What kind of production do KC Chiefs need from their #2 wide receiver?

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 10: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on November 10, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 10: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on November 10, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

This past week when news broke that the Atlanta Falcons were looking to trade their star wide receiver Julio Jones, it caused many fans of the Kansas City Chiefs to discuss the possibility of bringing him to Kansas City. A lot of those discussions revolve around what draft pick compensation it would take and what the Chiefs would have to do in order to make the salary cap work with Jones’ sizable contract. I’ll leave those debates to others, but I began to think about just what kind of production is needed or even possible for the Chiefs primary number two wide receiver.

I apologize in advance for all the math I’m about to throw at you, but I want to make sure Chiefs fans understand where these numbers are coming from. Sometimes when you listen to some fans, it seems like they think there’s an unlimited amount of receptions possible—like if the Chiefs traded for Jones, then they would have three 100-reception players with Jones, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. That’s in addition to Mecole Hardman taking a step forward with 60 receptions AND Clyde Edwards-Helaire having 50 receptions at running back AND both rookies Cornell Powell and Noah Gray each having 40 receptions AND Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle each throwing in 20 receptions of their own. Great plan, right?

Here’s the problem with the that. That’s already a total of 530 receptions and I didn’t even include every player that’s likely to see some snaps on offense. That’s about 100 more receptions than what the numbers say is likely next season. Even in an offense as pass heavy as KC’s there are only so many passes to go around. Does that mean that KC shouldn’t even consider trading for Jones? No, but I think KC fans would be wise to know what is really possible in terms of the numbers.

So here’s how you come up with some realistic totals. Over the past three seasons with Patrick Mahomes as the primary starting quarterback the Chiefs averaged 394.33 completions/receptions per season. That’s an average of 24.65 per game. With the season now moving to 17 games we can add one more game total to adjust the average for the 17 games and we get right about 419 completions/receptions per season.

How much production will the KC Chiefs really need at WR2?

Now one thing that can have an impact on the number of receptions is Mahomes’ completion percentage. If we adjust his completion percentage up and down a few percentage points, we get a realistic window of completions/receptions between 400-440 for next season. If we look back at that 530 reception total from before, you can see that’s way outside what the numbers tell us to expect even in a 17 game season.

Before we look at how much of that production we should expect from WR2, let’s subtract what we should expect from K.C.’s two primary targets: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Over Mahomes’ three seasons at quarterback, Hill has averaged about 5.4 receptions per game. In those same three seasons, Kelce has averaged about 6.5 receptions per game. I thought about figuring their totals using 17 games, but I think 16 might actually be a better estimate. That allows for each player to either miss one game because of injury or to sit out the final game because the Chiefs already have the top seed clinched. Using their averages for 16 games, it would give Hill about 86 receptions and Kelce about 104. So 190 receptions is a good combined estimate for Hill and Kelce next season.

If we use 420 receptions as the midpoint of our completion estimate window for next season, that would give us 230 receptions to work with after Hill and Kelce get their fair share. For those that are strongly in favor of trying to bring Jones to K.C., you can definitely make an argument that there are enough receptions left on the table to make that work. Jones has averaged about 87 receptions per season over the past five years. You could round that down to 80 and that would still leave 150 receptions to spread around the rest of the team.

A total of 150 receptions isn’t a lot by the time you factor in just Hardman, Edwards-Helaire, Robinson, Pringle, Powell, and Gray. That’s an average of 25 receptions each for those players with nobody else making any contributions in the passing game at all. If any of them were to contribute more than 25 receptions it would mean others would see even less. So adding a major weapon like Jones would definitely make K.C.’s passing attack a three-headed monster with everyone else being reduced to minor role players.

So what about if they don’t add Jones or any other major receiver? That makes the conversation a little more interesting. Over the last three seasons, K.C.’s four wideouts behind Hill have averaged a total of about 120 receptions per season. Their top four running backs have averaged a total of about 78 receptions per season. Their back up tight ends have averaged a total of about 11 receptions per season. That’s 209 receptions, just short of the 230 receptions we have to work with. So using those as rough estimates, here’s one breakdown of how the receptions could be divided up to meet the predicted totals after Hill and Kelce with the players currently on the roster.

  • Mecole Hardman – 45 receptions
  • Demarcus Robinson – 30 receptions
  • Byron Pringle – 30 receptions
  • Cornell Powell – 25 receptions

WR Total: 130 receptions (10 over the 3 year average)

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 50 receptions
  • Jerick McKinnon – 15 receptions
  • Darrel Williams – 10 receptions

RB Total: 75 receptions (3 under the 3 year average)

  • Noah Gray – 20 receptions
  • Blake Bell – 5 receptions

TE Total: 25 receptions (14 over the 3 year average)

In this scenario, Hardman has a couple more receptions than last season’s total (41) and Robinson, Pringle, and Powell basically split the WR2 production between them, combining for 85 receptions total. Edwards-Helaire sees a slight increase in receptions from his 36 last season with McKinnon and Williams contributing a little. Gray adds a boost to the tight end production behind Kelce, leading to more than double the production from previous seasons from the other tight ends. The end result is a total of 230 receptions between the three position groups. When you add those 230 receptions to the 190 we estimated for Hill and Kelce, you get the 420 receptions total that is a good estimate for the season based on 17 games and the production we’ve seen since Mahomes became the QB.

If you are sitting there thinking that those numbers look low, keep in mind this is with an added game’s worth of production estimated in already and without adding a major weapon like Jones. So would it be fun to add a talent like Julio Jones to this roster? Sure. It would make their offense almost impossible to defend. However, the Chiefs have enough pieces on offense that they don’t have to have another major weapon in order to get the rest of the production that they need. No other player has to even top 50 receptions for them to easily meet the cap of receptions, based on how this team has produced with Mahomes as the quarterback in the past.

It’s also possible that one or two of the players currently on the roster does step up to claim a bigger role for themselves. Demarcus Robinson had 45 receptions last season with Sammy Watkins still on the roster, and he claimed he wanted to put up bigger numbers this season when he re-signed with KC. It’s certainly possible that he or one of the other players above could have some kind of a breakout, but that would likely mean a decrease in production for other players on the list, based on the number of receptions available to spread around.

The one danger with the roster as it currently stands is what would happen if either Hill or Kelce missed significant time and the Chiefs had to replace their massive contributions. I think we can all feel good about the players above putting up their part of a group contribution, but there isn’t a single one of them that I would suddenly want to have to count on to catch 80+ passes this coming season. If one of those two were to miss time, I think the Chiefs would have to continue to spread the ball around and have everyone try to increase their share of the load instead of putting it on one or two guys. That scenario would then put even more pressure on Mahomes at quarterback.

So what do you think Chiefs fans? Do you like the idea of adding another major weapon like Jones even if it makes the rest of KC’s supporting cast minor role players? Do you think they’ll be fine with a spread out distribution like the one I offered up above or do you think that one or two of those guys are going to step up and claim a bigger piece of the pie this season? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

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