Scouting the AFC West: Wide receivers & tight ends

A position breakdown of the AFC West wide receivers and tight ends. Who is the best player? Has the most to overcome? Is the true unsung hero? Who has the most to prove? Who will improve the most? Are any San Diego Chargers on the list? SDBoltReport.com tackles these questions and many more.

Mr. Overrated: Eddie Kennison (WR) Kansas City Chiefs

Kennison was a dynamic wide out and return man for LSU in the mid-nineties. But up until now his electricity has yet to carry over into the NFL. Kennison has produced a few solid years, but none to justify being a first round pick. Kennison has yet to produce a 1000 yard season, which is probably why Kansas City is his fifth team. It does not look, however, as if Kennison is going anywhere, for he has still out-produced Mr. Overrated nominee Johnny Morton over the last two years. But he never was the game breaker many thought he would be.

Mr. Underrated: Rod Smith (WR) Denver Broncos

Smith is entering his tenth season for the Broncos. And as dependable as he has been, Smith has never really received the national recognition he deserves. Smith has been to the pro bowl twice, but is a very good season away from reaching 10,000 career receiving yards this year. Unless Smith has a record breaking year he will not get the pub that some of the hotter names in the league will. With that said, Smith means just as much to the success of the Denver passing game as some of the younger dynamic receivers mean for their perspective teams across the league.

Old faces, new places: Kevin Dyson (WR) San Diego Chargers

The Chargers shipped David Boston out and replaced him with Kevin Dyson. On the surface this looks like a horrible swap. But considering the trouble Boston is having in Miami currently, and the veteran presence Dyson is adding to a group of no-names in San Diego, the Chargers are probably going to be better off. If Dyson avoids injury, he will probably put up better numbers than Boston did last season. Luckily for San Diego, Dyson is still young enough for a fresh start, and he should fit in nicely with the new attitude San Diego is adopting.

Is he Yoda or a waste of space?: Jerry Rice (WR) Oakland Raiders

The similarities between Jerry Rice and Roger Clemens are mind numbing. Since being "over the hill" and leaving San Francisco, Rice has been one of the best wide receivers in the AFC West. Rice has had twice the career as some other superstar receivers. But since everyone knows the greatness of Rice, the biggest question is how long he can keep it up. Rice will once again be the "go to guy" in Oakland. The idea of man beyond his mid-life crisis having a 1,000 yard season is ridiculous, but then again, so is Rice.

Put up or shut up time: Reche Caldwell (WR) San Diego Chargers

It might be too little to late for Caldwell. In fact, he needs to have a solid training camp just to make the squad. Caldwell has lived up to the Florida wide receiver curse to a tee. He is a true enigma, for ability has never been Caldwell's problem. Whatever it is he better figure it out soon. The clock is ticking and there is some hungry undrafted free agents thinking that they have what it takes to replace him on the squad. Depending on where one is coming it could either be a good thing or bad. But for Charger fans all it means is another second round bust.

Same name, new player: Ashley Lelie (WR) Denver Broncos

Granted it is Lelie's third year, but he is prone to have a breakout year. With the retirement of Sharpe, Lelie will be expected to pick up the slack. All the weight will not be on his shoulders, though, because he has an excellent mentor in Rod Smith. With Jake Plummer's ability to scramble and buy time, Lelie will have a great opportunity to use his size and athleticism to his advantage. All the cards are lined up for Lelie to succeed probably resulting into more receiving yards than the two previous years combined.

Not quite there yet: Teyo Johnson (TE) Oakland Raiders

Johnson did not have the type of year Oakland was hoping for when drafting him. Even though he has more natural ability than Doug Jolley, he is not as good at catching passes. Johnson should not get too discouraged however. He is one of the youngest players in the NFL, and in time, could be a dominant player. Johnson has the natural ability that coaches dream about. The coaches are expected to produce immediately in Oakland this year, so it should be interesting to see how his young mind handles it.

Newest addition with the biggest impact potential: Darius Watts (WR) Denver Broncos

Not too much will be expected of Watts this year. He will be shuffled in as the number three wide out. Consequently, his play will be limited and most of his time on the field will either be against some type of zone coverage or a nickel back. This does pose trouble for Watts in inter-conference play, but he should have some relative success against the rest of the NFL. It is not unrealistic to expect Watts to have somewhere in between 40 and 50 catches for 500-600 yards.

On the hottest seat: Jerry Porter (WR) Oakland Raiders

After looking as if Porter was headed in the right direction he took a step back last season. Granted, injuries can do that to a player. But for the past two years, the Raiders have been expecting him to take over one of the wide receiver positions. This, obviously, has not happened yet. If Porter does not prove this year that he can compete with two "over the hill" players, then why keep him around? There was much speculation that Oakland was going to draft a wide receiver in this years draft. They opted for the offensive lineman instead, but next year will be a different story. All the more reason for Porter to prove he belongs.

El numero uno: Tony Gonzalez (TE) Kansas City Chiefs

Even though the wide receiver talent in the AFC West is some of the weakest in the NFL, the opposite can be said about tight ends. Each team is rich with young talent, and in terms of the conference as a whole, cornerbacks and tight ends are easily the AFC West's best positions. At the very top of this prestigious group is Tony Gonzalez. Cornerbacks across the league have trouble covering Gonzalez, let alone linebackers, because he uses his athleticism just about better than anyone in the league. At the current pace he is on, Gonzalez will be mentioned in the same breath as another AFC West great, Kellen Winslow.

BREAKING DOWN THE SKILLS

Best hands: Tony Gonzalez (TE) Kansas City Chiefs

If a ball comes within a radius of six feet of Gonzalez it is practically a done deal he will come down with it. Considering Gonzalez's big frame, Trent Green has a one of the most effective weapons in football at his helm.

Best speed: Tim Dwight (WR) San Diego Chargers

If Dwight's hands were more consistent, he could be one of the most explosive players in the game. He is a beloved figure in San Diego and arguably has the biggest heart in football.

Best route runner: Jerry Rice (WR) Oakland Raiders

Just because a player is old does not mean he cannot be at a certain place at a certain time to catch a football. This is how Rice has prolonged his career the way he has, not to mention, Rice has never been known for his blazing speed anyway.

Plays with the most attitude: Tim Brown (WR) Oakland Raiders

Rice is able to truck along because of his meticulous precision of every aspect of the game. Brown, on the other hand, acts and talks as if he can keep us with everyone else. As far as any given defense is concerned, they believe he still can whether it is a reality or not.

RANKING THE TEAMS

1. Denver Broncos: Despite the retirement of Shannon Sharpe, the Broncos still have a solid group to work with. Denver brought in Jed Weaver to compensate for the loss of Sharpe, but Ashley Lelie and Darius Watts will do their fair share in picking up the slack.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: Even though Johnnie Morton and Eddie Kennison have not lived up to their billing, they still represent some of the more seasoned wide receivers in the AFC West. Oh yeah, they have some guy name Tony Gonzalez also.

3. Oakland Raiders: Despite the relative success of the older guys, Oakland has to address the inevitable problem. If they plan to rely on Jerry Porter they will find themselves slipping down this chart rather quickly.

4. San Diego Chargers: Despite the optimism of some Charger fans, the fact is San Diego is relying on three undrafted free agents, a second round bust, and a veteran with a history of injuries to catch all of Philip Rivers' or Drew Brees' passes this year. To make Charger fans sleep easier at night, the last time they were ranked this badly at receiver, they went to the Super Bowl.

ALL AFC West Team: Receivers

WR - Jerry Rice - Oakland Raiders
WR - Rod Smith - Denver Broncos
WR - Ashley Lelie - Denver Broncos
TE - Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City Chiefs
TE - Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers

On deck, running backs and full backs

Byran Martin can be reached at byran@sandiegosports.net

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