The new-look offense is just as fast
Jarrod Thurman @JarrodChiefsFCS Chiefs Focus @Chiefsfocus
When the Chiefs got Patrick Mahomes his new toys on offense the year he became the starter, the Chiefs gained the nickname “The Legion of Zoom”, a reference to the players’ speed on the team. While some members of the Legion of Zoom have left, we have a new Legion of Zoom.
It definitely hurt to lose Sammy Watkins last offseason and Tyreek Hill this offseason. Both of these players made key plays in the run to hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy in Miami on February 2nd, 2020. The business side of football can be cruel. This business side will likely also result in players like Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes likely not finishing their careers with the Chiefs as well, Kelce probably within the next 5 years Mahomes probably not for at least 10 years.
Juju Smith-Schuster is the first new member of the Legion of Zoom. He’s an example of a player whose 40-yard dash time was subpar (4.54, 28th among wide receivers at the 2017 NFL combine), but shows speed on the field. He’s had 16 games with 15+ yards per reception in his career. While this is half as many as Tyreek Hill had since 2017, that is still pretty good compared to other receivers. He should fit in with the team well, and better than most people realize.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the 2018 combine, which was good enough for 8th among all players and 2nd among wide receivers. He has also had 13 games where he averaged over 20 yards per reception, including a game against the Raiders in 2019 where he recorded 133 yards on only 2 receptions (a 74-yard touchdown and a 59-yard reception). In 2020 he led the NFL with 20.9 yards per reception. That same season he had 255 yards after catch on 33 receptions, that’s an average of 7.7 yards after catch per reception. For comparison, Tyreek Hill had 4.9 that same season. His addition to the team flew under the radar a bit, but he will make a big difference.
Mecole Hardman is the only returning member of the Legion of Zoom. Hardman had a career-high in receiving yards in 2021, however, he also recorded a career-low in receiving touchdowns and yards per reception. Don’t let this fool you. Hardman is still fast. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash time at the 2019 combine tied for 5th overall and tied for first among receivers. Hardman is also effective in the return game. A lot of Chiefs fans underestimate his importance to the team. No, he’s not a number 1 receiver and probably will never be one, but we’ve seen the slot receiver position in the NFL become more important over the last few years. With this new-look offense, we could see him play a bigger role.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Forbes.com
The new Legion of Zoom also includes a rookie. Chiefs 2nd round draft pick Skyy Moore ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine. Despite how many sub-4.4 second times were recorded at the combine, this is still fast. We may see the slot alternate between Moore and Hardman. He is definitely the future of this team at the position. If Mahomes and Moore can build a chemistry, this team will continue to be dangerous on offense as it has been the last few years.
Photo credit: Evan Sanders Chiefs.com
Travis Kelce isn’t typically considered part of the Legion of Zoom, however, his speed is underestimated. No, I’m not saying he’s the fastest tight end in the NFL but defenses underestimate his speed and that’s when we see him break away for those big catches he sometimes gets, including his game-winning touchdown against the Chargers in 2021. His 40-yard time of 4.63 at the 2013 combine was the 3rd fastest among tight ends and was the 10th fastest at the combine excluding wide receivers, running backs, and defensive backs (typically the fastest players at the combine). Kelce has great hands, good route running, underrated blocking ability, and underrated speed. As I touched on earlier, unfortunately, the business side of football is going to result in him leaving the team within the next few years. This is just the reality of the NFL. His contract runs through the 2025 season. He will turn 36 during the 2025 season. The oldest starting end in NFL history, from what I can find (I could be wrong), was former Chief Tony Gonzalez who was 37 in his final year with the Falcons. I won’t be surprised if he plays out this contract then leaves in free agency for a season and plays his final year elsewhere.
A potential future member of the Legion of Zoom is 7th-round selection, Isiah Pacheco. The Chiefs have a crowded running back room right now, especially after resigning Jerrick McKinnon. He may not be able to step in right away and will probably spend a year or two on the practice squad to develop, but he is also fast. He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine, which flew under the radar because of how many fast 40 times were recorded at the combine. It's doubtful he’ll ever be a starter, but he’s someone that could come into the offense in a year or two and provide some speed out of the backfield.
Photo credit: USA Today
The Legion of Zoom may have changed faces over the last two seasons, but it doesn’t mean the offense will not be any less effective. People are underestimating this offense. Mahomes has started 5 games in his career without Tyreek Hill, he is 4-1 in those games. This team will be just fine.