Today's Edition About us Local Opinion Obits Sports Things to do Classifieds Newsletters Podcasts Contact us

Press Box: After poor effort in opener, Chiefs’ receiving corps needs to improve

by Trevor Hahn | September 17, 2023 at 1:23 a.m.
Lions safety Brian Branch intercepts a pass intended for Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney before running it back for a touchdown during a game earlier this month at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (Associated Press)

With Travis Kelce returning from injury and Chris Jones back in the fold following a contract holdout, one question still looms for the Kansas City Chiefs headed into a big matchup today with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Who is going to step up and lead the wide receiver room?

Kardius Toney was the one expected to step into the No. 1 wide receiver role after the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency to New England, but Toney’s performance in Kansas City’s 21-20 Week 1 loss was uninspiring to say the least.

Toney finished with three drops and had zero catches on five targets. If that wasn’t bad enough, Toney had the two biggest drops with one turning into a game-tying pick-6 and the other coming on K.C.’s final drive that would’ve put the Chiefs in range for a game-winning field goal attempt.

This column is not designed to pile on Toney as the internet has more than taken care of that, but there are signs Toney is not going to turn into the No. 1-type guy the team projected him to become.

Since entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2021, Toney’s biggest issue has been injuries with only 19 games played through his first three years.

But a lesser-known issue has been Toney leads the NFL in drop rate during the span at 9.7 percent, which shows Week 1 may be more of a trend than an outlier.

With all that said, Toney’s role in the offense will still be important. He is electric with the ball in his hands and can turn a dead play into a touchdown at any point. Finding ways to get him the ball in space will be a focal point, but I don’t think he will turn into a target machine.

Next up on the hype train headed into the season was second-year wideout Skyy Moore.

Moore is an interesting study as his confidence seemed to have been killed early in his rookie season after a series of dropped punts. Moore never really broke into consistent playing time but was able to make a pair of huge plays in the postseason.

Coincidentally, the first was a punt return in the AFC Championship Game to help set up the game-winning field goal, and the second came in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl for his first TD of his young career.

The late surge increased expectations Moore could take the next step this year. But Moore was on the field for 49 plays (69 percent) in Week 1 and viewers would have barely noticed as he was a non-factor with three targets and zero receptions.

Moore could still take the leap some fans expected, but I wouldn’t bank on him turning into a No. 1 guy either.

This leaves five other options: rookie Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Richie James, Justin Watson and Justyn Ross.

None of these guys jump off the page as a No. 1 guy but each bring something unique to the table.

Rice has shown flashes -- while also struggling with drops -- so far in his rookie campaign and seems to be ahead of the track Moore was at this time last year, Valdes-Scantling has a great understanding for the offense and seems to make big plays in the big moments and James adds value in multiple places as a return specialist and a possible big-play threat.

Watson has shown he can stretch defenses down the field and Ross is everything the Chiefs have missed in a receiver for years: A big, athletic receiver that runs great routes and can win 50/50 balls.

Of these candidates, Ross is the most likely to break out in my mind if he can stay healthy as he was the best receiver in college football as a true freshman before neck and foot problems derailed his college career.

But the reality of the situation is Kansas City does not need a true No. 1 wide receiver for this offense to function properly.

Yes, it would be nice if there was a 1,000-yard wideout, not counting Kelce, hiding on this roster. But the maturation of Mahomes has allowed him to roll through progressions as good as anybody and spread the ball out to take what defenses give him.

The Chiefs don’t need one of these guys to step up, they need all of them.

If each of the seven can do what they do best, and if Mahomes and Kelce continue the production of the past five seasons, Kansas City’s offense will still be one of the best in the NFL and the team can continue its historic stretch of success.


Sponsor Content