With the Kansas City Chiefs in the midst of preparation for the team’s Thursday night regular season opener against the Detroit Lions, special teams coordinator Dave Toub has named the new starter at two key positions.
Per Toub on September 4, wide receiver Richie James is the team’s primary kick and punt returner for Week 1.
“It’s a comforting feeling to come out of preseason knowing you have a guy like Richie James who is a solid guy and has done it,” Toub said during his press conference.
With running back Isiah Pacheco and receiver Kadarius Toney expected to take on large offensive roles this season, the Chiefs were looking for new candidates to become the team’s primary kick and punt returner this summer (it’s worth noting here that Toub also said during his September 1 presser that Toney could be KC’s punt returner later in the season, but from a health standpoint it’s best for the team to limit his special teams usage).
Though players such as Skyy Moore and Justin Watson were potential options at punt and kick returner that made the 53-player roster, James was the choice by the coaching staff, at least for Week 1. Toub had said James was the frontrunner for the punt return role dating back to July 29, which was four days after Toney suffered a torn meniscus and had to undergo surgery.
Richie James’ Special Teams Value Keeps Him on Roster
Richie James, 27, signed a one-year, $1.06 million deal with the defending Super Bowl champions this offseason. The low salary meant that James’ roster spot in Kansas City come the 2023 regular season was not guaranteed to him. Yet, he managed to be one of the seven receivers that made the Chiefs’ 53-player roster, which is likely because of his special teams prowess.
James has returned 75 punts during his four-year NFL career and has averaged 7.3 yards per return during that timeframe. He has also returned 47 kickoffs for an average of 23.0 yards per return.
James is also coming off of a career year across the board offensively in which he caught 57-of-70 targets for 569 yards and 4 touchdowns as a member of the New York Giants. He did that while playing over 70% of his snaps in the slot, per PFF.
Although his offensive role in Kansas City is still unknown, it is now known that James will be used by the Chiefs in a special teams capacity to open the season and showcase his elusiveness and playmaking skills.
In Kansas City, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Justin Watson, and Justyn Ross are also receivers in the same room as James.