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Chiefs WR Outlook: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore (2022 Fantasy Football)

Mecole Hardman

In our “Closer Look” series, we’re examining ambiguous, hard-to-read position groups and offering advice on how to handle them in 2022 fantasy football drafts. In this installment, Andrew Erickson takes a closer look at the wide receivers for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

Primary Contributors

JuJu Smith-Schuster

It always seemed more probable that JuJu Smith-Schuster would find his way to Kansas City in free agency. The Chiefs were interested in him last season, and the landing spot is perfect for reviving Smith-Schuster’s fantasy football value. He’s just one year removed from a WR17 finish in PPR — top-10 in WR2 finisher rate (56%) — between two injury-plagued seasons.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss that JuJu had an elite sophomore campaign — 1,400-plus receiving yards — and he is still just 25 years old. Nevertheless, with the most vacated targets available in Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes as his new quarterback, 2022 should be a return to form for Smith-Schuster.

He can operate from his natural position in the slot and benefit from the playmakers around him. After all, Smith-Schuster was at his best as a Pittsburgh Steeler during his first two seasons playing opposite Antonio Brown.

Just keep that in mind before going too aggressive on Smith-Schuster (WR31 average draft position), his real-life No. 2 and low-average depth of target (aDOT) receiver profile means he’s destined for fantasy WR2 status at best — assuming he can recapture his playmaking ability from earlier in his career.

The fact that he was out-produced by Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson the last time he was healthy should raise concerns that he won’t immediately be a target hog and rise to fantasy WR1 status in Kansas City.

In 2020, Smith-Schuster’s target share fell behind Claypool and No. 4 wide receiver James Washington when Johnson missed games (21% to 17%).

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

The ex-Green Bay Packers’ field stretcher has ranked inside the top five in yards per reception over the last two seasons, so he will feel right at home catching bombs from Patrick Mahomes.

He will surely experience spiked weeks of production attached to the Chiefs’ big-armed quarterback after finishing 20% of his games as a WR1 in 2021 and 30% as a top-24 guy.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 20% top-12 rate was identical to Marquise Brown, Diontae Johnson and CeeDee Lamb‘s in 2021. You read that correctly.

However, valuing him anything more than a weekly boom-or-bust fantasy WR3/4 would be malpractice. Although I bet the gap between his peaks and valleys closes with an upgrade at quarterback in a pass-heavier offense.

And considering his current ADP (WR51), he’s my favorite KC wide receiver to draft. MVS will have an advantage fighting for reps as a starting perimeter receiver, with most Chiefs’ receivers vying for snaps from the slot between Smith-Schuster, rookie Skyy Moore and returning veteran Mecole Hardman.

Those guys, along with Travis Kelce and the running backs, may cannibalize most short-to-intermediate targets, leaving MVS as the team’s primary downfield weapon.

Although if Valdes-Scantling’s ADP continues to rise based on offseason buzz, I’ll be the first to hop off the wagon for a player that has yet to ever command more than 75 targets in a single season over a four-year career.

Skyy Moore

A second-round draft pick, Skyy Moore, is undervalued versus Round 1 rookie WRs because he was the 13th wide receiver selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. But the Western Michigan product has the chance to hit the ground running in the post-Tyreek Hill era, competing for targets with fellow newcomers Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling. His impressive yards after catch (YAC) ability — tied for first with 26 forced missed tackles in 2021 — and ability to play both inside/outside help him stand out from the other Kansas City Chiefs’ WRs.

During Moore’s final college season, he finished as PFF’s third-highest graded wide receiver in the FBS (91.6) with a 41% dominator rating to boot. Additionally, his 3.40 yards per route run ranked in the 99th percentile among 2022 draft-eligible wide receivers over the past three seasons.

Moore could smash his current ADP (WR49) into the stratosphere with Mahomes entrenched as his quarterback. It’s not that outlandish to think a second-rounder can make an immediate impact considering six of the 12 highest-scoring Round 1 & 2 rookie WRs selected since 2017 were second-rounders.

Mecole Hardman

Mecole Hardman will see an expanded role after the Tyreek Hill trade, but he has often failed to fire when asked to take a step forward in the No. 1 WR’s absence.

In those five games (four in 2019, one in 2021), Hardman has averaged 4.8 targets, 54 receiving yards and 10.6 fantasy points per game (PPR) — good for the WR44 last season. His ADP is WR61.

The Chiefs adding a plethora of WRs in free agency and second-rounder Skyy Moore in the NFL Draft hints that they aren’t anticipating a massive leap for Hardman.

My advice is to not be overly bullish on drafting a WR who has yet to rid the role of a gadget player since entering the league. Because although the thought of a speedy wide receiver attached to Mahomes is enticing, Hardman’s on-field production has not been consistently there, even from a spiked-week perspective.

Case in point, he has finished a top-18 weekly WR in PPR once in three years to go along with a handful of 18-20th overall finishes. And that’s while Hardman has ranked sixth overall in yards per target (9.6) among WRs with at least 180 targets.

However, because Hardman’s cost is so suppressed after several letdown performances in past games, he’s becoming someone I am more interested in drafting. His WR44 scoring without Hill seems like a realistic floor, so anything else he can offer is straight gravy. It can’t be understated that he’s the longest tenure Chiefs’ WRs by a wide margin and that his skill set mimics Tyreek Hill better than anyone else on the current roster.

Also, Hardman earned praise from Chiefs’ beat reporter Jesse Newell on a recent 4for4 Fantasy Football podcast. Newell claimed that the fourth-year wideout would be the team’s leading receiver. Of course, it’s just one person’s opinion, but I’ve come to take more weight with contrarian takes like this after a Raiders’ reporter last season told me that Hunter Renfrow would lead Las Vegas in receiving yards and receptions.

Other Potential Contributors (Longshots)

Justyn Ross

Justyn Ross looked the part of college football’s next superstar after a breakout freshman season. At 18 years old, Ross led the Clemson Tigers in receiving yards despite playing alongside more senior teammates Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers and Hunter Renfrow, who were future pros. He was PFF’s second-highest-graded WR in his first season (91.2).

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound wideout followed up with an impressive sophomore campaign, leading the team in receptions (66) as Trevor Lawrence‘s most heavily targeted receiver.

Ross was well on his way to being a locked-and-loaded Round 1 selection for the 2021 NFL Draft, but a rare condition affecting his neck and spine forced him to miss the entire 2020 season.

He returned in 2021 to show that he was fully healthy, but an anemic Clemson offense that ranked 87th in PFF’s grading torpedoed his numbers. Only 64% of his targets were deemed catchable, which ranked in the 28th percentile.

He’s an underrated route runner at his size but not a contested-catch fiend. It reminds me a lot of Corey Davis because Ross is not particularly explosive.

The injury concerns made Ross go undrafted, but he landed in the best situation with Kansas City.

The floor is rock bottom, but Ross’ experience playing special teams does give me some hope that he can stick to the bottom of the depth chart or practice squad in KC. The talent is so apparent that I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes some noise — health withstanding.

Justin Watson

A 2018 fifth-round pick, Justin Watson inked a one-year deal worth $1.03 million with the Chiefs this offseason. Watson has been a depth option with the Buccaneers over the past four seasons and missed all of 2021 with a knee injury.

He’s shown flashes at times, with two games of double-digit fantasy points and eight-plus targets when given the opportunity.

But what’s more interesting is the rhetoric from GMFB’s Peter Schrager, claiming that Watson is a guy who can make an impact on the roster.

His NFL production hardly suggests that will be the case, but there’s no ignoring that Watson does have talent. Per PlayerProfiler, Watson posted a 60% college dominator rating (99th percentile) at Penn State.

The fact that Watson also has experience playing special teams dramatically increases his likelihood of cracking the 53-man roster.

Josh Gordon

Josh Gordon signed with the Chiefs in 2021 but failed to make any actual impact. He never saw more than three targets in any game and averaged just 0.23 yards per route run. At 31 years old, don’t hold your breath hoping Gordon will replicate anything close to his unbelievable 2013 campaign.

Considering he also doesn’t play special teams, I’d say he’s firmly on the roster bubble with a sub-50% chance of making the team outright.

Daurice Fountain

The Colts drafted Daurice Fountain in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He joined the Chiefs before the start of the 2021 season and led the team in receiving yards during the preseason.

Cornell Powell

The Chiefs drafted Powell in the fifth round of the 2021 draft after a modest career at Clemson. He spent the entire 2021 season on the Kansas City practice squad and he’s nothing more than a special teams guy.

Omar Bayless

Former 2020 UDFA who spent time on the Panthers’ practice squad in 2021.

Gary Jennings

Jennings has been in the NFL since 2019 but has not recorded any regular season playing time.

Corey Coleman

The former first-round pick from 2016, Corey Coleman, signed with the Chiefs in March after not playing in 2021. He hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2018.

Aaron Parker

A 2020 undrafted free agent from Rhode Island who has spent time on the Panthers’ and Cowboys’ practice squads and signed with Chiefs on June 16, 2022.

Analysis

There are two ways that the Chiefs’ WR room plays out in 2022.

Outcome No. 1: Somebody steps up and earns the vacated role left over by Tyreek Hill and becomes a reliable fantasy option behind Travis Kelce.

Outcome No. 2: No single WR separates themselves enough from the pack, making them all WR3/4/FLEX options who can only be started based on a specific matchup.

As Mahomes has never supplemented any consistent WR fantasy production not-named Tyreek Hill, I’d say the odds slightly favor the second outcome over the first — as frustrating as that might be for fantasy managers.

But it seems like that’s how the Chiefs want to approach their offense in a post-Hill era. Mahomes said as much during optional team activities (OTAs).

Per the Athletic, Mahomes said as much regarding targeting different receivers often, “That’s what you’re going to see from this offense this year: It’s going to be everybody. Travis is still going to get a lot of completions and a lot of yards, but I think the whole receiving room is going to have big days. That can be something we can use to our advantage.”

Oh, what fun it will be ranking these guys every single week.

How to Value These Players

Based on his ADP, Smith-Schuster is viewed as the Chiefs’ No. 1 fantasy WR. And it’s very feasible, based on his career background and veteran status, that he should be the favorite to lead the WRs in targets, especially to start the season.

Therefore, I have no problem ranking him as the top guy in redraft formats because he should post usable production from Day 1. However, I don’t view Smith-Schuster as having this other-worldly fantasy outlook because he’s been a No. 2 real-life wide receiver his entire NFL career.

In my opinion, being part of the Chiefs’ offense provides Smith-Schuster a higher floor, not necessarily a super-high ceiling. And I don’t tend to draft many WRs that high that I can’t envision becoming league-winners. So in certain roster constructions, sure, there’s a place for Smith-Schuster. But the overall ambiguity of the targeting pecking order makes me less likely to pay up for JuJu’s floor and instead target other KC WRs later on.

Every other Chiefs’ WR is being drafted outside the top-95 overall players in best ball and are going even later (outside top-130) in traditional 2022 redraft rankings.

This should be the range you want to target these players. MVS will likely be a full-time starter on the outside and provide spiked weeks, making him perfect for the best ball format. On the other hand, Skyy Moore could open the year as the No. 4 wide receiver, making him somewhat useless in shallow redraft formats. But he will likely see his role grow in the offense as the weeks progress, which would most likely hinder Smith-Schuster’s season-long outlook.

The rookie could be firing on all cylinders by the end of the season, which is exactly what best ball drafters should be looking for with so many tournament prize pools factoring in Weeks 14-17.

I’ll admit that Hardman was a total afterthought for me until I took a deeper dive into the Chiefs’ WR room. I pretty much scoffed at him being a legitimate fantasy piece. But I have altered my stance. I’d argue that he’s being priced pretty much at his floor and that his ADP can only rise based on imminent positive camp reports of him running with the No. 1s, starting in the slot, etc.

Hardman’s closest historical comparisons through his first three seasons are Tyrell Williams, Kenny Stills, Tyrell Williams and Tyler Lockett, based on his body of work. And each of their Year 4 performances paints a picture of Hardman’s range of outcomes from top-to-bottom.

WR Numbers Through First Three Seasons

Touches Yards/ Target Targets Receiving Yards Offensive Snaps Year 4 finish
Mecole Hardman 142 9.6 186 1791 1593 ???
Kenny Stills 126 10.3 196 2012 1901 WR28
Tyrell Williams 114 9.7 193 1877 1772 WR46
Randall Cobb 152 9.7 182 1762 1889 WR6
Tyler Lockett 227 8.8 206 1816 1912 WR11

 

Tyrell Williams’ numbers fell in Year 4 because he became the clear No. 3 option in the passing game behind veteran Keenan Allen and second-year Mike Williams. Still, he finished the season as a fantasy WR4 to go along with two top-12 finishes. Not crazy to think Hardman, at minimum, could deliver this type of season based on his explosive profile.

However, I like Stills’ outlook a little more as a median projection. The former Saints’ and Dolphins’ WR was just a part-time player through his first three seasons in the league, playing behind the likes of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.

Year 4 was when he finally got the chance to start games as a clear-cut No. 3 target, and he delivered a top-30 fantasy season. Of course, part of that is that he scored nine touchdowns, but I wouldn’t rule out that type of production for Hardman as a big-time playmaker.

He’s basically played just 50% of the offensive snaps the past three seasons and still averaged four touchdowns per season. Hardman also tied Kelce for the team’s second-most red-zone targets (16) last season. Hill led the roster with 24 red-zone targets.

Valdes-Scantling has never commanded more than eight RZ targets in a season. Smith-Schuster ranked first in 2018 and 6th in 2020 in red-zone targets, so he’s Hardman’s biggest threat.

But it’s hard not to be encouraged by Hardman’s increased role in the red zone in his third year, which is probably an indication that he has the trust of the coaches and his quarterback in that area of the field. That alone should go a long way in increasing Hardman’s chances of putting up high TD totals like Stills was also able to do in his fourth season.

Because maybe the question fantasy gamers should be asking about the Chiefs shouldn’t be, “Who is going to get the most targets?” But instead, “Who is going to see the most high-value targets and score the most touchdowns?” After all, isn’t that why we are targeting the Chiefs’ offense anyway?

Cobb’s fourth year is obviously the super bullish 99th percentile outcome for Hardman because I don’t think a top-five season is actually possible. But, on the other hand, the Packers’ WR was already a proven commodity after a breakout in Year 2. So maybe that’s the real bullish case for Smith-Schuster.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities in the Cobb/Hardman numbers entering Year 4 and favorable situations attached to elite passers.

The Tyler Lockett comp was one I added in late because I remember it took him some time before he transformed into the top-tier wideout we know today. And when you stack him side-by-side with Hardman, it’s eerily similar to what these career arcs looked like three years in, as provided by Stathead.com.

Lockett’s ADP before his fantasy WR1 finish in 2018? WR53.

Mecole Hardman vs. Tyler Lockett During the First Three Seasons

Player Yds Tgt Age GS Tgt Rec Yds TD Y/G Ctch%
Tyler Lockett 1816 206 23-25 25 206 137 1816 9 38.6 66.5
Mecole Hardman 1791 186 21-23 21 186 126 1791 12 36.6 67.7

 

This deep dive on Hardman is just my long way of saying that he’s probably fallen too far on the draft board with a WR3/4 finish pretty easily in his range of outcomes. And because he is so cheap, you can easily cut bait with him after Week 1 in regular leagues if he is still not playing in a full-time role.

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