For the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense will not feature what has been the league’s most dangerous, big-play threat: wide receiver Tyreek Hill. For this reason, the 2022 season won’t look quite the same.
So in this summer series — The Reid Remix — we’ll use statistics, film and quotes we’ve heard this offseason to preview how different aspects of the unit could look in the coming season.
At wide receiver, we know there will be three new faces getting snaps on offense: veterans Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster, along with rookie Skyy Moore. Looking at how wide receivers were utilized last season, I envisioned how each of these players could fit into 2022’s passing game.
Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney had boots on the ground for offseason practices — and his observations have made it clear that Valdes-Scantling has developed a noticeable chemistry with Mahomes.
That relationship can lead to big plays on the field — especially considering the strengths of Valdes-Scantling’s game.
#Chiefs have had the luxury of 2 speedsters interchangeable btwn the shallow crosser & the deep post on a play like this Drive concept— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 23, 2022
MVS' speed can come in & win on either route, but his vertical ability on the Post plays into Mecole's strengths on quick passes to open space pic.twitter.com/pRMydjFUiV
The Chiefs like to run variations of Drive — a passing concept that centers around two crossing routes across the middle: a shallow pattern paired with another at the intermediate level. The high-low scheme puts covering linebackers in a bind — or as it does on this play, simply runs away from man coverage.
Tight end Travis Kelce has primarily been used as the intermediate crosser, but the shallow route has typically been Hill or Mecole Hardman — the two fastest wide receivers. This is noteworthy because speed is the most important trait to have on these shallow routes. The other receiver would usually line up on the opposite side of the formation and be used in a variety of patterns — but on this play, that receiver runs a deep post to create space for the Drive routes underneath.
Based on their speed profiles, Hardman and Valdes-Scantling should be similarly interchangeable on these plays in 2022. But the ideal formation would have Hardman on the shallow route — avoiding press coverage while quickly getting the ball into space — with Valdes-Scantling on the post, where his size would allow him to beat physical coverage better than Hardman is able to do.
When KC gets to attack vertically off play action (hopefully more this year), Mecole is going to attract the most Safety attention, like Tyreek did in the past— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 23, 2022
The auxiliary WRs occasionally took advantage, but MVS' talent could increase the success rate of these opportunities pic.twitter.com/KQez6qBqUe
If we project a higher-volume rushing attack, that would also increase legitimate opportunities for attacking vertically from the play-action passing game. Valdes-Scantling might see more benefits from these opportunities than anyone else.
On multi-route deep concepts, the safety has to make decisions and prioritize his attention. In the past, Hill has always garnered that scrutiny — but on these kinds of plays, Hardman’s speed could have a similar impact.
On the play shown here, you see Hill’s presence open up an enormous throwing window for Mahomes, who connects with Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown.
I strongly believe that in many ways, Valdes-Scantling is an upgrade over Robinson — and if Mahomes also believes that, his confidence in their already-building relationship could lead to Mahomes taking more shots when his wideout has one-on-one matchups down the field. And it’s reasonable to expect that those passes will be caught more often.
To generalize how I see Smith-Schuster being used in the Chiefs’ offense, I will compare it to what we saw from Sammy Watkins. Here’s another way to put it: an upgrade from what Byron Pringle did last season.
Juju Smith-Schuster should be great for the #Chiefs' Hank concepts, running those intermediate curls and making catches through contact from safeties/LBs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 23, 2022
We'll see better fundamentals at the catch point compared to Pringle, and he'll be similarly, or even tougher to tackle pic.twitter.com/74Md9KK8Pz
One of the Chiefs' most commonly-used pass concepts is Hank, in which receivers run intermediate curl routes — and then settle into a window between defenders where the quarterback can see them.
On this play, Pringle needs to run the route at the sticks. But instead, he ends up catching the pass before the first down, then shakes an arm tackle to get there. I believe Smith-Schuster will be more precise — or at least have a better feel for those situations.
Pringle also jumps and catches with his body — something that developed into a bad habit. In his career, we’ve seen Smith-Schuster really emphasize catching with his hands. In tightly-contested areas, I think that will make him a more reliable target.
Pringle drop rate in 2021: 11.5% (PFF)— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 23, 2022
Juju's: 4.8% (5.2% career)
I really think we'll see Juju bring some of these tougher passes in, he should handle the hip-riding coverage better than Byron was able to on a quick slant or an intermediate crosser pic.twitter.com/R9zsHawVD5
Overall, Smith-Schuster deals with physicality very well. In fact, he is better at it than most NFL receivers. So I’m more confident that he will catch passes (like these) that Pringle couldn’t haul in — even though both of these would have been impressive receptions. Pringle just doesn’t handle defenders on his hip very well — while Smith-Schuster should be able to play through that kind of coverage on slant routes and deeper crossing patterns.
This is borne out in the drop rates for the two wideouts. According to PFF, Smith-Schuster’s career drop rate is 5.2% — and it was 4.8% in 2021. For Pringle, his career rate is 10.5% — and 11.5% last season.
During his first season, the second-round rookie may not have a featured role — although he’ll be given every opportunity to prove he deserves snaps.
Moore makes a lot of sense for these quick-hitting out routes, where his strengths as a decisive route runner can create the marginal separation needed in a short time— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 23, 2022
The good hands he showed in college will be nice to have as well pic.twitter.com/ymaBXGg0u5
To fit his strengths, an easy way to get him going is with quick-hitting routes like speed outs or slants. In college, Moore showed a natural ability to quickly separate at the line — albeit against lower-level competition. Those skills can be utilized on these kinds of routes — along with the strong hands Moore showed off at Western Michigan.
Being the third receiver in a bunch set is another simple way to help an out-breaking receiver get separation; the traffic can hold up his coverage defender. Using pre-snap motion to get him into position is another easy way to gain an edge.
That out route can also be featured in Smash concepts — in which Moore and Kelce could attack two levels of the defense towards the sideline. Moore has also displayed the foot quickness to run an effective whip route, in which the receiver sprints inside before pivoting quickly back towards the sideline.
When the Chiefs call plays from their RPO packages, Moore’s skills should fit into any of the quick routes that are paired with the run options.