the last several weeks. He currently leads the team in reception yards with 533 as well as receiving touchdowns with four. Though he does fall down to avoid contact a lot more than I’d like to see, he does still use that big body of his to go after the ball and make the catches he needs to make.
The biggest problem on the roster is the guy who sits right behind Bowe on the depth chart. Donnie Avery was brought in during the off season to be the speed guy who lined up opposite of Bowe. The Chiefs knew what they were getting in Avery, an average receiver with above average speed but below average catching ability. In fact, his hands are so hard, that he led the league in dropped passes last year, allowing more than 16 percent of his targeted throws fall through his fingers. Though he has made some clutch catches earlier in the season, unfortunately his ability to haul in the ball has declined since the Chiefs returned from their bye a month ago. The fact that some of his biggest drops were in two games that the Chiefs could have won against the Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, have fueled that much more anger by this fan base against Avery.
But who else is on this roster who could step in and replace Avery as the #2 guy on the depth chart?
Many say that could be Junior Hemmingway, a seventh round draft choice from last year. Hemmingway has quietly done everything this coaching staff has asked of him and then some. Although 11 games separated his first touchdown catch of the season (and his career) against the Jacksonville Jaguars and his second last Sunday against the Broncos, that doesn’t discount the fact that neither were easy catches.
To refresh your memory, following a Brandon Flowers interception of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the Chiefs were set up in the red zone. After a Jamaal Charles run put the Chiefs on the three yard line, Alex Smith fired a rifle shot to the back of the endzone, where Hemmingway hauled in the catch between two defenders. Not only did Hemmingway have to go up and get the ball — which was a brilliant throw by Smith to avoid any chance of an interception — but the young receiver showed his field awareness by ensuring he had both feet in bounds before falling out of the back of the end zone.
This past week was no different. After the Chiefs plan of scoring on their opening drive was dashed by an untimely Smith interception in the end zone, the defense turned around and got the ball back for their offense. The Chiefs didn’t squander their second opportunity. The team immediately converted the turnover into points as Smith hit Hemmingway with a near perfect over the shoulder pass. Hemmingway caught the ball with his hands and hauled it in for the score.
All in all, Hemmingway has been targeted nine times on the season. Of those nine targets, he’s caught the ball seven times. Two of those seven catches were scores. He’s averaging almost 10 yards per catch. Granted, he doesn’t have the break away speed that Avery does, but I think the fact that he’s shown in his limited playing time he’s got the ability to hold onto the ball, should earn him a chance to further see what he can do on the field.
Another option to put into the WR2 posistion instead of Avery would be the former San Francisco 49ers receiver A.J. Jenkins. Jenkins was acquired from the 49ers at the end of the preseason in a very usual trade that saw a one-for-one swap for former Chiefs reciever Jon Baldwin. Like Baldwin in K.C., Jenkins was considered a first round bust after not being able to produce in the offense last season. After coming to the Chiefs, it has taken him most of the season to aclimate to the Chiefs offense, but he really had a good game last week against the Broncos. His biggest catch came on the Chiefs final series, where they were attempting to mount a game-tying drive.
On a third and four play with the clock ticking away, and the Chiefs pinned back in their own end zone on the four yard line, Smith found Jenkins on a deep back shoulder throw for 26 yards. Even though the drive ended up failing on an incomplete pass to Bowe for the tying score on fourth down, Jenkins coming up with a clutch catch when the Chiefs needed it speaks volumes. Plus, where Hemmingway can use his body much like Bowe, Jenkins has the speed to go vertical down the field.
In a re-worked receiving corps, I would like to see Bowe and Jenkins on the outside and put Hemmingway into the slot to make those possesion receptions. Avery has his place on this team, as does Dexter McCluster on those inside slot positions. But I think the way this offense is really starting to move the ball, bringing in some of these “unknown” receivers down the stretch could be a good thing.
The Chiefs have the talent on this roster to make things happen. The key is, putting the players in the position to do that.
What do you think, Addicts? Do agree with my updated receiving depth chart? Weigh in below.