Which players will benefit most from Kadarius Toney's absence?

With the shifty wide receiver out, who will step up in his absence?

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Justin Watson

Toney's injury all but locks veteran Justin Watson onto the 2023 roster for me. Sure, he signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal this offseason with $1.4 million guaranteed. But, I learned my lesson last season. The Chiefs signed linebacker Jermaine Carter to a one-year, fully-guaranteed $1.7 million deal. Despite the financial implications, Carter still did not make Kansas City's initial 53-man roster and ended up playing for the Cleveland Browns in 2022.

All that to say, Watson could have been pushed off the Chiefs roster, if several wide receivers had strong training camps. His spot could have gone to Richie James, a wide receiver with similar skills and special teams chops, or one of the J. Ross's if Chiefs coaches felt strongly enough about them. But, with Toney gone, the Chiefs need to fill plenty of snaps on offense and defense. Watson fits that role like a glove, and he did it before.

It is easy to forget how much Watson stepped up down the stretch in 2022. He was the only wide receiver to be on the field for at least 50% of the Chiefs' offensive snaps since Week 9. He is the bridge between Juju Smith-Schuster missing time, and Toney being injured and learning the play book. He did not stuff the stat sheet, but his 15 receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns still made for a career year. He ended up playing 43% of the Chiefs offensive snaps last year, after entering the offseason firmly on the roster bubble.

Watson kept his value in Kansas City by stepping up on special teams when Skyy Moore was not cutting it as a punt returner. Watson was not a prolific return man, with five returns for only 39 yards, but he did not fumble at least. PFF graded Watson as the Chiefs' best punt returner, for what that is worth.

Watson provides a lot, especially with Toney gone. He brings system familiarity, veteran leadership, proven production, and versatility. Those are some qualities money cannot buy. Watson may be a low-ceiling option, but he is a safe one.