Reviewing KC's wide receiver corps

The Chiefs announced the signing of former Ravens wideout Devard Darling last week, briefly interrupting what had been a soothing, restful nap through free agency. It's no secret that KC's depth at wide receiver is perilously thin, so the addition of a new target has re-ignited some discussion about that position and the passing game as a whole.

With that in mind, we'll take a look at the players who will catch passes from Brodie Croyle next season – both the receivers and the tight ends. In the process, we'll try to determine how much work the Chiefs have left in bolstering the receiving corps.

Is the signing of one unheralded free agent enough to get by? If not, who's out there?


WIDE RECEIVER

Dwayne Bowe

The only serious complaint about Bowe's rookie season is the fact he was barely utilized in the final game, robbing me of the opportunity to refer to him here as a 1,000-yard receiver.

There are areas where Bowe can improve – namely his hands, as he dropped a few too many passes throughout the year. But seriously, wouldn't it be nice if we could already pin the 1,000 yard-badge on him?

In the entire history of the NFL, only 15 receivers have totaled 1,000 yards as rookies. Bowe finished with 995. Was Mike Solari reading want ads during the Jets game? Couldn't he have called a couple of slant routes to his best receiver?

That unfortunate issue aside, Bowe spent the first year of his career displaying nearly everything the Chiefs hoped to see. He got open deep, made tough grabs across the middle, and made things happen after the catch. He out-jumped defenders for the ball, he ran solid routes, he threw great blocks. If not for a few drops, his rookie year would have been perfect.

Bowe will enter his sophomore season as the Chiefs' unquestioned #1 receiver, a spot he'll hopefully hold down for several more years to come.

Devard Darling

While his signing didn't exactly force ESPN to interrupt their programming with a breaking news update, "DVD" is exactly the kind of free agent Herm Edwards said the Chiefs would target. Darling is young, appears to be ascending, and perhaps best of all, new receivers coach Eric Price is already familiar with his talents.

News of Darling's arrival in Kansas City, however, has mostly been met with a collective yawn. That's understandable, since his stats last season weren't overwhelming. But if you look a little deeper into his numbers with Baltimore, they tell an interesting story.


Darling flashed big-play ability in Baltimore
David Sherman - Getty

Darling's three touchdowns in 2007 were more than any other Ravens receiver but one. His 326 receiving yards were the third-best mark on the team, yet he ranked eighth in total receptions, showing he made the most of the opportunities he was given. He caught passes in only nine games, just over half a season of work.

If his signing had been presented along those lines – "Hey, Chiefs fans, your team just signed a free agent who finished second on his team in touchdown catches and third in receiving yards despite only playing half the year" – maybe it would have generated a little more excitement.

Darling's actual stats may not blow anybody away, but no one confused the Ravens' passing game with that of the Colts or Patriots. Looking at his numbers in the context of the offense he played for may paint a better picture of what the Chiefs are getting.

Depending on what other moves are made at the receiver position, Darling has as good a chance as anyone to end up at the #2 spot opposite Bowe next season.

Jeff Webb

After starting the final two games of 2007, Webb appeared to cement his place as a third or fourth receiver. It's not that he played poorly in those late-season games, but coaches hoping for a sign that Webb could step up into a full-time starting role came away disappointed. Aside from his first career touchdown catch late against the Jets, there was nothing much to write home about.

With the current lack of options at the receiver position, however, Webb should be right in the mix for 2008. But barring an impressive offseason, the door is wide open for someone like Darling – or even Bobby Sippio – to vault ahead of Webb on the depth chart.

Bobby Sippio

Nobody, including Chiefs' coaches, knows what to expect from the former Arena League star. He didn't catch a single pass in 2007, but got such a late start that he was never on equal footing with the other receivers. This year, with the entire team learning Chan Gailey's new offense, Sippio will start on the same page as everyone else.

If The Legend of Bobby Sippio is anywhere close to being accurate, however, and his mythical velcro-like hands are as good as advertised, it's hard to imagine him not challenging for the #3 spot. Even if he can't get separation from corners, his value as a chain-moving possession receiver would make him more attractive in that role than Webb.


TIGHT END

Tony Gonzalez

Honestly, what's left to say at this point? The 2007 offseason saw Gonzalez suffer an attack of Bell's palsy, make a major lifestyle change to become a vegan, and get married.


Gonzalez broke Shannon Sharpe's touchdown record last season
Dilip Vishwanawat - Getty

He still came roaring back with the same Pro Bowl-level performance everyone has come to expect. In fact, the 2007 season was statistically one of the best of Gonzo's career. As an added bonus, he broke some of the all-time tight end records everyone knew he'd reach some day.

Do you think Gonzalez ever gets bored with his consistent level of excellence year-in and year-out? Does he ever consider playing with a patch over one eye or with an arm tied behind his back, just to make things more interesting?

Michael Allan

Allan didn't catch a pass as a rookie, but don't discount his future in Kansas City. The former seventh-round pick has bulked up this offseason and will receive every opportunity to be KC's backup tight end.

While making an appearance on the NFL Network during the combine, Herm Edwards mentioned that Chan Gailey extensively uses two tight end sets in his offense. That means Allan should see his share of the action in 2008.


Evaluation

So where do the Chiefs go from here? A solid blocker is needed to replace Jason Dunn, but the team is otherwise set at tight end. As for wide receiver, it's not realistic to have only four on the roster. Will the Chiefs look for another receiver or two in free agency, or will they add via the draft?

Keep in mind that Dwayne Bowe is the only proven starter of the bunch, and it shouldn't be forgotten he only has one year of experience under his belt. Darling and Webb have only been backups to this point. Sippio is a total unknown.

Going into the season with three question marks at wide receiver is an awfully risky proposition, especially considering the quality of the Chiefs' offense last year.

The logical assumption would be to look for proven help in free agency to give the offense a solid #2 opposite Bowe. Unfortunately, the pickings at this point are slim. Former Cardinals receiver Bryant Johnson and former Seahawks receiver DJ Hackett were both recently removed from the market. Some may hold out hope for a blockbuster trade involving Chad Johnson, but we'll keep speculation grounded for now.

Since notable free agent pickups don't appear to be in the cards, maybe the Chiefs plan on using a relatively high draft pick on a receiver. There should be some talent available in the second and third rounds, but players in the draft are no more certain than the options the Chiefs already have, so we end up right back where we started.

But perhaps the Chiefs don't plan on doing much at all. Maybe they're resigned to the fact that, after Bowe, the position will largely be up in the air with a collection of unproven players competing for the #2 spot. They could draft a receiver in the later rounds, or quietly sign another under-the-radar free agent, but neither method would give the team a proven secondary option.

If that should prove to be the case, you have to start wondering a bit about the bigger picture. There's nothing more important for the Chiefs in 2008 than getting an opportunity to evaluate Brodie Croyle. Shouldn't he be given every possible tool in order to give him best chance to succeed? Shouldn't that include a better wide receiver corps than one starter accompanied by a bunch of question marks?

And shouldn't they give him an offensive line capable of protecting him? We'll dive into that topic next time.

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