The Chiefs are built to flourish through a Rashee Rice suspension

The Chiefs are built to flourish through a Rashee Rice suspension

It’s a matter of “when” not “if” Rashee Rice is suspended by the NFL in the wake of his arrest for a high speed hit-and-run which resulted in a chain collision in Dallas. It’s unclear what punishment the league will hand down, with some insiders predicting it could be as much as half a season for the the second-year receiver.

Rice figured to be one of the Chiefs’ most critical offensive players in 2024. Coming off an outstanding 938-yard, seven touchdown rookie year, Rice was poised to break out and become Kansas City’s true No. 1 receiver. That is now on the back burner, but somehow the Chiefs are even more dangerous than they were a year ago — even without Rice on the roster.

It’s important to remember that despite the Super Bowl success, the Chiefs had mammoth challenges in their passing offense in 2023. Mahomes was brilliant as always, but the time-honored tradition of “leaning on Travis Kelce” had less effect last season than in years past, largely because teams knew to bracket the tight end because there was nobody else to fear.

Outside the emergence of Rice, the rest of the receiving corps was a MESS last season.

  • Justin Watson: 27 catches for 460 yards
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 21 catches for 315 yards
  • Skyy Moore: 21 catches for 244 yards
  • Kadarius Toney: 27 catches for 169 yards

This group, removing Rice from the equation, is without a doubt the worst receiver room in the NFL — rivaled only by the 2023 Carolina Panthers. They were marred by inconsistent hands, to the point where not even Mahomes’ brilliance could make them good. If not for Kelce and Rice there’s no way the Chiefs win a second consecutive Super Bowl.

So, what changed?

The biggest factors in why the Chiefs look much better this year (even without Rice to start the year) are the additions of Hollywood Brown and Xavier Worthy. Two similarly-styled receivers, but guys the Chiefs really need.

There’s no question Brown had a down year with the hapless Cardinals in 2023, but much of that was due to Kyler Murray’s injury. Even at his best, the truth is that he just never really clicked in Arizona. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe the 26-year-old can once again return to being a 1,000-yard threat with Mahomes under center.

Brown’s outside speed and separation are something the Chiefs sorely lacked. They excelled in separation on specific route packages, but even at the best of times the unit was inconsistent. Brown is a steady, reliable separator in the NFL — to the point where even with Rice on the roster he’d likely be the No. 1 target this season outside of Kelce.

From there it’s all about Worthy and his heralded 4.21 speed. The plan will be to run him in the slot. The aim will be to make him the YAC monster, similar to Tyreek Hill’s role when he was in the Andy Reid offense.

Why will this work?

Bizarrely enough, if there’s one guy who the Chiefs can operate without it’s Rashee Rice. Don’t mistake that for saying he’s expendable, because he’s not — but in running 11 personnel (the NFL’s favored grouping) it would have Worthy bunched with Rice on one side of the formation, with Brown on the other.

Brown’s job would be to separate and be primary read, Rice would be the intermediate route runner, and Worthy the short YAC-intended route. In this grouping you can easily switch out Rice with Justin Watson and at least get by. With Kelce also covering that intermediate route range it makes that No. 2 receiver role more redundant than on other teams without a world-beating tight end.

In short: You can still run the same base offense, with the same principles, and see less of a drop off by losing Rice than any other weapon in this offense.

There’s a wild card to this as well

When the Chiefs offense sputtered in 2023 they moved to more 13 personnel. This was a grouping that eschewed receiver focus altogether and ran a three tight end package of Kelce, Noah Gray and Blake Bell.

The 13 package was very difficult to defend against, and will even get better in 2024 with the free agent addition of Irv Smith Jr. It throws more talent into that 13 personnel grouping, which can help alleviate the pressure as well until Rice returns from suspension.

Rumors of the Chiefs’ demise were greatly exaggerated

So, don’t get your hopes up too much if you’re facing Kansas City in the first half of the season and banked on it being easier because the Chiefs’ wouldn’t have Rashee Rice. Andy Reid and Co. have crafted this roster to have multiple redundancies in case any one piece is unavailable.

There’s a very good chance the Chiefs could be even better to start the year than they were offensively at the end of 2023, and from there whenever Rice returns they’ll only get incrementally better. Bad news if you were rooting for the downfall of a dynasty; great news if you’re a K.C. fan.

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