Chiefs wide receivers and tight ends aren’t the root of the issue in Kansas City

The Kansas City Chiefs have struggled in the 2021 season, but their wide receivers and tight ends haven't been the problem.

It’s safe to say that 2021 hasn’t gone according to plan for the Kansas City Chiefs. After making back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the franchise sits at 3-4, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes is having a down year. For the moment, though, let’s turn away from Mahomes and focus instead on the Chiefs’ wide receivers and tight ends. The advanced metrics clearly suggest that they are not the problem in Kansas City.

The Chiefs wide receivers haven’t produced insane box scores outside of Tyreek Hill

When looking at Kansas City’s box score statistics, two players stand out. The first is Tyreek Hill, who has been his usual, productive self so far in 2021. He has totaled 641 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. That puts him on pace to reach a career-high in receiving yards, though adding a 17th game does help him there.

Meanwhile, Travis Kelce leads all tight ends with 533 receiving yards and has 4 touchdowns. After those two, though, the numbers are substantially less impressive. Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson have combined for 665 yards and 5 scores. Both Hill and Kelce have practically outperformed them on their own.

However, the advanced metrics suggest that almost all of these receivers are contributing to the offense at an elite level.

Most of the Chiefs’ wide receivers and tight ends have earned excellent advanced metrics

The Chiefs receivers, both those who have been highly productive and those who have played minor roles this season, have earned stellar advanced metrics almost across the board.

To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much they contributed to the creation of their statistics, rather than the statistics themselves.

On the whole, Kansas City’s receiving corps has performed spectacularly on this metric. Going into Week 8, Byron Pringle is second in the NFL with a grade of 40.04. Mecole Hardman isn’t far behind — his grade of 37.51 ranks sixth.

Tyreek Hill also cracks the top 10, coming in ninth with a grade of 37.01. Meanwhile, Travis Kelce ranks 16th among tight ends, with a grade of 36.17. Only Demarcus Robinson, who has just 20 targets on the season, grades poorly, ranking 60th among all qualifying wide receivers with a grade of 29.47.

These grades indicate that the Chiefs receivers have generally been highly effective this season, contributing at a high level to the success of Kansas City’s offense.

Examining the weekly grades of the Chiefs pass catchers

To further illustrate how excellent the Chiefs receivers have been, let’s look at their weekly grades. Pringle and Robinson have combined for just three qualifying grades, which might suggest that their overall grades are merely the result of a low sample size.

However, the other three players have all performed consistently. In the charts below, you can see their weekly grades, marked by the black dots.

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For comparison, the yellow line represents the average OVM grades for their respective positions in 2021. As you can see, most of these grades are at or above the league average.

The trend lines are somewhat different, with Hardman on the upswing and Kelce trending down. However, the level of variation isn’t significant enough for concern, especially as it is still early in the season.

The advanced metrics involved in WR/TE OVM grades

To help us understand why the OVM grades most Kansas City wide receivers and tight ends so highly, we need to examine the advanced metrics involved in calculating it.

In the chart below, you can see how the Chiefs players performed on the following statistics:

  • The average amount of cushion they were given at the snap.
  • The average amount of separation between them and the nearest defender when the ball reached them.
  • Their catch percentages.
  • Their average yards after the catch per reception.
  • The yards after the catch they were expected to average according to the NFL’s advanced statistics.
Cushion Separation Catch % YAC/Rec eYAC/R
Hill 5.4 3.4 72.22% 4 3.5
Kelce 5.4 3.2 68.23% 6.3 4.9
Hardman 6.5 4.1 75% 6.1 4.7
Pringle 5.2 3.8 73.91% 4.5 3.5
Robinson 5.5 3.6 55% 1.8 3.5

Breaking down the numbers

Hill, Hardman, and Pringle all have catch percentages above 70% and have decent statistics across the board otherwise. Particularly impressive are Hardman’s statistics, whose average separation is tied for fourth among all qualifying wide receivers and is averaging more than 6 yards after the catch.

Kelce’s statistics aren’t perfectly comparable, as he plays a different position. For example, his catch percentage is worse than it appears because tight ends generally perform better than wide receivers on that metric.

By the same logic, some of his metrics are actually more impressive than they first appear. His YAC average is tied for sixth among tight ends, and the differential is tied for fifth.

As for Robinson, it should be easy to see why he is struggling. While his separation numbers are decent, he is only catching 55% of his targets, and his YAC totals are abysmal. The difference between his actual total and the NFL’s expectations is the largest among all tight ends and wide receivers so far this season.

The receivers are not the problem in Kansas City

The Chiefs are struggling this season, but the advanced metrics clearly suggest that wide receivers and tight ends are not the problem. And the team has plenty of issues they need to deal with.

They have one of the league’s worst defenses, allowing more than 400 yards and nearly 30 points per game. Meanwhile, though it seems Mahomes will be back from his injury on Monday, he is on pace for the highest interception total of his career by a significant margin.

Kansas City will need to rectify those issues if they want to get their season back on track. If they do, however, the receivers will be just fine.

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