At the time of the 53-man roster deadline, the Kansas City Chiefs made an unprecedented move: keeping seven receivers.
During training camp, the club had preached that Kadarius Toney was a viable No. 1 receiver — and that Skyy Moore would take a significant step forward during his second year in the building. This would allow rookie wideout Rashee Rice to develop. Veterans Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson would round out a room that would also have Richie James and Justyn Ross in the mix.
Through 10 games — and despite a 7-3 record — it would be fair to argue that the production hasn't exactly gone to plan. The lone bright spots have been Watson becoming a reliable outlet for Mahomes, along with Rice appearing to be a year ahead of expectations.
"I think he's done a good job of being able to show us that he can do more — and taking the time throughout the week to understand certain route concepts," said offensive coordinator Matt Nagy of Rice, who leads the position group with 420 yards. "We know what he can do with the football in his hands. We saw that [Monday night] a few times. He's a physical runner and he has strong hands.
“Now, I think you're noticing that some of his snaps are going up slightly — as far as his percentage of snaps. We want to continue to do that. That's the part of development — the trust factor — which is real. The more we can get of that, I think the better we will be, because he's a very good football player.
“I think you're right: he is growing. But it'll be in increments — and we like the path he's on right now."
The problem has been that even with Rice's solid rookie season, Kansas City has lacked consistency in the group as a whole — and the negatives have outweighed the positives. Toney and James have been limited due to injurries, Moore has had a disappointing second campaign and Ross is now off the roster.
Meanwhile, Valdes-Scantling — the team’s highest-paid receiver — has just 249 yards on the season. His key drop from Monday night (which led directly to the team's loss against the Philadelphia Eagles) won't be something fans will soon forget. On that topic, Nagy echoed head coach Andy Reid’s remarks after the game, explaining that the first step is the Chiefs scoring points while eliminating turnovers and penalties.
"When you have a game like we had last night — where there might be a little bit of a magnifying glass on whether [it’s] some of the drops or whether it's just specific play that could be a little bit bigger than others — it can definitely be a big deal," said Nagy. "And we understand that — and the players understand that — but in the end, we have a lot of trust in these guys; we believe in them.
“I think that's very, very important. You hear that (and you see that) from [Patrick Mahomes]. It's something where we just continue to stick together and keep working through. We know it's not going to be easy — but honestly, the biggest thing is it goes back to, again, is, ‘Let's not beat ourselves with turnovers in penalties in the end — and drops.’"
As a team, Kansas City currently leads the league in dropped passes with 26, which must be corrected if the club expects to go toe-to-toe with the league's best in the NFL playoffs. Nagy detailed how the team intends to improve that situation.
"It's more physical than anything," said the offensive coordinator. "There might be times when we're in the building, just getting through a meeting after a walkthrough and you look outside and you see guys on the JUGS machines getting extra work in.
“So that's probably the biggest one — and then it would be in between periods. They go over with the quarterbacks and they run specific routes that are in the game plan.
“Generally speaking, we have several routes that a lot of guys have been doing since OTAs, but then we may have a couple of routes that are a little bit more specific to that defense. And so we try to work on the timing of those routes with the time permitted in between periods — and they stay afterward as well."
The Chiefs' most recent contest saw another shift in wide receiver playing percentage, with Watson leading the way as Valdes-Scantling's snap count dipped. Moore and Toney saw an increase in playing time from Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins.
Valdes-Scantling's snap percentage (47%) was below 50% for the first time this season. Moore played about half the snaps (51%) after seeing only a quarter of the snaps (25%) against the Dolphins. https://t.co/itFRG6aRjz— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) November 21, 2023
Nagy says the sporadic snap counts are a reflection of both the particular matchups in a game and the coaching staff continuing to evaluate their receivers’ strengths.
"It's probably a mixture of both," said Nagy. "It's one where one game based off of what we think personnel-wise we want to do — or not do. That can be whether we're in 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends), 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end), whether we decide we want to throw the ball or run them both. All of that goes into it. We take a strong look at that every week — where we're putting guys.
"It's certainly a little easier to do when you have [fewer] guys because it's those three or four guys. We have a few more guys that are a part of our wide receiver room, and so there's a little balance. [Then there’s a] juggling act on top of if somebody gets hurt — or if we, for whatever [reason], someone just ran a deep route and now it's third-and-10. They were in for this next route — but they ran two deep routes in a row [and] the next guy's up.
"It's impossible to be perfect with all of that. But I think you'll probably see throughout this season, there's probably a little bit of a fluctuation of all the guys."
At least in the building, the Chiefs aren't panicking about their wide receiver room. And at this point, past the trade deadline, who could blame them? The room is what it is.
But if the team is going to contend for conference and Super Bowl championships, those who are now in the room will need to play better.