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Sorting through the wide receivers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs showed interest in Emmanuel Sanders and flirted with pursuing DeSean Jackson during free agency, scenarios that made sense given the departure of wide receiver/punt returner Dexter McCluster, who signed a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver A.J. Jenkins (15) catches a pass as Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) defends at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver A.J. Jenkins (15) catches a pass as Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) defends at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Still, the Chiefs’ inability to sign a free-agent wide receiver offered a hint the team could address the position during the draft, leading to numerous draft predictions of a first-round selection.

But the conclusion of last week’s NFL Draft didn’t produce a bona fide wide receiver. Instead, the Chiefs selected running back De’Anthony Thomas in the fourth-round (124th overall).

Like McCluster, who originally entered the league as a running back, Thomas brings versatility on special teams as a returner and projects as a slot receiver. And both areas are what Sanders or Jackson would’ve brought to Kansas City.

So despite the inability to draft a true wide receiver, perhaps the Chiefs were content with what they had outside of the slot entering the draft.

Of course, 2013 starters Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery failed to top the 700-yard receiving mark in their first season in coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense.

But consider this a rehash of previous articles: Don’t ignore the benefit of a full year in Reid’s offense, a scheme that requires acclimation not just according to observers, but to those very familiar with it from Reid’s time in Philadelphia.

It takes two years for a player to get used to this system,” former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston told ChiefsSpin.com on March 31.

Former Eagles scout John Middlekauff categorized the system as “complicated,” a point reinforced in early April by former Eagles tight end Luther Brougthon.

That offense is complex,” Broughton told ChiefsSpin.com.

Additionally, Reid’s offense doesn’t depend on a dominant wide receiver. Once again, only three wide receivers from Reid’s offenses in Philadelphia topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark: Terrell Owens (2004), Kevin Curtis (2007) and DeSean Jackson (2009-10).

Numerous position battles are on the horizon, but wide receiver deserves a separate overview.

The Chiefs entered the draft with Avery, Bowe, Weston Dressler, Frankie Hammond, Junior Hemingway, Jerrell Jackson, A.J. Jenkins, Rashad Ross, Fred Williams and Kyle Williams.

Of the pre-draft group, Dressler is new and will have to adjust from the Canadian Football League to the NFL where he’ll compete at the slot position. The Chiefs released Ross post-draft, but the remaining receivers spent time on the Chiefs’ active roster or practice squad in 2013, a clear bonus heading into a second season in Reid’s offense.

To add depth, the Chiefs signed Louisiana-Lafayette’s Darryl Surgent and Georgia State’s Albert Wilson as undrafted free agents, a move Middlekauff pointed out as a viable option before the draft given the deep 2014 wide receiver draft class.

The Chiefs currently have 11 wide receivers on the roster, not counting fourth-round pick Thomas, whose immediate role on offense has yet to be determined.

“He’ll probably have more impact on special teams quicker than he will on say the offense,” Reid said of Thomas during a Tuesday appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB. “We’ll work him in there. We’ll see what he can do.”

Unfortunately, Thomas won’t be available for all the organized team activities (OTAs) due to the University of Oregon’s quarter system, as detailed by ArrowheadPride.com.

“He’ll be here for the rookie minicamp,” Reid continued, “and then he’ll be back for the final mandatory minicamp. But everything in between where the other rookies are here now, he won’t be able to be here for a couple of weeks.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs carried five to six wideouts on the active 53-man roster throughout 2013, with McCluster, Hemingway and Chad Hall, prior to his late-season release, contributing on special teams.

Among the current receivers, Bowe, who started 15 games in 2013 and finished the season with 57 catches for 673 yards and five touchdowns, is locked in as the team’s No. 1. He produced his best game in the playoff loss against the Indianapolis Colts with eight catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Avery, who notched 40 catches for 596 yards and two touchdowns in 16 appearances (14 starts), was the team’s No. 2. But he could face stiff competition from Jenkins, a former first-round pick (30th overall) of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, and Hemingway.

Jenkins, who appeared in 16 games with one start, finished 2013 with eight catches for 130 yards. He saw extensive action in the Week 17 season finale against the San Diego Chargers where he recorded three catches for 67 yards (22.3 yards per catch).

Hemingway, who enters his third pro season, appeared in all regular season games with two starts, finishing with 13 catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

The slot carries obvious intrigue, and Dressler and Thomas in one aspect are on even ground given their respective adjustments to the NFL and first season in Reid’s scheme.

Ultimately, Reid incorporates a lot of three-receiver sets, so the Chiefs will have the current group of receivers under the microscope in the upcoming minicamps and OTAs leading to training camp.

Of course, the Chiefs could add more wide receivers before reporting to St. Joseph, Mo., in late July, meaning the dust likely won’t settle on defined roles outside of Bowe until August.