Heading into the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs NFL season, we all knew about Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce and the improved defense. The biggest question mark, though, was, how will the team replace Tyreek Hill? The wide receiver the Chiefs traded in the offseason was an explosive playmaker and Mahomes’ go-to wideout for the last five seasons. Would the Chiefs replace him by committee, in the aggregate? Or would a wide receiver — new or old — step up and become a true No. 1 guy for the first time in his career? The reason that the 2022 JuJu Smith-Schuster season is the biggest of the Chiefs’ surprises this year is that the former Pittsburgh Steeler WR looks like he’s ready for the spotlight.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the Chiefs’ biggest surprise in the first half of the 2022 NFL season

For his entire career up until the Chiefs’ 2022 NFL season, JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a supporting act, not a headlining star.

He was a second-round pick in 2017, and during his time in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster was always the second option after Antonio Brown and then Dionte Johnson, even if he outplayed them at times.

And when it came time to hand out contracts to wide receivers each offseason, the NFL also treated Smith-Schuster like a secondary weapon. He got a one-year, $8 million deal from the Steelers in 2021, and in 2022, got a one-year $3.76 million pact from the Chiefs.

With top WRs around the league commanding $20 million or more per season, getting Smith-Schuster for less than 20% of that number was an incredible steal for the Chiefs. Especially since the 2022 JuJu Smith-Schuster season has provided outlandish value for that number.

Through eight games, Smith-Schuster has 60 targets, 44 catches, 582 yards, and two touchdowns. He is the team’s leading WR in catches and yards, and only slightly behind All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce in those categories.

The raw numbers are good and getting better, as the wideout has 88, 124, and 113 yards in his last three games. Still, those numbers put him 14th in yards and 15th in receptions which is No. 1 receiver territory for sure, but still not Tyreek Hill/superstar territory yet.

What makes Smith-Schuster the biggest of the Chiefs surprises this season, though, is how his relationship with Mahomes has developed as the team crested the halfway mark of the 2022 Chiefs season.

In the Chiefs’ overtime in Week 9 vs. the Tennessee Titans, Smith-Schuster had two big catches on what would become the game-winning OT drive. Only Kelce (3) had more. Ditto for the regulation game-tying touchdown drive, where Smith-Schuster’s two catches for 23 yards were bigger contributions than any Chiefs player outside of Mahomes himself.

The week before, Smith-Schuster had the most production of any skill-position player in the Chiefs’ 44-23 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers. The wideout put up seven catches on eight targets for 124 yards and a TD.

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And in Week 7, Smith-Schuster was a massive part of the Chiefs barely losing battle with the Buffalo Bills. He was second to Kelce in catches with five and had the most yards of any Chiefs pass-catcher with 113. He also scored Kansas City’s first TD and had a 41-yard catch and run to set up the Chiefs’ game-tying score late in the fourth quarter.

The point of recapping the last three games of the Juju Smith-Schuster season is to show that while he may have started a bit slow (22 catches, 257 yards, zero TDs in his first five games vs. 22 catches, 325 yards, two TDs in his last three), Smith-Schuster is now Mahomes No. 1 WR heading into the second half of the 2022 Chiefs season.

And with that as the biggest Chiefs surprise this year, the team has a real shot to go another way and win a Super Bowl. Smith-Schuster doesn’t suck all the air out of the room like Hill did. He’s more of a traditional WR1 that we see around the league.

But just the fact that, after years of playing second fiddle, JuJu Smith-Schuster is coming into his own and has become a legit top option in a Super Bowl-level offense, is an incredible feat.

Smith-Schuster’s transformation isn’t over. It’s not inconceivable that when we write the “Chiefs’ biggest surprise in the second half of 2022 NFL season” it involves the current No. 1 wideout not being able to sustain the pace he’s put up the last three games. However, for now, as the Chiefs scratch and claw for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, JuJu is nothing but a pleasant surprise and one the Chiefs and their fans are incredibly happy with.