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2017 Team Report: Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Philosophy

In Philadelphia, Andy Reid was known as a pass-heavy madman. In Kansas City, his Chiefs have actually called runs at a slightly higher rate than the rest of the league. The funny thing? Reid hasn't changed, the rest of the league has. The 2016 Chiefs called 546 passes (25th) and 412 rushes (14th). The 2006 Eagles called 544 passes (8th) and 416 rushes (27th). Expect 2017 to be more of what Reid has been doing for a decade and a half: a low-risk, low-turnover horizontal passing game and a versatile running game assisted by a mobile quarterback willing to tuck and run.


Starter: Alex Smith
Backup(s): Pat Mahomes II [R], Tyler Bray

Starting QB: Alex Smith returns for his fifth year behind center for the Kansas City Chiefs. Two hallmarks of his tenure in Kansas City have been consistency and durability. Smith will not light up the scoreboard, but you can rely on him to stay healthy and provide consistent output. He's an efficient passer that offers upside with his legs and despite missing Jeremy Maclin for half the season with injuries, the emergence of Tyreek Hill as a big-play threat helped the Chiefs diversify its passing game in 2016. Tight end Travis Kelce played to his potential, earning a Pro Bowl invitation while leading NFL tight ends with in receptions and receiving yards. A healthy Maclin, versatile and dangerous Hill, and Pro-Bowler Kelce gives Smith a trio of passing weapons to spread the field and pick defenses apart. In addition, Spencer Ware is statistically one of the best backs after the catch in the NFL. The nucleus is there for Smith to transcend his career average production as a fantasy QB2.

Backup QB: Mahomes is the Chiefs' first-round pick and the team traded up 17 picks to land him. The Texas Tech quarterback has an otherworldly arm and creativity. The Chiefs loved his ability to retain information and make coverage adjustments at the line of scrimmage despite playing in the Air Raid offensive system that isn't nearly as complex as Kansas City's West Coast scheme. Mahomes will have the luxury to sit and learn. He arguably has the most upside of any rookie quarterback in this class. Tyler Bray is a fifth-year veteran who signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Bray has a fantastic arm, but he was an undisciplined game manager at the University of Tennessee. The fact that he has maintained a spot on the depth chart this long is a positive about his gradual development. The greater question is if he has developed enough to become a reliable first-tier back up. Joel Stave enters his second year after beginning his career with the Vikings. The former Wisconsin starter has experience with West Coast concepts in college. He's a player with prototypical dimensions that has flashes of strong accuracy on pro-caliber throws.

Running Backs

Starter: Kareem Hunt [R], Spencer Ware [Inj]
Backup(s): Charcandrick West, CJ Spiller
Fullback(s): Anthony Sherman

Starting RB: The Jamaal Charles era is over in Kansas City and it's possible the Spencer Ware era will be short-lived after a knee injury during the Chiefs' third preseason game. The current news on Ware is a torn PCL and additional damage that may require season-ending surgery. Expect Kareem Hunt to get the first shot as the starter with Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller filling in. The injury also gives Hunt an immediate shot to prove that he can be the Chiefs starter this year and long-term. He's a smart runner with good balance and enough burst to find and exploit creases. The greatest question surrounding Hunt this year is his pass protection skill. If he isn't an absolute bust in this area, he delivers starting RB production. If he struggles, and he has at points this preseason, look for a committee with Hunt, Charcandrick West, and possibly C.J. Spiller. If this happens, the substitutions could make the Chiefs offense a little more predictable based on necessary personnel substitutions. If Ware's injury is (incredibly unlikely at this pint) not as serious as it appears and he can return within 4-6 weeks, then keep in mind that only Tevin Coleman (12.6) and Ezekiel Elliott (12.5) averaged more yards after the catch per reception than Ware (11.9) among running backs with at least catches. He could still be a factor as a goal line back and in-game closer. Don't count on it, but continue to monitor the latest news on Ware's injury.

Backup RBs: West is a speedster with a competent game between the tackles and catching the football. Entering his third year with the Chiefs West has big-play ability and should remain a contributor in 2017 if Ware is lost for the year. West lost 10 pounds this offseason. Reaves, a former star at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, has NFL burst and physicality but had hernia surgery this winter. His longest tenure was with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent.

Fullback: Anthony Sherman returns to assume his role as lead blocker for the Chiefs. While he doesn't necessarily contribute in the stat columns, he's a vital cog in the Chiefs offense and regarded as one of the top fullbacks in the NFL. The 6'2", 247-pound Trey Millard was a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. He's on a futures contract with the Chiefs as of January.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley
Backups: Demarcus Robinson, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson [R]

Starting WRs: Tyreek Hill didn't overtake Chris Conley as the No.2 receiver in terms of role, and he won't be the official starter this year, but his production makes him the most dangerous player on the Chiefs. Hill was the No.15 receiver in fantasy football last year, earning a combined 860 yards on 85 touches for 6 touchdowns from the slot and the backfield. Hill's speed and quickness make him a mismatch against linebackers and safeties from the slot and he stretches defenses horizontally with his work from the backfield. Andy Reid's plan for Hill 2017 is more of the same, which means Jeremy Maclin's workload will be split among Conley, Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson. Although he took a backseat to Hill, Conley took another step forward in his second season, increasing his targets from 31 to 69 and earning 44 catches and 530 yards. However, Conley didn't earn a score despite Maclin missing time last year. A terrific athlete who made excellent red zone plays at the University of Georgia the Chiefs will expect Conley to take another step as a big-play option in 2017. However, the release of Maclin does not mean Conley will become a fantasy starter in Maclin's place. Only 32 offenses out of 416 during the past 13 years have been productive enough to support more than two starting-caliber pass catchers in fantasy football. Considering that Travis Kelce has accounted for 3 of the 10 highest shares of quarterback passing yardage among tight ends since 2012, don't expect Conley, Wilson, or Robinson to emerge as more than bye-week options if Hill and Kelce stay healthy.

Backup WRs: Conley and Hill likely earn more targets ahead of whoever wins the perimeter role between Wilson and Robinson. Wilson is an intriguing player with return skills and ability after the catch, but he'll earn stiff competition from the taller Robinson if the second-year option can show command of the offense and the route tree. So far Robinson has earned time with the starters in 2017 after he delivered positive flashes at 2016 camp. Another surprise has been Jones, the former Saint. An athletic option in the mold of Conley and Robinson, Jones' issues were refined routes and reliable hands. Jehu Chesson is a rookie from Michigan with good length and speed, but inconsistent hands that should improve with more work on proper catching techniques. He is a good special teams option who will likely earn a spot covering kicks as he refines his work at receiver. The multi-talented De'Anthony Thomas remains on board as the intriguing Swiss army knife that lacks Hill's level of skill as a runner and deep receiver but can heighten the unpredictability of the offense when he and Hill are on the field at the same time. S

Tight Ends

Starters: Travis Kelce
Backups: Demetrius Harris, Ross Travis

Travis Kelce turned that top-five fantasy upside into a reality in 2016, earning his second straight 100-target season and delivering 85 receptions and 1,125 yards-both tops among NFL tight ends. Kelce brings exceptional size and physical gifts to the table, but he has only accounted for nine of Alex Smith's 35 touchdown tosses during the past 2 years. Kelce returned from offseason shoulder surgery on time but is dealing with intermittent knee swelling. Andy Reid is not concerned and says it's a common issue for Kelce that will be monitored and addressed when it occurs. Behind Kelce on the depth chart is Demetrius Harris, a former basketball star who has developed enough to overtake James O'Shaughnessy on the depth chart and allow the Chiefs to trade O'Shaughnessy to the Patriots. Harris earned 31 targets, catching 17 passes for 123 yards and a score. Harris, now weighing 257 pounds, added 22 pounds to his frame since signing with the Chiefs. It's something that the intriguing O'Shaughnessy failed to do. Ross Travis was a pleasant surprise at camp, and he has secured himself a roster spot as a rookie. Byrd is a UDFA from Marshall. He's a 6'3", 236-pound move option.

Place Kicker

Cairo Santos: Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos had his second straight year with at least 35 field goal attempts and 30 makes because the Chiefs offense stalled out in the red zone too often. He isn't a good distance kicker, with only two attempts from over 50 yards (he made both) after making four of eight in 2015. Three of his four misses were from 39 yards or shorter and he also missed three extra point attempts. The Chiefs only placed an original round tender on the restricted free agent kicker this offseason, which left him vulnerable to an offer from another team with the Chiefs getting no compensation if they did not match because Santos was undrafted. No offer sheet came and Santos signed his near 1.8 million dollar tender, although he will be an unrestricted free agent next year. He is on the fringe of draftable kickers and probably not worth consideration in typical leagues unless there is no distance bonus for field goals.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Tyreek Hill, De'Anthony Thomas

Rookie sensation Tyreek Hill scored three return touchdowns and was the unanimous first-team All Pro returner across all publications in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, though, he only handled a third of the team's kickoffs last year. While the percentage seems likely to grow, kickoff returners frequently share duties and last year's rotation-mate De'Anthony Thomas will likely remain a factor.

Punt Returners: Tyreek Hill

After leading the NFL in kickoff return touchdowns, punt return touchdowns, punt return yards, yards per punt return, ranking 4th in total returns and 3rd in total return yards, Hill's status as Kansas City's top returner is beyond question.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Eric Fisher, LG Parker Ehinger, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitchell Schwartz
Key Backups: Zach Fulton, Jordan Devey, Bryan Witzmann, Cameron Erving

The Chiefs' offensive line returns all five starters in all the same positions as last season, and the rankings love it when that happens. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a stalwart since his arrival in free agency but left tackle Eric Fisher has come up short in high profile situations. The team has a ton invested both players, for better or worse. Center Mitch Morse had an excellent sophomore season and looks to be one of the better young centers in the conference. The guards Parker Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are still developing but both can be replaced by Zach Fulton without the unit missing a beat. Jah Reid is the swing tackle, and he's proven himself a decent spot starter. Overall, this line is a mid tier unit that can get to the top tier if their left tackle and guards play with better consistency.

Team Defense

If you want the Chiefs D/ST in your fantasy league this year, you will have to spend a top three pick after they finished #1 in most formats in 2016. That was with only 28 sacks, mostly because Justin Houston was a late arrival after offseason ACL surgery. Eric Berry and Marcus Peters led a secondary that recorded a league-leading 18 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns. While that is a hard number to reproduce, a full season from Houston could create more pressure opportunities to offset the loss of defensive scores. The team swapped out Bennie Logan for Dontari Poe at nose tackle in free agency. Add in Tyreek Hill's everyweek return touchdown potential and it's easy to see how the Chiefs D/ST can tilt your fantasy matchup with pass rush, ball thieving, or slippery speed. They are the most worthy of draft capital of the D/ST's going early this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, NT Bennie Logan, RE Chris Jones
Backups: DE Allen Bailey, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE Jarvis Jenkins, DT Roy Miller

Starting DL: This unit shakes up majorly from its 2016 form. Gone are NT Dontari Poe and DE Jaye Howard, and there's less dynamism in play right now. Nunez-Roches and Jones look like capable starters, and Jones is a candidate to chase eight sacks and a handful of passes defensed. But neither projects to the all-around numbers you're looking for in a DL2. Logan produced solidly with the Eagles and provides an athletic presence on the nose, but it's highly unlikely he exceeds 50 tackles or 3 sacks. Altogether, this line is devised to shoot gaps and funnel the offense toward the linebackers, not to churn out fantasy-worthy numbers on their own.

Backup DL: These rotational cogs actually carry a little potential fantasy appeal. They'll also fall victim to the scheme, but boast some athletic upside and could conceivably improve on the starters' numbers if pressed to. Bailey will rotate heavily with Nunez-Roches Second-rounder Kpassagnon boasts studly athleticism and a productive college resume, but comes raw and may struggle for snaps as a rookie. Jenkins joined the team at midseason and was solid against the run, but doesn't offer much statistically; he's a space-eater who maxes out around 40 tackles and 4 sacks. Barnes is a mountain of a man at 6'7" and 364 pounds, but he's a journeyman who would rotate the nose with Nunez-Roches if Bennie Logan went down.


Starters: LOLB Justin Houston, LILB Derrick Johnson, RILB Ramik Wilson, ROLB Dee Ford
Backups: OLB Tamba Hali (inj), ILB Reggie Ragland, OLB Frank Zombo, ILB Terrance Smith, OLB Ukeme Eligwe [R], OLB Kevin Pierre-Louis

Starting LBs: Johnson has been a model of LB2+ consistency for a decade. He's registered 107 tackles or more in each of his last 5 full seasons, and he's always chimed in splashy passing-game plays. But there's real concern for his typically rock-solid status. Johnson will turn 35 this November, and he's coming off an Achilles rupture that threatens his entire offseason. If his ADP stays in the clear LB2 range, I'd look elsewhere, but there's a non-zero chance he tumbles in IDP drafts and comes exceptionally cheaply. If so, he's as strong a gamble as they come. Houston's range of outcomes is wide as a marginal tackler but devastating sack artist. If he plays 16 games, he'll likely hover between 50 and 60 tackles, which would require a huge sack total (probably 16+) to provide a shot at LB1 value. But Houston is as well-equipped as anyone to hit that mark. He hit 22.0 in 2014, his last full season, and has racked up 34 over his last 30 games overall. It's not shrewd to draft him as a LB1 - that's a tier reserved for the tackle monsters - but note that he carries that upside. On the other side, Ford will likely outpace Tamba Hali in snaps as he did down the 2016 stretch. He's a talented, ascending pass rusher, but doesn't project to those monstrous sack numbers in a near time share. Wilson returned to the team at midseason after being waived in the preseason and showcased his value, averaging 6.3 tackles over the team's final 11 games. Still, he doesn't offer much outside of moderate tackling, and the team has a few intriguing pieces of depth on the inside.

Backup LBs: Hali remains a dependable, productive rusher, even if the fantasy numbers don't support it. He's amassed just 13 sacks over the past 3 seasons, but consistently ranks near the top of the league in hurries. Going on 34, Hali will take an even more distant back seat to Ford in 2017 and no longer warrants any fantasy attention. But if Houston or Ford goes down, Hali would see all the snaps he could handle, and his hurry numbers suggest that a lucky streak could sweep him into decent sack territory for a LB3/4. Ragland was an August trade acquisition who never got on the field in Buffalo; he simply didn't fit their scheme. A two-down thumper, he'll compete with Wilson for inside snaps, but it's fair to question whether he's more than a rotational body. Zombo is a solid special-teamer and decent depth, and he'll likely hold down the No. 4 OLB job. March will back up the middle crew after impressing across 4 rookie appearances (22 tackles, 2 passes defensed). He could contribute as a waiver-wire LB3 type if Derrick Johnson or Ramik Wilson goes down. Fifth-round rookie Eligwe carries a strong pedigree (former top recruit at Florida State) and could push March for the backup job inside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Marcus Peters, SS Eric Berry, FS Ron Parker, RCB Phillip Gaines
Backups: SS Daniel Sorensen, CB Steven Nelson, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Eric Murray, DB DJ White, DB Kenneth Acker

Starting DBs: Berry has developed into a studly NFL safety, but remains mired in the DB2 range. Simply put, he's not targeted enough by opposing quarterbacks to make a huge dent in the stat columns. Still, there's safety in his consistency (5.1 tackles per game as a pro) and upside in the knowledge that his nose for the ball could cause pick-sixes to pour in. A season of 15 passes defensed and a handful of high-impact turnovers would yield easy DB1 value. The best upside and value of the bunch, however, is Peters, an ascending star who's defensed 43 passes and picked off 14 in 2 seasons. Peters isn't much of a tackler, but he's shown with his splash plays that he also carries DB1 upside from a DB2/3 ADP. Parker is a versatile chess piece, switching off between cornerback and free safety, and he's finished squarely in the DB2 range in two of the last three seasons. But his numbers have fallen off in each of those years, and he's no longer much of a fantasy priority. Drafters seeking a DB in his range would be better served seeking upside in an ascending player. Gaines has battled numerous injury woes of late and could eventually lose his job to one of the team's talented young reserves.

Backup DBs: Sorensen saw a career high in snaps last year, averaging 33.8 and carving out an active role as a safety/linebacker hybrid. He posted 63 tackles over 15 games and stuck in his nose a bit in the passing game, as well. Sorensen isn't a priority in most IDP drafts, but he'd be a waiver-wire priority if a starter went down. Nelson enjoyed a productive rookie year as the No. 3 cornerback, breaking up 16 passes and tackling well for a nickelman (65). Expect the same role in 2017, with strong upside in case of injury. Nelson is speedy and talented, and the Kansas City defense is predicated on huge plays from its athletic specimens. Mitchell is cut from similar cloth; he also made plays at a studly rate, but across very few snaps. Murray seems likeliest to win the No. 4 safety job, but almost all of his contributions should come on special teams.

Last modified: 2017-09-05 12:28:04