The Kansas City Chiefs will be learning to live life without one of the top wide receivers in the business this season. The Chiefs declined to outbid the services for Tyreek Hill who signed with the Miami Dolphins in the offseason.
Hill caught 111 balls last year for 1239 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Adams was even better with 123 receptions for 1553 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. At first — and second glance — it may seem absurd to suggest that the Chiefs’ offense may be better off in the long run after losing such a productive player. But, there is a case to be made.
Kansas City blew a 21-3 halftime lead against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game to lose in overtime by a 27-24 score. Only scoring a field goal in the second half against the Bengals defense despite playing at home at Arrowhead Stadium is a concern. While their 28.2 Points-Per-Game scoring average and 396.8 total Yards-Per-Game tally were both ranked top-four in the league, both those marks were a decline from their 2020-21 averages. Patrick Mahomes averaged 284.6 passing YPG which was the lowest mark in his career. His 98.5 Passer Rating ranked only 10th in the NFL and was his lowest mark in his career as well. This all happened despite Mahomes playing behind a rebuilt offensive line that was much improved versus the unit that could not protect him in the 2021 Super Bowl against Tampa Bay. So, what gives?
Opposing defenses began to find success against Mahomes by plying two-high safety coverages. In the copy-cat NFL, Mahomes began facing these defenses that were comfortable taking away deep balls week-after-week. Only 14.6% of the passes from Mahomes resulted in a reception of at least 15 yards, ranking 19th in the NFL. The freakish ability for Mahomes to make something about of nothing from broken plays was being taken away by these two-high safeties and dime defenses with six or more defensive backs. The play of the Chiefs defense did not help matters, especially early in the year before the club acquired Melvin Ingram for their defensive line which allowed Chris Jones to move back to his more comfortable interior of the line. Mahomes probably felt pressure to make something happen with his team trailing, but that may explain why Kansas City committed 25 turnovers which was their highest number since 2012.
Mahomes has gotten very comfortable looking for Hill when he got into trouble. Hard to blame him given how great Hill is. The longer Mahomes could extend the play with his legs, the more likely the speedy Hill could find daylight and get open — and connecting on those video game plays had to be exhilarating. But the concern for many observing Mahomes was that he was too quick to abandon ship in the pocket and get into video game mode. This is where removing the temptation of what Hill offers may serve Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense in the long run.
To be clear, the primary consideration for the Chiefs in not resigning Hill was the high premium he was finding on the open market that became a boon for wide receivers in the offseason. Kansas City could not afford the big contracts of Mahomes, Hill, tight end Travis Kelce while still making the moves they needed to make to improve their defense which included the need to replace three starters in the defensive backfield.
But head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have some exciting opportunities with their offense in this new era without Hill. Mahomes breakout out of the pocket should be Plan C or D, not Plan B as it became in the last few years. Reid and Bienemy want Mahomes to distribute the football quickly to receivers in space. Losing the Hill temptation helps the offense return to these fundamentals. The team has replaced Hill with several diverse talents than can help Mahomes spread the ball better than he has in the past. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a free agent signing from Green Bay who can provide the deep threat that Hill offered while adding intriguing size from his 6’4 frame. Valdes-Scantling is also an outstanding blocker. JuJu Smith-Schuster was signed from Pittsburgh to offer a reliable set of hands operating from the slot. Second-round pick Skyy Moore from Western Michigan offers the high-level route running that Hill provided. Josh Gordon remains on the roster with huge upside still if can overcome his problems off the field. Mecole Hardman Jr. is in his contract year and still has the speed that attracted them to draft him as a complement to Hill three years ago. And the number one option remains Kelce who caught 92 balls for 1125 yards with nine touchdowns last year.
Reid and Bieniemy have to be confident that they can design plays that get these receivers open quickly. Rather than keying in on Hill, the Chiefs’ offense will improve if Mahomes successfully spreads the ball out more this season. Defenses will offer double-coverage against Kelce (still) but the offense has too much speed and should be able to punish that (understandable) decision. It is understandable why Mahomes began leaning on his talent. If the Kansas City offense can get back to relying first and foremost on their schemes, then they should be able to avoid blackouts like they experienced in the second half in the AFC Championship Game. Then, watch out.
Best of luck — Frank.