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ESPN ranks Chiefs’ offensive weapons 19th in the league

Reacting to Bill Barnwell’s annual rankings.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell released his annual offensive weapons rankings, which take away the quarterback and instead look at each team’s group of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.

According to Barnwell, the Kansas City Chiefs dropped from No. 16 entering the 2022 season to No. 19 with this year’s team. When they still had wide receiver Tyreek Hill (2021), he had them at sixth in the NFL.

The San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles rank first to third, respectively, with the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 5, Las Vegas Raiders at No. 11 and the Denver Broncos at No. 24.

In this post, I’ll react with some thoughts to Barnwell’s notes on the Chiefs.

No. 19: Kansas City Chiefs

BARNWELL: Here’s the last of the teams built around one star pass-catcher, because he’s the best of the bunch. Travis Kelce benefits from playing with Patrick Mahomes, but anyone who has played even casual attention to the Chiefs over the last few seasons has seen Kelce routinely get himself open and create after the catch on a weekly basis. I ranked him as the second-best tight end of all time, and after becoming the first tight end in 50 years to top 1,000 yards in his age-33 season, it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down.

Many wonder about “life after Kelce” — and for a good reason. There’s simply nobody like him in the league. Fortunately for the Chiefs, the future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end said he is not considering retirement anytime soon, and he happens to play a position in which, historically, solid production can be sustained as players push into their mid-30s. Barnwell makes no mention of Noah Gray or Jody Fortson in this piece, which may end up being a mistake. I tend to think that Gray and Fortson are hiding in plain sight from a national standpoint, thanks to Kelce’s prominent shadow.

BARNWELL: The Chiefs also found an upgrade at running back last year in Isiah Pacheco, who gave them the power back they needed to challenge teams that tried to face them with light boxes. Jerick McKinnon also stepped up as a receiver and became an unlikely threat near the red zone, more than doubled his career totals by putting up nine receiving touchdowns. McKinnon’s knees likely limit him to a change-of-pace role, but his partnership with Pacheco represents a major improvement on the limp style of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Pacheco comes off a bit underrated in this offering, as he nearly reached 1,000 rushing yards (830) after not earning the starting role until around Week 7. He added another 197 rushing yards in the playoffs, and there is a developing aspect to his story regarding the passing game. Having Jerick McKinnon back in the fold and Clyde Edwards-Helaire healthy are both good things, and I think undrafted rookie Deneric Prince also carves out a role. I’m not sure Pacheco rivals any of the true bell cows that remain in the league — such as Derrick Henry or Saquon Barkley — but I do think the Chiefs present one of the higher-upside committees. With Pacheco entering his first full year as the starter, perhaps folks won’t realize that until next year’s edition.

BARNWELL: So why did the Chiefs fall back from their 16th-place finish? The wide receiver depth chart is even sketchier. The nominal top wideout at the moment is Kadarius Toney, who has played 70% or more of the offensive snaps exactly once in two NFL seasons. Skyy Moore, a second-rounder last year, failed to make an impact before scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. While the Chiefs added another second-round wideout in Rashee Rice, they lost two regulars in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.

Of course, Mahomes will do just fine with one of the league’s worst wide receiver depth charts, given that he just won MVP with a slightly better group a year ago. Outside of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, this is a young group, and there’s a chance that Toney, Moore or even Justyn Ross emerges as a No. 1 receiver. As long as Kelce is Kelce, the Chiefs will be fine. If he were to decline or suffer an injury, or if they didn’t have Mahomes to conduct the orchestra for any period of time, this would look like an underwhelming set of wide receivers.

This criticism is fair from Barnwell, especially when it comes to Toney. I believe the team when they say that Toney can be a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL (we’ve seen flashes when he feels right). What also helps the Chiefs’ weaponry as a whole is that “No. 1 wide receiver” really means “No. 2 option” in Kansas City, at least until Kelce does finally decide to call it quits. Like Barnwell, I am far less convinced Toney can stay on the field for an entire season.

Others will need to step up in the games where the Chiefs don’t have Toney active. Look no further than the second half of the Super Bowl to see how critical a reliable target after Kelce such as JuJu Smith-Schuster is for Mahomes. So if it’s not Toney, who could it be? I see Moore to take a significant step forward this year — and it sounds as though Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid do, too. Given Toney’s injury history, I have said on these pages that I like Moore’s chances of breaking out for a 1,000-yard season.

With no proven weapon beyond Kelce, Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s second season in Kansas City will be important. Justin Watson and Richie James provide the Chiefs a bit of security, considering they have previously produced in the NFL. It’s early, but I get the feeling Rice will be a greater factor in 2024 than in 2023. It appears the Justyn Ross hype has reached Barnwell, but I’m still not convinced he makes the 53-man-roster.

The bottom line

The dings at the wide receiver position from Barnwell are reasonable, and when you take Mahomes out of the equation, the fact that it’s a room with so many unproven commodities means the Chiefs should be in that middle-of-the-league ballpark on these rankings.

But for me, they are closer to last year’s ranking at No. 16 or even No. 15 than the bottom 20.

Regardless, these are (obviously) just rankings.

As Barnwell was sure to mention, Mahomes just won the Most Valuable Player award, having moved on from a 1,700-yard receiver. When the Chiefs face injuries, Reid pulls magic out of his playbook to put the players who are active in a favorable position to win.

And hey, maybe the Chiefs are 19th when it comes to offensive weapons; as of Monday, they are still favored to win a second straight Super Bowl title.

Do you agree with Barnwell? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

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