Will the Chiefs' Real WR3 Please Stand Up?
Five games into the 2020 NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs are 4-1. Despite that, something seems off. Things aren't clicking how they're supposed to.
Perhaps it's just the increase in high-flying offenses across the league. The Chiefs scored an average of 29.9 points per game just a season ago, good for second in the NFL. This year, that number has dipped all the way down to... 29.8.
That puts the Chiefs in a two-way tie with the Baltimore Ravens for the No. 8 spot league-wide. There are many reasons why the offense hasn't taken that highly-anticipated leap in 2020, whether it be poor offensive line play, Patrick Mahomes looking human at times, Andy Reid's playcalling or, of course, injuries.
Last Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele tore tendons in both of his knees. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins went down with a hamstring injury, and he's slated to miss "possibly a couple weeks," including Monday's game against the Buffalo Bills. While the long-term loss of Osemele certainly stings, being without Watkins for any period of time will also impact the Chiefs on offense. On the bright side, we'll once again get an extended look at the rest of the wide receiver room.
Watkins went down after just two snaps in last year's 19-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He missed the following two contests, so let's just chalk it up to three games missed. While Watkins was out, the Chiefs relied on the trio of Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle to replace his production on a by-committee basis. The results were a mixed bag.
Hardman recorded 10 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown on 13 total targets. He was on the field for 61% of the offense's snaps in Week 5, then 53% and 48% in the following two games. Robinson was targeted 15 times over that span, but hauled in just six balls for 62 yards. He never saw the field less than 80% of the time. Pringle came on strong with a breakout performance in the Colts game (six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown) but saw his snap count and subsequent production take a nosedive after that.
In last week's game against the Raiders, Hardman, Robinson and Pringle logged 50, 49 and 10 snaps respectively. That translates to 69%, 68% and 14% of the team's offensive snaps. Each receiver has his respective strengths and weaknesses, which makes how — and how often — they're utilized in the next few games that much more interesting.
Hardman, the second-year speedster from the University of Georgia, hasn't developed into what many had hoped he'd be. His route tree is still somewhat limited and the fact that he has yet to completely separate from the pack says a lot about where he is as a player. He's still very young and didn't have a ton of experience in college, but even with that acknowledged, he struggles against press coverage and isn't a direct replacement for Watkins as an "X" receiver. He's best suited as a deep threat and has a long way to go before accepting a larger role.
Robinson and Pringle are listed at the same size (6'1", 203 pounds), but are two different players. Pringle is sure-handed and his breakout performance last year will always stick in the minds of many. Robinson makes highlight catches and is an underrated blocker, but his hands are much more questionable than Pringle's and he's had plenty of chances to make his case for sliding into the X role while Watkins is out. That leaves one man deserving of a shot at the job, and one that many Chiefs fans are already rooting for.
Pringle, also in his second season in the league, has one catch on the year. He's not an elite athlete like Hardman and doesn't make jaw-dropping catches nor block downfield like Robinson. He does, however, have a huge performance on his resume and is a smart, fundamentally-sound receiver. His snaps should certainly increase with Watkins out, and seeing a Tyreek Hill/Pringle duo flourish for a week or two would be nice. He's worthy of getting a chance.
Even if it isn't Pringle, somebody has to be the Chiefs' next wide receiver to stand out. Mahomes can only do so much by himself, but luckily, he has Hill and Travis Kelce to lean on until Watkins is healthy. In the meantime, another target will hopefully emerge and add another wrinkle to an offense that should round back into form by this season's end.