Perhaps lost in the Chiefs’ aggressive draft-day dealings — which led to their long-awaited choice to take a quarterback in the first round for the first time since 1983 — was their decision to trade back into the fourth round and select Michigan receiver Jehu Chesson.
Chiefs brass loved Chesson’s size (6 feet 3, 203 pounds), jump-ball skills and athleticism; he was one of the best-tested at his position. They also loved his team-first attitude and willingness to do the dirty work. He served as a core special-teams player at Michigan and caught the Chiefs’ eye that way.
“I love his toughness — we knew coming out of Michigan that he was an aggressive player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “When you called a run, he was going to bury himself down in there and go get it. He was a tremendous special-teams player.”
Still, while the thought was that Chesson could be an immediate special-teams contributor — and he has indeed helped there, logging 31 percent of the snaps in that phase — his selection was always going to be a long-term play, at least offensively.
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Much of that had to do the complexity of Reid’s offense, which calls for receivers to regularly adjust their routes depending on defensive coverages. This means that one small mistake by a receiver — a misdiagnosed defensive coverage, for example — can lead to running the wrong route, which can blow up an entire play.
It’s why quarterback Alex Smith rarely throws to receivers he hasn’t built adequate trust with, and why most rookie receivers under Reid — including Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson and even Tyreek Hill, all of whom comprise the Chiefs’ current corps — end up playing more in year two than they do in year one.
It’s also a big reason why it took Chesson until the Chiefs’ 28-17 loss to Dallas on Nov. 5 for him to log the first offensive snap of his career. Chesson recorded a catch for 10 yards in four snaps.
The good news is that Chesson, by all accounts, seems to be making tremendous progress.
“Again, it’s learning this system — he’s attacked that,” Reid said. “We’ve been able to get him in for a couple of snaps this past game, and he did OK — he’s making progress. It’s a tough position to learn that first year and have a complete handle on it, especially when you’ve had some guys that have played a little bit.”
Receivers coach Greg Lewis has found Chesson to be a willing student.
“He does what we ask him really well, and that’s understand what the offense is asking you to do on each and every play,” Lewis said. “He’s versatile enough to play all the positions we ask him, and he’s a physical presence when he gets out there. I’m excited to continue to see him out there.”
Chesson cited his comprehension of the game as the area in which he’s most improved in the last few months.
“Just seeing how the puzzle pieces fit together, how the different concepts benefit each other when guys are out there running routes and the little nuances to help get open,” Chesson explained. “Those things are what I’m picking up on the most, which is pretty nice because I want to be a student of the game.”
Chesson said trial and error in training camp helped him speed up the process.
“There’s where you can make (mistakes), right? Because you’re obviously in a new system learning, but it’s your job — you have to know what you’re doing,” Chesson said. “What also really helps is older guys coming in and mentoring you. It’s me being in the books and having great older leaders that are able to help me hone my craft and what I’m doing.”
Chesson’s development process has been sped up some by a handful of injuries at his position. Conley, a third-year pro, was emerging as a nice possession receiver before he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in week 5 against Houston. That pushed second-year pro Demarcus Robinson — who also needed a year to learn Reid’s playbook — into the starting lineup, and Chesson into the No. 4 spot, which means he could be one more injury away from logging serious playing time.
That possibility does not worry Chesson, who explained he’d be ready for action by using a favorite saying of his coach at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh.
“I’ll say it like this — if you ever ask a commander in the Army how long he has to train his battalion, he’ll say — if I have two weeks, it takes two weeks and if I have two years, it takes two years,’” Chesson said. “So that’s my thing right now. If I need to learn it by this Saturday, I’ll learn it by this Saturday.”
In the meantime, Chesson continues to take pride in his vertical skills while also working on his change-of-direction and burst in an effort to create more separation out of his breaks.
“Everybody on the league needs to work on that from a receiver standpoint because these cornerbacks are just so good,” Chesson said. “Being low, playing low, trying to get the DB to move and stop his feet, it takes leverage.”
Again,the Chiefs are already happy with Chesson’s special-teams contributions. Lewis said Chesson’s completely bought in to the culture — which coaches love — and that starts with his effort and hustle in the third phase of the game.“When you play special teams, you really learn how to play football because it’s like, kamikaze,” Lewis said. “A lot of things are going on and you’ve gotta play fast because there’s a lot of stuff happening, and it sorta gets you ready to go in offense or defense. You’ve been out there, you’ve felt the speed of the game, and Jehu has done a tremendous job.”
Lewis and the Chiefs are now looking forward to seeing him continue to grow as a player.
“I’m excited about where he’s at,” Lewis said. “He’s going to continue to grow.”
Chiefs midseason rookie report
With the Chiefs at the midway point of the season, The Star is taking stock of the Chiefs’ six rookie draft picks and where they are in their development.
First (10th overall): Patrick Mahomes is livin’ the dream ... on the scout team
Second (59th overall): Tanoh Kpassagnon has impressed coaches with his effort and mentality
Third (86th overall): Have NFL teams adjusted to Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt?
Fourth (139th overall): Chiefs coach Andy Reid likes WR Jehu Chesson’s toughness
Fifth (183rd overall): MLB Ukeme Eligwe is still training his eyes (upcoming)
Sixth (218th overall): S Leon McQuay is taking in lessons on the practice squad (upcoming)
| Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org