The Chiefs’ receiving corps looks a lot different, and their schedule starts off with a punishing set of opponents. Last season, Kansas City used motion on an NFL-high 808 snaps, which indicates that they have lots of wrinkles in their playbook, so it could take some time for the overhauled WR group to get up to speed.
On the plus side, K.C. still has the same superstar at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes had the second-best passer rating on quick passes (115.8 on throws made in under 2.5 seconds) and led the league with a 73.8 completion percentage against the blitz. Computer Vision shows that of Mahomes’ nine interceptions on short passes (0-9 air yards), five were unlucky. (He only had four such picks in his career prior to 2021.)
While the new pass catchers — namely Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and second-round pick Skyy Moore — will have a learning curve in this system, one huge connection remains constant: Mahomes to Travis Kelce. On short passes, the tight end racked up 634 yards (most among NFL pass catchers) with eight touchdowns (second-most). His 693 yards and five TDs from the slot both ranked in the top five.
Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are optimistic that they can sign Brown long-term, but one hurdle is Brown is between agents. It’s believed he’s in the process of trying to hire one now. But as of now, this is similar to the Jackson situation; no agent means the process can play out slowly.
Still, nobody is overly worried here. Kansas City has two-plus months to get something done. Brown made a Pro Bowl in his first year with Kansas City after it gave up serious draft capital to acquire him from Baltimore last offseason. Such an equation usually results in a long-term deal.
For the upcoming season, Kansas City is favored to take home the AFC West title once again. If they were to do this, they’d extend their record of dominance over the division.
Here’s a look at the latest betting odds on AFC West division winners from Tipico:
Kansas City Chiefs+155
Los Angeles Chargers+240
Even though the offseason narrative has been that AFC West teams have closed the gap, oddsmakers are hesitant to give anyone the edge over Kansas City. This time last season, the Broncos were a distant second behind the Chiefs. This time, it’s Los Angeles that is closest in odds to K.C., but Denver is a close third. While Las Vegas is a distant fourth, they’ve seemingly improved their odds from last season as well (+1600).
WR Justyn Ross
After the neck injury, I didn’t expect Justyn Ross to ever be the same player he was when he was considered a future first-round draft choice. Now that he has returned to full health (or at least as close as it’s going to get for him), I half expected the Clemson wide receiver to go off the board somewhere in the fifth or sixth round.
Instead, Ross went undrafted and later signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. At 6’3 5/8” and 210 pounds, Ross has size and length that can’t be taught. While his 31.5” vertical and 4.64 40-yard dash were very underwhelming, he’s still a natural football player who could not only prove to be worthy of a roster spot, but also a fairly significant role in the NFL.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick Now: Austin Ekeler, RB, Western Colorado
The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t trade up in this redraft. Didn’t land the quarterback who would lead them to their first championship in half a century.
It’s really quite sad.
Still, at least the Chiefs have an opportunity to add a versatile, talented offensive weapon for Alex Smith—by drafting a player who slipped past every team and all 253 draft picks.
After playing at Western Colorado, Austin Ekeler was an afterthought to NFL teams in 2017. Now he’s one of the most dangerous dual-threat running backs in the league. Ekeler has yet to run for 1,000 yards in a season, but the 27-year-old did just set a personal best with 911 yards.
More importantly, Ekeler has topped 50 catches each of the last three seasons, including 92 grabs in 2019 and 70 a year ago. He also surpassed 1,500 total yards in two separate seasons and exploded for 20 total touchdowns in 2021.
That he wasn’t named a Pro Bowler last year says a lot more about the selection process for that game than it does Ekeler as a player.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs
Been there, done that—that’s what Smith-Schuster should tell all the doubters. Just look at his consensus draft ranking (WR25) and he’s even lower in ADP (overall 95.4, WR 38.5). That’s crazy! So on one hand Patrick Mahomes is the consensus QB2 or QB3, right? He threw for 4,839 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, in what most would consider a down year or at best, an average season. Let’s give 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns to Travis Kelce, so that leaves us 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns left to spread around. You’re telling me that’s mostly going to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore and Clyde Edwards-Helaire? C’mon now.
Tyreek Hill’s trade to Miami vacated 111 receptions on 159 targets for 1,239 yards and nine TDs. While Smith-Schuster will be four years removed from his breakout 2018 season, we can’t just ignore Mahomes, the WR depth chart and the productivity of the Chiefs compared to the Steelers.
Considering the cost of his draft capital as a late eighth-round option, Smith-Schuster might be the WR5 on your roster. If he flops, your second-best bench WR didn’t pan out. If he hits, well, we’ve already seen what he can do when he posted 111-1,426-7 back in 2018. And mind you, that was when he was playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown. Let defenses double Kelce and JJSS will eat out of the slot.
Around the NFL
“The Buffalo community, they think highly of the Buffalo Bills, and so it is our job and our role to be here for the community, to be out here and be reachable, to be able to have these conversations,” running back and special teams captain Taiwan Jones said. “And in a moment like this the most important thing is just to show love. So, we wanted to come out here and just love on people, show people that we care, we feel for you.”
Bills players, coaches, front office members and other staff, along with members of the NHL Buffalo Sabres and National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits, came to the neighborhood in tour buses. They wore black T-shirts that read, “Choose Love.” They left bouquets of flowers at a shrine, served chicken alfredo for 750 people with the help of local chef Darian Bryan and World Central Kitchen, and passed out groceries.
Colts: Over 9.5
Matt Ryan may be past his prime, but he still gives Indy a quality arm a year after they had a playoff berth in sight. Despite the QB shuffle, Frank Reich has won at least nine games in three of his four seasons on the job. With a red-hot Jonathan Taylor and quietly upgraded defense, they should be able to feast on a cakewalk schedule out of the AFC South.
Browns: Under 9.5
They’ve spent like they’re on the verge of a Super Bowl, and certainly Deshaun Watson’s arrival marks an upgrade at QB, with Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper giving them Grade-A supplementary weapons. But how long will Jacoby Brissett be manning QB with Watson likely to be suspended? Neither the Bengals, Ravens nor Steelers will be pushovers in that division, either.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
As described by head coach Andy Reid, the 22-year-old was “knocking the rust off” during the team’s recent three-day rookie minicamp after he missed Clemson’s 2020 season due to spinal surgery and his final college go in 2021 ended early due to a foot injury.
Recently, Ross’ college coach, Dabo Swinney, spoke to reporters about what he expected for Ross on NFL Draft weekend.
“I knew he could be anywhere from fourth round to free agent,” Swinney told reporters, according to ClemsonSports.com’s Matt Connolly. “I didn’t know that only four teams actually cleared him medically. That’s a pretty small group... He’s super excited about the opportunity that he has. If he stays healthy, he belongs and the rest will take care of itself.”
Swinney may have unintentionally broke a little news — the fact that only four teams in the NFL were comfortable enough for Ross to take the field. Still, the longtime Clemson coach is high on Ross, one of the key players in the 2018 national title win over Alabama.
“I mean he’s Justyn Ross,” Swinney added. “There’s no questions about Justyn Ross when it comes to playing football. But there’s obvious questions when it comes to, ‘OK, where is he health wise?’ He broke his foot. Obviously he missed all that time with surgical procedures in his neck and back area. He’ll do just fine. If the good lord keeps him healthy, football will come easy for him.”
The hope for the Chiefs echoes Swinney’s notion — that as Ross gets healthy, he may be able to turn back the clock to his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he combined for 112 catches for 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns in 28 games.
A tweet to make you think
It's that time of the week: what's your most unpopular #Chiefs take of the moment?— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) May 18, 2022