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Re-assessing the Chiefs’ wide receivers after Kadarius Toney’s injury

For however long they may be without Toney, Kansas City’s offense has to find wideouts who can fill the void.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday’s unfortunate news from the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp was more disappointing (and frustrating) than surprising: the team’s supremely talented (and projected No. 1 wide receiver) Kadarius Toney is once again injured for an extended time.

Although head coach Andy Reid said there is “a chance” Toney could be back on the field before the team kicks off the NFL season on Thursday, September 7 against the Detroit Lions, it’s probably not something we should rely upon. In fact, getting Toney back (and maintaining his health throughout the season) is likely to feel more like an unexpected treat.

So here we are again: Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy can’t assume that Toney will have a lasting, sustainable impact in the offense. They (and quarterback Patrick Mahomes) must develop an offensive approach that can be productive with or without Toney.

Which wide receivers could be part of that approach?

The second-round picks

The first two players who come to mind as potential breakout playmakers are both second-round selections from recent draft classes: Skyy Moore and Rashee Rice. Thus far, both have stood out during training camp.

Rice and Moore present different strengths and skill sets, which will help the offense have more variety.

With another offseason under his belt, we should expect Moore to be featured as the team’s primary slot receiver. He’s quick with his releases at the line of scrimmage (and in out-of-route breaks), making it very challenging for defensive backs to maintain tight coverage.

While Rice carries the disadvantage of being a true rookie learning an NFL offense for the first time, he is displaying a game built around mental processing, body control at the catch point, strong hands and physicality. He projects to give Mahomes a bigger, trustworthy target on back-shoulder throws and in the red zone — and will be able to use his head to find soft spots in zone coverage so he can sit in open windows.

Going into the season, Moore and Rice were considered to be among those who would headline the 2024 depth chart in their position group. But now, these young playmakers will have to step up and shine sooner.

The returning veterans

Kansas City Chiefs Offseason Workout Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Speaking of the depth chart...

The player currently leading the pack is sixth-year speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling — the hero of last season’s AFC Championship.

It’s clear what he brings to the roster: he is the team’s best deep threat — and while he doesn’t display the prowess in intermediate routes (or consistency with his hands) to be an elite receiver, he does seem to have a propensity for coming up big in critical moments.

While we probably shouldn’t expect Valdes-Scantling to have a major leap in production, he will likely continue to be a steady, viable deep threat for which defenses must account on every play. That’s worth something.

Then there’s Justin Watson. Also entering his sixth season (his second in Kansas City), he might best be described as a player who wins in much the same way Valdes-Scantling does — just not as consistently. He will almost certainly make the 53-man roster. While some fans are likely to be (irrationally) upset about that, he’ll probably do just fine in the limited offensive role he will have alongside his duties on special teams.

Both players will have their ups and downs. Both will have value as downfield playmakers. But we shouldn’t expect either to be the next 1,000-yard pass-catcher behind tight end Travis Kelce.

Wild cards

The unproven section of the depth chart includes Richie James and Justyn Ross.

Early on, James has been a camp standout. At Sunday’s open practice session, his athletic ability stood out. After he collected 569 receiving yards as a member of the New York Giants (while catching passes from quarterback Daniel Jones), the possibility of an uptick while playing with a future Hall of Famer like Mahomes cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Justyn Ross is probably the young player with the largest cheering section in Chiefs Kingdom. The fact that he is getting repetitions with the first and second-team offenses is encouraging — but now, he has to make the most of those opportunities. It’s likely that the coaching staff wants to give Ross many early chances to show what he can do before making a final decision in late August. Put simply, Ross will sink or swim. Based on old college film, Ross clearly has starter-level potential. But right now, that’s all it is: potential. We can only hope to see it fulfilled.

The bottom line

My (optimistic) intuition says that Toney will make it back sooner rather than later — and even if he misses a couple of games this season, I believe he’ll be there when it matters most: in the postseason, where he can create history-shifting plays like he did in Super Bowl LVII.

But if it doesn’t work out that way, look for tight end Travis Kelce to continue leading the overall receiving group — with production assistance from fellow tight ends Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. A deep, young and balanced wide receiver room should be led with contributions from Moore, Rice, Valdes-Scantling — and other supporting characters.

Ho-hum. With Mahomes and Reid, the Chiefs’ offense will continue to churn along.

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