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Film review: Marquez Valdes-Scantling threatens deep with speed and size

The Chiefs’ newest wide receiver has the skills to keep defenses honest at the back end of their pass coverage

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With their first move of the post-Tyreek Hill era, the Kansas City Chiefs signed a free-agent wide receiver to help fill the 159 voided targets to Hill in 2021

Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is now a Chief, signing a three-year deal that indicates the team has optimism about his impact for more than just 2022.

He’ll fit a specific role for the Chiefs, who are now looking to piece together a wide receiver corps that lacks a true alpha at the top. Without a number-one receiver, the focus won’t be on any one wide receiver — differing from the last four seasons with Hill as one of the league’s best.

On top of Valdes-Scantling, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Mecole Hardman, the Chiefs are reportedly interested in Laviska Shenault of the Jacksonville Jaguars, along with some of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft, per Jordan Schultz on Twitter.

So how will Marquez Valdes-Scantling fit into what could be a crowded Chiefs’ wide-receiver room? Let’s get into it:

The basics

Coming out of the University of South Florida in 2018, Valdes-Scantling became an intriguing prospect when he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at 6’4” and 206 pounds — while also showing off a wingspan in the 86th percentile for wide receivers and hand size in the 87th percentile. Yet, he slipped to the fifth round; one reason may have been the fifth-percentile vertical leap he recorded.

Despite where he was taken, he contributed to the Packers right away; he had a career-high 73 targets his rookie season — totaling 610 total yards on 15.3 yards per touch. His best season came in 2020, when he led the league in yards per reception (20.9) on 33 catches while scoring six touchdowns.

How he has been utilized

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his four seasons in Green Bay, Valdes-Scantling was in a rotation to be the second receiver alongside Davante Adams. Last season, he split those reps — but would be on the field for roughly 66% of the offensive snaps for an average game with Green Bay’s high usage of three-receiver sets.

He has alignment versatility when he’s on the field; he played from the slot on 31% of his snaps last season, with the rest being out wide. In his rookie season, he played from the slot on a career-high 46% of his snaps.

When Valdes-Scantling was getting the ball, it was usually Green Bay looking to complete a big pass play down the field. 46% of his targets came on passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air, and the average depth of his target in 2021 was 18.5 yards downfield.

Green Bay was wise to use him in that sense — and these clips are good examples of why. First of all, his speed shows up quickly; he can accelerate well off the line of scrimmage, getting to top speed quickly and putting pressure on cornerbacks and safeties trying to stay on top of him in their coverage.

On top of that, he appears to really understand how to avoid getting caught up in physical coverage when trying to get deep. He shows good awareness, like ducking a shoulder subtly or adjusting his route efficiently, but he also uses his bigger frame to fight through the hands of physical defensive backs and maintain a threatening speed.

On top of looking like a natural on downfield receptions, he also has that extra gear he can kick into when the ball is in the air. He will get an extra bit of separation on that last stretch to the catch point, and Rodgers noticed enough to trust it on plays like this one — where Valdes-Scantling speed completely mitigates the defender having inside leverage on him.

How he fits with the Chiefs

Valdes-Scantling fits best as a complementary weapon to players like Travis Kelce and Smith-Schuster in this new rotation. Wherever he aligns before the snap, he has the attributes to beat the opposition’s deepest coverage defender — and that forces defenses to account for it with two-high shells and softer zone coverages.

Sound familiar?

The difference for this year will be that Valdes-Scantling is more one-dimensional, whereas the unpredictability of what Hill could do forced defenses to eventually throw their hands up and sacrifice the underneath catches to avoid giving up deep passes. If Valdes-Scantling isn’t as threatening at the short and intermediate levels, it’s much easier for teams to game plan around how to contain that without sacrificing too much elsewhere.

That said, Valdes-Scantling has had the career progression of an ascending player. On this play, for example, he understands how threatening his speed can be — so he presses the cornerback to account for it deep, then cleanly transitions to an in-breaking route. The quickness of his break creates separation because the cornerback can’t transition from bailing deep fast enough.

His size has allowed him to be a capable blocker in his career, but the Packers opted to use Allen Lazard more for the pre-snap motion, point-of-attack blocking role; that is a skill that the Chiefs could utilize more to create personnel mismatches.

He was rarely used as a red-zone threat — only eight of his 123 career catches came there — but that is likely due to Green Bay having other preferred options.

The bottom line

The Chiefs have to add up a receiving corps that can still compete with a stacked division and conference despite not having Tyreek Hill. If they aren’t going to have an established No. 1 wide receiver in 2022, they need to make sure every skill they need at the position is filled by at least one player.

Valdes-Scantling is absolutely an upgrade over the rotational players they had behind Hill and Hardman last season, and his talents play off what the other pass-catchers will be asked to do well.

When you consider how interested the Chiefs appeared to be in him throughout the offseason, you can bet they’re confident in how they plan to use him.