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2019 Team Report: Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Philosophy

Once known as a young, disruptive, pass-crazy wunderkind, head coach Andy Reid has seen the league finally catch up to him and somehow finds himself among the old guard. The incandescent emergence of Patrick Mahomes in 2018 and the unshackling of the Chiefs' offense, however, demonstrates that even old dogs are occasionally capable of new tricks. Many have noted in the past that Reid's running backs have proven spectacularly productive; fewer have noted that those running backs (Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt) have also been spectacularly talented. Damien Williams was productive in his three starts after Hunt's suspension, but never topped 13 carries; with Hunt now in Cleveland 2019 will prove an interesting test case of whether Reid's running back productivity is more a result of talent or scheme. The Chiefs set the stage for Patrick Mahomes' eventual succession of Alex Smith when it switched to a spread offense in 2017. Kansas City built on 2017's success in grand fashion, thanks to Mahomes' ability to stretch the field and generate huge, off-script plays. The Chiefs offense thrives on pre-snap trickery, including motion and "multiple looks" that force opponents to account the possibility of its receiving weapons earning touches as runners and runners working down field as vertical receivers. Mahomes' arrival as a superstar quarterback also affords Kansas City tremendous flexibility with its game plan-opening the breadth of Andy Reid's expansive playbook to the offense. Meanwhile, 2018 demonstrated that Reid's fondness for short passes was mostly a function of personnel. With horizontal-passing maven Alex Smith out of town, the Chiefs turned it over to improvisational maestro Patrick Mahomes, who paired his preternatural ability to escape pressure and extend plays with a deep crop of speedy targets to blister defenses down the field.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backup(s): Chad Henne, EJ Manuel, Chase Litton, Kyle Shurmur

Starting QB: Despite Mahomes only earning a single start as a rookie, he elevated an already strong offense the moment he took over for Smith. Mahomes set team records and earned the 2018 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards. Mahomes absorbed Reid's entire playbook without a problem and consistently found productive second-half solutions to first-half obstacles. Mahomes made some of the most spectacular off-script plays the NFL has seen in recent years. Although the league will have an offseason to study Mahomes, the league's MVP is still a player on the rise and will also have another summer of development. Even if he doesn't build on 2018's season for the ages, don't expect a dramatic decline in play unless there's a significant downgrade of his surrounding talent due suspension and/or injury.

Backup QB: Henne has a primary role of a steadying veteran presence in the Chiefs quarterback room who will help the quarterbacks prepare for upcoming games. He has NFL arm strength and he can take punishment in the pocket. While experienced and a capable teammate when it comes to team preparation, he's not at all mobile or consistent as a decision-maker on the field. Manuel is a potential reclamation project. He's mobile, has experience in a variety of offenses, has an NFL arm, and he still has potential to develop into a top-flight backup who can help a team if its starter gets hurt. Litton is a second-year option with a big arm who must continue developing as a decision-maker. Kyle Shurmur is the son of New York Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur. He's a smart passer with a good play-action game and pocket acumen, but his arm might be too limited for certain coaches.

Running Backs

Starter: Damien Williams and Carlos Hyde
Backup(s): Darwin Thompson [R], Darrel Williams, James Williams [R], and J.D. Moore
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: A free agent acquisition from the Dolphins, Damien Williams arrived as an insurance policy for the Kansas City backfield. The Chiefs cashed-in on Williams when it cut Kareem Hunt after Hunt's lied about his involvement in an off-field incident at a Cleveland hotel. Williams scored four six touchdowns during the final four weeks of the regular season and earned over 100 yards from scrimmage in two of those contests. A well-built runner with excellent straight-line speed and receiving skills, the Chiefs enter the NFL Draft with Williams and free agent addition Carlos Hyde as the potential backfield combination. Kansas City is Hyde's third stop within the span of a year after he earned a free agent deal in Cleveland as the presumed lead back, lost the job during the season to rookie Nick Chubb, and wound up traded to Jacksonville as Leonard Fournette's understudy. Hyde still has the quickness, power, agility, and receiving skill to produce for an offense-and the Chiefs have the surrounding talent to support a consistent production from the ground game that Jacksonville's injured offensive line in 2018 didn't. If the Chiefs don't invest in a potential rookie starter, look for Williams and Hyde to split touches. If it's a true split, Williams will play the Charcandrick West role to Hyde's version of Spencer Ware. However, it wouldn't be wise to rule out Hyde earning the majority of the carries despite a poor 2018 performance.

Backup RBs: Darwin Thompson is a short but powerful back with good quickness and receiving skill. He's a strong match for an offense that wants to get its backs in space in the passing, but also use them from a variety of looks as inside and outside runners. Darrel Williams has size, strength, balance, shiftiness, and good burst for a big back. He also demonstrated receiving chops during Weeks 14-15. If Hyde's game is truly fading, Williams could make a move up the depth chart and earn a role as a weekly contributor. James Williams is an excellent receiving back capable of making multiple defenders miss in open space. Moore is a versatile football player who can play fullback, tight end, and long snapper.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tyreek Hill [PR], Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson [KR/PR]
Backups: Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Deiter, Davon Grayson, Josh Crockett, Jamal Custis [R], Cody Thompson [R]

Starting WRs: Hill topped career-bests in receptions, yards, and touchdowns as the best fantasy receiver of 2018. Hill has developed as a route runner and proven reliable when targeted as a rebounder. The center of a child battery case, there's a strong chance the team moves on from Hill. The addition of Hardman is evidence of this likelihood. A former high school quarterback, Hardman has grown up fast as a receiver. He has the speed, open-field skill as a runner, and comfort adjusting to the ball that could help him develop into a top threat in the NFL. Hardman's skills are good enough to provide offensive some continuity if Hill is cut even if the production doesn't approach Hill's talents. Watkins was last year's splash acquisition and couldn't stay healthy. When healthy, he's big-play threat who win deep on the perimeter and find openings and yardage from the slot. Watkins' chronic foot injuries might remain a factor for the balance of his career, which makes him a boom-bust fantasy option. Robinson didn't earn a significant role last year, despite some promising rapport with Mahomes during training camp. Entering his fourth year in the NFL, it's now or never for Robinson, who will likely earn competition from the middle of the Chiefs' depth chart-and possibly a rookie of value.

Backup WRs: Pringle enters his second year in the NFL after spending a season on injured reserve. He's a big-play speedster with underrated route skills. He'll challenge Robinson for the No.3 role and return duties. Kemp is a possession receiver who lacks a big-play element to his game but finds open zones and works hard for the ball. Mahomes' roommate during camp last year, Dieter has size and big-play ability but his hands weren't consistent enough to break into the rotation last year. Grayson was a raw but shifty UDFA acquisition last year who has good hands and potential to develop into a slot option or flanker. Custis is a huge receiver from Syracuse who got a big guarantee for an undrafted player, and Thompson is a crafty slot receiver who also got a commitment up front from the team, so both should be at least practice squad candidates.

Tight Ends

Starters: Travis Kelce
Backups: Blake Bell, Alex Ellis, Deon Yelder, David Wells

Coming off consecutive seasons as no worse as the No.2 tight end in fantasy football, the arrival of Mahomes propelled Kelce to reach the top fantasy spot at his position. He had a career-year in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns. Although Hill also earned the top fantasy spot at his position, Mahomes and Kelce had a strong rapport on pivotal down and distance situations. Mahomes often targeted Kelce with off-script plays and relied on the tight end to win the ball in ways that Smith never dared to consider. Expect Kelce to remain one of the top two threats in this prolific Chiefs offense. Bell converted from quarterback to tight end while at Oklahoma and has already played for multiple leagues as a reserve. Bell has the athletic ability of a primary tight end and promise as a receiver, but he must develop greater consistency as a route runner and a blocker. Ellis is an H-Back with a fullback's dimensions who played in New Orleans. Yelder is a promising move tight end who began his rookie year last year in New Orleans. He could develop into a primary backup who can deliver in the passing game. Wells is a former UDFA with the Cowboys who worked as a tight end and H-Back for San Diego State. He's an accomplished lead blocker and in-line player with some skill as a short area receiver.

Place Kicker

Harrison Butker: Harrison Butker went from leading the league in attempted and made field goals in 2017 to leading it in attempted and made extra points in 2018. He was third in scoring, but finished closer to seventh or eighth in fantasy scoring that awards bonuses for field goal distance. Butker's overall field goal accuracy was similar to 2017, although he only had four attempts from 50+ and missed two of them. The Chiefs should continue to give Butker enough opportunity to be a premium kicker in leagues without distance bonuses and his draft cost splits the difference. As long as Tyreek Hill is not suspended, Butker should be a safe, but unexciting kicker option in 2019.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Tremon Smith

In something of an upset, cornerback Tremon Smith unseated running back De'Anthony Thomas from his usual kickoff return responsibilities in 2018. Now, with Thomas no longer on the team, Smith appears set to reprise his role with no serious challengers in 2019.

Punt Returners: Tyreek Hill, Tremon Smith, Demarcus Robinson

Over the last three years, there were few bets in football more sure than Tyreek Hill returning punts. Hill ranks 6th all-time in punt return average, and 1st among active players. The only other Chief with positive punt return yardage during that span was De'Anthony Thomas, who is no longer with the team. However, with Hill's availability this season uncertain (to say the least), the Chiefs are potentially facing a major vacuum at what was usually a position of strength. Smith and Robinson have experience fielding returns, but at the end of the day, there's simply no replacing the impact Tyreek Hill has on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Eric Fisher, Cam Erving, Austin Reiter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, Mitchell Schwartz
Key Backups: Andrew Wylie, Jimmy Murray, Kahlil McKenzie, Pace Murphy

The strength of the Chiefs' line is at the tackle positions, where right tackle Mitchell Schwartz made first team All-Pro and left tackle Eric Fisher was named a Pro Bowl reserve. The team extended left guard Cam Erving and right guard Austin Reiter in the offseason, with the intention of moving Reiter to the center spot in place of Mitch Morse. Morse is a big loss on paper but he was often unavailable due to injury. Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff should return from the injured list to claim his right guard spot, but if not, the team has been developing Andrew Wylie. Overall, this front office does a solid job finding talent and despite losing their center, they are still a top-tier line headed into the season.

Team Defense

The Chiefs fantasy defense was not a great option in leagues that penalize for yards and points allowed, but in more traditional scoring that only uses turnovers, sacks, and scores, they were in the top five. A lot has changed since then, but fantasy drafters seen to have overreacted by moving them out of the draftable range in 2019 drafts. Tyreek Hill looks unlikely to play a game for the Chiefs this year, so they will lose his return ability and his contribution to winning game scripts. The team will do their best to replace him on offense and could ease some of the loss. Justin Houston and Dee Ford are gone and Frank Clark has been acquired to replace one of them with Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah likely taking up most of the snaps at the other end position. Eric Berry is gone but was a non-factor last year, and Tyrann Mathieu has been signed to replace him. Opening the season with the Jaguars, Raiders, Ravens, and Lions is somewhat promising, although the Chiefs are changing to a different scheme under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, which could make early games rough as everyone is acclimating to new roles.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Frank Clark, NT Chris Jones, DE Alex Okafor, DT Derrick Nnadi
Backups: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Breeland Speaks, NT Xavier Williams, DT Khalen Saunders [R]

Starting DL: Clark comes to town by way of a trade with Seattle and a monumental contract. The Chiefs already boasted two strong edge rushers in Justin Houston and Dee Ford, but the switch to a 4-3 front called for different personnel. Clark wasn't much of a tackler in Seattle, but excelled as a pass rusher, posting 33.0 sacks over his final 44 games there. Along the way, he forced eight fumbles and broke up six passes. He may be a fairly one-dimensional end, but he'll almost certainly rack up big plays in Steve Spagnuolo's scheme. The star of this unit, however, is Jones, who completed bis breakout in 2018. After an up-and-down 2017, Jones recorded 15.0 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and scored a touchdown despite missing 2.5 games of action. An ultra-athletic specimen at 6'6" and 310 pounds, Jones looks like a lynchpin both for the Chiefs and for fantasy rosters. In fact, both he and Clark should be targeted as fantasy DL1 options. Okafor isn't much of a big-play threat - he's managed just 13.5 sacks over his last 43 games - but is strong in run support and should chew up snaps. Nnadi, last year's third-round pick, flashed as a run plugger but doesn't offer much upside. He managed just eight sacks over a four-year college career at Florida State.

Backup DL: There's a good deal of big-play potential down the Kansas City rotation, if very little consistency. Ogbah comes over as a former second-round pick of the Browns, but hasn't put up much production - just 12.5 sacks over 2,118 career snaps. Here, he'll rotate liberally with Speaks, an underachieving second-rounder in his own right. At least Speaks should fit better in the new system; at 283 pounds, he makes much more sense as a down lineman than as a three-down linebacker. Williams brings run-stuffing depth to the table and was serviceable in 2018, though he'll be pushed for snaps by talented third-rounder Saunders.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Anthony Hitchens, MLB Reggie Ragland, SLB Dorian ODaniel
Backups: MLB Darron Lee, WLB Damien Wilson, SLB Jeremiah Attaochu, MLB Ben Niemann

Starting LBs: Hitchens posted big tackle numbers in his Kansas City debut - 93 solos and 65 assists across 17 games (playoffs included). But he brought almost nothing else to the table, failing to record a sack, pass breakup, interception, or fumble recovery. He's a solid fantasy LB3 due to those tackle marks, but if that dips in 2019, he'll offer nothing further to fantasy rosters. In fact, the addition of Lee could be a death knell for Hitchens as an every-down guy. In a similar vein, Ragland enjoyed a solid 2018 numbers-wise (84 tackles as a part-timer) but continued to prove himself a one-dimensional run plugger. He drew just 581 snaps and provided all but nothing in the pass game. O'Daniel should start on the strong side after closing out 2018 that way, but he's not a fantasy option. The Chiefs like to work in a fifth defensive back more often than most teams, so the team's third linebacker is often less-than-relevant.

Backup LBs: Lee comes to town after a disappointing run with the Jets. But at least he improved noticeably in 2018, and he's almost certainly a better player than the one-speed Hitchens. His ascent into the lineup could come sooner rather than later, and if it happens early on, then a LB3 season is within his range of outcomes. He closed 2018 on suspension, but on pace for 99 tackles and 7 pass breakups. Wilson, like Hitchens before him, comes to town by way of Dallas. An impressive athlete with marginal discipline and tackling ability, he's little more than a depth/special teams signing. Following a handful of disappointing, injury-marred seasons with the Chargers and Jets, Attaochu will try to capitalize on his once-upon-a-time potential as a winner off the edge. He's always boasted speed and athleticism, but has managed just 12.0 sacks over 36 NFL appearances. Niemann will back up both Reggie Ragland and Dorian O'Daniel as a one-dimensional tackler. Darron Lee was acquired from the Jets in a post-draft trade for the paltry price of a sixth-round pick. He'll compete to be a top backup.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Tyrann Mathieu, CB Kendall Fuller, FS Jordan Lucas, CB Bashaud Breeland
Backups: CB Charvarius Ward, FS Juan Thornhill [R], SS Daniel Sorensen, FS Armani Watts

Starting DBs: The Eric Berry Era is over, and the Chiefs will trot out two new starters at safety on Opening Day. Mathieu steps in as the star and prime playmaker in the team's revamped secondary. An all-over-the-field contributor, Mathieu routinely sees snaps on the back end, in the box, and even at slot cornerback. His game leaves something to be desired in coverage, but he still creates splash plays at a strong level (89 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 8 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions last year). Based on those opportunities, he looks like a strong DB2/3 option yet again, with the upside to chase down the NFL lead in interceptions and breakups. Lucas worked his way onto the field last year as Eric Murray's backup, and he'll likely take on the starting role at least to open the year. He didn't play particularly well, but showcased a lot of versatility by making plays both in coverage and against the run. He's adept at rushing the passer and attacking in the box, so there's sleeper DB3 appeal if he can lock down the job. Fuller and Breeland are both playmakers, fully capable of posting big interception/breakup numbers. But of the two, Fuller is the clear fantasy target. He enjoyed another strong year in the slot in 2018, racking up 82 tackles and 11 passes defensed. Breeland boasts a similar playmaking resume, but has become a true journeyman and could easily find himself on the bench.

Backup DBs: Ward will battle Bashaud Breeland for starting snaps on the outside, and after improving down the stretch, could hold the inside track. If he does win the starting job, there's real fantasy potential. Over his last 4 games of 2018 (playoffs included), Ward posted 3 games of 7 tackles or more and broke up 4 passes in the other. Thornhill will seek snaps at free safety after a strong college career and a dazzling combine. He ran a 4.42 40 and posted an explosive 44" vertical leap, squeezing him into the second round. Jordan Lucas has a (slight) experience edge, but Thornhill could be too gifted to keep off the field, and there's real DB2/3 potential there as a rookie. Sorensen's value has dipped majorly since 2017, but he showed in the playoff loss to New England (14 tackles, 1 interception) that he's still fully capable of posting big fantasy totals when injuries strike. Watts, last year's fourth-round pick, drew first-team snaps to open the year before landing on injured reserve. He's still in the mix, but the addition of Thornhill certainly clouds his future.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:38:39