NFL teams are required to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's a way of life. "Next man up" is a mentality because it's a necessity. Systems change, players move on, and life as you know it can change at a moment's notice.
But it's not something the Chiefs offense has dealt with much in recent years. Not like this.
Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have been attached at the hip since the moment Mahomes became the Chiefs' starting quarterback in 2018. Kelce has missed one game since Mahomes took over. Hill has only missed four, all coming early in the 2019 season.
We're all about to experience life without Hill for the first time this season. It's going to look different. It's going to feel different.
Different doesn't necessarily mean bad. But what would qualify as a successful season for the Chiefs' new-look pass-catching corps? Before we look forward, let's take a look back for perspective on what we should be looking for.
The yardage out there
I promise I won't bore you with too many numbers, but to know what we can expect in 2022 requires looking into what we've come to expect from the Chiefs' offense with Mahomes at the helm.
Mahomes' average 17-game season includes 630 pass attempts, 420 completions, 5,000 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns.
We know Andy Reid loves getting his running backs involved in the passing game, and the Chiefs have arguably the greatest tight end in the world. That's going to take away a hefty number of targets from the wide receivers.
Chiefs regular-season passing (2018-2021)*
*per 17-game season
What does it all mean?
Well, it leaves roughly 340 targets, 220 receptions and 2,750 receiving yards for the wide receivers. This is where things get interesting.
Let's start with the shiniest of the new toys: Skyy Moore
Rookie wide receivers have had varied success under Reid. Some like DeSean Jackson have come in and immediately contributed like a legitimate No. 1 wideout. Most others seem to take a fair amount of time to assimilate to the vast offense.
Rookie wide receivers under Andy Reid
It shouldn't shock anyone if those average numbers for rookie wide receivers under Reid are the end result this season for Moore. That might come as a bit of a disappointment, but it shouldn't be. It's hard to produce as a rookie; it's even more challenging to do so in a Reid offense. Moore's going to be fine, even if his numbers this season are a bit underwhelming.
What should we expect from the veteran additions?
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marques Valdes-Scantling feel like the forgotten men in the Chiefs' wide receiver corps. They shouldn't be. In fact, they are probably the most likely players to lead the Chiefs in receiving yards this season.
Smith-Schuster projects as a possession receiver who moves the chains the way Sammy Watkins and Jeremy Maclin did throughout their time in Kansas City. Watkins' per-17 game pace with the Chiefs was approximately 65 receptions for 800 yards. Something in that range makes a lot of sense for Smith-Schuster’s first season in red and gold.
Juju Smith-Schuster projection: 110 targets, 80 receptions, 850 yards, eight touchdowns
Valdes-Scantling is the hardest player to project. He seems to have quite the connection with Mahomes in OTAs, but it's important to remember that these are not in pads and players with size and speed tend to show well in this kind of setting. Valdes-Scantling has been a vertical threat for much of his career. Is he more than that? It seems as if the Chiefs would like to find out. But there are only so many receptions to go around.
Marques Valdes-Scantling projection: 85 targets, 55 receptions, 825 yards, six touchdowns
What does that leave for Mecole Hardman?
The overwhelming likelihood is one of two things happens this season: At least one of the top four wide receivers has a disappointing year relative to expectations, or all four are "solid" when it comes to their production. If one player takes a step back, it might be Hardman.
I'm excited about Hardman. I think he found his niche at the end of last season. He averaged three receptions for 40 yards per game in the second half of the year. That's really solid! It's also a potential recognition of what he is and what he can be. A deeper wide receiver corps means fewer targets to go around. A flat distribution seems likely, leaving Hardman around his career averages at the end of the year.
Mecole Hardman projection: 75 targets, 40 receptions, 600 yards, six touchdowns
Can the Chiefs get by without a "go-to" wide receiver?
It's entirely possible the Chiefs do not have a 1,000-yard wide receiver next year. In fact, these projections have exactly that taking place.
Chiefs wide receiver projections
Is that a problem?
Not if Kelce is himself. The Chiefs chose this path for a reason. They could have re-signed Hill for top dollar and continued down the same path of two players dominating the targets. They decided to go down a different route for a reason. Some of that is cap related, but it's also about how teams defended the Chiefs last season.
I've referenced how the Patriots evolved as an offense in Tom Brady's career, and I think it's relevant for this Chiefs transition. The Patriots went from a run-first, defensive-minded team in the early 2000s to the most high-flying offense in the league when they added Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007. The Randy Moss element lasted for three seasons. By 2010, the Patriots transitioned into the two-tight end offense with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. By 2013, the Patriots were officially in Gronk/Julian Edelman mode. That lasted much of the next five years.
The moral of the story is that the "Tom Brady offense" took on different meanings depending on which era you're referencing. This is the first pivot for the Chiefs' offense in the Mahomes era. There will be many more.
Different doesn't mean bad — even if the new group of wide receivers doesn't post the same gaudy numbers Hill produced his time with the Chiefs.