Very Deep Sleeper: Chris Conley (Chiefs)
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I know your first thought, after seeing the title of this piece, was…
“How can the Kansas City Chiefs’ passing game sustain TWO wide receivers for fantasy football?”
Your next thought was: “…because I’m not sure they can even sustain ONE wide receiver (Jeremy Maclin) very well.”
Prepare to be dazzled. One way or the other, you’re going to be dazzled. I’m either going to pique your interest in Conley to greater heights, or completely scare the living (radio edit) out of you about another higher-profile player. Buckle up.
First allow me to make a case, in general, for Conley. In 2015, at the NFL Combine, Conley shocked and amazed analysts and fans by setting a Combine record (tie) with an 11′7″ broad jump. He also fell one inch short of setting a Combine record for the vertical leap with a 45.0″ jump. He established himself as a ‘leaper’ for sure, but when he also ran a 4.35 40-time…everyone marveled at the total athletic package. What an athlete at nearly 6′2″/213.
Over the last two NFL Combines, only Will Fuller (4.32), Phillip Dorsett (4.33), and J.J. Nelson (4.28) have run faster 40 times than Conley. There haven’t been many wide receiver prospects that have run sub-4.40 40 times the past two Combines. When you look at the ones that have, something should jump out at you by comparison…
- 4.28 40-time, 36.0″ vertical, 31.1″ arm length, 8.25″ hands, 5′0″/156 = J.J. Nelson (2014)
- 4.32 40-time, 33.5″ vertical, 30.8″ arm length, 8.25″ hands, 6′0″/186 = Will Fuller (2015)
- 4.33 40-time, 37.0″ vertical, 30.5″ arm length, 9.38″ hands, 5′10″/185 = Phillip Dorsett (2014)
- 4.35 40-time, 35.0″ vertical, 31.4″ arm length, 8.25″ hands, 6′0″/197 = Kolby Listenbee (2015)
- 4.35 40-time, 45.0″ vertical, 33.8″ arm length, 9.88″ hands, 6′2″/213 = Chris Conley (2015)
The difference among them? Conley is substantially bigger (thicker and taller), with much bigger hands, much longer arms, and a far superior vertical. Don’t hate the other guys by comparison…Conley is a ‘freak’. It’s hard to compare to a ‘freak.’ It’s not that Conley is a ‘freak’ because he is a record-setting leaper…he’s a ‘freak’ because he can run a 4.35 40 time at his size, with world-class leaping ability and super-long arms.
This is not just a story about Conley the ‘freak’ athlete. It was last year, not now.
Last year, Conley was looked past as a top WR prospect for the draft because he didn’t do as much, statistically, in college…he didn’t have eye-popping numbers. As a senior, he caught 2.8 passes for 50.5 yards per game – his best college season. There was a hidden issue in his output that needed to be accounted for.
The Georgia Bulldogs featured a backfield of Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb…both first-round NFL Draft talents. Suffice it to say, Georgia ran the ball a lot. In addition, the Georgia quarterback play was…’woof,’ not good. Conley shared crumbs in the passing game with the also very gifted 2015 fourth-round pick of the Patriots, Malcolm Mitchell. How this Georgia team went 10–3 was a travesty. I digress…
What was hidden by the run-first (rightfully so) offense and weak quarterback play was that Conley was a fantastic WR prospect, a great athlete and a savvy technical receiver…wasted away on a nontechnical pass game in college. I scouted his 2013 and 2014 seasons for the NFL Draft, and I was wildly impressed with his WR skills as well as his athleticism. He was a wasted asset at Georgia, to say the least.
I recently went back and watched every target he took in 2015, and I was even more impressed. Conley is working like a young Jeremy Maclin, only taller, and able to leap small defenders in a single bound. Conley spent the 2016 offseason with Maclin, and the 2015 season working with him as well – and it is paying off. Conley made a number of fantastic, tough catches with guys draped on him last NFL season and into the playoffs. The kind of solid route, good concentration catches you don’t expect to see from someone that can just outjump and outrun everybody. As the 2015 season progressed, as I watched, I could see the confidence gaining. I found myself constantly going ‘wow’ in my studies of his rookie campaign.
The thing is…the Chiefs haven’t even begun to explore the possibilities. Conley ran generic routes most of 2015. He was not unleashed as a deep speedster threat, or as an over-the-top alley-oop weapon, but that day is coming. He scored a TD in the Chiefs’ first playoff game last year, and essentially became Maclin-like in their playoff game at New England because Maclin was hurt and Conley had to step up (five catches on nine targets vs. the Pats in the playoffs). It’s all starting to come together piece by piece.
OK, you see the athleticism numbers, and you’re interested.
I’m telling you how good he looks on tape, and maybe you’re open to my passion.
You’re not really convinced yet, are you? The whole Chiefs/Alex Smith thing, right?
I would ask: “Why are you so excited about Kevin White, then?” I purposefully left off my earlier comparison list the only other WR prospect in the last two years who ran a sub-4.40 40 time…Kevin White.
- 4.35 40-time, 45.0″ vertical, 33.8″ arm length, 9.88″ hands, 6′1.7″/213 = Chris Conley (2015)
- 4.35 40-time, 36.5″ vertical, 32.6″ arm length, 9.25″ hands, 6′2.5″/215 = Kevin White (2015)
Kevin White is an inch taller, but other than that the same speed as Conley. Oh, and Conley has the whole vertical, arm length, hand size thing over him…with distance. Why can’t we get as excited about Conley as we do White? I know, the Chiefs’ weak passing game and you don’t like Alex Smith.
So you’re just assuming Jay Cutler takes No. 2 wide receivers to new heights? Don’t we all believe that Cutler loves only one receiver, in terms of targets? So won’t that be long-time partner Alshon Jeffery…how will it be virtual rookie Kevin White? You know it won’t.
The football media constantly has hope for Jay Cutler that ‘this is the year‘ because ‘you see how fast he throws the ball!‘ All Alex Smith does is win and play great football, and the football media mostly mocks him. Cutler was only kind of fantasy relevant as the Bears’ QB in 2013–2014 when mad scientist of the passing game, coach Marc Trestman, was there. Ignore those two minor blips with Trestman, and look at Cutler’s five years under old-school coaches (Lovie Smith and John Fox), and is he really that much different in output than Alex Smith?
- 1.45 pass TDs and 224.7 yards per game = Jay Cutler’s five seasons as a Bear (minus 2013–2014)
- 1.32 pass TDs and 218.8 yards per game = Alex Smith’s three seasons in KC
A pace for approximately two more TDs and 100 more yards in a season for Cutler vs. Smith…yet, that is enough to warrant No. 2 WR White 60–70+ spots ahead of No. 2 WR Conley in recent FantasyPros experts’ consensus WR rankings? Either get excited about Conley or you should be quaking in your boots on White. One or the other.
Chris Conley is a talent. He’s about as fast and overall ‘big’ as Kevin White. Factor in his longer wingspan and massive vertical, and Conley makes up any lost ground with an amazing target radius potential. They both play for suspect fantasy quarterbacks in suspect fantasy offenses where there is a clear, talented No. 1 wide receiver working ahead of them. Conley has shown me hands as good as/better than White’s going back to college.
Will Conley matter for fantasy 2016? Odds are against it. However, do not discount that he has freakish talent waiting to pop. Note that he’s working his way up to No. 2 WR on the depth chart, and consider the X-factor…is Jeremy Maclin not a bit of an injury risk? Two ACLs so far in his career, and he missed several snaps with in-game injuries last year and played through them…with weaker results.
Perhaps Conley, like White, is such a unique talent that the Chiefs just find a way to utilize him as a weapon? No one can outleap Conley in the end zone…or anywhere else.
Do you think the Chiefs would like to run this play with Conley near the goal line?