Mahomes and the Chiefs turning to young receivers in camp

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- When the Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill last year, the turnover at wide receiver happened so fast that their younger players became the seasoned veterans almost overnight.

This phenomenon struck Skyy Moore, a rookie last season who has now been with the Chiefs as long as any of their other wide receivers. This year’s rookie wide-out, second-round draft pick Rashee Rice, was coming to Moore early in training camp with questions about the playbook.

“One of the times, I told him, ‘I don’t know, bro, you’ve got to ask the older guys,’ and he was like, ‘You are one of the older guys,’” said Moore, who’s 22. “It just put things in perspective for me, like I’ve got to jump into a different kind of role. I’m not the rookie anymore.”

The roster turnover and the emphasis on youth means the Chiefs have no clear No. 1 receiver at camp. That became particularly true after the player the Chiefs hoped would fill that role, Kadarius Toney, tore a meniscus just as camp was starting. He hasn’t practiced yet, though coach Andy Reid said Monday he expects Toney back for Week 1.

In the meantime, the Chiefs have depth. Their top group of wide receivers goes six deep, including Moore, Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justyn Ross, Richie James and Justin Watson. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been spreading the ball around at camp, and the Chiefs may wind up keeping all of them into the season, even when Toney returns.

“When you have a lot of guys that can rotate in, and I trust to [make the right] decision and make the right play and make the play when they’re called upon, that’s when you know you’re in the right spot,” Mahomes said. “I feel like that now. You look at our depth chart at receiver, I’ve always said all these dudes can make the football team.”

The Chiefs have been hopeful Toney could lead their wide receiving group this season since they acquired him in a trade with the New York Giants midway through last season. He played a big part in their Super Bowl LVII win over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chiefs resisted making any costly acquisitions at wide receiver in the offseason because of his presence, despite losing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman -- two of their top receivers in 2022 -- in free agency.

“He’s just electric,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “He’s a high-energy guy.

“We’re going to miss K.T., his ability to make a play out of nowhere. He was that piece for us in the Super Bowl. He was that piece for us throughout the season last year.”

What the Chiefs have seen from their other receivers at camp has somewhat eased the loss. Even without Toney, the Chiefs have a diverse group that includes fast receivers like Valdes-Scantling and Watson, smaller ones like Moore and James, and bigger targets like Rice and Ross.

The Chiefs in recent years haven’t had a receiver quite like the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Ross, who is a precise route-runner. He missed all of his rookie season last year with a foot injury.

“When you look at the players we have and what they can do, I would say depth is the best I can remember,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “When they had Sammy [Watkins] and they had Tyreek, those were fast guys. We have a nice mix of some smaller guys, some bigger guys, some faster guys, some guys with strong hands. It’s a balanced group.”

Valdes-Scantling, Moore, Watson and Ross joined the Chiefs last season. This year they added James as a free agent and Rice, who has overcome a slow start to make an impression.

“When I caught my first touchdown pass from Pat, I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this,’” Rice said.

The Chiefs have had a wide receiver catch at least 75 passes in a season five of the last six years. Four times it was Hill and last year it was Smith-Schuster, who had 78 catches in his only season with the Chiefs.

They may not have a 75-plus-catch wide receiver this year. The highest number of catches in a season for any of their wide receivers is 57, the number of passes James caught for the Giants last season.

So the Chiefs may have to use more of the committee approach to get big numbers from their wide outs this season.

“I want guys to just be themselves,” Mahomes said. “I think you’ve seen in this offense, it can be run in a lot of different ways so obviously when Kadarius is in there, we run it a certain way because of his talent and what he can do. When he’s not in there, we can run it a different way to really accelerate the other guys’ talents.

“Guys like Skyy Moore and Rashee Rice will step up, as well as guys like Marquez and Justin Watson. We have a lot of tight ends. We have a lot of depth in this entire team this year so I’m just excited for guys to go out there and seize their opportunity.”