The Kansas City Chiefs are still over a month away from starting training camp and are about two months away from playing their first preseason game. There is a slow trickle of observations coming out of their non-contact OTA practices, but that’s about all that diehard fans have to feed their football fix during these long summer months. That leaves a lot of time for speculation about the current roster and how well players will perform. Obviously, the main topic of late has revolved around quarterback Alex Smith and his contract situation. There have been numerous quality discussions on that topic here at AA, so I didn’t feel like it was necessary to go there again today. Instead, I thought I’d take a closer look at one of the biggest question mark position groups on the roster. I’m talking about the guys that are supposed to catch most of the passes from Alex Smith……
The Wide Receivers
Going into the draft most fans and draft pundits all had WR at the top of KC’s “needs” list. The perception is that the Chiefs did not get much production from the position last season and did little to address the position in the draft and free agency. Their “#1″ receiver, Dwayne Bowe, only had 57 receptions last season. Their number two WR (at least in terms of receptions) was slot man/kick returner Dexter McCluster who is now in Tennessee. The rest of their WR core currently consists of the chronically injured Donnie Avery, a 5’7″ rookie that played running back in college, a former first round pick that has 8 career receptions in two seasons, a seventh round pick that has 13 career receptions in two seasons, and a 5’8” Canadian football star with no NFL experience.
We can preach the upside of some of these guys until we’re blue in the face, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, I think it’s fair to say that this group (at minimum) has a lot to prove. I have hope that some of the players listed above will improve their production this season and John Dorsey has also proven that he can scavenge players cut by other teams to find guys that will contribute for KC. However, what I’d like to do this week is ask the question….
Just how much production do the Chiefs actually need from that group?
I think most KC fans entered the draft last month dreaming of the Chiefs adding a WR that could perhaps become a 100 reception/1,000 yard producer for the offense. While that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing, is it really necessary? I decided to look at some of the numbers produced by Andy Reid offenses in the past, some of the tendencies of QB Alex Smith, and how the numbers stacked up with last season. Then I tried to use that to come up with some realistic numbers for next season.
Here’s what I found……
Over his career as a head coach, Andy Reid’s offenses have averaged about 561 pass attempts per season. Last season KC had 546, so they were close to that norm. Let’s assume that next season the Chiefs are right around that 561 number, that Alex Smith plays the entire season, and that Smith completes about his average amount of passes. Smith’s completion percentage last season was 60%, which is right at his career average. So if we take 60% of 561 pass attempts that gives us 336.6 completions. Let’s give Alex the benefit of the doubt and round that up to a nice even 340 completions on the season (last season KC was at 333, so again we’re in the neighborhood).
So the Chiefs have 340 receptions that they need to account for next season.
Let’s break that down into the following areas:
Dwayne Bowe receptions
All Other WR receptions
Last season the Chiefs team leader in receptions was Jamaal Charles. His 70 receptions was a career high. The rest of the RBs (Anthony Sherman, Knile Davis, and Cyrus Gray) kicked in another 36 receptions. That gave KC’s backs a total of 106 receptions. It is my belief (you can certainly argue otherwise) that KC would like to see more passes go to the TEs and WRs next season. I’m not saying that they won’t utilize Jamaal Charles as a receiver, just that I think with it being the first year in the offense and working together both as coaches and players that they probably dumped the ball off to the backs a little more than what they would prefer once everyone is comfortable in the system.
Looking at a couple of Reid’s starting RBs from his Philly days gives us a good idea of what to expect. In six seasons as the feature back in Philly, Brian Westbrook averaged 65 receptions/season. In four seasons as the featured back under Reid, LeSean McCoy averaged 55 receptions/season. So if we split the difference between those two and plan on a few more passes to the TEs and WRs this season I think a prediction of 60 receptions for Jamaal Charles sounds about right. Then if the other backs had 36 receptions last season and we scale back a few to account for more passes to TEs and WRs, an estimate of 30 receptions for other backs seems reasonable.
That gives us a prediction of 90 total receptions for RBs.
The Tight End position is one of the hardest to predict going into next season. Last year the Chiefs TEs combined for a total of 50 receptions. That was significantly lower than the average TE receptions of Reid’s Philadelphia teams. In his 14 seasons in Philly Reid’s TEs averaged about 64 receptions per season. Reid actually had three different TEs lead the team in receptions during his time in there (Chad Lewis, LJ Smith, Brent Celek) so the TE is clearly an important part of his offense.
The reason for the low TE production last season isn’t hard to figure out. Starting TE Anthony Fasano was banged up most of the year and only played in nine games. Travis Kelce, who the team drafted in the 3rd round last year, was supposed to be a key contributor but ended up missing the entire season after having micro-fracture surgery on his knee. This often left the weight of the position on lone man standing Sean “the beard” McGrath, a former undrafted Seattle Seahawk who the team signed right before the start of the season. The team cut the oft-injured Tony Moeaki before the season and felt that rookie/converted basketball player Demetrius Harris needed time to learn the position before being given a shot on the NFL roster.
Without adding a single new player to this position group the Chiefs have a chance for the TE production to be significantly improved. Early reports out of camp point to a fully healthy Fasano, Kelce being on track to be back and ready to contribute by training camp, and Demetrius Harris having bulked up and flashing some dynamic play making abilities. If all three of those things continue on through training camp and preseason games there is reason to believe that production at the position could be greatly increased.
Also worth noting, starting quarterback Alex Smith frequently utilized the tight end position in San Francisco. Granted, he had Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to work with, but he still averaged over 5 completions to TEs per game over his final four seasons there. Over 16 games that would equal over 80 receptions. I actually think the following estimate may be too low, but given the fact that Kelce’s health and Harris’s development are still question marks an estimate right around the average for Reid’s offenses (64) seems appropriate.
So I’m making my official prediction a conservative 65 total receptions for the TEs.
As I mentioned earlier, Dwayne Bowe had a bit of a down year by his standards with only 57 receptions. During the course of his career Bowe has averaged 67 receptions per season. If you factor in the few games he’s missed and actually figure his receptions per game, Bowe’s average is actually about 73 receptions per 16 games played. Also, Bowe’s production (along with that of the passing game in general) picked up in the second half of the season. Bowe played in 16 games including the playoff game. In the first eight he had 26 receptions, but in the second half he had 39 (including eight in the playoff game). If Bowe were to average what he did in those final eight games over the entire season next year it would give him 78 receptions.
Given his increased production over the second half, his career averages, and reports from OTA’s that he seems to be in great shape and focused, it seems reasonable to predict that Bowe will have a statistical rebound back towards his norm. Much like the TE production, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his numbers jump significantly higher. However, a season that would be right around those career averages above seems like a nice safe prediction.
Let’s go with a prediction of 70 receptions for Dwayne Bowe.
The Rest Of KC’s WRs:
If you haven’t been keeping a running total as we go, the RBs, TEs, and Dwayne Bowe now have a predicted total of 225 receptions. Given the prediction of 340 completions based of Reid’s offenses and Alex Smith’s completion percentage, that leaves a combined total of 115 receptions for the rest of the WRs. While 115 receptions sounds like a lot (its almost exactly one third of the team’s receptions) when you divide it amongst the remaining players likely to make the team it becomes very achievable. For the sake of argument, let’s go with Donnie Avery, AJ Jenkins, Junior Hemmingway, De’Anthony Thomas, and Weston Dressler as the remaining WRs that will receive regular playing time. Obviously, there is no way to know for sure at this point, but looking at the roster I feel like these players are the favorites at this point.
If you take those 115 receptions that are left and divide them by those five players it only gives you 23 receptions per player. Is there a single one of those five that you don’t believe could get 23 receptions over the course of a season? The only one that seems at all a risk to count on would be Dressler (who averaged 81 receptions/season his last four seasons in Canada). The other four seem like safe bets to be able to hit that 23 mark, if not more. When you look at it that way it seems very reasonable to believe that the current group of KC WRs can give them the 115 receptions that they need.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a number for you. If you add up the receptions by McCluster, Avery, Hemmingway, Jenkins, and Chad Hall from last season you get 116 receptions, almost exactly what KC would need given these estimates. So ask yourself this, do you think it’s reasonable that Avery, Jenkins, Hemmingway, Thomas, and Dressler can match the production of that group from last season? Basically, Thomas and Dressler are replacing McCluster and Hall and the other three returning players are now all entering their second year in the system and should be more comfortable. Once again, it almost seems like the 115 receptions for this group might be on the conservative side.
So despite what many fans and “NFL experts” have perceived as a lack of options for Alex Smith in the passing game, it took mostly conservative predictions in order to make the numbers for a typical Andy Reid offense add up.
So what do you think? Are there any of these numbers that you feel are unreasonable? I tried to be as fair as possible and stick to what history for both the coach and players has shown to be the norm. Do seeing these numbers make you feel any better about the WR situation in KC? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!
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