The Kansas City Chiefs will be without two starting wide receivers this weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers. Earlier this week, Mecole Hardman was placed on the injured reserve and JuJu Smith-Schuster was ruled out in an abundance of caution after being knocked out of last week’s game with a concussion.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has already impressed this season with a new cast of receivers around him, despite there being many national pundits who were speculating there would be a drop-off without Tyreek Hill at his disposal. Through 10 weeks of the season, Mahomes leads the league in passing yards (2,936) and passing touchdowns (25). He will be tested again, but this time without two of his top wideouts from this 2022 season.
Luckily for Mahomes, he still has the best tight end in the NFL at his disposal. Travis Kelce, while he isn’t a wide receiver, will continue to play a huge role in the passing game going forward. There’s a chance tight ends Noah Gray and Jody Fortson also see an expanded role in the absence of Hardman and Smith-Schuster. Last week, Gray scored a touchdown in the red zone and Fortson has been inserted in red zone packages as well in the past. Perhaps one or both will be more active outside of that area as well.
This will also give the Chiefs a chance to see an expanded workload from some of their receivers who have been in a limited role to this point in the season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling will become the de facto No. 1 wide receiver. This year, he's been productive in some games while he’s disappeared in others. Before the season, he signed a three-year deal with the team and it would be nice to see him step up over these next few games.
There’s also a relatively new wide receiver in town, and his name is Kadarius Toney. After being introduced a couple of weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs were able to get him a little bit more involved against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Toney was able to get his first career receiving touchdown in the game and he finished the game with 90 total yards on four catches and two carries. His proficient route running, short-burst speed and ability to high-point the ball were all on display against the Jaguars. The Chiefs could utilize Toney in the same way they’ve utilized Hardman this year, and he should see an increased number of snaps on offense going forward.
Justin Watson is another wide receiver who could see an uptick in snaps this weekend, especially with Smith-Schuster out of the lineup. Watson showed a good rapport with Mahomes during training camp and has scored a couple of touchdowns this season, including one against the Chargers in Week 2. Watson’s role could increase this week and if he makes the most of it, he could become a guy the Chiefs look to keep around for the 2023 season as well.
Second-round rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore has been largely absent from the Chiefs' offense to this point in the season. Many were hoping he’d get more playing time as the season went on and after the bye week, it didn’t look like Moore would break through. Now, he will have an opportunity as he gets to move up the depth chart due to injuries ahead of him. Moore and Watson have nearly identical receiving stats on the season, but Watson has two touchdowns to zero for Moore.
The fan base also continues to bring up Moore's inconsistent special teams play. That shouldn’t affect his ability as a receiver, but his rookie campaign has been clouded by a few special teams turnovers. Simply put, Moore just hasn’t had a ton of opportunities in the offense. That could change over the next month of the season, and it would be great to see him become a reliable option for Mahomes not only as the postseason approaches but for the future of the offense as well.
The Chiefs' offense, specifically the passing game, has been the best in the NFL this season. Kansas City leads the league in passing yards per game (314) and points per game (30) through 10 weeks. The top passing offense will be tested over the next few weeks, but look for players to step up and for Mahomes to continue his MVP-like production. The team will continue to push toward, possibly winning a seventh straight AFC West title and clinching a playoff bid for the eighth year in a row.