Truth be told, Chiefs wideout Derrick Alexander wasn't the least bit upset when he discovered that most prognosticators had picked Kansas City to finish at or near the bottom of the AFC West this season. First, Alexander, a sixth-year wideout, has spent his career exceeding low expectations. Second, many of those same prognosticators had picked the Chiefs to go to the playoffs last year. "Look what happened to us: We ended up going 7-9," says Alexander, now in his second season with K.C. "Maybe this year we can sneak up on some people."
Alexander can relate to that, having spent a productive if anonymous career as a sidekick to the pass-catching stars, first with Michael Jackson in Cleveland and Baltimore, and then with Andre Rison last year. This season, however, Alexander is emerging as the Chiefs' go-to receiver; on Sunday he caught three passes for 69 yards in Kansas City's 31-21 win over the Lions, giving him a team-leading 15 receptions for 340 yards and one touchdown in three games.
After making 120 catches in five seasons at Michigan, Alexander was selected by the Browns in the first round of the 1994 draft. His 48 receptions and 828 receiving yards ranked second among NFL rookies, and much was made of his potential. But an injury to his left leg early in the '95 season limited him to just 15 catches that year. Despite averaging 60 catches and 1,033 yards over the next three seasons, Alexander, who is most dangerous after he catches the ball, was regarded as the "other wideout."
"It bothers me, with all that I've done," Alexander says. "Though I would love to hear it, I just never get the feeling that someone will come out and say, ' Derrick Alexander is our Number 1 receiver.' "
But don't expect Alexander to rant and rave at any perceived lack of respect. He has suffered worse. When Alexander was a high school senior, his brother Steven, who was in the Army at the time, was killed in an automobile accident while stationed in Germany. Derrick will never forget the ringing of the phone at 3 a.m. and the screams of his mother, Marion. "When I heard my mom, I just started crying because I knew it was bad," he recalls. "Then I heard her say he had died, and my heart sank." Steven's death still weighed heavily on the Alexanders when, in 1996 during Ravens training camp, Derrick's brother Garrett died of lung failure.
"I kept a lot of things bottled up, which was tough," Alexander says. "I had to work really hard to keep my focus when I was on the field." Yet he's been most productive in the ensuing seasons.
Without leading rusher Kimble Anders, lost for the year with a torn Achilles, there is more pressure than usual on the Chiefs' passing game. How fortunate for Kansas City, then, that Alexander is enjoying the finest start of his NFL career.