Like all of you, I was caught off guard by the trade. Hill still had a year on his contract. The Chiefs had already moved on from a potentially large contract with Tyrann Mathieu. Mahomes could have still restructured to provide more salary cap relief.
Thinking of the 2022 Chiefs without Hill was not something remotely on the minds of fans. But then it happened.
The Chiefs received first, second, and fourth round picks in the 2022 draft and fourth and sixth rounders in the 2023 draft. Honest pundits can debate the value of the trade. For a non-QB, it’s significant. It was larger than the Davante Adams haul, for comparison.
The big question is: What will the Chiefs offense look like in 2022?
Well, it will look very different.
The Chiefs WR lineup will be drastically changed with the departures of Hill, Pringle, and Robinson. Those three accounted for 2,071 yards on 178 receptions. That’s a huge hole to fill. If JuJu Smith-Schuster makes up half of that we should all be thrilled.
I think that’s a little optimistic, which means we are still missing about 1,100 yards and 90 catches from the WR corps.
Mecole Hardman is not filling that void (understanding it would be on top of his current production). If Mecole absorbs Demarcus Robinson’s production he would be an 85-catch, 900-yard WR. That would be an amazing year for Hardman. But no one’s expecting that kind of jump for him.
Even if Hardman consumes Robinson’s production and Smith-Schuster does a Tyreek Hill impression, the Chiefs are still missing Pringle’s 568 yards on 42 catches.
See where I’m going?
Travis Kelce is nearly maxed-out on his production, so who is getting roughly 60 catches with 700 yards?
The answer can only be found in a new version of the Chiefs offense.
The Cover-2 defense gave the Chiefs fits last year. It became the default defense of most opponents. The Chiefs adjusted by throwing more underneath, but the growing pains were evident.
No one can deny that since teams figured out how to take the deep game away, the Chiefs offense has sometimes struggled to find a rhythm and identity.
Time for a new identity.
Kelce and Smith-Schuster are two of the most reliable pass-catchers in the league. Both are also above average route-runners and good after the catch.
Mecole Hardman is, currently, the opposite of these two; undisciplined route-running with average hands. Mecole has shown good YAC numbers, but it’s the catching-the-ball thing that has proved a little elusive.
To be fair, I think Hardman has decent hands, but his sloppy route running doesn’t give him the wide-open looks Tyreek Hill gets. Hardman just doesn’t have that brain-meld that Hill and Kelce have with Mahomes.
With Smith-Schuster and Kelce dominating the short and intermediate routes next season, Hardman will likely be the stretch guy. If teams don’t respect him and he and Mahomes start connecting, this offense can be potent and balanced.
If Hardman doesn’t develop into a respected deep threat, defenses are going to pinch up and make life hard.
The only other thing that can open the passing game is a good run game.
This may be the key to a revamped Chiefs offense.
Few coaches love a good misdirection pass play in the flat as much as Andy Reid. I believe that’s Andy’s comfort zone. And Andy Reid is about to go back to his happy place.
The issue is, who will be his horse?
If a respected vertical threat doesn’t emerge, the only way to open the middle of the field for Kelce and JuJu is to stretch it horizontally.
Pre-snap motion, multiple TE looks, two-back backfields, and options in the flats can quickly confuse and spread a defense.
In other words, if you can’t go long, go wide.
Did you know Kelce, Hardman, and Darrel Williams each had more yards-after-the-catch (YAC) than Tyreek Hill last year? Kelce and Hardman were both in the Top 10 in the NFL. Hill wasn’t even in the Top 25.
None of this is to belittle what Tyreek can do. He’s one of the best wideouts the Chiefs have ever had. But it’s interesting, isn’t it?
Tyreek Hill was the best possession receiver on the team. He ran great routes and caught everything. His YAC was surprisingly average.
Perhaps Hill might be easier to replace if we think of him in terms of a great possession receiver.
The Chiefs may not need another speedster as much as they need a nuanced route-runner with dependable hands. JuJu fits that mold perfectly, but add another WR of the same type and the Chiefs offense could be a handful again.
This leads to a few ideas to get the offense positioned to succeed next season.
- The Chiefs should resign McKinnon. He came on strong at the end of last year and definitely has a role in an offense predicated on shorter passes.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire needs a partner. Darrel Williams is still not signed. Either secure Williams or find a big pass-catching back to compliment Clyde. Recent visitor Thomas Jones would be a great fit.
- They need to get one more trusted veteran WR on a short contract. Jarvis Landry or Will Fuller would be ideal.
- Target Jahan Dotson with the 30th pick of the 2022 draft. Watch his tape, he’s electric. Sweeps, wildcat, broken plays, even throwing the ball! He’s wide open most plays, that’s skill, not just bad defense. He will be there based on a slower 40 time, but he’s plenty fast. The Chiefs should pounce on him.
- Either buy into Noah Gray or draft over him. There are a lot of big, speedy TEs in this draft. If Andy finally has two really good TE options, it would open up the playbook considerably. Greg Dulcich or Trey McBride may both be available at the end of round 2 or in round 3.
The short and intermediate passing game – with an occasional bomb – became an uncomfortable necessity last year. In the 2022 season, it will be the bread and butter.
That doesn’t mean Mahomes won’t have a huge year. The offense will get better with a whole off-season to scheme and prepare for the transition.
It’s time to spread the field and scheme teams into submission with a collection of misdirection plays, crossing patterns, and intermediate throws.
Mahomes has the accuracy to play this way. Last year, he only lacked the patience. With the reality of losing Hill hitting the players and coaches, they should be open to making a transition.
Andy Reid is an expert in the West Coast offense. His creativity, and plugging in a couple more pieces through the draft and free agency, could be a rebirth for this team, not a step back, with the loss of Hill.