The 2022 offseason saw the Kansas City Chiefs overhaul their entire wide receiver room, with the exception of Mecole Hardman. Letting the likes of Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Josh Gordon go didn't seem all that significant, but when you add in the trade of All-Pro Tyreek Hill, Chiefs fans had a reason for concern.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his team quickly addressed the need by signing JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson in free agency. They also drafted Skyy Moore in the second round of the draft and later in the year traded for Kadarius Toney.
Trading Hill shifted the Chiefs' offense from one featuring explosive deep passes to a more methodical approach. The latter allowed quarterback Patrick Mahomes to demonstrate how great and efficient he could be in and out of the pocket.
Most people expected the Chiefs to show a significant dropoff in offensive production from 2021 to 2022. With that big of an overhaul to the receiver room, the idea was understandable, but Mahomes and the scheme of mastermind head coach Andy Reid mitigated the gaps. Passing yards to wide receivers were 2,764 in 2021 compared to 2,653 in 2022. That is only a 111-yard reduction in production from the receivers. It's even more impressive, given not one receiver had over 1,000 yards.
Ahead of the 2023 season, we have seen change again. The Chiefs let Smith-Schuster and Hardman walk in free agency — losing their top wideout in production from last year, as well as their longest-tenured player at the position.
The outlook in 2023
The Chiefs typically only carry six wideouts. As of now, it seems like five receivers are locked in to make the team, with a battle going on to lock up the sixth spot. Valdes-Scantling, Moore, Toney and Watson should all return for their second season, with second-round pick Rashee Rice also making the initial 53-man roster.
Free agent signees Richie James and John Ross — along with last year's undrafted free agent Justyn Ross — are the prominent names you hear with potential for that final roster spot. As much as many would like to see Justyn Ross win the job, it will likely go to James.
So what are the realistic expectations for the Chiefs' wide receivers entering the upcoming season?
The Chiefs traded for Toney right at the trade deadline. He played in only seven games, as he was limited due to injuries. Reports are that the coaching staff is high on Toney and believes the former first-round pick can be the go-to receiver. In his limited time with the Chiefs last season, he had 14 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Nothing about those numbers jumps off the page, but the reason for excitement comes from the tape. Reid will be creative in getting Toney the ball from traditional routes, quick screens and jet sweeps. The biggest question surrounding Toney is whether he can stay on the field. Until it's proven that he can, the expectations have to be tempered.
Prediction: 70 receptions, 857 yards and seven touchdowns
Vlades-Scantling was signed to be that receiver that could continue to stretch the field for the big plays and keep defenses honest with his speed. He did a solid job at that, averaging 16.4 yards a catch. That average could have been better, but he and Mahomes seem to struggle to be able to connect at times.
Mahomes' completion percentage when targeting Valdes-Scantling was around 50%, only completing 42 passes on 81 targets. The biggest problem with Valdes-Scantling is what has haunted him his whole career: untimely drops. He managed to haul in 42 catches for 687 yards but only found the end zone 2 times. While I expect the completion percentage to improve when Valdes is targeted, I do expect his targets to drop.
Prediction: 45 receptions, 668 yards and five touchdowns
Expectations were high with Moore selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Most people forgot that rookies tend to get brought along slowly in Reid's offense. There was no exception for Moore.
Moore was only targeted 33 times and pulled in 22 receptions for 250 yards and 0 touchdowns. Moore showed flashes, and I expect him to be a consistent chain mover in 2023 and take a big step forward in production.
Prediction: 72 receptions, 815 yards and six touchdowns
I was surprised to see Watson signed back so early in the offseason. Looking back at last season, he did everything the Chiefs asked. His 15 receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns do not give the full picture of what he brought to the team.
Watson did the dirty work in run blocking. He also fielded punts when the Chiefs need someone sure-handed back there. He also made some big catches at times. I do not see him adding much more production than what he did last year to the receiving game, but he delivers when needed.
Prediction: 18 receptions, 356 yards and two touchdowns
The rookie out of SMU will get brought along slowly, as most rookies in Reid's offense do. However, I really think Rice will make a case early for more snaps, especially in the red zone. The Chiefs have lacked his size and skill in an outside receiver since Sammy Watkins left the team.
If Rice can grasp the playbook and scheme early, he may surprise many and force his way onto the field.
Prediction: 38 receptions, 549 yards and five touchdowns
The bottom line
The Chiefs lack a big-name receiver, with national media downplaying the wide receiver unit for the second straight season. Last year, Mahomes proved he could make his receiver group play at a high level, and I expect him to do that once again.
We all know there is no better coach than Reid at putting players in the best position to succeed. If my predictions are correct, that means Mahomes will pass for at least 3,245 yards — and 25 touchdowns to receivers.
This group may lack that 1,000-yard receiver this year, but it will produce.