For the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era, the Kansas City Chiefs entered offseason workouts without Tyreek Hill on their roster, and Hill is by no means the only turnover in the wide receiver room from last year. Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle also signed with new teams, and Marcus Kemp is a restricted free agent.
Of the six wide receivers who caught a pass in a regular-season game last season, only Josh Gordon and Mecole Hardman remain on the roster.
How the Chiefs will go about replacing Hill's production is still a work in progress, but the Chiefs believe in their new crop of wide receivers.
This was the topic of conversation Thursday afternoon when Chiefs wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier was asked how he plans to move forward post-Tyreek Hill.
"Yeah, big shoes to fill." acknowledged Bleymaier. "I don't know if one guy can do it, but the collective and the guys that we brought in just starting from scratch and teaching everybody, what we do, and how we do it.
"I think the story still to be written about how we fill that gap."
Bleymaier said the Chiefs would try to emphasize each player's strengths and let his performance decide how they fit into the offense, instead of trying to force a certain player into a predetermined role.
"We're still trying to figure that out as we go and let those guys kind of dictate where we go with it, as opposed to saying you're one, two, and three and this is what you can do. We want them to show us and showcase their abilities. And then as they grow and get comfortable with our quarterbacks, with our offense, with the roles that they've kind of carved out, then we can narrow down and attack a defense.
"But right now, it's just kind of everybody feeling it out and writing their own story."
At the same time, Bleymaier noted that one of their biggest strengths is that the Chiefs have a lot of veterans in the wide receiver room.
"We have guys that have had success in the league, whether it's MVS, Mecole, Juju, or even Josh, and they're taking it upon themselves to mentor and coach the young guys. So they're new to this system. They're learning everything that we do and how we do it as well. And then some of the nuances of route running, you know, transcend offenses, and they're able, with the success that they've had to tell the young guys, 'Here's what I was thinking, here's how I did it versus all these different looks. Here's what coach is saying. Here's how it plays out in real life.'"
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy echoed Bleymaier's comments during his presser, saying that the Chiefs like the talent and size they have at wide receiver.
"We got a lot of guys out there that can do a lot of different things. Got some bigger bodies. These guys have been receptive to what we're teaching them. We're establishing this foundation, and I'm fired up and excited about it."
Marquez Valdes-Scantling's new role
One guy the Chiefs are sure to lean on in the 2022 season and beyond is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who the Chiefs signed earlier this offseason to a three-year, $30 million contract. Valdes-Scantling is a prime example of what Bleymaier is talking about when he says he will let the players write their own stories.
When Valdes-Scantling was with the Green Bay Packers, he was primarily used as a situational deep threat, which is why he has averaged a healthy 17.5 yards per reception in his career. But that might not be the case in Kansas City.
"They had reasons for how they used him in Green Bay. We'll see what he can do and how he kind of writes his place here with us without putting them into a box and saying, 'This is what you did in the past.' They had specific reasons. We may or may not have those same specific reasons, but there's obviously things that he does great, and you want to emphasize those strengths and then just kind of let him flourish and grow into the offense."
One thing that has stuck out to Blaymaier about Valdes-Scantling is his professionalism — and his ability to see the big picture.
"He is the epitome of a professional. I mean, he comes to work, he's all business. The athletic ability speaks for itself. When he gets into the classroom, you kind of see how he has gotten to where he's gotten. He is on his Ps and Qs and wants to learn not only what he's doing, but the whole offense. And I think part of that is [because] he's had success individually and then he's [also] been part of a successful team."
Josh Gordon's resurgence?
Bleymaier was also asked about Josh Gordon during his presser. Gordon struggled to make an impact in the 12 games he appeared in 2021, finishing the season with an anemic 32 yards receiving on 14 targets. Despite the lack of production, Blaymaier said he likes what he's seen from Gordon this offseason.
"I have big expectations for Josh. When he got here, it was just as much as we could do to get him on the field and have him knowing his assignments. He is extremely smart, intelligent. He tackled all those challenges and did what we needed last year. Now he can kind of understand why, [and] get on the same page with Pat, understand the timing and how he fits in with everybody else, just not only the reps but the depth and the feel and him getting his stride back."
When asked about Gordon's comfort level with the playbook, Bleymaier said that he wasn't worried about Gordon knowing the routes and assignments.
"He's always been comfortable with the playbook. I would say he's more comfortable with himself in the role, in the offense, in what we're asking him to do, and then how he can do it."
Bieniemy & company are ready for the challenge
Turnover is inevitable in the NFL.
Whether it's Valdes-Scantling, Smith-Schuster, Moore, Hardman or Gordon, you can't simply replace Tyreek Hill — he is one of a kind.
Regardless of the circumstance that caused the Chiefs to trade Tyreek Hill or any other comments that have been made since his departure, the Chiefs coaching staff is still very fond of Hill.
"You know, you can always replace the player, but you can't replace the person," said Bieniemy, "Tyreek was loved. He'll be missed."
Then, quickly changing gears and looking to the future, Bieniemy smiled his trademark grin.
"But now it's time for us to make sure that we're developing the people that we have and getting them to do the things that we need," he said with a smile. "Veach and his staff did a hell of a job of selecting the guys that we brought in collectively as a staff... It's a lot of fun because these guys are learning something new for the first time."
No replacing Hill, but perhaps the Chiefs can replace his production; it just won't look the same. For the team's coaching staff, that's exciting.