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What the Chiefs should do at wide receiver

A breakdown of the 2021 Chiefs roster — one position at a time.

AFC Championship - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

With free agency scheduled to officially open on March 17, it’s a good time to take a closer look at each position on the Kansas City Chiefs. I looked at the offensive tackles on Monday and the defensive ends on Tuesday. In this article, I’ll examine the wide receivers.


Who they have

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Tyreek Hill

Hill led the Chiefs’ wide receiver unit with 82% of the regular season snaps — a rate that was the fourth-highest of any offensive player behind Eric Fisher, Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Wylie. He took 88% of the snaps in the postseason. Except for some late-season cramps, Hill had a healthy 2020 season.

Hill finished with the NFL’s third-most total touchdowns with 17. His 15 receiving touchdowns were the second-most and he topped the entire league with a rate of 14 yards per touch. While he didn’t score in the playoffs, he averaged 123 total yards in the three games.

There’s not much that needs to be said about the league’s most electrifying receiving threat. No matter how you spin it, he’s become an elite player — and he needs to be in Kansas City for as long as he’s playing football. His current contract is up after 2022.

My opinion: Work on extending Hill, which can free up immediate cap space.

Mecole Hardman

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In the regular season, Hardman saw the fourth-most snaps among Chiefs wide receivers, getting 45% of the offensive snaps. He saw a similar rate in the playoffs. He returned 25 of 28 punts, but returned only nine of 26 possible kick returns. Hardman had the third-most receiving targets of all Chiefs players, totaling 560 yards and four touchdowns on 41 receptions. He scored on a 67-yard punt return as well. In the playoffs, Hardman totaled 120 yards and caught a touchdown.

His blazing speed and explosiveness give the Chiefs’ offense a chance at a home run on any play. The problem is that the team needs more than that. The big plays are mostly schemed up specifically for him; when he has been trusted to make a play without the design, he is constantly on a different page than quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It happened on the first drive of Super Bowl LV — but also many times before.

If he wants to be in Kansas City past his rookie deal, he needs to prove himself as a more complete receiver. We’ll learn more about what the team thinks about Hardman from how aggressively they attack the position this offseason — but going into 2021, he should not be counted upon as the second wide receiver.

My opinion: Add a more polished receiver than Hardman.

Marcus Kemp

NFL: DEC 09 Ravens at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite being released after Week 14 and rejoining the Chiefs in the postseason, Kemp still played a key role on the special teams unit all year. He took 37% of all possible special teams snaps — and per PFF, racked up the team’s sixth-most special teams tackles, He caught one pass for 11 yards on 34 offensive snaps.

Kemp was actually a free agent when the offseason first began, but Kansas City re-signed him on Tuesday. He’s used to the revolving door of the NFL, but now he’ll look to penetrate a shallow Chiefs receiving corps. He appeared to make strides as a pass-catcher during 2019’s training camp — but a torn ACL ended his season prematurely.

Two years removed from the injury, maybe the soon-to-be 26-year-old can once again impress us as more than just a special teamer.

My opinion: Keep if he shows the capability to be a fifth or sixth wide receiver at training camp.

Antonio Callaway

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Callaway was signed to a reserve/future deal by the Chiefs after playing five games for the Miami Dolphins in 2020. He missed the first eight games of the season due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Before that, he played 20 games over two seasons for the Cleveland Browns, scoring five touchdowns and averaging over 13 yards a catch on 51 receptions.

He only caught a couple passes for 20 total yards in 2020, but it didn’t help that he was inactive for a majority of the schedule. He’s a field-stretching, speedy playmaker who picked the right place to try and reboot his career. If there’s any team can find a way to use his skillset, it’s Kansas City.

My opinion: Keep him until at least training camp to see what he can do.

Chad Williams, Jody Fortson, Gehrig Dieter, Maurice Ffrench, and Dalton Schoen

All five of these wide receivers are signed to reserve/future deals. Williams has the biggest cap hit out of all — $920,000 — but all could be cut at any time with no dead money. Williams hasn’t played since late in the 2019 season; he was released by the Indianapolis Colts in September of 2020 with an injury settlement. The former third-round pick has talent, but has struggled with producing in the NFL.

Chiefs fans are familiar with Fortson and Dieter. Unless the practice-squad rules are the same as 2020, it’s hard to see Dieter sticking around; Fortson’s physical traits make him a slightly more likely candidate to survive cuts. Ffrench probably has the best chance of this group to make the 53-man roster.

My opinion: Keep at least Williams and Ffrench until training camp to see what they can do.

Who they could sign

General manager Brett Veach has implied that the Chiefs wouldn’t be competing for the top-tier wide receiver free agents — and I agree that they shouldn’t. They should tender ERFA Byron Pringle. They could also re-sign Demarcus Robinson or Sammy Watkins, but I’d prefer going a different direction.

Lower-priced free agent possibilities include Josh Reynolds of the Los Angeles Rams, Keelan Cole of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kendrick Bourne of the San Francisco 49ers or Cleveland Browns’ Rashard Higgins.

Who they could draft

A first-round wide receiver is absolutely an option — although if a worthwhile offensive lineman or defensive end is available, it shouldn’t be. If they draft a receiver at 31, names to remember include Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. or Purdue’s Rondale Moore.

If they choose to draft a receiver in later rounds, some prospects that fit what the Chiefs are looking for are USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michigan’s Nico Collins, North Carolina’s Dyami Brown, Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace or Auburn’s Seth Williams.