The Tampa Bay Bucs beat up on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. It is what it is. The loss to old-man Tom Brady and the Buccaneers was more embarrassing and shocking than anyone would have believed prior to the game. The Chiefs were exposed for what they were this season: Top heavy.
While the Chiefs were excellent on the offensive side of the ball, it was through one phase and three players. In the passing game, the Chiefs were dominant with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on passes from Patrick Mahomes. While the thought of having Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Patrick Mahomes would prompt some teams to trade a century of draft classes, therein lies a fatal flaw in the way the Chiefs’ offense functioned.
Beyond offensive line injuries and an inability to find sustainable production from the ground game, the Chiefs were poorly stocked up with backup receiving targets. To coin a phrase once used by NBA great LeBron James, the Chiefs were “Top heavy as @#$%.” The meaning of this phrase describes the Chiefs perfectly this season.
With Sammy Watkins out of the lineup for much of the year, the Chiefs were forced to throw a mixture of Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle at the second wide receiver position. At tight end, Nick Keizer got the majority of second reps. While Robinson, Hardman, and Pringle could certainly have a role on a team, they should not be a 2nd (or really even 3rd) option on a receiving corp. Here is what they had to offer this season.
- Mecole Hardman: 41 receptions on 62 targets, 560 yards, 4 TDs
- Demarcus Robinson: 45 receptions on 59 targets, 466 yards, 3 TDs
- Byron Pringle: 13 receptions on 17 targets, 160 yards, 1 TDs
On the surface, this looks somewhat decent. Especially when considering how good Travis Kelce’s production was from the tight end position, this appears like a respectable group until you remember how often the Chiefs threw the ball. Due to a putrid rushing attack, the Chiefs were forced to put the ball in the air more than any team in the league. Chiefs quarterbacks threw the ball 630 times, and if not for explosive separation from Hill and Kelce that resulted in huge plays, they likely would have thrown the ball even more. W
hile I believe that there is merit to the idea that running backs don’t matter, there should certainly be higher production when you throw the ball as frequently as you do, but that is a discussion for another day. The problem in this case is that the players taking on Watkins’s role accounted for a minuscule portion of the production when compared to Kelce and Hill.
- Travis Kelce: 105 receptions on 145 targets, 1,416 yards, 11 TDs
- Tyreek Hill: 87 receptions on 135 targets, 1,276 yards, 15 TDs
These are mind-blowing statistics. You should certainly have favorite targets in an offense as an NFL quarterback, but these numbers are off the charts compared to the other receivers on the team. Added up, Robinson, Pringle, and Hardman combined had just three more targets than Tyreek Hill who was second in targets on the team. While the tandem of Kelce and Hill is widely believed to be the best in the NFL, the Chiefs truly have no solid number three option to throw to.
The expectation this year from the Kansas City faithful was that Clyde Edwards-Helaire would pick up as many targets in the passing game as any running back in the NFL. That, however, never came to fruition in the 2020-2021 season.
An added expectation was that Watkins would be the receiver to carry the Chiefs in the middle of the field when Kelce and Hill were unable to do so. Instead, Watkins had a less-than-productive 2021 campaign due to nagging injury. Watkins finished the season with 37 receptions for 421 yards in 10 games. This number, in comparison with the other receivers for Kansas City is still the most productive outside of Kelce and Hill. Other receivers played more games and had around the same amount of production.