Pre-Camp Breakdown: Examining the Chiefs' New-Look Wide Receiver Corps

The Chiefs feature a bunch of new names at wide receiver this year

We're less than a month from training camp, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we're in the midst of examining every position group on the roster in anticipation of the 2022 campaign.

Here's a look at what we've covered so far:

We'll continue with wide receiver, where the Chiefs currently feature 13 players: Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Omar Bayless, Corey Coleman, Daurice Fountain, Josh Gordon, Gary Jennings, Aaron Parker, Cornell Powell, Justyn Ross and Justin Watson.

Here's a closer look at each wide receiver on the roster.

Mecole Hardman

The 24-year-old Hardman is entering his fourth year with Kansas City after catching a career-most 59 passes for 693 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. Hardman's reception and receiving yardage totals have increased in every season of his career, as he's earned a double-digit increase in targets in each of the last two campaigns.

Hardman was effective on routes of 20+ yards (4 catches for 172 yards) and short throws within nine yards of the line of scrimmage (27 catches for 226 yards) last season, but his best work was undoubtedly from behind the line of scrimmage. Hardman hauled in 25 of 26 targets behind the line for 252 yards and two scores. Among receivers with at least 20 such targets, Hardman earned the best Pro Football Focus grade on those particular plays in the NFL.

It's also worth pointing out that Hardman finished last season strong, recording 342 yards from scrimmage over his final five games (including the playoffs). That stretch included an eight-catch, 103-yard game against Denver in Week 18. He'll now have an opportunity to build off that performance in 2022.

Skyy Moore

The Chiefs selected Moore with the No. 54 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft out of Western Michigan after the dynamic playmaker hauled in 95 receptions for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He spent time both outside (265) and in the slot (140 snaps) while becoming one of only five players in the FBS to average at least 7.9 catches-per-game in 2021. Additionally, Moore was one of only four players with 95+ catches, 1,200+ yards and 10+ scores.

He checks in at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and had the largest hands of any receiver at the NFL Scouting Combine. The folks at Pro Football Focus compared him to Julian Edelman, which makes sense considering that Moore is at his best when showing off his ridiculous elusiveness. He broke the most tackles of any receiver in the FBS last season (26), and according to PFF, he possesses "couldn't touch him in a phone booth" kind of agility. They went on to describe that agility as perhaps the best in the entire class:

"In a class with some seriously shifty wideouts, Moore would be my bet to win if they all played tag. He's not only shifty, but he's also so strong he's unaffected by an outstretched arm."

It's also worth mentioning that when the ball is thrown Moore's way, he often pulls it in. In fact, Moore was credited with only three drops despite being targeted a whopping 125 times last season. Here's what The Athletic's Dane Brugler had to say about Moore's reliability:

"Moore creates leverage with his foot quickness and is extremely reliable at the catch point thanks to his large, sticky hands and quick-reaction ball skills."

JuJu Smith-Schuster

One of the Chiefs' high-profile additions this offseason, Smith-Schuster was a second-round pick (No. 62 overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft who spent the entirety of his five-year career with Pittsburgh up until this point.

He hauled in 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie before truly breaking out a year later, recording 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven scores while earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2018. Smith-Schuster was limited to just 12 games the following season due to a knee injury, but he still managed to catch 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns despite a campaign in which Pittsburgh started three different players at quarterback.

Smith-Schuster bounced back to rank ninth in the NFL in receptions (97) in 2020 while racking up 831 yards and a career-most nine touchdowns. He then played in just five games last season – recording 15 grabs for 129 yards – before a shoulder injury ended his regular season early. Remarkably, Smith-Schuster managed to make an early return and played in the Steelers' postseason loss to Kansas City.

Overall, the 25-year-old receiver has 323 career receptions for 3,855 yards and 26 touchdowns. He became the youngest player in league history at the time to reach 2,500 career receiving yards early in his third season, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds and with exceptional physical gifts – including hands that measured in the 97th percentile (in terms of size) and arms that measured in the 74th percentile (in terms of length) at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine – Smith-Schuster is capable of helping an offense in numerous ways.

For example, Pittsburgh deployed Smith-Schuster out of both the slot and as an outside receiver during his time with the Steelers. Looking at the last two seasons specifically, Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot on 885 snaps and outside on 251 snaps. That time in the slot contributed to the fact that 62 percent of his targets over the last two seasons were on "short" routes, or routes between one and 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Smith-Schuster has proven to be a reliable target on those short routes and has often shown the ability to make plays after hauling in the football, racking up 1,725 yards after the catch since entering the NFL in 2017. That total ranks as the 19th-most in the league in that span despite only five games of action last season.

Additionally, Smith-Schuster has also demonstrated an aptitude to stretch the field vertically when asked to do so. Looking back at his breakout campaign in 2018, Smith-Schuster caught nine passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns on completions of at least 20 yards.

To summarize, the Chiefs should be able to utilize Smith-Schuster in a variety of ways with considerable success.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Another veteran free agent signing this offseason, Valdes-Scantling originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round selection (No. 174 overall) of the Green Bay Packers in 2018. He went on to rack up 123 receptions during his four-year tenure there, tallying 2,153 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns.

His best season was in 2020, when Valdes-Scantling hauled in 33 grabs for 690 yards and six scores. He also led the NFL in yards-per-reception (20.9) that season, which was indicative of the impressive speed that Valdes-Scantling has demonstrated throughout his career. In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, Valdes-Scantling reached the top speed of any wide receiver on a single play this past season when he topped out at 22.09 miles-per-hour during a 75-yard touchdown grab. It was the 14th time since 2018 that Valdes-Scantling was clocked at 20+ miles-per-hour.

That play was just one example of Valdes-Scantling's ability to stretch the field vertically. He hauled in 13 passes (and six touchdowns) that traveled 20+ yards in the air over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus. Additionally, his average depth of target led the NFL in each of the last two years (18.4 yards in 2021, 18.2 in 2020).

It's worth pointing out as well that Valdes-Scantling also possesses a long frame at 6-foot-4, 206 pounds.

Omar Bayless

A Reserve/Futures signee, Bayless spent the entirety of his two-year career with the Carolina Panthers prior to joining the Chiefs in January. A standout in training camp for Carolina in 2020, Bayless suffered an injury before the campaign got underway and spent his rookie year on injured reserve. He was a member of Carolina's practice squad last season and has yet to appear in a regular-season game.

Corey Coleman

Another free-agent signee this offseason, Coleman – the No. 15 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – is looking to get a once promising career back on track. He hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since 2018, when he caught five receptions for 71 yards in eight games (1 start) for the New York Giants that season. Coleman also returned kickoffs during his lone year of action with New York, averaging 26 yards-per-return on 23 kicks. The former Baylor standout – who led the nation with 20 receiving touchdowns during his final season for the Bears in 2015 – tore his ACL prior to the 2019 season and spent the following year on the Giants' practice squad before spending last season out of football.

He spent the first two seasons of his career with Cleveland and found some occasional success despite missing time due to injuries, racking up 56 grabs for 718 yards and five touchdowns in 19 games (18 starts) between the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Coleman was traded to Buffalo ahead of the 2018 season and later landed with the Giants after being cut by the Bills following training camp.

Coleman is now seeking a fresh start with Kansas City.

Daurice Fountain

A former fifth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft, Fountain earned a contract with Kansas City after a successful tryout last May and went on to compile an impressive preseason with 10 catches for 118 yards. He made the roster out of training camp and appeared in five games for the Chiefs during the regular season, contributing primarily on special teams.

Josh Gordon

A former star who is looking for a career revival in Kansas City, Gordon caught five passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in 12 games (7 starts) last season after signing with the Chiefs in early October.

The 6-foot-3, 238-pound veteran is most-known for his incredible season in 2013, when he led the NFL in receiving yards (1,646) as a 22-year-old despite playing in only 14 games. He was productive at times in the years that followed – recording 426 receiving yards as recently as 2019 – but Gordon has only appeared in 45 games since that breakout season.

Still only 31 years old, however, Gordon will look to parlay his first full offseason program with the Chiefs into a comeback campaign.

Gary Jennings

A fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, Jennings spent time with several teams during his young NFL career before joining the Chiefs as a Reserve/Futures signee in January.

After being waived by Seattle following the 2019 preseason, Jennings had a stint with the Miami Dolphins – appearing in one game – in addition to spending time on the Buffalo Bills' and Baltimore Ravens' practice squads as a rookie. He then spent last offseason with Indianapolis before joining the Las Vegas Raiders' practice squad for the 2021 season.

Aaron Parker

Parker is the newest member of this group, as he earned a contract following a successful tryout during mandatory minicamp last month. A former star at the University of Rhode Island, Parker went undrafted in 2020 before joining the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. He signed with the Carolina Panthers' practice squad prior to last season and went on to appear in one game for the Panthers.

The 24-year-old Parker checks in at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds.

Cornell Powell

The Chiefs selected Powell in the fifth round (No. 181 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Clemson. He was waived following training camp but signed to the practice squad the next day, which is where Powell spent the entirety of last season.

Powell officially re-joined the Chiefs early in the offseason as a "Reserve/Futures" signee.

Justyn Ross

One of the top undrafted free agents available on the open market, Ross adds another intriguing option to the Chiefs' wide receiver room as a 6-foot-4, 205-pound playmaker who can haul in contested catches.

Originally the No. 7 wide receiver prospect in the nation out of high school, Ross took the country by storm as a freshman at Clemson in 2018. He caught 46 passes for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns that season, racking up 12 grabs for 301 yards and three scores during Clemson's College Football Playoff victories over Notre Dame and Alabama. Ross' strong performance led to rumblings that he could be an eventual first-round pick when he became eligible, but injuries unfortunately got in the way. Ross missed the entirety of the 2020 campaign due to spinal surgery, and while he was back on the field last season and played well with 46 grabs for 514 yards and three touchdowns in 10 starts, a foot injury sidelined him for the final three games of the year.

Injuries ultimately got in the way of a once promising career, but he'll now have an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong in Kansas City.

Justin Watson

A popular name to know at the moment, Watson's quest to make the Chiefs' roster gained steam throughout Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp courtesy of his strong overall performance.

The 26-year-old joined the Chiefs this offseason as a Reserve/Futures signee following four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he caught 23 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns in 40 career games. His best season was in 2019, when Watson hauled in 15 grabs for 159 yards and two scores.

Watson is an experienced special-teamer, too. He logged 644 special teams' snaps between 2018-20.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs completely overhauled their wide receiver corps this offseason, adding nine players who weren't with the organization last season. In fact, Hardman is the only returning receiver who caught 10+ passes last year.

Kansas City will need to replace the production compiled by former receivers Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson – who combined to catch 178 passes for 2,071 yards and 17 touchdowns last season – but the good news is that the Chiefs employ a deep group of pass-catchers who should be up to that task. It's also worth pointing out that Hill accounted for the bulk of that production, and while losing a playmaker of his stature is tough, Kansas City's new-found depth in the receiver room could make the Chiefs' offense more variable in terms of who can be counted on to make plays.

As for how many receivers the Chiefs may keep for Week 1, General Manager Brett Veach has elected to employ six receivers for Kansas City's first game in each of the last two seasons. The Chiefs kept just five in 2019, opting to keep an additional running back instead (among other decisions). It feels safe to suggest that the quartet of Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling, Hardman and Moore will make the squad, meaning that the other nine players – a group that includes Gordon, Ross, Fountain, Watson and others – will compete for one or two spots.

Competition is conducive to collective success, and as camp gets started in just a few weeks, there's perhaps no area with as much competition as the Chiefs' receiver room.

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