Do the Kansas City Chiefs have the best pass-catchers in the NFL? Not according to a recent article by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus!
Now, to be fair, Palazzolo doesn't exactly have the Chiefs scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of wide receiver and tight end talent. The Chiefs come in at No. 3, behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. And he has a point.
The tweet that got the conversation going was a bit confusing at first. "Top WR/TE Units" implies a pairing of a team's top wide receiver and top tight end — a battle that the Chiefs would win in a blowout with the game's best tight end, Travis Kelce, and a top-tier wide receiver, Tyreek Hill. Even if the intention was for the best pass-catching duo, I'd say the Chiefs are most likely deserving of the top spot. But Palazzolo's actual evaluation makes the conversation a bit more interesting.
Palazzolo's piece ranks teams by their entire pass-catching depth chart, top to bottom. Obviously, a top-shelf No. 1 receiver outweighs a top-shelf No. 3, but when addressing an entire unit, those depth pieces become very important.
The Buccaneers, for my money, deserve the top spot, where Palazzolo ranked them. Wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown pair with tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. That's an obnoxious amount of talent.
The Cowboys come in second with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, who Palazzolo calls "one of the best receiver trios in the league," alongside some not-particularly-noteworthy tight ends.
Then come the Chiefs at No. 3. Here's part of Palazzolo's reasoning for the third-place ranking after he heaped an appropriate amount of praise upon Kelce and Hill:
The question in Kansas City is what happens after the big two. Mecole Hardman has sprinkled in his fair share of big plays out of the slot and on gimmick plays. Demarcus Robinson has 194 targets since 2017, but he’s yet to grade above 61.9 as a receiver. Byron Pringle also returns after grading at 63.4 and 55.3 as a receiver in each of the last two years, respectively. The Chiefs drafted Cornell Powell in the fifth round, and he has a legitimate opportunity to compete for snaps on the outside right away. He brings good releases and size to the equation and he graded at 75.1 overall last year at Clemson.
Palazzolo also makes note of the tight end depth chart before writing that "[t]he Chiefs are as good as it gets at the top of the receiving depth charts, but their dominance will be determined by the development of reliable third and fourth options."
The Minnesota Vikings, coming in at fifth on Palazzolo's list, have a similar (but more extreme) problem. Behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, two excellent receivers, they have major question marks.
Where should the Chiefs' pass-catchers actually be ranked?
While I wouldn't trade the Chiefs' pass-catchers for the Cowboys', I think Palazzolo's concerns are completely valid. The Chiefs lost Sammy Watkins this offseason and never replaced him with another proven commodity, despite trying to sign players like Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs brought back their down-the-roster depth by re-signing Robinson and Pringle, in addition to tight ends Nick Keizer and Blake Bell. (Bell was a Chief in 2019 before spending the 2020 season with the Cowboys.) Then the Chiefs drafted their new rookie duo of Powell and tight end Noah Gray, who both have a wide array of potential roles in 2021 and beyond. They've thrown numbers at the receiver and tight end positions, but there's no guarantee that any of those players will be able to truly supplement Kelce and Hill.
While I'd feel a lot better about the Chiefs' pass-catchers with Smith-Schuster or even perhaps Julio Jones, I do expect Patrick Mahomes to find a third or fourth player to trust out of the non-Kelce/Hill group in 2021. And as of right now, I think that's good for the second-best receiving group in the NFL.