As a lead-in to the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, which begins when rookies and quarterbacks report July 20, The Star will rank the 10 most interesting position battles.
8. Kick and punt returners
First things first — the free-agent departures of Dexter McCluster and Quintin Demps leave a massive void on special teams. McCluster returned two punts for touchdowns last season and made the Pro Bowl, while Demps averaged a stellar 30 yards per kick return and brought back one for a touchdown.
The good news is the Chiefs have some intriguing options to replace them. Second-year pro Knile Davis showed some real promise when he spelled Demps last season, averaging 32 yards on 10 kick returns. Davis also returned a kick for a touchdown against Denver, a play in which he showed excellent burst and the ability to read his blocks. Provided he continues to make strides holding onto the football — a legitimate concern — he could easily see his workload on kick returns increase.
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Standing in his way, however, is free-agent signee Joe McKnight. Although he sat out last season, McKnight did serve as a kick returner for the Jets in 2011 and 2012, returning one kick for a score each year. In fact, his 29-yard career kick return average still leads all active players, and he logged a PFF special teams grade of 6.8 during his time with the Jets.
Davis and McKnight should be considered the front runners, considering their experience, but don’t count out fourth-round rookie De’Anthony Thomas, either. During his three-year career at Oregon, the 5-foot-9, 174-pounder returned 73 kicks for an average of 25.8 yards and also scored four touchdowns.
Other in the mix to return kicks include rookie free agent Albert Wilson and former Canadian Football League star Weston Dressler, who all have experience in that role. Wilson returned 95 kicks for 2,338 yards (24.6 average) and two touchdowns in college, while Dressler returned 31 kicks for 634 yards (20.5 average) and no touchdowns during his six-year career at Saskatchewan.
Not surprisingly, many of the same names are in the competition for the starting punt return job. Thomas, however, might be the most intriguing option. During his college career, he returned 16 punts for 274 yards — a whopping average of 17.1 yards — and one touchdown.
Dressler returned 92 punts for 907 yards and a touchdown in the CFL, while Wilson, meanwhile, returned 41 punts for 376 yards (9.2 yards per return) at Georgia State. Hammond only returned seven punts for 21 yards during his time at Florida, but received work there in OTAs, nonetheless.
Keep an eye on this battle throughout camp. Dwayne Bowe is the only receiver who should be considered a lock to make the roster, though it would take Donnie Avery being thoroughly outplayed by Junior Hemingway or A.J. Jenkins to not make the team.
Assuming those four hold on to their jobs — and Thomas makes the team, which is probably a lock — based on the number of players at each position the Chiefs carried on their 53-man last season, there’s only room on the roster for one more receiver/running back, and that might come down to Cyrus Gray, McKnight, Hammond, Dressler, Wilson and all the others battling for a job.
If it does, you can bet that versatility and special-teams ability might make the difference between making the team and being cut.