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What we learned about Chiefs’ wide receivers in New Orleans

In the first preseason game, a number of new Kansas City wideouts lived up to the hype.

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

“Preseason doesn't count — but it matters,” noted former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green during Sunday’s broadcast of the team’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. While these games don’t have any impact on the regular season, we do get some pieces of information that matter.

And how the Chiefs used their wide receivers on Sunday seems noteworthy.

The hype surrounding wideouts Rashee Rice, Justyn Ross and Skyy Moore has been building all summer. While all three have had strong performances in training camp, it was veteran Richie James — another new wide receiver — who had the first big offensive play against New Orleans.

Richie James

Since the team signed him in March, James’ speed, special teams acumen and veteran presence have seemed to make him a lock for the team’s roster. After the Chiefs lost Mecole Hardman to free agency, James feels like a logical replacement. (He’s even wearing Hardman’s old No. 17 jersey).

While James was with the New York Giants, he was known for his reliable hands; Next Gen Stats named him the NFL’s most reliable pass-catcher in the 2022 season.

Those strong catch skills were on display on his second catch in Sunday’s game: a deep touchdown reception from second-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Rashee Rice

The second-round rookie also had some nice plays in New Orleans. While he was limited to just three catches for 30 yards, his usage was encouraging. Two of his catches came in the slot, while his third (showing some nice after-the-catch skills) came on a screen on the outside.

Rice not only had first-team reps with Patrick Mahomes (who was on the field for just six plays) but also played into the third quarter, leading all Kansas City receivers on the day. This might point to the Chiefs focusing on giving him more playing time than other rookie wideouts.

Justyn Ross

As if the hype train for the former Clemson star needed any more steam, Ross made some big plays on Sunday; he made the most of his two catches for 29 yards as he scored the team’s second touchdown on the day.

It was Ross’ first game since 2021 — and after numerous surgeries. The most recent of those delayed the start of his Chiefs career for a season. Ross was targeted five times — and also seemed to win several reps where he wasn’t targeted.

The bottom line

Since Kadarius Toney was injured at the start of training camp, the wide receiver room has had a clear top three: Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Moore and Justin Watson have received the lion’s share of the first-team snaps.

But the next group — Ross, Rice and James — have also been mixing in with the first team. Was the hype surrounding these players real — or has it just been the heat in St. Joseph getting to us?

But after some nice plays from all three on Sunday, it seems like they are on pace to be catching passes from Mahomes this season.

It’s important to know, however, that tight end Travis Kelce wasn’t targeted — and injured running back Isiah Pacheco and wide receiver Kadarius Toney didn’t play. All three will also be targets for the first-team offense.

But Rice, Ross and James’s performances should make Kansas City fans feel a little more confident as we approach the team’s Week 1 game against the Detroit Lions.

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