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AFC West Wednesday: Projecting 2022 Chiefs’ Wide Receivers

Perhaps no position group on the Chiefs’ roster has seen such a major shakeup as the wide receiver group this season. Sure, the defense is entirely re-made. The Chiefs spent seven of their ten draft picks on defense. Last year, the defense was poor and was the presumptive top focus as we entered the offseason.

To spend seven draft selections on the defense, the Chiefs had to trade one of their “big three” in Tyreek Hill. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill made up a lethal trio of offensive weapons that led the Chiefs to four consecutive AFC Championship games and ultimately culminated in their Super Bowl 54 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

In trading Hill, Kansas City recouped an incredible haul of draft picks that helped them to reshape their defense with top picks in their 2022 draft class. What the trade has also done is reshape a mostly consistent group of wide receivers. Tyreek Hill has been the Chiefs’ top wideout for the entire Patrick Mahomes era. Behind him, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson have all also been in the fold for the bulk of Mahomes’s time in Kansas City. As we enter 2022, only Hardman remains from that group.

How does the wide receiver corps project as we enter 2022?

With The Departure Of Hill, The Chiefs May Not Be Replacing The Version Of Hill You Remember Most

Since the Tyreek Hill trade, the biggest question has been how the Chiefs will replace Tyreek Hill in their offense. Without Tyreek Hill, who becomes Patrick Mahomes’s deep threat? The first point I’ll make is the most important: no one is replacing Tyreek Hill. Hill is a generational talent at wide receiver. No one can match his acceleration, and no one will impact the game in the same manner.

Second, it’s important to understand how much of a “deep threat” Hill has been for the Chiefs. Since 2018, Hill’s yards per reception mark has declined every year. When Mahomes took the league by storm in 2018 with over 5,000 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns, Hill averaged 17 yards per reception. Last season, that number was down to 11.2 yards per reception.

Since 2018, Hill has transitioned quietly from a deep threat that can score on any given play to a volume receiver catching more over the middle, intermediate passes (and can still score on any given play). The home run potential was capped with the two-high Safety defensive looks, and the Chiefs were happy to utilize Hill differently. This change led to Hill breaking the Chiefs’ single-season receptions record, with 111 in 2021.

The Chiefs’ new number one receiver doesn’t need to be the same Tyreek Hill that Chiefs fans are remembering from Super Bowl 54.

One Key Chiefs Addition This Offseason Fits The New Number One Receiver Role Perfectly

The Chiefs signed Juju Smith-Schuster to a one-year contract this offseason, worth up to $10.75 million. Since entering the league in 2017, Smith-Schuster has been one of the league’s premier slot weapons. When Juju burst on the scene as a rookie in 2017, he was a 21-year-old playing alongside Antonio Brown with a much stronger-armed version of Ben Roethlisberger behind center.

Many Chiefs fans might forget that Juju supplanted Antonio Brown as the top receiving option in Pittsburgh in his sophomore 2018 season. That season saw Smith-Schuster lead the Steelers in receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,426) and ultimately was a driving factor in Brown’s eventual trade out of Pittsburgh.

Juju Smith-Schuster has already been a number one weapon and flourished in that role in the NFL. There are zero reasons to believe he couldn’t do the same again in Kansas City. Since 2018, the production has dipped for Smith-Schuster. He’s faced some injury (he played just five games in 2021) but also played with a much different quarterback behind center.

2019 saw Big Ben get injured, and Smith-Schuster played much of the year with Mason Rudolph. Once Roethlisberger returned in 2020, his arm was showing clear signs of age. After playing much of his career with a 7.00 or higher net yards per attempt, Ben threw for just 5.67 net yards per attempt over his final 33 games in the NFL. Most of Smith-Schuster’s dip in production can be attributed to quarterback play and injury, not his talent on the field.

Projecting The Chiefs’ Wide Receiver Room For 2022 And Their Season Statlines

The Chiefs should carry at least six wideouts in 2022, with four locks to make the roster. Juju, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, and rookie Skyy Moore should be seen as “locks” to start the season. Outside of injury, there is no reality that will keep those four out of the top four spots on the depth chart. Behind them, the Chiefs have some options.

Josh Gordon remains under contract for the Chiefs and will return next season. 2021 5th-round pick, Cornell Powell, should also get a fair look in Preseason with an opportunity to make the roster. Gehrig Dieter enters his fifth season with Kansas City next year. Dieter has failed to carve out a role in recent years but could be a special-teams option.

Corey Coleman, Daurice Fountain, Gary Jennings, Matthew Sexton, Justin Watson, and rookie Justyn Ross round out the list of possible wide receiver options next season. Fountain has the edge over the rest of that group simply based on the fact that he has been around the team, knows the offense the best, and has appeared in games for Kansas City already. Undrafted free agent Justyn Ross brings the most upside but has major injury concerns and may need to start on the practice squad.

Projecting The 2022 Chiefs Wide Receiver Group And Their Stat Lines:

Patrick Mahomes threw the football a career-high 658 times in 2021. I expect the Chiefs to finish somewhere near that mark again next season. Travis Kelce has averaged 138 targets over the past three seasons and shouldn’t see many dips in his production next season. The running backs will have their fair share of targets, as will other tight ends on the roster. Last season, those players accounted for 140 targets. We will expect that number to remain more or less the same in 2022.

With those foundations in place, this leaves 380 targets for the remaining wide receivers on the Chiefs roster. Here’s what you can expect from the group in 2022:

  1. Juju Smith-Schuster – 145 targets, 101 receptions, 1,414 yards, ten touchdowns

  2. Mecole Hardman – 90 targets, 64 receptions, 766 yards, seven touchdowns

  3. Skyy Moore – 60 targets, 45 receptions, 750 yards, four touchdowns

  4. Marquez Valdez-Scantling – 50 targets, 40 receptions, 600 yards, seven touchdowns

  5. Josh Gordon – 30 targets, 20 receptions, 280 yards, three touchdowns

  6. Cornell Powell – Five targets, three receptions, 33 yards, one touchdown

How do you project how the Chiefs’ 2022 WR group will do next season? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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