- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?
The Broncos made the biggest free-agency splash in the AFC West by signing New England slot machine Wes Welker.
He has led the NFL in receptions over the past six seasons and is joining a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who has long had a connection with his slot receivers. The Welker addition gives Denver arguably the best group of receivers in the NFL.
Welker joins young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Both players flourished while playing with Manning last season. With these skilled players, someone is going to be open. Finding a way to defend this trio will be a major task for every defensive coordinator that faces Denver.
This position is going to be in the spotlight because new head coach Andy Reid loves the passing game.
It all starts with top receiver Dwayne Bowe. There is a reason the new Kansas City brass gave Bowe a huge contract to keep him from leaving in free agency. Reid is going to build his passing game around Bowe. Bowe has big ability and can be a top receiver. Yes, he still drops passes and he has to show he will still be hungry after getting the big contract. But he can play.
The Chiefs made an underrated addition in Donnie Avery. He had 60 catches for the Colts last season. He can stretch the field. Reid will find ways for Avery to help. Reid is also a fan of tiny Dexter McCluster, who can line up in several different spots. Perhaps he can fill a DeSean Jackson-like role for Reid.
The team also has a slot option in Devon Wylie. A big question mark, of course, is 2011 first-round pick Jon Baldwin. He has made little impact. He looks good in camp but disappears on the field. Reid gave him a lukewarm endorsement recently. Baldwin has talent, but it’s time he shows it. I think we could see the Chiefs draft another bigger receiver in the middle rounds, but I think the team will try to rely on Bowe, Avery and McCluster this season and hope others develop.
The Raiders have a familiar theme at this position. They are young and promising, but they are also unproven. That has been the story with this unit for a few years. They Raiders have loaded up on young receivers, but none have shown they can be a proven starter.
The team released 2009 No. 7 overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey this year. He joins fellow young, promising receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy as those who have been jettisoned in the recent past after not fulfilling hopes. But the cupboard is not bare. Again, we need to see these players take the next step.
The two players who probably will get the first chance are Denarius Moore and Rod Streater. Moore, a fifth-round pick in 2011, had a decent season last year -- 51 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. But he was inconsistent and didn’t make the expected strides after his rookie season. Still, he has ability, and the Raiders need him to show he can be a No. 1 receiver. Streater had 39 catches as an undrafted rookie. He looks very promising and is a hard worker. If Streater and Moore can grow together, the Raiders might be onto something for the future.
Small receiver Jacoby Ford has big-play capability, but he is injury prone. Still, he will get a chance to show he can help. Juron Criner, a fifth-round pick last year, was a camp star and made a few plays in the season. He has a chance to develop as well. The Raiders have a lot of needs, but I can see them adding another receiver to the mix. Again, this group is full of potential. Now it’s time Oakland gets major production from that potential.
The Chargers can use some receiving help. They have other needs, but I can see them taking a receiver as early as the second round. If the season started now, Malcom Floyd would be the team’s No. 1 receiver and he is more of a No. 2 receiver.
But there is hope. Danario Alexander made an impact last season. He was a former prospect who fell through the cracks because of injuries. He is a restricted free agent, and it wouldn't be out of the question for another team to sign him to an offer sheet. The Chargers would like to keep him. He has great size, big ability and he forged a nice chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers.
The team is also excited about Vince Brown. He missed all of last season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason. He came on strong as a rookie and will have a role. There also are Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. Both signed last year and both gave minimal production.
They will be given a chance, but the Chargers want to see Alexander and Brown continue to develop. It would not hurt the team to go find a young receiver it could try to develop quickly.