KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- General manager John Dorsey made what at the time seemed to be a strange remark shortly after the Kansas City Chiefs picked a wide receiver, Michigan’s Jehu Chesson, in the fourth round of the recent NFL draft.
Dorsey said the Chiefs needed more competition at receiver, which sounded odd for a team with Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill and a group of promising young players that includes Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson.
Dorsey’s comment makes perfect sense now that the Chiefs have released Maclin, their most accomplished and only established wide receiver. They need all the competition they can get, because the Chiefs are going with potential over proven production at some important positions.
To reset the wide-receiving depth chart, the Chiefs have Conley as one starter. Hill is unlikely to start, but between receiver and running back will get a lot of playing time. The other starting spot is now available, with Robinson and Albert Wilson the leading candidates.
Robinson, a fourth-round pick last year, played mainly on special teams as a rookie. But he has been getting a lot of work in offseason practice, a sign the Chiefs believe he might be ready for significant playing time. Wilson has started 19 games for the Chiefs in his three NFL seasons, but at 5-foot-9, he might be best suited as a spare receiver.
Chesson, Seantavius Jones and De'Anthony Thomas lead the group of receivers hoping to claim the other backup spots. The other four receivers on the roster are undrafted rookies: Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, Alonzo Moore and Tony Stevens.
So it’s not as though the Chiefs left themselves without any talent at receiver. Hill was a sensation as a rookie, scoring 12 touchdowns between receiving, rushing and kick returning.
Conley, the Chiefs’ third-round draft pick in 2015, caught 44 passes last season, his first as a starter. He is 6-foot-3 and he ran a 4.35 40 when he was coming out for the draft, so Conley has the ability to pump up his stats. Robinson and Jones have looked good in offseason practice, perhaps making the Chiefs more comfortable in parting with Maclin.
But releasing Maclin is still a gamble for Kansas City. In Hill, Conley, Wilson and Thomas, the Chiefs have four players who have caught a regular-season NFL pass. They’ve combined for 251 receptions and 12 receiving touchdowns.
Those numbers fall far short of those from Maclin alone (474 and 46).
So it’s a leap of faith here for the Chiefs. They’re hoping offensive improvement can help carry them beyond the divisional round of the playoffs, their burial ground in each of the past two seasons.
They’ll have to find a way to make that improvement without Jamaal Charles, their longtime featured back who was released over the winter, and now Maclin, their No. 1 receiver.
The Chiefs did clear about $10 million in salary-cap space by releasing Maclin after June 1. They now have the room to sign their three remaining unsigned draft picks, including first-round quarterback Patrick Mahomes II.
But it comes at the cost of proven performance at wide receiver.