In 2007, the Chiefs used their first-round pick in the NFL Draft, the No. 23 choice overall, to select Dwayne Bowe out of LSU.
The pick was trumpeted by the Chiefs, who were convinced they had found a franchise receiver.
And, as it turns out, they were right. Bowe has been Kansas City’s top pass-catcher since the day he first put on a Chiefs uniform.
He’s almost 30 now and ranks 19th among the NFL’s active receivers in receptions and yards, and 20th in touchdowns. He’s younger than most of the receivers ahead of him in those categories.
So why is there a sense of disappointment when it comes to Bowe? Why is there a just-below-the-surface angst about his production? Why do most Chiefs fans think Bowe hasn’t lived up to the expectations?
Perhaps it’s because with Bowe, KC is 40-72 in the regular season. The Chiefs have been in two playoff games, both losses.
Bowe is a not-too-subtle reminder of the franchise’s ineptitude over the seven seasons he’s been catching passes. And even though the 2013 season provided a spark of enthusiasm and hope, thanks to the team’s 9-0 start, it ended in painful disappointment with a 46-45 wild-card playoff loss to Indianapolis after Kansas City lost five of its last seven regular-season games.
Now Bowe has been suspended by the NFL for the Chiefs’ opener against Tennessee on Sept. 7 because of a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Bowe isn’t exactly persona non grata in Kansas City, but he’s not embraced the way you might think a receiver closing in on 500 career receptions and 6,500 yards would be.
Bowe is coming off a sub-par season, his first with new quarterback Alex Smith. Bowe caught 57 passes for 673 yards, his lowest totals in each category since an injury-shortened 2009 season.
Smith developed an immediate chemistry with running back Jamaal Charles, who in addition to rushing for 1,287 yards also added nearly 700 more as a receiver. Donnie Avery also clicked with Smith.
Bowe, though, was too often a no-show. Just as it appeared he was developing into a superstar in 2010, when he had 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns, Bowe has regressed since.
He did follow up 2010 with another excellent season in 2011, when he caught 81 passes for 1,159 yards. But he had only five touchdown receptions. And he has fallen below 60 receptions in each of the past two seasons with eight total TDs.
The Chiefs aren’t exactly back to square one with their receiving corps. But it remains a source of frustration, especially because Kansas City hasn’t drafted a receiver since 2012.
So they go into the season hoping again that Bowe finds whatever it doesn’t seem he has.
He’ll lead a receiving corps that once again includes Avery and sound young guns the Chiefs hope to develop such as A.J. Jenkins, the 2012 first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers, who came to KC in a trade for Jonathan Baldwin.
You remember Baldwin. He was Kansas City’s first-round draft choice in 2011, but never came through as a Chief. One disappointment was traded for another, but neither Baldwin nor Jenkins has made it past disappointment. Yet.
Kansas City has another ex-49er in Kyle Williams, and there was some promise last season shown by Junior Hemingway, a seventh-round pick out of Michigan in 2012.
Free-agent rookie Frankie Hammond is also making some waves in camp.
Still, it always seems like the Chiefs are grasping at straws when it comes to their receiving corps. Pick up a veteran like Avery and hope something clicks. Try a late draft pick like Hemingway. Reach out to a free agent like Hammond.
And, of course, hope Bowe gives you something you’re not sure he’s capable of giving.
The Chiefs ranked 21st among the 32 NFL teams in total offense and were tied for 24th, with Oakland, in passing yards. With Charles in the backfield, and the developing Knile Davis as a backup, there is a nice security blanket.
Still, the Chiefs need to do better in their passing game to become a legitimate contender. They ranked 27th in yards per attempt in 2013, ahead of Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
It’s disappointing that the Chiefs’ front office didn’t go find Smith another weapon or two during the offseason. The status quo is a bad idea. Kansas City has to rely too much on Bowe, who has never established reliability as a strong suit.