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Patrick Mahomes: Justyn Ross has ‘stepped up whenever his number is called’

It’s likely that all of Kansas City Chiefs’ receivers will be productive this year — but one of them is turning heads.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Second-round rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice had a very good night as the Kansas City Chiefs turned in a 38-10 walloping of the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday, leading the team with eight receptions (on nine targets) for 96 yards.

But a significant part of that was simply that he was on the field more often. He led all pass-catchers with 39% of the game’s offensive snaps. Afterwards, head coach Andy Reid denied there had been a special plan in place to get him the ball more often.

“His number just got dialed up,” explained Reid. “But he’s a good football player — and has had a nice camp for us. He can return punts, too, so he gives you a lot of flexibility there.”

According to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, that’s exactly what we should expect from the team’s wide receiving corps in 2023: whoever is on the field is going to produce.

“I was telling you back [in] OTAs that I could see the talent one-through-nine [or] ten,” he told reporters after the game. “We have guys throughout the entire roster that were making plays [tonight]. You saw guys that went down with injuries that weren’t able to play this week that made plays last week. Then you saw other guys step right in and make plays.

“I think that shows we have a lot of depth in that receiving room. It’s a good problem to have because [of] the numbers; you have to find that right group in that room to get on the roster.

“But I have confidence in all [of] those guys. We’re rotating them in, giving them chances — and [they’re] stepping up whenever the moment is the brightest.”

Late in the first quarter, one of those bright moments came for the team’s second-year undrafted free agent wide receiver Justyn Ross, who technically remains a rookie after sitting out his first season with an injury.

Following two unsuccessful offensive drives to open the game, the Chiefs were facing a third-and-4 at their own 39-yard line. After he had left Arizona’s rookie cornerback Kei’Trel Clark wondering what had just happened, Mahomes found Ross for a 12-yard gain that moved Kansas City into enemy territory for the first time — and helped set up the team’s first touchdown.

“It was a good play, we wanted to get him singled up and see what he can do,” said Mahomes of Ross’ catch. “He’s been making those happen all training camp — I think you’ve all seen that. We had a slant-and-return play-call; it’s a lot of trust in him that he’s going to win [that assignment]. He ran a great route, lost the defensive back, caught the ball and got up the field after the catch.

“So he’s got a lot of talent; we’ve said it. [He’s] a rookie. [We’re] throwing him out there and giving him chances — and he’s stepped up whenever his number has been called.”

But in Mahomes’ view, Ross is one of the team’s unique wideouts.

“He’s a different receiver [compared to] anyone else,” he noted, “with how big he is, how fluid he is and how he can catch the football.”

When Ross was first signed to the team after the 2022 NFL Draft, it was reasonable to wonder if he would ever become an effective player at the next level. Even now, his surgically-corrected congenital spinal condition still has the potential to end his career prematurely. That’s why no NFL team wanted to invest a draft pick in him — and why only a handful of teams even cleared him medically.

But all of that said, Mahomes’ comments (and what we saw not only on Saturday, but throughout training camp) make it clear that the talent Ross displayed during his first two seasons at Clemson wasn’t an illusion — and could very well translate into a productive NFL career.

Uncertainty still surrounds this young man. But at least two things about Ross are certain: he’s a brave, tough player — and many fans are watching him carefully.

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