When it comes to covering punts and kickoffs, the Chiefs are among the league’s best.
Kansas City’s punt coverage is ranked second in Football Outsider’s DVOA ratings, while kickoff coverage is ranked fifth. Shedding blocks and making tackles are strengths with K.C.’s special teams unit.
The other side — the return game — has been the polar opposite. The punt return game is ranked 17th while the kick return squad is ranked 30th. Despite the rankings, I’d argue that the punt return game has been the Chiefs’ worst special teams subunit of the season due to the number of mistakes it has made.
11 games into the season, the Chiefs have a punt return problem. Receiver Skyy Moore — the team’s designated punt returner at the beginning of the season — has muffed and lost three punts, and has averaged just 6.1 yards per punt return.
It’s safe to say Moore won’t be returning many more punts in 2022. The Chiefs pulled Moore from punt-returning duties once already this year, and did it again when he fumbled against the Rams on Sunday:
It’s a strange case because Moore has exceptional hands-on offense as a receiver, which he displayed during this same game by earning five catches for 36 yards. It could be that Moore just isn’t natural at tracking the ball and judging the opposing punt coverage team to see if he should return or call a fair catch.
The thing is, that’s okay — returning punts isn’t what Moore was drafted to do. Continually forcing a rookie to do things he isn’t good at is setting him up to fail. The Chiefs made the right decision by moving him off returns after this play.
In his place was WR Justin Watson who has only had one return this season. Everything else has either been fair caught or gone out of bounds. It’ll be interesting to see whether Watson will continue to earn looks at punt returner while WRs Kadarius Toney and Mecole Hardman are injured, or whether other guys like cornerback Trent McDuffie will get return looks.
The “next year” question also looms, though it’s not something the Chiefs need to figure out today. It’s clear the team wanted to groom Moore as the returner of the future, but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen. And Watson and Hardman aren’t yet signed through next season, so it’s questionable whether they will even be Chiefs in 2023.
It could be Toney, but what if he takes a step up and establishes himself as a WR1/WR2 in the offense next year? Do you really want a guy like that returning punts? It has gotten to the point that if the Chiefs can’t answer the punt returner question by the end of this season that it may be smart to draft a designated returner in 2023, much like the Denver Broncos did with WR Montrell Washington in 2022.