ST. JOSEPH, Missouri. — Patrick Mahomes played just one possession in last Saturday’s preseason opener, but for the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, the 11-play touchdown drive was an eye-opener on how he will operate this season without the leading wide receiver during long Tyreek Hill. Each of Mahomes’ six completions went to a different receiver.
“I think it’s going to be a lot like this this year,” Mahomes said. “It’s going to come from everywhere. It’s going to be hard for teams to plan the game. Obviously, Travis [Kelce] he will probably have a lot of catches. That’s how he is. Other than that, he’s going to come from the whole group, and I think the guys embraced that and know that any time they call his number, they’re going to play. And if the other guy makes the move, they’ll be happy for him. That’s what you want on a team and as an offense.”
How the Chiefs plan to fill Hill’s role on offense has been a big question this offseason. Hill saw 25% of Kansas City’s goals last season, the highest 12-team share in the league according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Mahomes has spread the ball around in training camp, with Kelce getting a large share of the targets and JuJu Smith-Schuster being the most consistent producer among wide receivers. The other top receivers on the depth chart are Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman and rookie Skyy Moore.
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Smith-Schuster and Moore sat out last week’s opening series against the Chicago Bears on Saturday, a 19-14 loss. Valdes-Scantling, Hardman, Kelce, fullback Michael Burton, running back Isiah Pacheco and tight end Blake Bell caught a pass from Mahomes, with Bell catching a 5-yard touchdown to cap the 72-yard drive.
The Chiefs took a look at some of their backup receivers in practice this week, with Smith-Schuster sidelined with a sore knee and Hardman taken off the field Wednesday with a groin injury. Justin Watson, who caught 23 passes in four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, caught a touchdown pass against the Bears from third quarterback Shane Buechele.
“We have a deep group of wide receivers,” Kelce said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can fly down the field, and we’ve got some guys that play physical football. That’s what you want from the wide receiver group, guys that will be able to block in the running game.” and guys that are going to be able to come up and make plays when the ball is in the air.
“The kind of players that are here, we can do so much with it that it’s like ‘pick your poison.'”
Smith-Schuster ran the vast majority of his routes the past two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a slot receiver, but he lined up in a variety of receiving spots this preseason before his injury. He said he believes that will make him a more prolific receiver than he was in Pittsburgh. He caught just 15 passes in five games last season but had 97 receptions in 2020.
“I’ve run more routes here than my previous offense,” Smith-Schuster said. “At the end of the day, it’s just going to be seen by the offense that I’m on right now. I didn’t have to come here and ask for anything. The playbook is meant for everyone to know everyone’s position.”
Smith-Schuster is one of two free-agent wide receivers signed by the Chiefs to help replace Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins this offseason. Valdés-Scantling is the other, who arrives after four seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
The Valdes-Scantling camp has had more ups and downs than we’ve seen at Smith-Schuster. He had some big catches, but he also dropped several passes. Mahomes threw two passes his way in Chicago, and Valdes-Scantling had a catch for 11 yards.
“Anyone can have the ball at any time,” he said. “He’s very explosive. We pass the ball a lot, and obviously as a receiver, I’m going to love that… Obviously, Patrick is one of those guys that can make any shot. It gives you some freedom to work on some things. Obviously, him and Kelce have been doing it the longest here. You learn a lot from those guys about how they see things, how they run routes, how they open up, how they find different holes in defenses, what he likes and how soon he reads it.”
However, Hardman is the only one of Mahomes’ main receiving group to have received a pass from him in a regular-season game. He caught a pass for nine yards in Chicago and has appeared in a variety of ways in camp, including on reverses and screen passes.
The Chiefs have also used him several times at quarterback for the Wildcat formation.
“It takes me back to my high school days,” said Hardman, who was once a high school quarterback at Georgia. “I think I’m kind of familiar with that.”
So how will the receiving roles play out once the season begins? It’s still a work in progress, but when everyone has been healthy thus far, Valdes-Scantling and Hardman have been Mahomes’ main targets on the field, which is unsurprising given their speed, with Smith-Schuster joining Kelce as the main recipients. on shorter routes. And you can expect everyone to look at each other in this hillless offense.