KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Panic buttons shouldn’t be pushed at the wide receiver position despite the Chiefs’ inability to secure a high-profile player in free agency.
Jan 1, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Bruce Ellington (23) makes a catch in front of Wisconsin Badgers safety Dezmen Southward (12) in the Capital One Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl. Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
In one of the deepest NFL Drafts of the past decade, the Chiefs, owners of the 23rd pick overall, have plenty of possibilities throughout the NFL’s annual three-day selection process.
“The depth at wide receiver is one of the critical aspects of this draft class,” CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com senior draft analyst Rob Rang said in a phone interview. “There’s no question wide receiver is the strongest position in this draft class and the depth that is going to extend in the third or fourth round is a good reason for that.”
Former Philadelphia Eagles scout John Middlekauff agreed.
“I think there’s going to be a couple options when the Chiefs pick at 23 if Andy (Reid) wants to go wide receiver,” Middlekauff said in a phone interview. “Because the draft is so deep, they can maybe wait for their third-round pick and take a receiver, and maybe take the best player available at a different position at 23.”
Now a contributing on-air analyst for Comcast SportsNet-Bay Area, Middlekauff said the Chiefs, who lack a second-round pick, could lean to addressing the offensive line or defensive secondary in the first round in that scenario.
But if the team decides the best player available at pick 23 happens to be a wide receiver, Middlekauff immediately points to two players, provided they’re available, as good fits for Reid’s offense.
“There’s obviously Brandin Cooks from Oregon State,” Middlekauff said. “He’s kind of the DeSean (Jackson), (Jeremy) Maclin smaller speed guy. He’s really kind of more like DeSean Jackson and he’s been a very productive player in the Pac-12.
“And then you look at another guy from the Pac-12, Marqise Lee, who many coming into the season had as a Heisman trophy candidate and is as talented a guy as anybody the draft class.”
Both receivers fit the mold of two players the Chiefs showed interest in during free agency: Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Denver Broncos, and Jackson, who signed with the Washington Redskins.
Moreover, Lee, who was linked to the Chiefs at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Cooks, who clocked a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash at the Combine, possess special teams experience as punt returners.
Still, should the Chiefs wait for the middle rounds, Rang likes South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington as an ideal fit.
A two-sport athlete in football and basketball at South Carolina, Ellington led the Gamecocks in receiving last season with 49 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns.
“He’s 5-foot-9, 197 pounds, has a frame that reminds me of Percy Harvin and that’s a guy to me that really makes a lot of sense,” Rang said. “He’s a slot receiver for a quarterback like Alex Smith, who gets the ball out his hand quickly and tries to find receivers who can make something happen.”
Rang adds Wyoming’s Robert Herron, who projects as a third- or fourth-round pick by CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, made sense and compared Herron’s build and skill set to Ellington’s.
“He’s 5-foot-9, 193 pounds, both legitimate 4.4 guys,” Rang said. “Terrific quickness and the toughness that you don’t necessarily see for receivers of that size.”
Another option potentially available in the third round is Mississippi’s Donte Moncrief, who unlike Herron or Ellington would offer size at 6-foot-2, 221 pounds. He’s fast, too, having clocked a 4.4 40-yard dash at the Combine.
“Donte Moncrief was arguably the most impressive receiver at the Combine in drills,” Rang said. “But when you watch him on tape, he uses his size and there’s a kind of gliding, deceptive speed to him that helped him be very successful throughout his career.”
Meanwhile, the possibilities continue even into the late rounds, depending on what the Chiefs are looking to add to the roster. While Rang points to quick and versatile receivers in the middle rounds, the Chiefs will find value later with big receivers who have the ability to stretch the field.
Interesting prospects are found in Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman, who stands 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, and even a former Missouri Tiger, who posted 893 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 50 catches last year and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash as his Pro Day workout.
“L’Damian Washington would be an outside receiver,” Rang said. “His ability to go down the field, a vertical receiver with great height, makes him intriguing.”
However, Rang’s endorsement of the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Washington comes with a caveat.
“The question I have about Washington and other receivers like that is they are in my opinion better suited for a vertical passing attack, and I just don’t know if that’s a perfect fit for what Alex Smith does,” Rang said. “The old Andy Reid where he had a strong-armed quarterback like Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick, that makes good sense.”
Ultimately, missing on a free-agent receiver may not haunt the Chiefs. With $4.5 million in current cap space, according to NFLPA records, the money saved could be diverted to other positions of need.
And the overall depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft class provides alternatives to fit not just a need, but the team’s scheme.
“The Chiefs are sitting pretty at this point in that they can basically set up their draft board and know there are going to be a number of players that will fit in beautifully with what Andy Reid has traditionally done and what Alex Smith has been successful at doing,” Rang said. “They are going to be available in this draft at a significantly lower cap cost than one of these pricey free agents.”
Middlekauff echoed Rang, adding the Chiefs could wait it out if they don’t see a receiver they like in May.
“I think they have to draft a wide receiver, but sometimes you can get a pretty good undrafted free agent,” Middlekauff said. “The Chiefs are going to be in a good spot – even if they draft a guy – to have a pick of the litter of an undrafted free agent to get maybe the best guy to come to Kansas City and make the team.”