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JuJu Smith-Schuster has become the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver

The former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout has found his way to the top of Kansas City’s heap.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs collected a 30-24 overtime victory against the Houston Texans, improving their record to 11-3 and winning their seventh consecutive AFC West title, giving them at least one home game in the postseason.

Before the season, many in the media across the country didn’t think the Chiefs would once again win the division — or even make the playoffs. Some of that was because Kansas City’s schedule appeared to be very difficult — but the players that the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers added to their teams were also part of that calculation. Kansas City also lost some very prominent players — most notably with its trade of All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.

Three days prior to that trade, the Chiefs signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal. For a moment, it appeared the team would have Hill, Smith-Schuster and tight end Travis Kelce as its main pass catchers — but with the Hill trade, that dream quickly faded.

That also meant, however, that Smith-Schuster went from being a receiver who was a complementary part of the offense to being one of its main threats.

Through the first five games of the season, Smith-Schuster’s production was up and down as he worked to build in-game chemistry with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

But things finally seemed to click when the Chiefs faced the Buffalo Bills. Smith-Schuster posted his first 100-yard game with Kansas City, ending the game with five receptions for 113 yards and his first Chiefs touchdown.

He proved that game was not a fluke by following it up with solid games against the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans, in which he totaled 17 receptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

Early in the following game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, Smith-Schuster suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the next matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Upon his return, it was easy to see that the wideout was trying to work his way back to the form he showed during his productive three-game stretch.

In Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, it appeared he was back to where the Chiefs will need him to be. He tallied nine receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown — and then on Sunday against the Houston Texans, followed that with 10 receptions for 88 yards. He now has 71 receptions for 850 yards and three touchdowns. Barring injury, Smith-Schuster should end the year with over 1,000 yards — perhaps more than 1,100.

But what Smith-Schuster has brought to the Kansas City offense goes beyond the numbers. He has become a reliable receiver on whom Mahomes can depend. Smith-Schuster has caught over 77% of his targets — including a perfect 10/10 against Houston on Sunday. He’s demonstrated a great feel for space against the zone coverage — with strong hands that can make tough catches against tight man coverage. With teams doing everything they can to stop Kelce, Smith-Schuster has become a player that Mahomes can trust in key situations.

The bottom line

The Chiefs’ offense has been very efficient in 2022 — and Smith-Schuster has been a huge part of that. His chemistry with Mahomes — missing at the beginning of the season — is now right where it needs to be. That’s going to pose a problem for opposing defenses. Mahomes knows that if Kelce is doubled, there is someone else on offense who can (and will) make a play.

Smith-Schuster hasn’t provided Kansas City with many flashy plays, but he has been dependable — and he’s been doing the dirty work to keep the sticks moving. He has truly become the team’s No. 1 wideout. If he can keep it up, the Chiefs’ offense will continue to be very tough to defend.

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