clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Chiefs keeping 7 wide receivers was good news for Kadarius Toney

By adding depth at the position, Kansas City may have found a way to use the wideout in exactly the right way.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid said that both wide receiver Kadarius Toney and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed would be “good to go” for Thursday night’s NFL season opener against the Detroit Lions.

The team entered free agency in March hopeful to keep wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. But even before the two officially left Kansas City in free agency, the Chiefs were confident that Toney could be the team’s legitimate No. 1 wide receiver.

Just the same, Kansas City continued to build up its wide receiver depth by signing veteran Richie James from the New York Giants and drafting former SMU wideout Rashee Rice in the second round of the NFL Draft. The team also had Justyn Ross (who spent his rookie season on injured reserve) in its back pocket.

On the very first day of training camp, however, Toney didn’t even complete warmups before sustaining a knee injury that would require surgery. For Chiefs fans, this felt like confirmation: Toney could never be on the field enough to be Patrick Mahomes’ second-best weapon behind tight end Travis Kelce. While Toney has flashed elite potential, he’s never been consistently available.

But as strange as it may seem, losing Toney for the whole preseason might have been a blessing in disguise.

Strength in numbers

Before the 2022 preseason, Kansas City had four new wide receivers: Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and Justin Watson. All of them needed to build rapport with Mahomes.

This — combined with the offense’s steep learning curve — led to a very quiet rookie season for Moore. In 2023, team brought in just two new receivers: James and Rice. Valdez-Scantling, Watson, Moore and Toney (who picked up the offense quickly after his mid-season trade) were already comfortable in the scheme — and while Ross hadn’t yet played, he had a year in the system. James, Rice and Ross were already going to get plenty of opportunities to shine in the preseason — and with Toney out, they would get even more.

“We have different types of receivers,” said Kansas City general manager Brett Veach last week, “whether they are guys like Richie James that handle a bunch of stuff with the return game, [or] Ross who’s a size guy. We lost Jody [Fortson] — that was someone Coach always had packages in for short yardage and red zone — but I don’t think there is ever a shortcoming in creativity with our coaches. We have a talented deep receiving core. They’re all different in their ways, and Coach just does a great job of trying to maximize what they can do and implementing packages for guys.”

When he’s healthy, Toney brings a rare combination of speed, agility and ball tracking to the Chiefs’ offense. When he’s not, the team can count on getting various elements of his game from other receivers on the roster. James and Valdes-Scantling bring speed to the table, while Rice and Moore bring agility and after-the-catch yardage. Ross brings ball-tracking and contested catch ability.

So the Chiefs have essentially made their pass-catchers Toney-proof. If he misses games, they still have the depth and skillsets to overcome his loss.

While it has been easy to get frustrated with Toney’s injuries, he’s been worth it on the field. Even though he was in the championship game for a total of eight snaps, there’s a strong argument to be made that Kansas City wouldn’t have won Super Bowl LVII without his contributions.

With the wide receiver depth the Chiefs now possess, they can not only protect him from injury by giving him fewer snaps, but also concentrate his use on plays designed just for him. Toney can be a true wild card — similar to Tyreek Hill during his rookie season.

And if he’s not available, Kansas City has the players available to keep the chains moving — and the touchdowns coming.

NEW: Join Arrowhead Pride Premier

If you love Arrowhead Pride, you won’t want to miss Pete Sweeney in your inbox each week as he delivers deep analysis and insights on the Chiefs' path to the Super Bowl.