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2018 Team Report: Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Philosophy

Last year, the Chiefs ran more college-style spread offensive concepts than any team in the league--the most common were the zone read and run-pass options (RPOs). It also tailored a lot of its offensive design to its opponents. This included a number of unusual formations such as the inverted shotgun from wishbone. expect the same in 2018. The Chiefs will use a lot of pre-snap movement with receivers, tight ends, and running backs. The team likes to use the same shifts but with different run-pass outcomes to keep opponents off balance. One of the primary aims of these concepts is to get one of Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, or Tyreek Hill matched up against a linebacker for big plays.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backup(s): Chad Henne, Matt McGloin, Chase Litton [R]

Starting QB: The Chiefs' 2017 first-round pick, Mahomes spent last year working behind veteran Alex Smith. Although Smith had a strong season, Chiefs players, coaches, and scouts, raved about Mahomes' play during practices. A mobile passer with rare arm talent and excellent field vision, Mahomes makes throws that few in the history of the game can. Mahomes is an imaginative player whose ability to complete unusual targets also leads to risky decisions. Mahomes will be more aggressive than Smith, which will lead to more off-script vertical shots. The offensive continuity that the Chiefs have maintained with players, staff, and scheme should help Mahomes thrive immediately. However, expect Mahomes to incur a higher than average turnover total as a first-year starter.

Backup QB: Henne begins his 10th year in the league as the Chiefs backup after four years in Miami and five in Jacksonville. Henne has a solid arm and veteran leadership skills, but he can hold onto the ball too long in the pocket. He would not make a believable executor of read-option plays. McGloin has enough mobility to execute the Chiefs' read-option and RPOs. He's not a big-armed passer, but he can create off-script and he might push Henne for the backup role. Litton is a tall, big-armed rookie from Marshall. He lacks consistent accuracy, because he doesn't align his back foot with the target while dropping or moving into position. He also predetermines reads at the line of scrimmage. The combination of reading the field and keeping his feet tied to his routes will be the two long-term areas where Litton's game must get better.

Running Backs

Starter: Kareem Hunt
Backup(s): Spencer Ware [Inj.], Charcandrick West, Damien Williams, Kerwynn Williams, George Atikinson III
Fullback(s): Anthony Sherman, Anthony Firkser, J.D. Moore [R]

Starting RB: Spencer Ware suffered tears to his PCL and LCL during the final week of August, opening the door for Hunt burst onto the scene. Hunt earned five consecutive weeks with 100 yards from scrimmage, made strong decisions between the tackles, caught the ball, and earned yards after contact. As the Chiefs' offensive line struggled, Hunt's production also took a dip--going 7 consecutive weeks without a 100-yard rushing performance and 5 of those weeks with less than 80 total yards. Although Hunt didn't transcend his line's play, he's a quality NFL starter with a versatile game. His greatest weakness is pass protection. The Chiefs rarely used Hunt in this capacity after he struggle during the preseason. The Chiefs worked around it but if Hunt improves as a pass protector the scheme will be less predictable based on personnel.

Backup RBs: Ware was the Chiefs' projected starter before suffering LCL and PCL tears in late August. Even so, it was likely that Ware would have ceded playing time to Hunt last year if he was healthy. If Ware proves that he's fully recovered, expect him to earn third-down and two-minute duties because of his superior pass protection skills and skill after the catch. Also expect Ware to earn the primary backup role and frequently playing time in the red zone. West has excellent speed and he can catch the ball. He's competent as a pass protector. Expect Damien and Kerwynn Williams to challenge west for playing time. Damien is better after contact and he's a strong third-down back. Kerwynn is an excellent receiver with big-play burst. Atkinson is a big speedster with a straight-line style and not enough nuance between the tackles to regard as anything more than a special teams option.

Fullback: Sherman is one of best blocking fullbacks in the league. The Chiefs rarely give him the ball--his 87 yards on 20 touches in 2017 was by far his best output of his 3-year career. Firkser is a rookie free agent from Harvard beginning his second year in the league. He's a good pass catcher who earned 45 receptions for 702 yards and 7 scores as a senior in 2016. J.D. Moore is a rookie from LSU.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tyreek Hill [PR], Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley
Backups: Demarcus Robinson [PR/KR], Jehu Chesson, De'Anthony Thomas, Daniel Braverman, Byron Pringle [R], Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, Elijah Marks [R]

Starting WRs: Hill built on a strong rookie campaign, earning top-five production at his position and nearly doubling his yards per catch as a receiver. He went a long way towards proving that he was more than an offensive gadget player. The Chiefs signed Watkins to a three-year contract in March. Although Hill was the Chiefs' most productive wide receiver last year, Watkins is a versatile route runner with speed who the Bills used primarily as a deep threat and the Rams, acquiring Watkins late in the 2017 preseason, did the same. Look for Watkins to challenge Hill for the statistical leadership on the depth chart. Conley is a big and fast rebounding and fade route specialist. Alex Smith wasn't a good fit for Conley, but Patrick Mahomes' tight-window confidence might lead to increased production if third-year option Demarcus Robinson doesn't overtake Conley.

Backup WRs: Robinson earned 39 targets in 2017 as a second-year pro and he could challenge Chris Conley for playing time. He's a tall, and athletic receiver who can win the ball in the air and earn yards after the catch. Chesson is a strong special team player who covers kicks. His hands position as a receiver must improve if we wants to earn consistent playing time in four and five-receiver sets. Thomas is in the final year of his contract. A big-play return threat, Thomas occasionally earned attempts and targets as a part of Kansas City's spread attack. The threat of his speed on offense has been more useful without the ball in his hands than with it. Braverman is a slot receiver with big-play speed and quickness who couldn't stick long-term in Chicago after getting lost in the shuffle of multiple coaching changes. Pringle has excellent return skills and vertical route prowess. He's an underrated route funner as a rookie and will challenge for a remaining roster spot. He has the talent to eventually challenge Conley and Robinson for the third or fourth spot on the depth chart. Dieter has excellent size and tracks the ball well in the vertical game. He's a better athlete than Marcus Kemp, but Kemp is a more refined route runner in the intermediate game. Marks is a return specialist with good short area quickness. He attacks the ball as a receiver and wins against tight coverage despite being a short player. He'll push, Braverman, Pringle, Dieter, and Kemp for final spots.

Tight Ends

Starters: Travis Kelce
Backups: Demetrius Harris, Orson Charles, Jace Amaro, Tim Wright, Dillon Gordon, Blake Mack [R], Alex Ellis [R]

Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2016 and the No. 2 option in 2017. Although his yardage dropped by 87 yards and his yards-per-catch average declined in 2017, Kelce doubled his touchdown total. The Chiefs used Kelce successfully on shovel passes in the red zone and the combination of the spread offense, pre-snap shifts, and the effective play of Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt in the passing game helped open the field for Kelce. Look for more of the same this season thanks to the addition of Sammy Watkins. Harris is a former basketball player who has climbed the depth chart from the practice squad to the No.2 role during his three-year tenure in in Kansas City. He's a tall, fluid receiver who has progressively gotten more physical with each season. Charles is a move tight end with good hands and excellent burst as a runner. He has bounced around multiple teams. Amaro has the size and fluid athletic ability of a top draft pick but his hands have kept him from sticking to a roster. Wright is a former big slot receiver at Rutgers who has bounced around as a reserve move tight end. Gordon is a second-year option who is more of a sixth lineman (he's 322 pounds) that the Chiefs signed from the Eagles' practice squad. Mack and Ellis are rookies on the bubble.

Place Kicker

Harrison Butker: Butker made the third-most field goals in the NFL last year (37). The Chiefs offense should move the ball well between the 20s, which should keep Butker's attempt totals among the top 10 in the NFL. Young quarterbacks tend to struggle with red zone management. If this is the case, Butker could see a small-to-moderate increase in his attempt totals.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: De'Anthony Thomas

De'Anthony Thomas led the Chiefs in kickoff returns in 2016 and finished second in 2017 to Akeem Hunt. It's a fair bet that he'll continue to man the position in 2018 after Hunt was waived.

Punt Returners: Tyreek Hill

Thanks to an increased role on offense, Tyreek Hill ceded his kickoff return duties in 2017. The former All Pro returner was too dangerous on punts, however, for the Chiefs to take him off special teams entirely, and he seems poised to continue bedeviling opposing teams in 2018.

Offensive Line

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

The Chiefs' offensive line returns all five starters from last season's opening day and this means there is high familiarity and cohesion in this group. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is coming off an All-Pro season and is the team's best lineman. Center Mitch Morse is a "glue-guy" and when he was out of the lineup last season, the difference in the offense is noticeable. Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff became a licensed doctor in the offseason and hopes to have MD on his jersey. He's a mauler when healthy. Left tackle Eric Fisher never really lived up to number one overall billing but the team gave him a second contract and he is at least a consistent starter at the spot. Left guard Parker Ehinger should steal the job back from Bryan Witzmann now that he is healthy. Overall, this Chiefs' offensive line enters the season as a top-tier option.

Team Defense

The Chiefs traded away their best playmaking corner this offseason and will likely be relying on David Amerson at one outside corner spot. They did acquire one of the best nickel corners in the league, Kendall Fuller, in the Alex Smith trade, but the Chiefs did not have a first-round pick in this year's draft after using it to move up for Patrick Mahomes last year. They added some specialists in the draft like run stuffing nose tackle Derrick Nnadi (third round - Florida State), defensive end/OLB tweener Breeland Speaks (second round - Mississippi) and coverage linebacker Dorian O'Daniel (third round - Clemson), and replaced the aging Derrick Johnson with Anthony Hitchens in free agency. The once elite fantasy defense dropped off to the 12-15 range in year end rankings, in part because of their deflation to only 31 sacks. Peters was responsible for seven of the teams 26 takeaways last year. If they are going to remain startable, the Chiefs defense needs OLB Dee Ford to live up to his first-round pedigree, and players like DE Chris Jones and CB Steven Nelson to continue to grow while signed to cheap rookie contracts. If Mahomes is ready for primetime, they should retain at least matchup play value.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Chris Jones, NT Xavier Williams, RE Allen Bailey
Backups: DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE/DT Breeland Speaks [R], NT Derek Nnadi [R], DE Jarvis Jenkins

Starting DL: The Chiefs have quietly rebuilt their front line over the past few years, and things look promising. They certainly landed a rising star in 2016 second-rounder Jones, who's disruptive against both the pass and the run. Jones saw 66% of team snaps last year and generated 6.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. Granted, most of that production came in one masterful game, but it's still evident what a playmaker Jones can be. His tackling numbers are light, but he's one of the more intriguing DL2 types in leagues that require down linemen. Williams comes on board after an impressive 2017 that was underappreciated by the Cardinals - he's a run-stuffing beast that could wind up a net improvement on Dontari Poe. Bailey will lightly head a committee at the other end spot, where a handful of talented, young early-draftees while jockey for time. There's real-life promise here, but not much fantasy dynamism.

Backup DL: The team has assembled a crowded group of gifted, early-round guys that will likely rotate between tackle and end, so while we know there will be playmaking, we can't pinpoint it for fantasy purposes. Kpassagnon and Speaks were both recent second-rounders, both plus athletes, and will both be given the chance to wrestle snaps from Allen Bailey. Speaks likely has the easier path to the field given his versatility, but either could threaten 5-6 sacks with extended time. Third-rounder Nnadi is a space-eater that will provide relief for Xavier Williams. Jenkins will compete with the youngsters for situational snaps along the line, but no longer carries the upside he once seemed to.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Justin Houston, LILB Anthony Hitchens, RILB Reggie Ragland, ROLB Dee Ford
Backups: OLB Frank Zombo, ILB Dorian O'Daniel [R], ILB Ukeme Eligwe

Starting LBs: Houston remained an elite NFL pass rusher in 2017, even if his numbers weren't eye-popping. He registered 9.5 sacks over 14 games and didn't force a fumble for the first time in his career. He's a prime bounceback candidate, though, considering he still provided consistent pressure off the edge. All told, he's among the second tier of edge rushers to target, and an upside LB3 overall. Since 2012, his average 16-game line includes a stunning 14.3 sacks and 5.6 pass breakups, plus a respectable 72 tackles. Ford, his bookend, has been unable to stay healthy as a pro, and it's hard to count on much from him fantasy-wise. He's generated 12.0 sacks over his last 1,115 snaps, which is nice, but he's unreliable and provides little else. On the inside, Hitchens will step into the franchise-sized shoes of Derrick Johnson, but he's not a great breakout name. He racked up an impressive 84 tackles over 553 snaps last year in Dallas, but not much else. Besides, Johnson left the field on some early downs in 2017, with Ragland spending time as the lone run-plugger. Ragland himself is a limited player, though, and he won't see enough snaps to make much of a fantasy dent.

Backup LBs: Zombo is the top reserve on the outside, and he's always flashed situational ability. But even if Houston or Ford goes down, he'll still starve for snaps and fantasy impact. That pair has always been injury-prone, yet Zombo has managed just 5.5 sacks over his last 35 games. Rookie O'Daniel should win the top reserve job on the inside, and could find himself rotating with the limited Ragland off the bat. Second-year man Eligwe didn't find the field in 2017, but is a talented athlete with more upside than either Ragland or O'Daniel.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Kendall Fuller, SS Eric Berry, FS Armani Watts [R], RCB Steven Nelson
Backups: SS Daniel Sorensen, DB Eric Murray, FS Robert Golden, CB David Amerson, CB CB Tremon Smith [R]

Starting DBs: Upon blowing up their secondary, the Chiefs are looking to rebuild through the numbers game. Four of their top five defensive backs, including cornerback Marcus Peters, are gone, and the team has patched together journeymen around holdovers Berry and Nelson. Fuller was among the league's best slot men last year, registering 55 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions, but he's not a fantasy consideration. Nelson himself was a nightmare in 2017 after a promising rookie year in the slot, so it's likely we'll see him rotate with a crew of flameouts and practice-squadders. The only real fantasy appeal in this secondary lies in Berry, who should enter camp healthy but limited after an Achilles tear. His career 16-game line of 80 tackles, 9.4 pass breakups, and 2.6 interceptions seems optimistic, but would make him a solid if low-end DB2. Just don't let name value drive up his cost. Watts could open eyes as a rookie: he's the only talented free safety on roster, and at Texas A&M he showed fire against both the run (23.5 tackles for loss) and the pass (10 interceptions). Sorensen and Murray got experience when Berry was out last year and will also have a chance to win a starting spot along with the rookie.

Backup DBs: Sorensen will continue to see snaps as a linebacker/safety hybrid - he played 540 in that role in 2016, tallying 63 tackles and a handful of splash plays. If Berry can't get back on the field in a timely fashion, Sorensen will continue to produce (89 tackles and 5 pass breakups in his place last year). Stocked with a host of shaky and/or untested names at cornerback, the Chiefs will likely rotate their nickel and dime packages plenty in 2018. Murray is a holdover and Amerson has starting experience, but neither is a real threat to start, with Murray possibly figuring in at safety. Late-round rookie Smith will open on special teams, but could conceivably pass both on the depth chart by season's end. Golden was almost exclusively a special teamer in Pittsburgh, but could find free safety snaps if rookie Armani Watts isn't ready.

Last modified: 2018-05-22 15:13:59