Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is (again) the heavy favorite to win the MVP award — and the Chiefs are (again) contending for the AFC’s top seed.
So how can there be concerns about an offense that is so dominant? Earlier in the year, there were lots of reasons for optimism. They were based upon the team’s offensive production — along with the continued growth of Mahomes and his new receiving corps.
Optimism peaked in Week 7, when wideouts Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling combined for 235 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 44-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. This seemed like exactly what we’d been hoping to see — and the future seemed bright.
But whether it’s because of injuries, inexperience, game planning or execution, the Kansas City offense has not yet taken the next step with its wide receivers.
Though Mahomes has already thrown for more yards (5,048) in 16 games this year than he did in 17 games last year — and almost as many as he did during his 16-game MVP season in 2018 (5,097) — the team’s wideouts have had their lowest share of the team’s total yardage during his time as the starter.
And while Mahomes currently leads the league with 40 passing touchdowns, wide receivers have accounted for fewer of them. In 2021, wideouts scored 20 of Mahomes’ 37 passing touchdowns. In 2022, they have only 13.
What has led to this lack of production? The obvious “cheetah” in the room is the absence of Tyreek Hill. Additionally, injuries to Mecole Hardman, Juju Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney (and now Skyy Moore) have limited the group’s ceiling.
Still, the Kansas City offense has been productive. The team has a 13-3 record and leads the league in most offensive statistics. But against three or four playoff-level defenses that could limit Travis Kelce and Jerick McKinnon — who have combined for half of 2022’s touchdown receptions — can it maintain that production in the postseason without more contributions from its wide receivers?
From the beginning of this year, the Chiefs’ goal was to develop a deeper and more diverse wide receiver group. But so far, Kansas City has struggled to really make that a reality. While Mahomes’ yardage will be the best of his career, much of that production has come from elsewhere. This limits the Chiefs’ ability to be as dynamic in the passing game — especially vertically.
KC hasn't been able to hit these over routes since Tyreek left besides Kelce on some drags, but we saw Toney look incredibly dynamic doing that this week— Nate Christensen (@natech32) January 4, 2023
DEN in C3 with buzz safety, Toney stems inside to avoid Apex, flatten route to avoid FS and enough speed to cross-face SS pic.twitter.com/2icmVtcU6D
While it’s true that Valdez-Scantling has burned a few teams deep, the offense has not been able to connect on those often enough to put fear into opposing defenses. This is especially true when those downfield targets are going to Justin Watson, who is only the team’s fifth or sixth-best pass-catcher.
Still, there is cause for optimism. Head coach Andy Reid continues to tinker with the offense. The return of Mecole Hardman, more contributions from Toney — and the playoff playbook — could help restore the role of wide receivers in the offense.
True sicko status is watching to see how KC is using Kadarius Toney in his 16 snaps. In fairness, Toney's upside is crazy if the Chiefs can hit on a few designed opportunities for him. pic.twitter.com/Zi2Al4XJJ5— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 28, 2022
Given Kansas City’s struggles with turnovers, defense and special teams, the team’s margin for error is very small. Making the offense more dynamic could give the Chiefs a much greater chance for postseason success.