On one particular play Saturday, the first day of the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp, receiver Jehu Chesson showed a glimpse of the talent that prompted general manager John Dorsey to trade two fifth-round picks to move back up into the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft and select him.
Chesson, who checked in at 6 feet 3 and 204 pounds at the Combine, put his impressive combination of size, catch radius and ball skills on display when he skied high in the air to haul in a deep ball from quarterback Joel Stave.
Based on the reaction from new receivers coach Greg Lewis, however, Chesson would soon learn that plays like this in the NFL were the expectation, not the exception – not that he had any doubt, of course.
“He was just like, ‘Good job 80, get back in the huddle,’” Chesson said with a laugh.
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Still, it was a sign that Chesson – who ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the Combine – could potentially offer the Chiefs something they haven’t had in recent years at the wide receiver position: a consistent jump-ball weapon. Now, Jeremy Maclin is still the No. 1 target, Tyreek Hill showed gamebreaking ability, and Albert Wilson is a reliable player who doesn’t make mental mistakes. But none of them are “post-up” receivers, and while Chris Conley is big enough to be (6 feet 3, 205 pounds), he hasn’t had many opportunities to make such plays.
Enter Chesson, whose NFL.com draft profile describes him as a “ball tracker with good concentration” who “feasts on combat catches in a crowd” and “can leap and contort in mid-air to snare the difficult catch.”
Part of his identity, he says, is finding a way to win when the ball is the air.
“I have to, because that’s what the team needs, and I’m about doing what the team needs,” Chesson said. “So you throw that ball out there, and it’s me or nobody. That’s your mentality, and you’ve got to go up there and get it ... you make the play or you don’t. You’ve got to have that confidence that when that ball is in the air, it’s yours.”
Yet, for all his size, tough and athleticism – and Chesson has the latter in spades, as he was among the best athletic testers at his position in this year’s draft – his production as a senior at Michigan certainly didn’t back up his reputation or draft slot.
After a killer junior season in which he won Michigan’s MVP award by catching 50 passes for 764 yards and nine touchdowns, his numbers plummeted to 35 catches for 500 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.
As you might imagine, this little fact became a popular topic during NFL teams’ pre-draft meetings with Chesson.
“I got that question a lot, man,” Chesson said with a laugh. “And my answer was this – I never really had a good answer.”
It was easy for Chesson not to be upset by the way his season went individually, however. Michigan went 10-3 in 2016 and made it to the Orange Bowl, and Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh preaches the importance of team success over personal stats. So since he appreciated the opportunity to represent his team and his family name by playing the game he loves, he made sure his attitude reflected that last season.
“When things aren’t really swinging your way, the only thing you can control is your attitude – regardless of what people say, what they think,” Chesson said. “You just control your tenacity, how relentless you are and how you attack every single day.”
The Chiefs, however, attribute Chesson’s drop in production in 2016 – which probably contributed to his seventh-round grade from CBSSports.com – to other factors. For instance, Chiefs area scout Pat Sperduto said the offense changed in 2016 when Wilton Speight took over for Jake Rudock, who was drafted by the Lions last year.
“Changing quarterbacks and obviously changing the structure of how they operated from Jake to Wilson, that was a little bit different for them,” Sperduto said. “Ultimately (Amara) Darboh ends up getting more catches than Chesson just because of the routes they ran.”
Chesson also tore the PCL in his knee in Michigan’s Citrus Bowl win over Florida in January 2016, but on Sunday, he said the knee gave him no issues last season – “It felt great,” he said – and Sperduto agreed.
“No, he ran great,” Sperduto said.
Sperduto also liked Chesson’s lunch-pail mentality as a receiver, citing his college production on special teams – where he logged 17 career tackles – and also served as a gunner on punt and a vise (or cornerback) on punt return.
“Offense, defense, special teams – that’s what it takes to win the game,” Chesson said. “If you really want to win the game, you’re going to bust your (butt) on special teams.”
You’re also going to go all out to get the ball when it’s in the air, and that’s an area Chesson – who is predominantly focused on mastering the Chiefs’ wordy play calls – hopes to continue showing his stuff after Saturday’s great start.
“We’re going to keep working our deep ball, we’re going to keep working our gos, we’re going to keep working our routes,” Chesson said. “I have so much to learn, so much to improve on. But I’m making progress.”