How to get the most out of rookie receivers? Ask Chiefs coach Andy Reid

How to get the most out of rookie receivers? Ask Chiefs coach Andy Reid

Andy Reid would know. If anyone can explain what's required for rookie receivers to have success at the NFL level, the Chiefs head coach could. 

As Reid's team gets prepared to take on the Patriots this weekend, the football conversation generating a significant amount of buzz in New England is over how the team can squeeze more from their passing game — and in particular their young receivers.

Reid's expertise in that area is nothing to sneeze at. Here is a list of the rookie wideouts he's had over the years who've lit it up, either in Philadelphia when Reid was coaching the Eagles, or in Kansas City.

* Mecole Hardman, 2019: 23 catches, 450 yards, 5 touchdowns
* Tyreek Hill, 2016: 61 catches, 593 yards, 6 touchdowns
* Jeremy Maclin, 2009: 56 catches, 773 yards, 4 touchdowns
* Desean Jackson: 2008: 62 catches, 912 yards, 2 touchdowns 

Given the conversation in New England, where a great deal of the focus has been on first-year wideouts N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, I asked Reid why it's worked for him with rookie receivers when it has.

"Normally they're smart," he said. "Normally they can think through some things because you ask them to do a little bit. It's one of those positions that people don't think that it takes time to develop them. It does. 

"If you can get a smart kid that's a good athlete, that's a pretty good combination for that position. I've been fortunate enough as I've been coaching to get a few of those guys who can do that. The other guys, some guys take a little bit of time to get ready. Have had luck there, too."

He's not wrong. Not everyone succeeded immediately. But several of those who didn't, put up numbers later. 

Albert Wilson became a dynamic weapon for the Chiefs (and now the Dolphins) after catching just 16 passes for 260 yards as a rookie. Jason Avant ended up having a lengthy career, mostly with the Eagles, despite playing in just eight games as a rookie and compiling seven grabs for 68 yards. Reid had Chris Conley as a rookie in Kansas City when Conley caught 17 passes for 191 yards and a score. Demarcus Robinson, who exploded for 172 yards on six grabs against the Raiders earlier this season, didn't have a catch in his first year.

Reid acknowledged that for the players who may have had a hard time absorbing everything as rookies, he was willing to adjust his system for them.

For him, it wasn't a "do or do not, there is no try" situation.

"Yes, you do," he said. "As a coach, that's your challenge. You try to get the best out of your guys, put them in the best situations where they can achieve. Then what you're also going to try to do is utilize their strengths. Try to take their weaknesses and make them strengths. The only way to do that is with experience. You try to do that. Exploit their strengths and get better at what they're week at."

Is that something the Patriots should be doing, in a scheme that has grown over the course of the last two decades, and with a coordinator and quarterback who've lived it for that long? Should they be adjusting? Have they not adjusted already? And if they have — I believe they have — then what does that say about the state of the position as it currently stands?

It's not an ideal situation in which the Patriots find themselves, but it doesn't take long to look around the league and see that it is possible, that there are places where rookies find ways to make significant contributions. 

On Sunday all it'll take is a look across the Gillette Stadium turf at Reid's sideline.

Mic'd up Brady had another message to receivers in Houston>>>>>

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

It's simple, really. If the Patriots are going to avoid staying home again after the Wild Card Round of the playoffs next season and seasons to come, they've got to get younger.

And to get younger, they've got to be more successful in the draft.

In the latest edition of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast, Curran and Phil Perry focus on the last time New England was sent home this early in the playoffs a decade ago and if there can be lessons learned from that roster reboot in 2010. 

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The biggest issue confronting the Pats this time around is their age, which averages 31.6 years old (a 42-year-old quarterback skews that a little, of course). By comparison, the Super Bowl 54 opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs (26.8) and the San Francisco 49ers (26.6) are considerably younger.

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The age factor is why, as Perry pointed out, "the pressure is on for them to hit not only in this 2020 draft, where they do have 12 picks, they have no second-round pick, but 12 shots at the dartboard. Last year, they had 10 [picks] and nine guys are still with the team.

"It's clear they have told themselves, 'We need to get younger. We need to start hitting here if we want to sustain this success.' The draft is the lifeblood of any team."

The 2018 team and its victory in the Super Bowl over the Rams last February worked to hide some of those flaws from recent low-yield draft classes.

"They had a great quarterback when they needed him. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback when they needed him. The defense looked tremendous we know how that story played out," Perry said. 

What kind of draft yield are we talking about to fuel the next generation of Patriots' success?

Curran goes on to rattle off the names from 2008-2012 drafts (Mayo, Slater, Edelman, Vollmer, Butler, Chung, Gronkowski, McCourty) that fueled the second half of the Pats dynasty.

"I have upwards of 30 names from 2008 to 2012 who were contributing players to the Patriots. I'm not even talking a little contributing, but massive contributing...," Curran said.  

There's also a discussion of how the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady will impact the 2020 draft strategy. Listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.


That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

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That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

The Patriots may have been missing from the NFL's Championship Sunday, but that didn't stop them from being mentioned and having their former personnel play prominent roles in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Whether it was former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel coaching the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs or former New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo helping the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to reach Super Bowl 54, the Patriots continue to be a talked-about team. 

On the latest edition of the "That 617 Life" podcast, Leroy Irvin, Shanda Foster and Cerrone Battle discussed how the Pats still loomed over the games on Sunday.

"You can not say anything bad about the Patriots because we are always constantly producing talent," Foster said. "I think this is the perfect testament to Bill Belichick."

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Battle said it speaks to the dominance of the Patriots the past two decades that connections to their former players and staff are now all over the league.

"That's what happens when you win," Battle said. "When you win, everybody wants a piece. They want your waterboy. Look at the new head coach of the Giants [Joe Judge, the former Patriots special teams and receivers coach]?... When you're good for 20 years eventually you're going to have your roots all over the league. After years and years of success, I'm not shocked by it."

Irvin and Foster said instead of lamenting a rare NFL Final Four without New England, Pats fans should be grateful.

"I wish Patriot Nation would grow up," Irvin said. "By that I mean I'm tired of seeing on social media people just crying and complaining, 'Oh it's boring without the Patriots.' We've had almost two decades of excellence. We're not there. Get over it."

Said Foster, "I was grateful more than anything. Filled with gratitude. We may never see a run like this again."

In his "Hot Takes and Cold Cuts" segment, Battle says those crowning the Super Bowl 54 opponents as the next dynasties might want to pump the brakes a little. 

"First thing I heard [after the games] is, 'Kansas City they're gonna be around for years and San Francisco they're gonna be around for a long time. They're gonna be contenders forever,' " Battle said. "That was the story all day. 'What is anybody gonna do about these teams next year?' What are they gonna do next year? Not even worry about them. Why? Because this is the Not For Long League. The NFL. Every year, the teams that were hot the year before are never guaranteed to be hot the year after that. Unless you're the Patriots."

The crew also gives their reactions to the new Aaron Hernandez Netflix documentary. It's all in this week's "That 617 Life" podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. Click here to listen and subscribe.