Training Camp Battles: Wide Receiver

Training Camp Battles: Wide Receiver

By Jack Johnson, Sports Radio 810 Contributor

Welcome to the second edition of Training Camp Battles! Today, we’re breaking down wide
receivers and who will be competing for the second and third spots.

After Kansas City let Sammy Watkins walk this offseason, the belief was that the Chiefs would
push hard for a wideout in free agency. Not only did the front office make an effort, but head
coach Andy Reid did his part too. A few months back, general manager Brett Veach and Reid
attemped to add JuJu Smith-Schuster to an already explosive unit. Reid reportedly called
Smith-Schuster and sent Lombardi Trophy pictures “constantly”. As it turned out, that method
was almost effective enough to bring the 24-year-old to the heart of the country.

“We had a good talk,” Smith-Schuster said. “So it would’ve been K.C. after the Steelers.”
In the end, Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year, $8M deal.
However, that didn’t stop Veach from gunning for another wide receiver to boost the offense.
The other option was Josh Reynolds, who was coming off a career season with the Los Angeles
Rams. The former Texas A&M Aggie hauled in 52 catches for 618 yards and two touchdowns.
But Reynolds elected to join the Tennessee Titans on a one-year, $1.75M deal to be the team’s
No. 2 receiver. That was a possibility, until the Titans traded for Julio Jones.

After two swings and misses in free agency, it appears Kansas City is going to look in-house for
wide receivers. With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce shouldering the majority of the workload, the
Chiefs are going to need to fill the void that Watkins left. Though Watkins started over 10 games
just once in his three seasons in Kansas City, he still tallied over 1600 yards. So, let’s take the
Moneyball approach that Brad Pitt/Billy Beane used in the movie to replace Jason Giambi (in a

Watkins totaled 1613 yards over three seasons with the Chiefs. If you divide that by three, it
comes out to 537.6 yards. In short, Kansas City is going to need a wide receiver on its current
roster to eclipse 537 yards this season to replace Watkins’s production. Fortunately for the
Chiefs, one of their current players has already done that twice — Mecole Hardman.

Hardman is predominantly recognized as a gadget player. He’s shown flashes in the return
game, running game, and the passing attack. In his first two seasons, Hardman has tallied 538
receiving yards and 560. With those totals, Hardman has proven he’s able to replace the shoes
of Watkins in the offense, right? Well, it may not be that simple. Keep in mind that Hardman’s
never had a 100-yard receiving game. Those 70, 80-yard catch and runs inflate the overall
numbers. In his rookie season, he averaged over 20 yards per catch. In 2020, that dropped to
13.7. Can Hardman put up the numbers when he’s being defended by a defense’s second-best

Option B is Demarcus Robinson, who the Chiefs inked to a one-year, $1.137M deal back in
March. Robinson was targeted the most he’d ever been in 2020 with 59 targets. He was able to
haul in 45 of those for a career-high 466 yards. Make no mistake, though. Robinson believes
he’s capable of breaking out for a 1,000-yard season.

“Every other season, it’s (been) four, five touchdowns, 500 yards,” Robinson said. “I just think it
picks up a little bit more right now. I’m looking for the opportunity — not for them to give me the
opportunity — but go in there and take the opportunity. Go in there and show that I am a guy who
can put up 1,000 yards a year and 10 touchdowns. I’m ready to make that happen. They said
they’ve got something in store for me. I’m ready to show them.”

Now comes the dark horse options. There are three names that will have a legitimate shot to
compete for playing teams in the preseason. The first is Kansas State product Byron Pringle.
Pringle, 27, was an undrafted free agent who’s mostly made an impact on special teams.
However, like Robinson and Hardman, he’s made game-changing plays from time to time.
Though he’s never been a true starter in the NFL, Veach is confident in Pringle’s abilities.
“We’re extremely high on Byron Pringle,” Veach said in April.

Pringle caught 13 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown across 13 games in 2020.
Another wild card is 2021 fifth-round pick Cornell Powell out of the University of Clemson.
Powell is a unique prospect that likely fell in the draft due to his age. The wideout will turn 24 in
October, which already makes him older than Hardman and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The other
knock is that Powell produced only one breakout season at Clemson, which came in his senior
year. Prior to his 882-yard, seven touchdown season in 2020, Powell never recorded more than
130 yards and two touchdowns in a single season. On the other hand, he’s more polished than
most rookies drafted after the first round. In the 2021 Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, Powell led
the team with 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The final candidate on this list is Joe Fortson. Fortson is a mountain of a man — standing at
6-foot-6, 230 pounds. The 25-year-old is built like a tight end, but has opened some eyes with
acrobatic catches in the preseason. Fortson is a bit of a longshot to make the 55-man roster, let
alone start, but he’s a massive target for a team that ranked 16th in red zone touchdowns last

Who do you think will be the No. 2 and 3 wide receivers? Give us your thoughts!