Familiar names, a couple new faces as well as some up and coming guys. The wide receiver position turned out to be very productive for the Chiefs this year. 3rd year receiver Tyreek Hill was undoubtedly the star of the show, and for good reason, however the rest of the receiving core still managed to put up numbers and get their slice of the pie.
Let’s start with one of the fastest players in the league, ‘the Cheetah’. Hill showed improvement from his 2017 campaign; which is saying a lot considering just how good he’s been year in, year out for us. He had 13 touchdowns across the 16 games he started (which is 6 more than he had the season before). As well as scoring points, number 10 was also consistent with his receptions, catching over 63% of his targets in 2018. Although this is less than his previous 2 seasons (71% in 2017 and 73% in 2016), I still think that he’s improved in his reliability as a receiver.
In 2018 he had more yards per reception than he did in 2017, meaning that rather than being given the short dump off throws that he had done in his first 2 years in the league, Tyreek was trusted more this season to catch balls in traffic further down the field (just look at that 4th & 9 plays against the Ravens in week 14 if you don’t believe me).
Having said this, his best stat of the year has to be the amount of yards he totalled. Hill broke the franchise record for receiving yards in a single season with 1,479. The previous owner of the record, Derrick Alexander has held the record since the 2000 season when he put up 1,391 yards.
Number 10 also picked up a couple of awards along the way too. He was selected in the pro-bowl as well as being chosen for the all-pro 1st and 2nd teams (1st team as the Flex and 2nd team as a wide receiver). This means that, in just 3 years in the league, Hill has been chosen for 3 pro bowls and 2 all-pro rosters.
One of the other guys who’s considered a ‘familiar name’ in the Chiefs’ franchise is Chris Conley. Currently in his 4th year in the league, all of which he has spent in Kansas City, Conley showed how he’s grown as a receiver; with the help of Mahomes of course. Conley caught 5 touchdowns this season; improving from his career high of 1 which he got in his rookie year. Not the most impressive stat however, compared to the rest of his career, it’s definitely an improvement. He also had a 61% catch percentage which, again, isn’t amazing but not terrible either.
Now for the ‘new faces’. There was a couple of guys that the Chiefs felt were necessary to bring in, but how much of an impact did they have on our season? The first guy is Sammy Watkins. After spending 3 years in Buffalo and 1 year in LA (with the Rams, not Chargers), Watkins joined the Chiefs in early March 2018. Although Watkins didn’t have a very big touchdown season (he only had 3 on the year) he still played a crucial role on the Chiefs’ offence. In the first 9 games of the season, before his foot injury, the team averaged over 315 yards per game. However in the second half of the season, without him, the team averaged around 301 yards per game.
I know this doesn’t look like the most convincing statistic, however you can also see his impact on the team by looking at individual performances as well as the bigger picture. Before his injury in week 9, Tyreek Hill had 7 touchdowns; whereas in week 10 and onwards, he had 5. His presence on the field only meant that the Chiefs’ simply had too many weapons for a defence to cover. If defences double teamed Watkins, Hill would break open and score 3 on them (like he did in the New England game when Sammy Watkins only had 2 receptions). If teams decided to focus all of their attention on Tyreek, then Watkins is going to put up 100 yard and score 2 touchdowns (like he did against Denver when Hill only had 3 receptions).
But what about the other ‘new face’ on the team this season? Kelvin Benjamin’s first game for the Chiefs was in week 14 against Baltimore and its fair to say that his performance didn’t impact the team much at all; he only had 2 receptions in a Chiefs uniform. We brought him in mainly to fill a hole on the roster after Watkins recovery time was prolonged to the end of the regular season. Originally I was excited to have a receiver on the team who was built like a brick wall; standing at nearly 6 feet, 4 inches tall. The dream never fabricated into a reality though, but to be honest the receiving core still finished off the season reasonably strong despite his lack of use.
That leaves us with a few of up and coming guys, starting off with Demarcus Robinson. This was easily Robinson’s best year of his 3 year career (all 3 of which have been in Kansas City). He played in all 16 games and started in a career high of 5. These stats, again, aren’t the most exciting however it does show promise for a receiver who’s considered 4th on the depth chart. It’s clear that Mahomes and Robinson have great chemistry too. There’s a few videos of them across the Chiefs’ socials and they tweet to each other occasionally (however Mahomes does have quite a large social media presence anyway).
It’s no surprise that this relationship carried onto the field as well. Robinson caught his first NFL touchdown, as well as 3 more on top of that, in 2018. He also caught ⅔ of the passes that came his way for 288 yards and boasted a big 13.2 yards per reception. For a 4th string receiver he’s doing a great job, I like how much he’s progressed this season.
The other two guys currently on the depth chart who I felt rude for not including are Gehrig Dieter and Marcus Kemp. After spending the entirety of the 2017 season on the Chiefs’ practise squad, Dieter got the call up to play in his first NFL game this year. His first reception came in our final regular season game at home against the Raiders which he took for a respectable 22 yards. In the divisional round game V the Colts he picked up another reception for 11 yards. Despite his low production in games, Dieter does have a great off the field relationship with more prominent members of the Chiefs offence such as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes. Kemp, on the other hand, only had 1 reception for 7 yards which came in the week 3 matchup against the 49ers.
Performance of the Season
Tyreek Hill earnt my ‘performance of the season’ award for the receivers in his week 6 game at New England. Hill went off for a 142 yard off of 7 receptions. He also boasted 3 touchdowns on the game; all of which came in crunch time (1 late in the 3rd quarter and the other 2 in the 4th).
His final touchdown was the biggest spectacle of the 3 though as Mahomes heaved the ball 43 yards down field and Hill used his incredible speed to run the rest of the 37 yards past the Patriots defenders and into the end zone. It also tied the game at 40-40 with only 3 minutes left on the clock, keep the Chiefs hopes alive just that little bit longer. Therefore, despite the loss, this was my wide receiver performance of the season.
The Chiefs have a fairly young core of receivers which is a promising sign. And with a human highlight reel like Tyreek Hill on your team you can’t help but be optimistic as far as the future in concerned.
However, despite how young the team is; it doesn’t necessarily mean the depth is strong. Watkins is under contract until 2021, however his recovery from the injury is a worry. If he can come back as strong as he was at the start of the 2018 then I feel like the Chiefs shouldn’t panic too much. On the other side, if he doesn’t make a full recovery then the Chiefs may need to start looking elsewhere. The most recognisable names on the free agent market this year are Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Donte Moncrief, Golden Tate and Cordarrelle Patterson. However these guys do seem a bit out of our price range. We have a lot of young talent on the roster that will be looking for money and receiver isn’t our biggest need at the moment. Therefore I don’t think going after a big money free agent is our best option.
I feel like if we give Conley another contract, as he is a free agent this season, we’ll be perfectly fine at the receiver position. Conley’s current asking price shouldn’t be too high for us to afford and therefore bringing back a guy we know can be productive and is a familiar face is what I thin is the best idea moving forward. Tyreek Hill still has 1 more year left on his contract so, as far as next season is concerned, that’s not an issue. This means that the question of just how lethal this receiving group can be next season depends on how well Watkins is able to bounce back from his injury.
So the Chiefs receiving core has had a bit of everything this season. A superstar in Tyreek Hill, a reliable receiver in Chris Conley and a good, but injury prone, player in Sammy Watkins. This is all on top of a couple of young guys filled with confidence heading into 2019. So it’s hard to not be happy with how the position has performed this season. And when Mahomes is throwing them the ball it’s hard to not look forward to what the future has in store for them as well.