Sam Mellinger

How bad are the Chiefs’ receivers? An attempt to quantify heavy stink

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) breaks-up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) in the first quarter during the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos football game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, November 30, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo..
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) breaks-up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) in the first quarter during the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos football game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, November 30, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo.. Kansas City Star

The Chiefs’ wide receivers stink, and this is something that everyone in Kansas City knows the same way you know whether the sun is out.

People in Kansas City know the Chiefs’ receivers stink the same way everyone in the NFL knows the Chiefs’ receivers stink. This is an obvious, undebatable fact, backed up by a season that’s now 13 games old and still waiting for the first time a Chiefs receiver scores a touchdown or even gives the other side’s defensive coordinator a reason to skip lunch one day to game plan.

For an NFL cornerback, facing the Chiefs receivers must be a little like working at offices that have Casual Fridays and let everyone off at noon during the summer. The only reason to dread facing this group would be the possible indignity of being the first defense to allow them a touchdown catch.

The Chiefs receivers are so bad as to invite harsh but fair criticism that often blends into hyperbole, including in the previous two paragraphs of this column.

Here’s what’s true: the Chiefs receivers are very, very bad. They are unproductive, not getting enough separation on routes or making enough plays after the catch. They are a bit of an anvil on an offense that also has to be schemed around a leaky offensive line.

For instance, in any of these three plays from the loss to Arizona, see if you can spot the open receiver.

So the receivers stink. We can all agree on this. Here’s what’s debatable: are they the worst group of receivers in football?

And is there a way to fairly quantify just how bad they are?

The touchdowns thing is the most obvious place to start. Depending on what happens against the Raiders on Sunday, the Chiefs could become the first NFL team to play the first 14 games of a season without a touchdown catch from a wide receiver.

One hundred-and-twenty-four receivers have caught touchdown passes this year. None of them have done it for the Chiefs, though Jason Avant caught a touchdown for the Panthers in September, then got cut. Maybe he can tell his new teammates what it felt like.

But it’s more than just the touchdowns.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been asked constantly this year about the lack of production from his receivers, and this week took to saying that Dwayne Bowe is having “a very good year.” Reid is being kind, and a good coach for not trashing his guys in the press.

Among receivers, Bowe leads the team with 48 catches and 598 yards. Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 105 catches, and six receivers — including Emmanuel Sanders, who the Chiefs tried to sign in the offseason — have more than twice as many yards as Bowe.

Bowe is tied for 59th among receivers in catches, and tied for 55th in yards. Fifteen teams have two receivers with 48 or more catches. Seventeen teams have two receivers with more than 598 yards.

But it’s not just those traditional measurements, and this next paragraph is just ridiculous:

Passer rating is not a perfect stat, of course, but Alex Smith has a 74.6 rating when throwing to a receiver (Josh McCown is at 73.9 overall) and a 104.3 rating when throwing to anyone else (Tom Brady is at 100.2 overall).

You want to know why Smith doesn’t throw downfield more often? One reason is his receivers aren’t good enough to make it worthwhile.

According to Pro Football Focus, which watches every snap to grade every player in every game, the Chiefs receivers have performed worse collectively than every other team’s receivers save Jacksonville’s. It’s worth noting that PFF’s system awards higher grades for the kind of deep vertical routes that the Chiefs don’t do much of — whether because of Smith, the receivers, the design of the offense or a combination of all three.

Still, if your team is worse at something than every other team in the league except the Jaguars, that’s an awful sign.

And, yes, that means the Chiefs’ receivers are objectively worse than the Raiders’.

The Chiefs do not have a wide receiver among the league’s top 30 in percentage of targets caught or yards after catch, implying that they are fairly bad at both making catches and making big plays after catches.

So at least by our measurements here, we can objectively say the Chiefs have the second-worst group of receivers in the league.

This is an inept group of receivers, and as much as Reid and the front office should take blame in not accumulating better talent, it’s also important to note that the Chiefs have found a way around this significant detour.

They’re still good in the red zone, Jamaal Charles leads the NFL in touchdowns, and overall the Chiefs are right around the league average in points scored. They deserve credit for these things.

But they are also at the point where they must win every game to make the playoffs. Each of the Chiefs’ three remaining opponents has given up big games to receivers this year. That’s especially true of the Steelers and the Chargers.

It is impossible to imagine the Chiefs making the playoffs without doing enough in these final three games to throw at least a little more doubt into whether their receivers are among the worst in recent NFL history.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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