Some Chiefs offensive weapons have collapsed under the weight of expectations

For a team marked by its offensive excellence, expectations have become an anchor. Coming into the 2023 season, the skill position players on the marquee in Kansas City have been felled by the demands of larger roles.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots / Kathryn Riley/GettyImages

On Sunday afternoon, Kansas City Chiefs' 2020 first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire posted 101 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. It was a surprisingly refreshing performance from the oft-maligned running back. His Week 15 outing was gratifying for one simple reason: the former LSU Tiger is no longer burdened by the weight of expectations.

Edwards-Helaire is operating from a comfortable space as the backup to Isiah Pacheco. No well-reasoned pundit or member of the Chiefs' fan base is looking for him to provide an offensive spark, and with that latitude, he's amassed 169 yards of total offense over the past two weeks.

We all know the history of rookie receivers in Andy Reid's offenses. I alluded to that history early in the offseason and told fans to temper their expectations for wide receiver Rashee Rice. Suffice it to say, the process of integrating into an unforgiving Reid system has proven too big a challenge for many a first-year wideout. It's been well-documented during his head coaching stints in both Philadelphia and Kansas City. That's largely why the emergence of Rice has been a welcomed addition to Patrick Mahomes' supporting cast.

In Sunday's contest, Rice had 91 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. He's now the most productive rookie receiver during the Reid era in Kansas City and threatens at least one more rookie record with three more catches (receptions by a rookie).

Conversely, the players most afflicted in Kansas City are those being featured more prominently in the offense in 2023 (Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney). In fact, general manager Brett Veach planted his flag in their growth and evolution in their second seasons with the team. The tandem has failed to reward Veach's good faith. The two have combined for just 413 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in 14 regular season games. To put that in perspective, Justin Watson has 381 receiving yards and two touchdowns of his own. That's a differential of just 32 yards, coming from a player most viewed as a WR4 in Kansas City's offense.

To say nothing of the substantive regression of de facto No. 1 receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling would be malpractice. His 312 receiving yards are fourth on the team behind Kelce, Rice, and Watson. He certainly never carried high expectations as he has a lower ceiling than the aforementioned players. The problem with Valdes-Scantling is how much his floor has fallen this season. With Rice being ahead of schedule, a similar performance to MVS' 2022 campaign would make this a more consistent offensive bunch. What a difference a year makes. This year, he's the highest-paid at his position and the most experienced and accomplished receiver left in the room. He's crumbled with that resting on his shoulders.

It's tough to mount a consistently productive offense when you don't know which cast members can be relied upon. Those we expected to answer the bell haven't and it's been a challenge to re-shuffle the deck. In recent weeks, Reid has modified snap counts to align with those who have produced. Rice has been a revelation and made himself a dependable new cog in the offensive wheel. Fortunately for Kansas City, it appears a few others are doing the same. The key to Kansas City saving its season may be finding the right confluence of its unsung heroes.

Sometimes, when your keys are lost, they turn up in the most unexpected places in your home. Andy Reid and company may find synchronicity with that offensively down the stretch. The players we most hoped would establish themselves haven't been able to handle the pressure. We know Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice can be counted upon. Maybe it's time for the unheralded pieces—Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Noah Gray, Justin Watson, and Richie James—to do some of the heavy lifting. That group may or may not have the horsepower to keep this team's aspirations of a title defense afloat, but at least for one Sunday afternoon, there were reasons to hope.