Though the Kansas City Chiefs have three legit pass-catching threats on their roster in Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, and Jamaal Charles, we’re all waiting to see who can emerge as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver in 2016.
What makes the Kansas City Chiefs No. 2 wide receiver gig such a compelling storyline is the fact that there are three physically gifted players competing for that position. There’s Albert Wilson, who is a beast after the catch; talented Florida Gators rookie Demarcus Robinson; and former Georgia deep threat Chris Conley, one of the NFL’s finest athletes.
Yes, we tend to go overboard when we praise athletic traits, but Conley’s metric scores at the Combine in 2015 really were through the roof. He dazzled with a 4.35 forty, a monstrous 45-inch vertical, and a 139-inch broad jump. At 6’3″ ,205 pounds, those numbers look even more ludicrous, and he could become a special weapon for the Chiefs.
There isn’t much pressure on Conley either, because the Chiefs are a run-based team that already has well-established top options. Charles is the safety valve out of the backfield, Maclin is a true No. 1 receiver and one of the team’s biggest stars after a season of brilliance in Kansas City, and Kelce is unquestionably a top-five talent at the tight end position.
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The Chiefs don’t have to force Conley to make plays, and he won’t be the focal point for defenses. For example, when the Chiefs face the Oakland Raiders, he’ll spend more time worrying about David Amerson instead of Sean Smith. Sure, Amerson is a solid player who is coming off of a career year, but going toe-to-toe with Smith is a different type of challenge.
All of this, of course, assumes that Conley starts this season, and while that is a likelihood, it is not a guarantee. To just about nobody’s surprise, Conley found it difficult to get on the field in his first season. Even Albert Wilson and Charcandrick West had more targets, and Conley’s 17 receptions were tied with De’Anthony Thomas.
6.42 yards per target is a “metric” that gives you an idea of the ground Conley is trying to make up as a 23-year-old heading into his second season. However, it would be false to say that he didn’t step up when given more responsibilities.
After a lousy Week 6 performance, Conley had to step up in Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers with Maclin injured. He led the team with six receptions on seven targets for 63 yards and a touchdown, his best game as a rookie. Conley caught a nine-yard touchdown on his lone target against the Houston Texans in the postseason before finishing his year with five catches in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Nothing about Conley’s rookie year, aside from that timely display against Pittsburgh, screams “future star”, and the same can be said about his middling production in college. The gaudy yards per reception totals at Georgia and the raw athletic tools? They scream “potential star”, especially in a Chiefs offense led by a quarterback accurate enough to allow a speedy, explosive athlete to take matters into his own hands.
Would Conley be better off playing on a team with a more prolific deep passing attack? Probably, but that’s not the right way to think about how he fits this team. Firstly, for as much as Alex Smith is panned for his lack of arm talent, he isn’t absolutely incapable of popping off a 30-yarder (even if he barely ever attempts deep passes). Secondly, Conley’s abilities can be harnessed in other ways, because size and speed aren’t traits exclusive to tracking down the long bomb.
Based on the premium placed on players with Conley’s talent and the fact that he’s a former third-round pick heading into his second season, I think the Chiefs will lean towards wanting to start him in 2016. The competition will be open and fair, but remember that Kelce was also a third-round pick who blossomed into a star in his second season (to be fair, he never played in 2013 due to an injury).
Since the Chiefs have drafted the likes of Conley, Robinson, and Thomas at the WR position in the John Dorsey and Andy Reid era, it’s safe to say that they favor playmakers when rolling the dice on wide receivers. Instead of drafting a big-ticket wideout, they signed Maclin and have young, high-upside players around him on the depth chart. If any of them are to have a big 2016, Conley is the one to bet on, though Wilson is definitely there to state his case.
If Conley does break out, then it could remind fans of Zeus’s first big season, and both players are similar in that they are among the most athletic draft prospects we’ve seen over the past few years.