Megastar quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a household name on the Chiefs’ offense.
Exactly who Mahomes ends up throwing at wide receiver this fall, however, is another matter altogether.
Aside from veteran Mecole Hardman, several pieces of the wide receiver puzzle still need to be put together as the Chiefs look to replace Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins in March.
“If you’ve been in this business long enough, change is inevitable, it happens,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said Thursday. “You can always replace the player, but you can’t replace the person. Tyreek was loved; we will miss him.
“But now it’s time for us to make sure we develop the people we have and get them to do the things we need to do. I thought (GM Brett) Veach and his team did a hell of a job selecting the guys we brought in.
Wide receivers Hill, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Kemp disappeared from the 2021 regular season roster. Pringle signed with the Chicago Bears during free agency, Robinson joined the Las Vegas Raiders, while Kemp remains an unrestricted free agent.
Hardman returns with Josh Gordon and Daurice Fountain, who both made the 53-player active roster and practice squad in 2021. Cornell Powell, the Chiefs’ fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft , is also back after spending the last season in the practice squad.
As for the rest of the positional squad, which currently has 13 players through two weeks of organized activities (OTA), the Chiefs have plenty of competition.
In are JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, second-round pick Skyy Moore, and a collection of veteran players signed to reserve/future contracts or as free agents, including Corey Coleman, Justin Watson, Gary Jennings, Matthew Sexton and Omar Bayless. The Chiefs bolstered the wide receiver group by signing Justyn Ross as an undrafted free agent.
“They all bring something different to the table and that’s the unique part about it,” Bieniemy said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of diversity because everyone’s presenting something different, so it’s going to be new. It’s gonna be exciting.
Hardman, entering the final year of his contract, will likely get his first chance at No. 1 wide receiver. He knows the system and has played in Hill’s shadow for the past three years, a period where Hardman had 126 catches for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Chiefs pursued Smith-Schuster through free agency in 2021 before he opted to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Kansas City eventually got him to a one-year deal in March. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Smith-Schuster arrives with proven production, amassing 323 catches for 3,855 yards and 26 touchdowns in five seasons with the Steelers.
Then the Chiefs signed Valdes-Scantling to a three-year deal a day after trading Hill. With the 6-foot-4, 206-pound Valdes-Scantling, the Chiefs have a player who had 123 catches for 2,153 yards and 13 touchdowns in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
Hardman, who is currently struggling with a hamstring injury, Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling project into the top three of the wide receiver group. Moore, who also has a hamstring injury, will have the opportunity to show why he’s a second-round pick once he’s healthy.
But when it comes to clearly defined roles or even the fifth and potentially sixth wide receiver to complete the initial roster of 53 players, the guessing game is really on.
Fear not, because that’s what OTAs are for, the upcoming three-day mandatory minicamp and next month’s training camp.
“We’re still trying to figure that out as we go and let these guys kind of dictate where we’re going with this instead of saying, ‘You’re (No) 1, 2 and 3 and that’s what you can do,” Chiefs receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said Thursday. “We want them to show us and showcase their abilities.
“And as they grow and get more familiar with our quarterback, with our offense, with the roles that they’ve carved out for themselves, we can refine how to attack a defense or a game plan to a specific opponent. But right now it’s kind of everyone feeling that and writing their own story.
So far, so good for the Chiefs’ retooled wide receiver group.
“I saw a pretty talented group,” Bieniemy said. “We have a lot of guys there who can do a lot of different things.”
This story was originally published June 3, 2022 5:00 a.m.