By: Steve Picciano: (Twitter: @RandomGrenades)
And then one day…
Within 24 hours of the Kansas City Chiefs announcing they were releasing WR Jeremy Maclin the owners in the FF community scrambled to position themselves to capitalize on the move from one side or the other. The Twitter-verse is alive and kicking with countless polls aiming to obtain any and all opinions about where Maclin might be headed or which Chiefs WR is the one to own.
As a Raiders fan, it gives me no pleasure to admit that I’ve been a Maclin & Conley, although to be fair, I’ve had Maclin since his last days in Philly and Conley was a complete value pick with the 3rd to last selection in our 2015 draft. Nevertheless, I too have been wondering what the right moves to make are, so I’ve decided to take a closer look at both Maclin and the Chiefs’ WR situation after his departure.
What to do, what to do?
Lord knows I have enough reasons to do just as the Chiefs did and release Maclin. I’ve gotten more than enough production out of him since he came aboard, finishing as the 8th & 15th best WR in my league in 2014 & 2015 respectively. Hell, I even traded him away at one point for a future pick that just happened to turn into 1.03 this year, so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth with Mac. However, money is also the biggest reason I have for releasing him. His contract has grown to the point where his salary is costing me the most to keep him around, outside of my QBs.
Now, I’m sure that there may be some of you out there as well who got stuck paying a bit more for Maclin than you really wanted to. I think the reason we did so is fairly obvious, he was the undisputed WR1 for the Chiefs. Of course, due to terrible play calling and QB play, he was one of the weakest WR1s that an NFL team could offer up, but we couldn’t ignore the fact that he would see the most targets, and he had a reputation for having one of the lowest drop rates in the NFL. His first year in KC, while not spectacular, was a fairly solid effort of 87/1088/8, and one which we convinced ourselves into thinking would improve over time. After all, he had joined the Chiefs coming off of an impressive 85/1318/10 season, so there was no reason to think he couldn’t replicate those numbers again given additional time to gel with the offense.
But now those days are gone…
…or are they? I know there are some out there scrambling to trade Maclin in order to obtain whatever value they can, but there are some compelling reasons to hold him until the picture is a bit clearer. We’ll take a look at some potential team fits later on, but for right now let’s focus on the positives (and some negatives) in order to help us make our decision.
Can he still produce?
We’ve already looked at his solid numbers from 2014 & 2015, and it’s easy to point to his 44/536/2 line from 2016 and call them more than disappointing in comparison, but let’s make sure we’re getting the whole picture before we do so. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m solely going to focus on the 2015 & 2016 seasons with KC since he was working with a different staff in 2014, and Andy Reid is conservative to a fault.
It’s important to keep in mind that Maclin essentially missed five games in 2016, from when he left after the 3rd play in week 9 thru week 13. That puts his per game average at about 48 yards, which is more than 20 yards per game less than his 2015 effort of 72.5 YPG. That’s quite a difference! It should be noted that he started the year with three of his first four games being on par with his 2015 average by notching a 69.6 YPG out of weeks 1, 2 & 4. After the team’s week 5 bye, his YPG took a tumble to 41.7.
What about injuries?
Maclin is no stranger to being on the sideline. The fact that he’s comeback twice from ACL tears is no secret, the last being in 2013 prior to the start of the season. More recently, he suffered from a hamstring injury in late 2015 and a groin injury in 2016.
Although not career ending, the soft-tissue injuries can be lingering and take longer to heal as you get older. Maclin is known for having an extremely high tolerance of pain, often playing through injuries, as he did in the 2015 post-season.
What does the video show?
First, it’s difficult to find a lot of footage on Maclin from the 2016 season. Between the time missed and his below average production, it seems like no one wants to post it. What I could find didn’t show me anything to make me think that he’s grown incapable of getting behind CBs or that his route running has gone weak. The Chiefs struggled early, going 2-2 with an overtime win vs. the Chargers, a narrow win vs. the Texans in which they were held without a TD, and a blowout loss at the Steelers in which their only two TDs came in the 4th quarter with the game well out of hand. They reverted to a run-heavy attack in weeks 6 & 7 to beat the Raiders and Saints before using a more balanced attack to defeat the Colts.
The end result:
As a Maclin owner, I feel comfortable enough to hold him while he looks for his next team. He still has great short-area quickness and should be able to step into a starting Slot WR role for some lucky team. This is one of the very few instances where a player losing his spot as a team’s WR1 could actually be good for him.
Where will he go?
That’s the million dollar question, literally. There are a host of teams who would love to bring Maclin aboard. Some will only do it for the right price, while others could think to overpay him just to keep him away from the competition. We all know that Maclin wasn’t worth the $55 million that the Chiefs spent to bring him to KC, but we also know that he won’t want to sign for the cheapest contract either. Let’s take a look at some of the teams being bandied about as potential landing spots.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills were reported to be the first to openly engage Maclin in contract talks. While bring Mac in to play amongst a very thin and very young WR corps makes a lot of sense. They also have a workable cap situation with about $12.3 million in space. I’ve seen a lot of owners ringing the death knell for Zay Jones’ prospects should this happen, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Zay played a lot of Slot at ECU, but he’s also adept at lining up outside if need be. I could see the opportunities still being there, and having the defense be pre-occupied with Maclin & Watkins is a great way for a rookie WR to get comfortable.
Baltimore Ravens: I just don’t see this happening, and I’m saying that from more than just the perspective of a Perriman owner. I think it would make a lot of sense to be able to fit mac with Perriman & Wallace, but the ravens seem committed to work with the talent they have on the roster at this point. Their cap situation also makes the Bills look like Daddy Warbucks as they have $3.6 million, so they may not be able to offer Mac the type of contract he’s looking for.
Note: Left Baltimore without a deal on 6/9/2017.
Philadelphia Eagles: If the Eagles sign Maclin it would create a massive log-jam at the WR position. Not only do they still have Jordan Matthews, who was a favorite target of Carson Wentz last year, but they also brought on free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. In addition, they seem committed to doing whatever they can to salvage Nelson Agholor before throwing in the towel. Their cap situation is slightly worse than the Ravens, if you can believe that, with just $2.2 million to spare. Even trading out Matthews or Agholor after Maclin comes aboard wouldn’t save the team that much money as each is schedule to make just over $1 million in 2017.
Note: Left Philadelphia without a deal on 6/8/2017
Detroit Lions: While this makes sense on the surface, given the thin WR corps, I think the Lions probably pass on Maclin for one simple reason, he’s too similar to Golden Tate. I believe the drafting of Kenny Golladay indicates that the Lions want to get more size at the outside position opposite Marvin Jones, which would allow them to bump Tate into the Slot position where he can use his short-area quickness and above average strength to break tackles.
Arizona Cardinals: This was my favorite destination for Mac. The Cards have a razor-thin WR corps, and they favor speed on the outside with Larry Fitzgerald playing a larger Slot. If they could roll out John Brown and Maclin on the outsides, it would create some serious mismatches. Arians tends to favor hard-working, veteran players who fight to stay on the field, and that’s Maclin in a nutshell. I also have to believe that Mac is looking for a team that could get him a ring at this stage of his career, so I’d keep my eye on this situation.
Dallas Cowboys: I could see this simply from a “keep away” perspective if they think he could be headed to Philly, but it really doesn’t make much sense from a personnel standpoint. The Cowboys don’t generally use too many WRs, and they seem to be set with Dez Bryant and newly re-signed Terrence Williams on the outside, and Cole Beasley at Slot. There’s even been some talk about incorporating rookie Ryan Switzer as a second Slot in some formations, which is something that we’ve never seen the cowboys do before. I just don’t think Mac is in the plans here.
L.A. Rams: With only $1.7 million in space, this would be a difficult deal, although it would make sense. Maclin would fit perfectly into McVay’s system, but they already have Tavon Austin who can be used more effectively in the short passing game, so it just doesn’t make sense to spend money you don’t have to bring in someone you may already have.
San Francisco 39ers: (they’ll get the other 10 back when they start winning again): They have plenty of cap space with over $68 million available, but they already have two WRs in Pierre Garcon and Jeremy Kerley who can operate in the same space as Mac. On a team with so many needs, I just don’t see them paying for another quick-route WR.
Cleveland Browns: Another team with plenty of cap space and need at WR. Corey Coleman is Maclin-like, and he could probably benefit by learning from the all-pro, but I can’t see Mac subjecting himself to a deep rebuilding process, such as the Browns are undertaking.
Chicago Bears: The bears have plenty of cap space and a corps of unproven WRs, but they seem interested in developing what they have. We really haven’t seen what Kevin White can do, and Cameron Meredith has a chance to improve on his surprisingly productive 2016 season. The team has also committed $6 million in guaranteed money to Markus Wheaton who, if he can stay on the field, may turn out to be very effective.
NY Jets: Much like the situation in Cleveland, I think this is one that Maclin would choose to avoid, especially after seeing how veterans with big contracts were treated this off-season.
I’m sure a case could be made for or against any team taking Maclin, but these are the teams most commonly linked with signing him to this point.
What about the Chiefs?
If we take a look back at 2015, we see that Maclin’s targets averaged 8.26/game, and hitting double-digits in six of his fifteen games. Once again, he started 2016 on a similar pace with 9.25 targets/game in the first four weeks, and seeing a team-high fifteen targets against a stingy Texans defense. But then we once again see a precipitous drop-off after the week 5 bye when his average fell to 5.42 targets/game for the remainder of the year, garnering double-digit looks only in week 8 vs. the Colts. Also down were his number of targets in the red zone with just 9, which was the 4th most on the team.
The Chiefs were mediocre when it came to their passing offense, ranking 19th in Passing Yards (3740) and 24th in Passing TDs (19). If we compare the Chiefs’ 2016 game-plan to that of 2015, we can see that they were mostly consistent in their running attempts with 412 v. 436 (-5.5%), but they threw the ball noticeably more with 546 attempts v. 473 (+15.4%). Despite the extra passing effort, their Yards per Attempt actually went down from 7.4 to 7.2, which was 17th best.
The two questions are; who will be the benefit of Maclin’s targets and, what will they do with them?
Change in Targets by Position Group (2016 v. 2015):
RBs (not incl. FB): 84 v. 72 = +16.6%
TEs: 157 v. 123 = +27.6%
WRs: 288 v. 261 = +10.3%
Who took over?
Individually, the two who benefitted the most when Maclin went out in week 9 were Travis Kelce, who’s targets increased from 6.5/game to 8.13/game, and Tyreek Hill, who jumped from 3.5/game to 6.9/game. Hill is the bigger surprise here since the passing offense already went through Kelce for the most part.
The other WRs were not so fortunate:
Chris Conley actually started the year by seeing 5.75/game over the first 4 weeks, but that average quickly dipped and he managed only 3.9/game from week 9 to the end of the season, which is when he should’ve been peaking.
Albert Wilson, oft rumored to be on the verge of a breakout, remained nearly constant from 3.25/game to 3.13/game after Maclin’s exit.
DeAnthony Thomas was a non-factor for the most part with splits of 0.63/game and 0.50/game for the year.
The RBs didn’t fare much better:
We know that the RB corps saw more targets over the year, but there were marked drop-offs for both Spencer Ware (3.3 to 2.7) and Charcandrick West (2.6 to 1.6).
So who should I own in KC?
Personally, outside of Kelce, I think it’s a crap-shoot. I don’t see any of the WRs stepping up to the plate to be a true WR1 candidate. Hill has the biggest expectations after posting some decent numbers in the second-half last year. He’s has great speed, gets great separation and can play from the Slot or Wide, but we also have to factor in that about 30% of his yards and TDs came from designed rushing attempts. So far the book on hybrid WR/RB types shows that they can’t carry an offense alone and eventually get figured out. Even if they convert him to a dedicated WR, you could be left with is what we had with Maclin, which is a below average WR1 compared to the others in the league.
Wilson and Conley have had opportunities, but haven’t done much with them. Conley has great athleticism, but is still very raw in his route running and struggles to get separation from decent CBs.
The team drafted Jehu Chesson in the 4th round. He seems to be very similar to Conley in size and skill-set, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him. He’s coming into the league a bit older than the average rookie and may not have enough time to polish any rough areas.
Will a change at QB make a difference?
This is the big question. We know that the Chiefs used a lot of draft capital to move up to select Patrick Mahomes in the 1st round, and we have to assume that he’ll see the field at some point. We know he has a “big” arm, which would seem to point to more downfield passes, however it just doesn’t seem like the Chiefs have the players to take advantage of that.
I also question the play calling of Andy Reid. He’s had true deep threat WRs in the past, such as Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and he’s failed to successfully use them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no QB playing under him has ever reached the 4,000 yard mark. He gets a lot of credit as far as developing QB skills, but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s going to change the offensive system to stretch the field, especially on a team that has had success by focusing on ball control and defense.
Personally, I’m not going to invest a lot in the KC players at this point. Kelce is a stud TE, and some of the WRs as well as Mahomes have appeal as value plays, but I wouldn’t reach, especially not while the news is still creating a frenzy.