Patrick Mahomes redefined how everyone looks at the quarterback position. His ability to make off-platform throws, create outside of structure and disassociate his body mechanics to complete improbable passes serve as the standard-bearer for what the NFL wants at the position, even if it's an impossible standard.
The scary part? The 2018 league MVP is still evolving, and a slightly different version of Mahomes should appear this fall.
He must change, because his supporting cast dictates he do so. The 26-year-old needs to be a distributor as much as, or more than, serving as a playmaker. He'll be asked to serve as a point guard on grass.
The four-time (and counting) Pro Bowl quarterback doesn't have the same luxury within the Chiefs scheme as he previously did. Tyreek Hill is no longer a member of the organization after it traded the standout target to the Miami Dolphins for first-, second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft as well as fourth- and sixth-rounders next year.
Hill's on-field presence is unlike any other player's. He defines "game-changing speed." Mahomes and Hill connected on a different level because they could bail each other out on a consistent basis.
The designed play isn't working? Oh well, let's chuck it up to Hill and he'll outrace anyone to the ball.
While that's oversimplification of how the connection worked, Mahomes now lacks the same safety net with this crop of wide receivers.
"A once-in-a-generation type of player has left the team, so somebody's got to step up and fill a role," Mecole Hardman said Tuesday, per ESPN's Adam Teicher. "... I just want to be better than I was last year, get better as an overall receiver, kind of establish my name a little bit more. Catching the ball, running routes, yards after catch, everything I'm trying to improve on."
Plenty of talented options reside in K.C.
Hardman brings a certain element of speed, even if he's not nearly as dynamic as Hill. The organization signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Josh Gordon returns for another season. The Chiefs took Skyy Moore in the second round and then signed Justyn Ross as an undrafted free agent.
Each brings a different skill set to the group.
Beyond Hardman, who was a 2019 second-round pick, Smith-Schuster is a 25-year-old target with a 1,400-yard campaign in his back pocket. The former Pittsburgh Steeler didn't play as well without Antonio Brown in the lineup, but he's a capable slot receiver.
Valdes-Scantling is a straight vertical threat who's posted an average of 17.5 yards per catch throughout his career. Gordon is one of the most naturally gifted wide receivers to ever enter the NFL ranks. When he's committed to the game and not suspended, he's a true X-receiver.
Moore is an intriguing rookie who can play multiple positions and creates after the catch. Ross, meanwhile, is another tall, lanky outside threat with first-round ability but went undrafted because of concerns over neck surgery.
Of those mentioned, Ross may be getting the most hype coming out of organized team activities.
Mahomes told reporters Thursday:
"Yeah, I mean, you still see the talent. I think that's the first thing. ... He snatches it—there's no drops or anything like that. Now it's about him learning the NFL offense. ... You've seen those flashes of how talented he can be. And then you've seen times where he's just barely off of what we wanted. And he learns from that, he doesn't make that same mistake.
"And so, the more and more reps that he gets, I can only imagine how good he's going to be because of the talent he possesses."
To be fair, OTAs are set up to let rookies shine as they get their feet under them, and not all veterans are present. Even so, Ross is a high-profile addition despite going undrafted because of his circumstances coming out of Clemson. The Chiefs should be excited about his potential even as an undrafted signee since his talent was never in question.
None of the options may be as singularly talented as Hill, nor should they be expected to completely fill his shoes. The Chiefs and Mahomes have to adjust. In doing so, the quarterback must consistently distribute the ball to all of his targets instead of keying on specific options.
Last season, Hill and tight end Travis Kelce combined for 293 targets. Kelce remains one of the league's best tight ends, and his standing within the offense shouldn't change. The utilization of those around him will.
Beyond Hardman and Hill, no K.C. receiver received more than 60 targets. Byron Pringle signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears this offseason. Demarcus Robinson left to join the Las Vegas Raiders.
The passing game falls on the quarterback to look at availability based on pre- and post-snap reads. Mahomes understands it's a group effort, with him leading the way. He told reporters Thursday:
"That's what you're going to see with this offense this year. It's going to be everybody. It's not all going to be one guy. Obviously [Travis Kelce] is still going to get a lot of completions, a lot of yards but the whole receiving room is going to have big days and that can be something we use to our advantage.
"It's a very deep receiving room. It's hard to tell which guys are going to make it because we've got so many good receivers. That's what you want. You want that competition. You want guys competing every single day to make the roster because they're going to help us in the end."
Mahomes' acknowledgement shows how the offense will become more role-based. As Hardman stated, Hill is a special talent. Multiple receivers will pick up the slack in different areas where the previous WR1 excelled. Mahomes knows this and expects it from specific receivers, starting with Hardman. The quarterback told reporters Tuesday:
"For me, it's for him to just continue to be himself. He doesn't have to be Tyreek Hill. He has to be Mecole Hardman, and I think Mecole Hardman can be a great player in this offense. ... He can keep getting better and better. Everybody puts out there he's got to replace Tyreek. I think he can be his own player, a Pro Bowler and a great player in this offense as well. I think just him continuing to evolve, play hard and practice hard, he'll have a great season this year."
Head coach Andy Reid agreed.
"Mecole has the speed like a Tyreek had. Different player but like what Tyreek had," Reid stated. "He gives you a nice skill set there with the speed and quickness and ability to run when the ball is in his hands. He's a very aggressive runner when the ball is in his hands. You find ways to do that in a variety of different ways."
Different skill sets are important. If Mahomes is the point guard, the wide receivers form the rest of his basketball team. They each need to do something unique to bring value, much like a power forward is different than a shooting guard.
If Hardman brings speed, Valdes-Scantling serves as an outside vertical threat and Smith-Schuster works primarily from the slot, then this year's 54th draft pick, Moore, is the player Mahomes wants to get the ball into his hands early and let him work.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said May 16, per Teicher:
"Skyy is unique. He is smaller, but he plays big. He has longer arms. He was a running back that transitioned to wideout. It was funny watching his tape because it seemed like we were watching forever before we saw him drop a pass.
"We have guys like MVS [Marquez Valdes‐Scantling] that has some size and speed, Mecole [Hardman] has speed, JuJu [Smith‐Schuster] is big. So I feel like we have a good combination and now we just wanted to add the best player, regardless of size or height, just guys that we feel are going to come in and be able to contribute right away. Certainly, Skyy is one of those guys."
Few talents supersede scheme. The maximization of a player's skill set ultimately determines whether an individual is successful. The Chiefs are fortunate to have one of football's all-time great play-designers as their head coach and a quarterback behind center capable of making any throw from any angle.
In the end, the responsibility falls on Mahomes. He must enter this season with a changed mentality, because his ability to place the football in the right spot at the right time will determine how successful the Chiefs offense will be with its shifting group of wide receivers. A more efficient operator instead of a highlight-reel-maker—though those moments will surely come—is necessary for Kansas City to remain counted among the league's offensive elite.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.