Even after a pair of turnovers in the red zone and numerous drops along the way, the Kansas City Chiefs had a chance to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling was gifted with a prime opportunity to bring his team back ahead, but his fateful fourth-quarter drop was the most costly of all.
With the line of scrimmage set at the 49-yard line, Kansas City faced a second-and-10 during its final offensive drive of the game. Plenty of time was left on the clock (1:50) for quarterback Patrick Mahomes to engineer a comeback and potential game-winning drive. With tight end Travis Kelce garnering the attention of three different defenders, Valdes-Scantling beat his man deep down the field and Mahomes gave him a chance to make a game-altering play. He did that, but it was on the unfortunate side of things:
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, oh no.pic.twitter.com/U44nDAjOtV— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) November 21, 2023
After Valdes-Scantling's drop, Mahomes was tagged for an intentional grounding penalty and his fourth-and-25, last-ditch effort to Justin Watson hit him in the hands but eventually fell incomplete. As a result, the Chiefs found themselves in a very familiar position: struggling because of bad wide receiver play. Speaking on Tuesday, however, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy had a long-winded explanation for why Valdes-Scantling remains a valuable piece of the offense despite his lack of production.
"Well there are things that go into that," Nagy said. "And I think it's probably everybody's definition — I know we all look at the numbers and that sort of thing — but there is a lot that he does well that sometimes doesn't show up on the stat sheet. For instance, you look at the touchdown catch that Travis had that everybody's going to read about and the touchdown pass from Pat and the catch by Kelce. A lot of reasons why that play worked was because of what MVS did. Sometimes, that doesn't show up in the stat book. There are other things that he does and these players do that don't show up that we have to make sure they get credit for behind the scenes. He does a lot of that, and I think that's a credit to him and that can be very selfless at times, which we love.
"Production-wise and number-wise, yeah, he's not where he was last year. We do know that we have, hopefully, a bunch of season left and we want to be able to continue to keep working through these things as we have these different wide receivers. I know, similar to last year, but he's had a great attitude this whole time and we've just got to keep staying positive."
On three targets in Week 11, Valdes-Scantling didn't log a single reception. He's played in all 10 of the Chiefs' games thus far in 2023 but has seen his per-game numbers take quite the tumble. He's averaging a career-low 24.9 yards per game and has his worst single-season Pro Football Focus offense grade. That, paired with an average of 0.84 yards per route run that ranks as quite easily his lowest and a 12.5% drop rate that sits in second, makes up his largely underwhelming campaign.
Among all NFL receivers to log at least 20% of the maximum number of targets this year, Valdes-Scantling's drop rate is a bottom-10 clip. Watson's 14.3% rate somehow sits above him, although Watson also has the trust of Mahomes and has still been a much more reliable performer than his fellow veteran wideout on offense. On passes of 30 or more yards downfield since 2018, Valdes-Scantling has dropped five. No other pass catcher in the league has more than three.
Valdes-Scantling's poor numbers haven't stemmed from a lack of opportunity. In fact, the 29-year-old currently ranks first among all Chiefs wideouts with 410 snaps logged this season. Even with such a sizable workload, he's done very little to take advantage of it. It remains to be seen whether his Week 11 shortcomings will come back to haunt him or serve as a turning point, but the organization is publicly backing him. For someone whose contract is cuttable in the spring, that's better than the alternative.