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2015 Team Report: Kansas City Chiefs

Quarterbacks

Starter: Alex Smith
Backup(s): Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray

Starting QB: Alex Smith is entering his eleventh season in the league and his third as the Chiefs starter. A game manager type of QB, he was constrained last year by lack of production at the WR position – zero of his eighteen TDs were caught by receivers. Smith started fifteen games last season, missing the season finale due to a lacerated spleen suffered in Week 16. He has been cleared for offseason workouts and enters the season firmly entrenched as the starter. Smith brings some mobility to the table, rushing for 254 yards and 1 TD last season. The Chiefs have high hopes that free agent addition Jeremy Maclin will boost the WR corps, while the continued development of Travis Kelce is another potential bright spot for the passing attack. The Chiefs offense could surprise and should be much improved over last year.

Backup QB: Chase Daniel enters his second season with the Chiefs and will backup Smith. He drew the start in the season finale last year due to Smith's injury, completing 16 of 27 for 157 yards and zero TDs. Daniel has played very well this preseason, the Chiefs will be in fine hands if disaster strikes. Smith has been durable with the Chiefs, starting fifteen games in both seasons. Aaron Murray was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 draft after a productive college career with the Georgia Bulldogs. A torn ACL brought his senior season to an abrupt close, but he showed no lingering effects and was able to fully participate last year. Murray projects as a career backup, but he could be an intriguing long-term prospect with Andy Reid's penchant for developing quarterbacks.

Running Backs

Starter: Jamaal Charles
Backup(s): Knile Davis, Charcandrick West
Fullback(s): Anthony Sherman, Spencer Ware

Starting RB: Jamaal Charles enters another season near the top of preseason draft lists. He finished 7th in fantasy scoring among RBs last season, rushing for 1,033 yards and 9 TDs while adding on 40 receptions for 291 yards and an additional 5 TDs. Charles is one of the top dual-threats in the league and has a career YPC of 5.5 – good for 4th all-time in NFL history and best among RBs. A potentially improved passing game with the addition of Maclin and continued development of Kelce could open things up even more for Charles in 2015, who has expressed his desire for improved play from the OL. The eighth-year pro has been durable over the past three seasons, starting at least fifteen games in each. Barring injury, Charles will be the bell cow back for KC and a high-end RB1.

Backup RBs: Knile Davis returns as the top handcuff for Charles. The third-year pro was productive in his backup role last year, contributing 463 yards and 6 TDs on the ground plus 16 receptions for 147 yards and 1 TD. Davis possesses starter ability but doesn’t figure to see a big increase in playing time. Davis strained his knee in the first game of the preseason but the injury is not expected to be serious. Charcandrick West signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spent much of the year on the practice squad, dressing for six games but seeing no action. He has some quickness and receiving ability and parlayed a strong camp into securing a roster spot.

Fullback: Anthony Sherman is a fifth-year pro in his third year with the Chiefs. He will resume his role as lead blocker for Jamaal Charles and is regarded as one of the finest fullbacks in the game. Although he doesn't directly contribute to fantasy via stats, his role in the Chiefs offense is vital and could possibly impact Charles production if he were to miss any time. Spencer Ware was signed in the offseason as a free agent, having last played for the Seahawks in 2013.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson
Backups: Jason Avant, Chris Conley [R], DeAnthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond

Starting WRs: Free agent acquisition Jeremy Maclin provides the Chiefs with a much needed upgrade at WR. Chiefs WRs accounted for zero TDs last year while Maclin was catching 10 for the Eagles. He spent four seasons with Andy Reid earlier in his Eagles career and will make a smooth transition to the offense. Maclin's big play ability should open things up for the rest of the offense and lead to improved production from the WR corps as a whole. Albert Wilson was underwhelming in limited time to begin last season but came along down the stretch, finishing with 16 receptions for 260 yards and 0 TDs. Wilson has wheels and is well thought of within the organization but may face competition from incoming rookie Chris Conley for playing time if he doesn't show improvement.

Backup WRs: The Chiefs re-signed Jason Avant in March and he projects to be their WR3. Avant is an Andy Reid favorite and will see his fair share of playing time, his production will not warrant draft consideration barring injury to the WRs ahead of him. Chris Conley was drafted in the 3rd round after an impressive combine that included a 4.35 forty. Conley had a strong offseason and received reps with the first team in OTAs, camp and the preseason. He is in the mix for the No.2 WR job as the season progresses. DeAnthony Thomas has officially been moved to WR after spending his rookie year as a multi-purpose back who received limited touches and targets. Thomas has explosive speed and could see an expanded role at his new position. Frankie Hammond secured the final wide receiver spot with a very strong performance throughout the preseason.

Tight Ends

Starters: Travis Kelce
Backups: James O'Shaughnessy [R], Demetrius Harris, Brian Parker

Travis Kelce is a potential top 5 TE following his exceptional 2014 season. After losing all of 2013 to a knee injury, he jumped into the national consciousness with an impressive showing in the Week 4 Monday Night beat down of the New England Patriots. Kelce finished the season with 87 catches for 862 yards and 5 TDs while sharing time with Anthony Fasano, who signed with the Titans in March. Kelce will now have the TE job in a full time capacity and has tremendous upside. The Chiefs drafted James O'Shaughnessy in the fifth round, he caught nine TDs as a senior at Illinois State. O'Shaughnessy has emerged at camp and could have a role in two Tight End sets right off the bat in 2015. Demetrius Harris lost most of last season to a broken foot and was recently activated from the PUP list. Brian Parker will mainly contribute on special teams.

Place Kicker

Cairo Santos: The Chiefs went with a rookie kicker in 2014, and Santos rewarded them a strong 25 of 30 made field goal attempts, although only 1 of 2 from 50 yards plus. Santos made 14 kicks in a row at one point, and he plays for a team that is not known for finishing drives with touchdowns on offense. He's not being drafted in the top 20 kickers, but should be a good bye/injury replacement if needed.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Knile Davis, DeAnthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond

The Chiefs have maintained one of the better return games for the last few years despite the names of the returners changing. Knile Davis handled two thirds of the returns last season, and his 28.6 yard average and one touchdown should keep him in the mix this year. DeAnthony Thomas was worked in on kickoffs and sported an equally impressive 30.6 yard average. A continued split in return opportunities may make the Chiefs an attractive option for fantasy team return units, but less so for leagues using individual returners.

Punt Returners: DeAnthony Thomas, Frankie Hammond

Kansas City's punt returners have been equally as good as the kick returners, which speaks well to the team's special teams coaching. DeAnthony Thomas should continue as the primary returner, though Frankie Hammond actually maintained a better yards per return average, 13.3 to 11.9. Both were outstanding performances that give the Chiefs little reason to look at other options, such as newly signed receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Eric Fisher, LG Ben Grubbs, C Eric Kush, RG Jeff Allen, RT Donald Stephenson
Key Backups: C Mitch Morse [R], G Paul Fanaika, T Derek Sherrod, T Ricky Henry, G Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, G Zach Fulton

The Chiefs acquired former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs through free agency and he immediately becomes the line's best player. Grubbs is known as a better run blocker than pass protector, and he should be able to help the players next to him in the lineup. Left tackle Eric Fisher has not lived up to his one overall status and can be a liability in the running attack. Fisher has been dinged up with a variety of injuries, and the team hopes this is the reason for his slow development. The team has a hole at center, where Eric Kush and draft pick Mitch Morse will likely battle for the spot vacated by Rodney Hudson. We are projecting Kush at this early point to be the starter but it's far from a settled situation. On the right side, Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson should hold down those positions. Both are young players but neither have shown elite talent in their playing time to this point. In general this is a young line (except for Grubbs) and their ranking will vastly improve if Eric Fisher can take the next step in his development.

Team Defense

The Chiefs D/ST was downright dominant in 2013 until Justin Houston got hurt. They weren't quite as successful in 2014, but the return of Derrick Johnson from an achilles injury and addition of budding shutdown corner Marcus Peters in the first round of the 2015 draft can only help. Kansas City was in the bottom quarter of D/ST scoring in most formats last year because they only forced 13 takeaways. They were still #5 in sacks, #3 in points allowed, and #7 in yardage allowed, so a bounceback to the fringes of everyweek starter D/STs and strong streamer/DFS play when the matchup is right is likely in the cards for this unit. The Chiefs also sport a top kick returner (Knile Davis), punt returner (DeAnthony Thomas), and special teams coach (Dave Taub), so that should help keep their weekly ceiling higher no matter the opponent.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Allen Bailey, NT Dontari Poe, RE Mike DeVito
Backups: DE/NT Jaye Howard, DE Nick Williams, DE Jerel Worthy

Starting DL: Originally billed as a massive and athletic yet raw small-school prospect, Poe has emerged as a solid NT with the potential to become more. Despite his inconsistencies in the running game, he's been on the field for 94% of Kansas City's snaps over the last two years, parlaying them into 12 sacks and five pass breakups. That said, he hasn't been a particularly efficient rusher; his relatively low hurry numbers suggest he's probably already reached the heights of his sack potential. In order to flirt with DL1 significance, Poe will need to take the next step forward in both aspects of his game. He'll have to do so after likely missing the preseason and the early moments of the season after offseason back surgery. A conservative projection would be for Poe to show modest improvements in his fourth season and settle in nicely as a DL2 with moderate upside. But the injury is a bit mysterious at this point and could lead to a lost fantasy season for him. In all, however, it's hard to expect much fantasy production from this defensive line, which is predicated on gap responsibility and not penetration. These are space eaters, not pursuers or tacklers. The team likes Bailey enough to have inked a four-year, $25 million deal ($15 million guaranteed) during the 2014 season. He's a moderately effective pocket stuffer and did manage six sacks last year, but carries no fantasy relevance even at that career-high mark. DeVito will look to reclaim the RE job after an Achilles' tear cost him 15 games last season. He's a high-energy run defender, but has produced just two sacks and very modest tackle numbers across 85 career games.

Backup DL: DeVito's main competition will come from Howard, a former Seahawk who racked up just one sack in 13 games in 2014 relief. Williams, a seventh-round pick in 2013, has a nice athletic profile but is extremely raw and has yet to log an NFL snap. Worthy has bounced around the league since bombing horribly in Green Bay in 2012. He's a longshot to make the final roster.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Justin Houston, LILB Derrick Johnson, RILB Ramik Wilson [R], ROLB Tamba Hali
Backups: OLB Dee Ford, OLB D.J. Alexander [R], ILB Josh Mauga, OLB Frank Zombo

Starting LBs: This is definitely a fantasy-fertile unit, one brimming with athleticism and adept in defending the pass. But that distinction hinges almost entirely upon the franchise-tagged Houston's contract status. It seems likely the team will bring him back on a long-term deal, and from a fantasy perspective, Houston is as strong an OB option as they come. His 22 sacks last year fell one short of the NFL record, and they certainly didn't seem fluky – he led the league by a comfy margin in hurries and overall pressures. He led all 3-4 OBs in Pro Football Focus' Pass Rushing Productivity metric; in fact, in his first three years as a pro, he finished 16th, 7th, and 3rd. Suffice to say that among rush OBs, Houston is as about as predictably productive as they come. Hali saw his numbers plummet in 2014. Despite posting his first 16-game season since 2011, he managed just six sacks and failed to disrupt a single pass. The 31-year-old took a marked pay cut this offseason and will play out the final year of his deal, but the writing may be on the wall for his future with the club. The presence of Ford, last year's first-round pick, doesn't bode well for Hali's production upside. Boosting the fantasy value of this unit even further is the premium Kansas City linebackers place on pursuing and tackling. Houston and Hali both finished top-five among 3-4 OBs in tackles – neither are mere one-dimensional rush options. So how do we gauge the true value of these pass rushers among the top LB1 options, who usually make their hay through consistently high tackle counts? Generally speaking, a pass rusher who amasses 70 tackles will need to make a serious run at 18+ sacks to enter LB1 territory. At this point, Houston looks like an outstanding bet to do just that; Hali doesn't carry the same appeal, but stands as one of the better OB candidates to reach LB2 status, provided his pass rush and coverage numbers rebound. Johnson looks likely to return for his age-32/33 season, though the team could save over $5 million by releasing him. He's extremely valuable to Bob Sutton's defense as a roving inbacker who rushes the passer and excels in coverage. From 2010-13, Johnson averaged 121 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a whopping 10 pass disruptions. That said, the aging Johnson is returning from a torn Achilles', clouding his outlook just enough to bump him from LB1 value. Johnson will be joined inside by a platoon of Mauga and fourth-round rookie Wilson, neither of whom look like inspiring options. Wilson brings to the table two years of starting SEC experience, but likely lacks NFL-level athleticism and looks best suited for special teams. A seventh-year reserve, Mauga is often overwhelmed in the run game and lacks the athleticism to play the pass. Sutton's defense coaxed a few shots at the quarterback from Mauga, but his upside isn't much higher than that of a tackle-dependent LB3.

Backup LBs: Hali may wind up losing significant time to 2014's top pick Ford, who saw just 122 snaps as a rookie but registered 10 pressures, with half-sacks in three of his 11 games. With a blazing first step and a magnetic draw to the football, Ford shows potential in the Jason Babin elephant role, scorching edge blockers into the backfield at an inconsistent yet high-impact clip. And like all Kansas City LBs, Ford saw heavy usage in run defense packages, acquitting himself fairly well. Hali is a valued defensive piece, so his role won't simply disappear. But the Chiefs would do well to keep Ford rotating in to stretch the pocket. Alexander started 32 games at Oregon State and, if he's recovered from December neck surgery, has the inside track over Zombo to back up Houston. A supreme athlete, Alexander posted a dazzling 4.54 40 and 6.97 three-cone drill at the combine. Zombo has flashed situational pass rush ability throughout his career, but his contributions come overwhelmingly on special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Marcus Peters [R], RCB Sean Smith, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Eric Berry
Backups: FS/CB Ron Parker, FS Hasim Abdullah, CB Phillip Gaines, CB Steven Nelson [R], CB Sanders Commings

Starting DBs: Berry's return is an uplifting thing, for both humanity and the Kansas City defense. He'll practice at training camp and almost certainly slide into the starting FS spot, giving him real DB2 upside. He's made huge strides across the board and could still be on track for a multiple All-Pro kind of career. Berry broke up 32 passes across his first 48 games, picked off a few, and even contributed a handful of sacks. Branch was brought in via free agency, ostensibly to compete with Parker for the starting job. Racked by injuries throughout his career, Branch is a solid run-containing safety with the ability to gobble up tackles on the second and third levels. When healthy, he's clearly a better option than Parker on talent alone and could relegate Parker into the slot. Parker has ample experience at CB, even starting four games there in 2014, and he's likely to see starts while Sean Smith serves his suspension. He'll see plenty of snaps, though his production is likely to dip markedly. With the addition of first-rounder Peters, the Chiefs now boast a starting tandem of talented, oversized corners capable of rocking wideouts in the press-man game. At 6'3 214, Smith sits at the far-upper size range of corners. But that size has yet to lend him much fantasy utility in the tackle department; in six seasons, he's reached 60 just once, and averaged 48 in his two years as a Chief. The primary culprit is probably Smith's great play in man coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 44 receptions on a healthy 594 coverage snaps in 2014, good for the seventh-best ratio among NFL starters. Simply put, there's little reason to target Smith, who'll miss the first three games on suspension anyway. A fantasy DB4 type when he's on the field, Smith's value would likely need to come through splash plays, which haven't been his forte. Smith has intercepted or broken up less than 12% of his targets in each of his last two seasons. Like Smith, Peters checks in above average CB size at 6'0 197, and will be asked to blanket receivers in tight man coverage. He has the chops to do that, with ball skills to boot – Peters notched 0.5 interceptions per game at Washington. His athletic numbers disappointed a bit at the combine, but Peters profiles as an occasional shutdown guy in the intermediate game, in the vein of Darqueze Dennard. He comes with myriad off-field concerns, but could develop into a playmaking DB2 for fantasy purposes.

Backup DBs: A career journeyman, Parker broke out statistically in 2014, notching 88 tackles and nine pass breakups. The Chiefs saw fit to lock up the 28-year-old with a five-year, $25 million deal in March, but he won't be a starter in 2015 if Eric Berry picks up where left off. He could start at corner during Sean Smith's suspension, but he certainly doesn't carry that strong DB1 value into the season. Abdullah showed very well in coverage last season, but doesn't have the look of a full-time player. He drew sporadic fantasy value from his excellent tackle totals (68 solo, 14 assist), but even those weren't enough to make him a usable DB2. Abdullah doesn't make many plays in the passing game and will likely cede some (or most) FS snaps to Parker going forward. The team traded for McCray, a core special teamer, just before last season. He'll provide further depth at safety. Gaines, another taller corner, was last year's third-round pick. He showed well in 376 rookie snaps, breaking up four of his 35 targets, but his path to time appears largely blocked. This draft's third-rounder Nelson is an intriguing prospect. He battled the Pac-12's top wideouts with a lot of success and projects as a solid NFL corner, but as with Gaines, there's no reason to expect fantasy utility anytime soon. Commings, a fifth-round pick from Georgia in 2013, has played just three snaps thus far due to injuries. He has an interesting skillset but looks poised to lose the numbers game.

Last modified: 2015-09-08 18:14:04