Can Kadarius Toney be the Chiefs' No. 1 WR?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs’ interest in wide receiver Kadarius Toney goes back well before they acquired him in a trade last season with the New York Giants. They were hopeful he would fall to them in the 2021 draft and then tried to trade for him last spring before finally getting him out of New York last fall.

It’s no surprise then that the Chiefs believe Toney is first in line to be their next No. 1 wide receiver.

“He’s predominately been a guy that is a slot receiver, returner, runner -- a gadget guy, if you will -- but I don’t know if there is a limit on his game because he has a vertical game,’’ Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “I don’t know if [his collegiate team at Florida was] one that vertically pushed the ball down the field, and his time early on in New York, I don’t know if they were a team that really vertically pushed the ball down the field.

“It’s a fair question to [ask]: ‘Has he ever played with a quarterback that likes to push the ball down the field?’ We have a lot of high hopes for him. He was a first-round pick for a reason. There’s a reason why we traded for him and we felt like he was first-round talent.”

The Chiefs need Veach to be right about Toney. They don’t have anyone who’s ever been a No. 1 NFL wide receiver, a first for quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In his early seasons as starting quarterback, the Chiefs had Tyreek Hill at wide receiver and had JuJu Smith-Schuster last year.

Among the candidates for playing time are Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Justin Watson, Richie James and second-round draft pick Rashee Rice. The best single NFL season in terms of number of catches comes from James, who had 57 receptions for the Giants last season.

Valdes-Scantling is the veteran of the bunch, but last season was his best of five with 42 catches. The career best for Watson is 15 with Tampa Bay in 2019 and again with the Chiefs last season.

The Chiefs are expecting the biggest growth from not only Toney, but Moore, as well. Toney had 14 catches after joining the Chiefs in a midseason trade last year, this after catching 39 passes for the Giants as a rookie in 2021. Moore had 22 receptions as a rookie last year.

Coach Andy Reid says he expects Toney and Moore to continue improving during training camp as they get more reps with Mahomes.

“You could see it especially with Skyy at the end of the season, how he was getting more and more involved in the offense," Mahomes said. "I think he’ll continue to take those steps and be even better this year when he’s more comfortable and can utilize his talents even more.

“With Kadarius, I think you saw what the upside this last year of how special of a talent he can be. To have him in that offense another year, have him working with coach Reid and how we practice and training camp, I think it’ll have his body in the best shape that you can possibly be in to go out there and be healthy all season long. And so, we’re excited for those guys to take those next steps within this offense.”

Rice caught 96 passes last season at SMU. The Chiefs see similarities with Smith-Schuster, who led their wide receivers in catches last season with 78 before signing as a free agent this year with the New England Patriots, particularly his ability to make contested catches and run afterward.

“He’ll go up and get the football and then once he catches the ball, he’s violent and he turns into a running back after the catch,” assistant general manager Mike Borgonzi said. “That’s a big part of our offense here.”

Rice worked out before the draft with Mahomes and Chiefs receivers in Texas, running routes and catching passes. After being drafted by the Chiefs, he compared himself to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

“We both attack the ball [aggressively] and you never know what we can do when the ball is in our hands,” he said.

Regardless of what happens with Moore, Rice and the others, the Chiefs are counting on a big season from Toney. He was able to contribute for the Chiefs after the midseason trade, despite missing three games with a hamstring injury.

He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVII to give the Chiefs their first lead and later returned a punt 65 yards to set up another score.

The Chiefs expect that to be only the beginning.

“We got him in here in the middle of the season and so there’s only so much you can do with him,” Veach said. “He’s extremely smart so it’s not going to be anything [with] grasping ideas or concepts. We were surprised with how quickly he picked it up.

“I think the sky is the limit for him.”