Patrick Mahomes took a chance and let it fly.
This was midway through Sunday’s practice, and the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback lofted the ball toward the sideline in 11-on-11s, giving 6-foot-4 receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling a chance to make a play over 5-11 cornerback Trent McDuffie.
Valdes-Scantling rewarded his QB’s faith. The receiver leaped to snatch the ball above his head with two hands, keeping it elevated while he tapped his toes inbounds for a completion on the left sideline.
It’s just an example of the type of play that could be more available to the Chiefs this year — while also potentially bringing extra benefit in one particular area of the field.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said when parsing through offensive free-agent options at receiver this offseason, he mainly focused on simply bringing in talent. He figured — with Mahomes’ versatile skill-set and coach Andy Reid’s ability to adapt — the team would figure out a way to best utilize its good players.
Veach wasn’t hesitant, then, to make the Chiefs bigger at receiver. Not only did they trade Tyreek Hill, but Veach also brought in Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster (6-1, 215 pounds), who both have succeeded professionally in part because of their size.
So what will these bigger targets do for the Chiefs in 2022?
“I think it’ll open up the offense even more,” Mahomes told The Star last week. “I think you’ve seen some of that, especially in the red zone.”
Some training camp practices have given a glimpse of what’s possible.
During red-zone drills, Mahomes has shown more willingness to toss the ball up high on the back line of the end zone — the type of throw he might have only felt comfortable delivering to his tight ends like 6-5 Travis Kelce a season ago. The goal, in those instances, is to give his tall receivers a chance to make a play over defenders in those tight windows.
Mahomes said last week he’d been happy with early results.
“Guys have made plays,” Mahomes said. “Having someone like JuJu, who obviously is a receiver, but I feel like can do a lot of the similar stuff that Kelce does in this offense of working in the middle of the field, but still have some burst to break off the big play ... having him work in the middle, and then some of these taller guys that are working the end line, I think it’ll help us out.”
Veach said he’d had conversations with Mahomes in the offseason about the shifting personnel. Veach said the QB admitted things would be different this season, but said he was going to love having more long bodies as wideouts.
“You throw in guys like JuJu and now MVS, I think he’ll appreciate that,” Veach told The Star. “I think anytime a quarterback gets those guys with long arms and those bigger wingspans ... he actually made a reference to that too: ‘These guys are so big, it’s like post players in basketball, just dumping it down.’”
The Chiefs were excellent in short-yardage situations last season but weren’t as productive in the red zone. The Chiefs ranked 11th in touchdown percentage on red-zone trips at 62%, while Football Outsiders’ advanced offensive stats ranked them 22nd in red-zone efficiency.
When asked how this year’s personnel might impact what the Chiefs do near the goal line, Reid said having the new guys was “not going to hurt us for sure.”
“We’ll figure out a way to utilize them,” Reid said. “We’ve got tight ends that can also do that down there. So we’ve got some big guys there that are good receivers.”
As Sunday’s practice showed, jump-ball-type throws should seemingly be more available in the Chiefs’ 2022 offense.
And if things go to plan, the reward for those receptions will be more than additional yards.
It’ll be touchdowns too.