Possibly the most quoted statistic from 2014 was the astounding zero touchdowns produced by the Chiefs' receiver corps all season. Consequently, just about the easiest piece of analysis anyone could have made this offseason would have been to say that Kansas City needed to upgrade with a big-time weapon at receiver for 2015, and it got one in Jeremy Maclin.
He certainly has the talent to be that game-changing threat that the receivers group in Kansas City has been sorely missing. Does his skill set transfer well from Philly's high-octane, spread-out offense to the Chiefs' ball control West Coast scheme? I believe it does. Let's explore.
Andy Reid ain't Chip Kelly
In the simplest terms, the Eagles play fast and the Chiefs play slow — Philly's 1,127 scrimmage plays last year were the most in the NFL, compared to Kansas City's 962, which ranked 29th league-wide. The Eagles attempted 621 passes (fifth), and Kansas City threw it 493 times (28th). Andy Reid has designed his offense to run through Jamaal Charles and he's catered it to the skill set of his quarterback, Alex Smith.
The end product wasn't terrible, either -- Kansas City ended 11th in Football Outsiders' weighted offensive DVOA metric, the fifth-ranked rushing team and 14th-ranked passing club. The Chiefs finished right in the middle of the league in points per game with 22.1 -- just below the Bengals and right above the Chargers.
That said, Smith, ever the consummate pro, is no gunslinger. He's deliberate, efficient and reliable with the football. Dude doesn't turn it over. He does not take many dangerous shots, and loves the checkdown. In fact, Smith's 20 passes of 25-plus yards in 2014 was dead last in the NFL.
Maclin should help in this area this year, but this lack of deep-passing game was, in my opinion, more a product of Smith's style of play than a lack of receiving talent. Because of this, there were few people left scratching their heads with the big-time, big-money signing of Maclin, an explosive deep threat who averaged 15.5 yards per catch last year in Kelly's system and caught seven passes of 50-plus yards, second-most in the league.
"What is Smith going to do with this guy when he doesn't even try to throw it deep?" one might ask. Well, simply put, Maclin's much, much, more than a deep threat. In fact, he's a perfect weapon for Smith if you're looking for someone who fits his style.
Maclin is no stranger to Andy Reid's system, having played in it from 2009 to 2012 in Philadelphia. Combined with the fact that he went to school at Missouri, this is a cool little homecoming for the 27-year-old receiver. With his shiny new weapon on the field, you may see Smith take a few more shots downfield this year, but where Maclin will really fit in is in the short and intermediate zones.
He understands the spacing in Reid's system, can beat man coverage or settle into zones underneath, and the Chiefs will move him all around the formation as the Z-receiver in Reid's offense. Maclin's a savvy, technical and explosive route runner who knows how to get open on his own -- he doesn't need to get schemed open or thrown open -- which Smith doesn't really excel at. He's proficient on those underneath routes that end up being "second options" for Smith as he checks off the deeper looks to the go-route or post down the middle.
"He can play anything," said Reid at Maclin's introductory presser. "He's played Z, he's played X, he's played inside in what we call the ‘Zebra' position. He can do it all."
Maclin will constantly be providing his quarterback a very strong "check down" option (even if he's ultimately the go-to guy on a play). Perhaps the Chiefs will look to use Travis Kelce, Chris Conley and De'Anthony Thomas to clear out the defense deep so they can target Maclin in the intermediate area.
Maclin's dangerous, too, because he can make things happen with his feet. Last season, he finished with 522 yards after the catch, seventh-most in the league.
I doubt the game plan for Kansas City in 2015 will be drastically different, either -- Charles will still be the engine that runs that thing, but Maclin's ability to augment the passing game could be huge for the efficiency and scoring potential. In other words, they'll continue to play that methodical ball-possession style, but they may see a nice uptick in yards and points per drive. They'll almost certainly get Maclin into the end zone.
Maclin's tool set
Maybe it's just my West Coast bias kicking in, but it somehow still feels like Maclin's underrated. Even after coming back from an ACL tear in 2013 to catch 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and even after signing an enormous five-year, $55 million contract with the Chiefs in March, it doesn't seem like that many people are talking about him.
They might be come September though, as Maclin becomes Kansas City's undisputed No. 1 threat at receiver and starts giving defenses in the AFC West headaches they're not used to from the Chiefs.
In preparation for this breakdown, I went back and watched a bunch of Maclin's targets from 2012 (with Reid) and last year (under Kelly), and found a few consistent patterns to his game.
First off, Maclin's sideline awareness is extremely good. He's proficient with the toe tap on the sideline, and he's highly effective at simple out routes at several different distances downfield. Watch below how he opens his route by carrying the corner inside to create a buffer on the outside. He then makes a tough catch while keeping his feet inbounds.
Maclin's route-running really shows up. Constantly.
"Phenomenal route runner," says Reid. "Obviously he is fast, we know that. But to be fast is one thing. To be able to run a route fast and know how to set a route up is something else. To be able to read the coverage is another thing and that all kind of comes easy to him."
This play below from 2012 stood out to me when thinking about Kansas City's receiver touchdown goose egg from last year. Maclin's route isn't anything special, but the speed at which he runs it, combined with the subtle push-off to gain separation -- is what makes him a dangerous red-zone threat for this year. Running sprint outs to the right are right in Alex Smith's wheelhouse, too.
That sideline awareness shows up above as well.
Maclin sounded excited about returning to Reid's offense this year, because, as he put it, "I love that it requires you to run routes. I think sometimes that gets lost in today's game. The fact that I think that's one of the strong points of my games and to have the opportunity to come back and play in the West Coast offense and kind of pick up where we left off, is a pretty cool opportunity to have. I'm here to help this team and utilize my skill set and get us to the next level."
When we're talking about the intermediate game, we're not necessarily always talking about "dump offs" either.
Playing the Z spot, Maclin will often times be off the line and going in motion prior to the snap. However, like Reid said, he can play in any of the receiver spots, including up on the line as an outside "X."
Watch his footwork to open the corner's hips, avoid the jam and get a clean release. He then runs a perfectly angled route to catch a lofted touchdown pass in front of the safety.
Another piece that really stood out for Maclin was his excellent hands. In fact, per Pro Football Focus' tracking, Maclin dropped just one catchable pass out of 86 targets -- the best "drop rate" for any receiver in the NFL.
A few examples that illustrate his body control and concentration.
Maclin's tool set gives Kansas City a legit receiving weapon that fits the type of offense Andy Reid wants to run with Alex Smith. Most defenses are still going to be largely preoccupied with stopping Jamaal Charles, but having a guy like Maclin downfield -- someone that can get open, make the tough catch, make things happen with his feet and get first downs -- will make the Chiefs much more two-dimensional and more difficult to defend.
If he can continue his high level of play for Kansas City, he has the potential to make Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce that much more dangerous as well -- a force multiplier of sorts -- so the Maclin addition could pay huge dividends in 2015.
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