It’s pretty obvious which of his pass-catchers Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will want to target on a typical pass play in 2022. After that, it feels impossible to know who will be second to tight end Travis Kelce.
But if you’re into overreacting to Day 1 of Kansas City’s training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri, the answer is obvious: new wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The offensive standout of Wednesday was wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught 3 straight passes from Patrick Mahomes to begin a 7-on-7 series. The loudest crowd pop of the day was Mahomes to JuJu in 11-on-11. S Juan Thornhill got turned around, leaving JuJu open deep.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 27, 2022
According to practice reports, Smith-Schuster was Mahomes’ target early and often. Later, he laid out to make the highlight-reel play of the day on a deep pass from his new quarterback.
Laid O U T @PatrickMahomes x @TeamJuJu pic.twitter.com/YHUckNNRgZ— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) July 27, 2022
Smith-Schuster’s impressive day can likely be traced to this year’s informal offseason workouts, in which Mahomes met with his receivers in Texas to throw and run routes.
“This offseason, we’ve just been working out every single day,” Smith-Schuster told reporters after practice. “Pat stays in Dallas. Pat calls and says, ‘We’re throwing these days. If you’re out here, come out and make it out.’ A lot of guys did that this offseason — just building that trust. You can see it out here: Pat’s making throws and I’m making those catches.”
Head coach Andy Reid has also taken notice.
“There’s a trust there; this isn’t JuJu’s first rodeo,” he said on Wednesday. “We liked what we saw before — he was banged up a little bit — but he’s back now. He’s healthy. It was good work today — [he’ll] just keep building on it [from the] first day.”
Reid is right: it’s easy to forget how much Smith-Schuster has already accomplished in the NFL. Over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had three seasons with at least 800 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. That includes his second season, when he totaled 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 111 receptions.
But Smith-Schuster is new to the dynamic Kansas City offense — and the difference has been clear to him.
“I think I run more routes here than my previous offense,” he acknowledged. “Being all over the field, being able to play inside or outside — and that’s for everybody. You see MVS [Marquez Valdes-Scantling] play inside or outside, you see Mecole [Hardman] play inside or outside, Skyy [Moore]... you have so many guys playing different positions... today is just the first taste of what I’ve got to show.”
Smith-Schuster also said he hasn’t had to ask the Chiefs to handle him in a specific way.
“I didn’t have to come in here and ask for anything,” he noted. “The playbook is meant for everyone to know everyone’s position and just play.”
Positional flexibility is something with which Reid tends to experiment — even if only briefly. This season, a lot of versatility is available to the head coach — and Smith-Schuster thinks that rookie receiver Skyy Moore could be a chess piece in the Kansas City offense.
“He’s got speed, hands — [an] all around, smart kid — and that’s what I love about him,” Smith-Schuster said of the rookie from Wstern Michigan. “He’s a great player that’s going to help us out a lot. Inside [or] outside. Potentially I could see him playing running back — just ‘cause he’s got that in him.”
Whether or not the coaching staff will use his suggestion for the rookie wideout is unknown, but they will absolutely be using Smith-Schuster’s skillset all over the offense — which was made clear in Wednesday’s opening practice.
Some looks at 7-on-7 ... Mahomes to Juju Smith Schuster connected a lot. #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/uLmb2tKXNA— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) July 27, 2022
There were a number of different ways Smith-Schuster got the ball in his hands — and that’s the intriguing part about this year’s offense: each of the wide receivers can be used in a variety of ways.
Still, one of the wideouts will end up leading the group in targets — and on Wednesday, the most experienced, accomplished player in the wide receiver room made a great case to be that player.