Performance is the ultimate trump card, and Albert Wilson is proof.
Undersized, under-recruited, position change, name the condition. Wilson accepted every challenge and finds himself the Chiefs’ second option at wide receiver, a position that could take on greater significance if Jeremy Maclin’s ankle injury prevents him from playing or limits him in Saturday’s divisional round playoff game at New England.
“The thing I say is if you go through life listening to people who say you can’t do things, your world would be at a standstill,” Wilson said.
Wilson does anything but stand still. A second-year pro, Wilson took the next step this season, increasing his workload and statistics: from 16 receptions and no touchdowns in his rookie season to 35 and two scores in a starting role this season.
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Wilson had at least one reception in each of the Chiefs’ final 11 regular-season games and had two in the team’s 30-0 wild-card playoff victory at Houston last Saturday.
More could be needed this week. Maclin, the Chiefs’ leading receiver who was injured in the third quarter against Houston, hasn’t practiced this week. His injury has been called a “mild” high-ankle sprain by coach Andy Reid.
Although more responsibility will come his way — along with Chris Conley and Jason Avant — Wilson said he doesn’t feel an additional burden.
“I don’t know about any more than usual,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”
Wilson always has been ready and constantly has had to prove himself on the football field. A high school quarterback in Florida, the 5-foot-9 Wilson flashed speed and agility — baseball was a first love, and he could have pursued a future as a shortstop — but he figured his football path would be as a running back or defensive back.
He accepted a scholarship at Georgia State, which had just started football. Wilson played on the first team, in 2010, the first time he played wide receiver.
“I definitely didn’t think I’d be catching the ball when I got to Georgia State,” Wilson said.
But as the program’s first season approached, the team needed more speed on the offensive side, and Wilson was a breakout player. His big moment as a freshman: returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Alabama.
The touchdowns and highlight plays piled up, and Wilson left college with 6,235 all-purpose yards.
But it wasn’t enough for Wilson to hear his named called in the NFL draft. After the Chiefs made their 2014 selections, they signed him as a free agent. Wilson impressed coaches with his work ethic and drive and made the team.
“First of all, he’s a tough kid, a smart kid,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “I think back a year ago, where he kind of emerged on the scene and was able to do some things with the short- to intermediate passing game, which caught our attention. He’s really blossomed from that.
“And having a guy like Jeremy opposite him also has helped, a little more single coverage, the ability to beat man coverage.”
Wilson’s two touchdowns came on short passes that he turned into sprints to the end zone, a screen from 42 yards against the Vikings and a quick slant that went for 44 yards and the only touchdown the Chiefs scored in their home victory over the Chargers.
There’s a belief Wilson could have had another score or two. Quarterback Alex Smith has overthrown Wilson on some deep balls this season, including one against the Texans. Wilson didn’t dive. It might not have made a difference on any of the throws, but Wilson said he’s continuing to work on his wide-receiving instincts.
“It’s something that I have to build into my game,” Wilson said. “This is, like, my fourth or fifth year playing receiver, and it’s something I haven’t done yet.”
Until he reached the NFL, Wilson never had to worry about an overthrown ball.
“I came from a school where I pretty much ran up under everything, (and) I never had to dive for the ball,” he said. “When you come to the next level, there are some balls you have to go for. You just have to put that in your game and make it happen.”
Wilson has proved progress can come quickly.