I know many a Chiefs' fan got tired of hearing about the Chiefs being the only team since 1940 to go without a touchdown from a wide receiver. Injuries and an inability to get open downfield were the primary causes. It might surprise you that in 2012 Alex Smith completed 70.1% of his passes. (65.3% in 2013) He was very good in 2012 before his injury. This season, more speed down the field, the game opening up due to the team signing Jeremy Maclin, and an improved offensive line should allow Smith to survey through his reads rather than running for dear life and open up the field for playmakers like Maclin, Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles, and DeAnthony Thomas.
Jeremy Maclin may be the number one reason I expect a turnaround in Smith's play. Last year, no Chiefs' WR caught a TD, which allowed defenses to focus on their other weapons like Kelce and Charles. Maclin, who was coming off from ACL surgery the year before, and was playing on a 1-year contract in Philadelphia, had the best year of his career. He was the #1 WR on the team for the first time in his career and caught 85 balls for 1,318 yards and 10 TDs. That is an average of 15.5 yards per catch, and he did it multiple ways. Maclin is a complete receiver, who can play all three WR positions. He is a very good route runner who knows how to take advantage of less experienced or talented corners and safeties. He can catch a screen pass or a 5-yard slant and take it 80 yards for the score, or he can burn his man deep with a double move, catching a deep pass over his shoulder. Maclin is a consummate professional and a good teammate. His presence should open up, not only the other receivers as he draws double teams, but the middle of the field to free up Kelce more often. Jamaal Charles catching the ball out of the backfield will have less attention on him as well as the secondary will have to account for Maclin.
Travis Kelce is one of those rare players who raise the stakes for Smith. Kelce is 6’6 and has many referring to him as Zeus. He did not start the nickname; but he likes it. Over the middle or at the sideline, he can do it all. He had sixty-seven catches with five touchdowns and 862 yards receiving and an average of 12.9 yards per catch. Kelce has good speed to go along with good blocking downfield as well. He has been watching Tony Gonzalez footage of 1997-2008 in the offseason. This does it for me. For Chiefs' fans (and many football fans), Gonzalez is the gold standard for Tight Ends. Kelce has such high football character with natural instincts, ideal size, and large hands. He will continue to provide Alex Smith with an option rather than just a check-down back or a wide receiver comeback pass. Travis often turns two-yard gains into 5 or 6 yards. That adds up and makes it easier for the team to convert third downs.
I expect Jamaal Charles, healthy once again, will be used much as Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook late in his career. He will still carry the ball, however, catching the ball out of the backfield on flares and swing passes, Charles still has the speed and agility to take a short pass the distance. With Maclin drawing attention from the secondary, and Kelce establishing himself as one of the top TE weapons in the league, defenses can no longer focus solely on Charles, and that should make him more effective than ever.
Andy Reid is critical to this as well. This will be the third season in Reid’s version of the west coast offense. Reid is one of the best coaches in the game and turned around a 2012 Chiefs' team that had two wins to 11-5 in 2013 and a playoff game against the Colts. They lost that game but not by any fault of Smith's, who apart from a fumble, played a great game. Andy Reid is the man and author of his own slant on the west coast offense, and that leads to wins. Wins usually equal more fans in the seats of Arrowhead again. That is the stuff of magic. Reid found 137.7 decibels created a home team advantage few other stadiums could match. Arrowhead established in the 90’s that loud was really loud. Andy is a player’s coach. Players want to give more and truly be team players. He will tell you what is expected. He will tell you to be yourself and have fun. We have seen more of that in the last two seasons than ever.
Finally, great special teams can go a long way. In 2013, Special Teams coach Dave Toub did a lot with very little. He used Dexter McCluster and Knile Davis returning punts and kicks. Toub did so well the Tennessee Titans paid Dexter big money to do the same for them. Toub is a mad scientist of special teams coaching. Last season, general manager John Dorsey treated Dave Toub to DeAnthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round of the draft. Toub and Reid are building the team with players built for Reid's offense. While McCluster was decent, Thomas has more game speed, and he can run through tackles. From his first preseason game, when he ran back a punt for a touchdown to his ability to take passes in space and create huge mismatches, he regularly gave the offense great starting position. Smith will be the biggest benefactor of this in 2015.
The Chiefs have a chance to be special in 2015, and I feel confident that Smith is primed for a very big year.
Millissa Beaton is a graduate of National Football Post's Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow her on Twitter @SportsWizard28This piece was co-written by Lijah Spencer - @tweaked74 on Twitter
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