As a lead-in to the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, which begins when rookies report on July 20, The Star will rank the 10 most interesting position battles.
3. Slot receiver
After the free-agent departure of last year’s starter, diminutive fan favorite Dexter McCluster, this is a position that figures to be up in the air well into camp.
But while McCluster managed to parlay his 2013 season, in which he logged 53 receptions for 511 yards and two touchdowns (all career highs), into a nice little contract from the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs still have six intriguing candidates for the job in Junior Hemingway, Weston Dressler, De’Anthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond, Albert Wilson and Kyle Williams.
Start with Hemingway, a third-year pro drafted by the previous regime who managed to win over the new coaching staff last fall with his hands, toughness and versatility. This should not be overlooked.
Since Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey took over in January 2013, the two have worked to purge the roster of players brought in by Scott Pioli and Carl Peterson. The fact that Hemingway, a lowly seventh-round draft pick in 2012, managed to stick is an indication he just might have what it takes to stay in their future plans.
Think about it. He is big, at 6 feet 1 and 225 pounds, and last season, he was targeted 19 times and caught 13 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. By the way, he dropped approximately zero passes in a little over 300 snaps. Dead serious.
One thing Reid values in his receivers is the ability to catch the football, and Hemingway’s reliable hands could prove to be a boon, particularly with Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe — who both have been known to drop a pass on occasion — locked in as the probable starters the outside.
Hemingway also brings the added bonus of being a valuable special teams player, something that could again help him make the team. It might come in handy too, especially if former Canadian Football League star Weston Dressler actually is the real deal.
Dressler, 29, isn’t very big at 5 feet 8 and 179 pounds, but it didn’t take long to see in organized team activities why he was a star in the CFL, where he averaged 73 catches, 1,088 yards and seven touchdowns across six professional seasons. Whenever he lined up in the slot, he showed good quickness and hands and seemed very natural there. He also seemed to make more plays than anyone else who lined up there, though that might totally be in the eye of the beholder.
However, Dressler’s path to making the team is not an easy one, especially with the addition of the explosive Thomas, who was taken in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Thomas brings a big-play element to the Chiefs’ offense, though it was clear in OTAs that he needs to improve his conditioning and, well, almost everything else. He’ll also see some time in the backfield, where running backs coach Eric Bieniemy is going to coach him hard.
Regardless, he’ll make the team because of his draft status, which means that if the four most-likely receivers to make the team hold throughout camp — and in my estimation, Bowe, Avery, Hemingway and Thomas are on the list — the Chiefs’ brass might be forced to choose between Dressler and, say, a speedy outside receiver with a first-round pedigree in A.J. Jenkins for the 53-man roster.
In my opinion, if Jenkins has a good camp he’d likely have the edge because he could play some inside, while Dressler sometimes struggles to create separation outside, where he can get swallowed up by bigger corners because of his lack of size. Of course, Dressler could help his cause by winning the starting punt return job, which is also open due to McCluster’s departure.
Another player who can figure into the mix here is Frankie Hammond, a second-year pro from Florida who spent all of last season on the practice squad. He came on strong in OTAs this year, making a few big plays down the field, and is an intriguing option because of his speed. I could see the Chiefs trying to sneak him back onto the practice squad this year, but he could also win a job if he shows enough as an inside and outside receiver during the preseason. He’s also got some chops as a punt returner too, so if he can find a way to contribute there, it will only help his cause.
Much of the same can be said for Wilson, an undrafted rookie free agent from Georgia State who also showed some explosiveness in OTAs and could be a practice squad candidate with a strong camp.
Williams, a former 49ers receiver, offers some versatility because he can play inside or outside. He also offers experience — during his five-year career, he’s caught 47 passes for 574 yards and four touchdowns, and also flashes some ability as a returner. However, he was limited during OTAs as he rehabbed from offseason knee surgery, so it will be interesting to see what he can do in camp. He’s another guy who needs to have a strong showing to thrust himself into the conversation.
But for now, it seems Hemingway, Dressler, Thomas and Hammond — in that order — have the inside shot at the starting slot job when the Chiefs go three wide.
Next up: Right guard