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2020 Team Report: Kansas City Chiefs

Last updated: Tue, Sep 8

Offensive Philosophy

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Tyreek Hill's availability for the 2019 season and subsequent injury that robbed the receiver of four games, Kansas City's offense remained one of the best in the league. Mahomes' arrival as a superstar quarterback affords Kansas City tremendous flexibility with its game plan--opening the breadth of Andy Reid's expansive playbook to the offense. Mahomes paired his preternatural ability to escape pressure and extend plays with a deep crop of speedy targets to blister defenses down the field. Patrick Mahomes didn't produce the ungodly totals of his 2018 campaign, but had the same completion percentage while cutting his interception totals from 12 to 5 in an offense that continued stretching the field and generating 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. Despite hosting a carousel of four running backs-Damien William, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams, and Darwin Thompson-the Chiefs managed 1,292 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, only 80 yards different from the exact totals in 2018. Even with the Chiefs drafting a running back early, expect this scheme to remain a spread system that leans towards the pass.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backup(s): Chad Henne, Jordan Ta'amu

Starting QB: Mahomes didn't light up the NFL in 2019 like he did in 2018 but he still had moments where he took over games and delivered points in flurries. Despite seeing his passing touchdowns cut in half, his production was enough to earn the No.6 spot among fantasy passers while missing most of three games with a knee injury that most feared would keep him out for several more weeks. Mahomes's production in terms of fantasy points per game was among the three-best per-game producers at the position. Expect Mahomes to continue his elite play as a vertical and red-zone passer.

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. Ta'Amu has a big arm and mobility but his base accuracy and decision-making need a lot of work.

Running Backs

Starter: Clyde Edwards-Helaire [R]
Backup(s): Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams, Damien Williams [Opt-Out]
Fullback(s): Anthony Sherman

Starting RB: Williams split playing time with LeSean McCoy last year due to knee and rib injuries that cost him games early and late in the year. He has chosen to opt-out, which will further heighten the buzz for Edwards-Helaire, who landed in the most glamorous situation for a running back. Edwards-Helaire offers compelling upside as a PPR option with the Chiefs, because he's an excellent route runner and a skilled at finding creases between the tackles. Andy Reid compared Edwards-Helaire favorably to Brian Westbrook after the Chiefs made the selection. Still, Westbrook needed a few years to perform to his vast potential. Last year, due to injuries, Reid employed a backfield by committee that accounted for 281 attempts and 101 targets for its top-four backs. This committee delivered 1,232 rushing yards, another 604 yards through the air, and 17 total scores. In 2018, the top four backs on the Chiefs roster earned 283 attempts, 1,328 yards rushing, and 860 yards through the air as well as 19 scores. In 2017, Kareem Hunt did the heavy lifting and earned 272 attempts, 1,327 yards, 455 yards receiving, and 11 scores out of the backfield's 312 attempts, 1,462 yards, 683 receiving yards, and 17 touchdowns. The Chiefs backs have a predictable workload under Reid whether they have a stud back or a superstar quarterback, which means Edwards-Helaire's upside hinges on his ability to perform all of the roles of a feature back. What may hold him back is his scatback power and flaws as a pass protector. Because of his pass-receiving skills, Reid may work around Edwards-Helaire's blocking deficiencies as he did with Hunt a few years ago. It's also worth reminding readers that Westbrook first and only two, 1,000-yard rushing seasons came after he spent four years in a committee. If Edwards-Helaire begins at Westbrook's peak, he could become a top-12 fantasy back immediately. If he can't transcend a committee, expect him to lead the backfield by 2021 as a productive fantasy RB2.

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. He's impressed as a playmaker last spring and summer but only earned limited playing time because the Chiefs weren't confident in his pass protection. Darrel Williams has size, strength, balance, shiftiness, and good burst for a big back. He has underrated receiving chops as a check-down option. Washington split receiving duties with Jalen Richard for the Raiders cut wasn't as versatile of a runner.

Fullback: Anthony Sherman is an excellent lead blocker who can sneak into the backfield and catch the ball in the flats.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tyreek Hill [PR], Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson [KR/PR]
Backups: Byron Pringle

Starting WRs: After topping career-bests in receptions, yards, and touchdowns as the best fantasy receiver of 2018, Hill was the focal point of a child battery case. It appeared likely that the Chiefs would move on from him as they did with Kareem Hunt. The team anticipated trouble and added Hardman, a terrific speedster and open-field threat who the Chiefs hoped could compensate for Hill's potential absence. Hardman's skills were good enough to provide some offensive continuity from a schematic standpoint during Hill's absence but not nearly the same caliber of production. Hill has developed into an excellent route runner and underrated rebounder. Watkins began strong last year after working hard to improve his overall game, obliterating Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars in Week 1. However, he never came close to that production for the rest of year and missed most of three games in the middle of the year with a hamstring. He showed up in a big way during the Chiefs' Super Bowl run, including a 10-catch game in the AFC Championship and a 98-yard outing in the Super Bowl. Watkins is a big-play threat who win deep on the perimeter and find openings and yardage from the slot and despite missing time with the hamstring issue, his chronic foot injuries weren't a factor. He took a pay cut in 2020 to remain with the team

Backup WRs: Robinson had a huge game against Oakland last year but didn't emerge during Hill's or Watkins' absence. Entering his fifth year in the NFL, Robinson won't be counted on as a future starter and will likely earn competition from the middle of the Chiefs' depth chart-possibly a rookie of value. Pringle enters his third year in the NFL after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. He's a big-play speedster with underrated route skills. He has improved his attack of the football and developed his body. He impressed last spring and had a 100-yard outing against the Colts in Week 5, showing a rapport with Mahomes that he could build on in 2020.

Tight Ends

Starters: Travis Kelce
Backups: Ricky Seals-Jones and Deon Yelder

Coming off consecutive seasons as the top tight end in fantasy football and two more where he was no worse than the No.2 option, Kelce is the gold standard at the position. Mahomes and Kelce have a strong rapport on pivotal down and distance situations and Kelce and Mahomes have a mind-meld on off-script plays. Expect Kelce to remain one of the top two threats in this prolific Chiefs offense. Seals-Jones is a big, slow receiver who is quick enough to function as a move tight end from the slot as well as the second tight end or H-Back on the field on the back side of formations. He finds open zones well but he drops the ball too often. Yelder is a promising third-year move tight end who began his rookie year in New Orleans. He could develop into a primary backup who can deliver in the passing game.

Place Kicker

Harrison Butker: Butker has become entrenched as one of the mainstays for the Super Bowl champs after he signed a five-year, $20.3 million dollar contract last offseason. He led the league in field goal attempts and makes last year, going 34 for 38, with 3 of his 4 misses coming from 50+. Butker generally goes second behind Justin Tucker in drafts, which is warranted because of the quality of his offense and excellent three-year accuracy track record.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Mecole Hardman

Hardman's 27 returns for 704 yards and a touchdown ranked third in the NFL and earned him a Pro Bowl invitation. Considering how valuable Hill has been in this capacity, the Chiefs now have two excellent special teams players and can actually save Hill for the offense.

Punt Returners: Mecole Hardman

Hardman didn't qualify as a leader in punt return average due to his low number of attempts (18) but he averaged 9.28 yards per attempt in this capacity. Expect him to handle these duties once again in 2020 and build on a strong rookie campaign as one of the most dangerous speedsters in the NFL.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Eric Fisher, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Kelechi Osemele, RT Mitchell Schwartz
Key Backups: OT Greg Senat, OL Martinas Rankin, OL Lucas Niang [R] (opt-out), OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (opt-out), OT Mike Remmers

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz made All-Pro second team last season and left tackle Eric Fisher is a former number one overall pick and Pro Bowler. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, last year's right guard, opted-out of the season to perform duties as a doctor in Canada. In his place the team signed left guard Kelechi Osemele, with the designs to move Andrew Wylie to right guard. Osemele is a former Pro-Bowl mauler who is returning from an injury plagued season with the Jets while Wylie started a dozen games at right guard in 2018. Greg Senat and Mike Remmers will compete for the swing tackle job. The team invested a third-round pick in Lucas Niang from TCU, who also opted-out of the season.

Team Defense

The Chiefs defense took a step forward in 2019, improving to 45 sacks, 23 takeaways and 2 defensive scores, while finishing at a very respectable 17th in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed on their way to a Super Bowl victory. They should continue to benefit from favorable game scripts, although they lost their corner Kendall Fuller and will be without starting outside corner Bashaud Breeland for at least four games. They kept standout defensive lineman Chris Jones with the franchise tag and second round linebacker Willie Gay Jr could add a playmaking element at that level of the defense. The optimism is apparent in fantasy drafts, where the Chiefs are going off of the board around the 8th-10th pick, which is an appropriate place to target them.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Alex Okafor, NT Derrick Nnadi, DT Chris Jones, DE Frank Clark
Backups: DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE Breeland Speaks, DT Mike Pennel, DE Mike Danna [R], DE Taco Charlton, DT Khalen Saunders

Starting DL: Jones lost three games to a injury, but posted another excellent campaign with 9.0 sacks. He's racked up 27.5 over his past 33 regular season games, and proved his case for a new contract with a dominant postseason. Jones lacks the tackle numbers of a traditional DL1, but is dynamite in big-play leagues. The same goes for Clark, who averages just 40 tackles over a 16-game season, but also 10.0 sacks. Clark's 47 pressures hint at a bump from last year's 8.0. Okafor and Nnadi are important chess pieces for the team as stout run-stuffers, but offer little on the stat sheet. Okafor managed to record 5.0 sacks in an injury-shortened 2019, but is merely a rotational cog in this group.

Backup DL: Former second-rounders Kpassagnon and Speaks continue to wait for even a whiff of an NFL breakout. Through 49 career games, they've registered a combined 7.5 sacks and 69 tackles. Most of that comes from Kpassagnon, who actually played 702 snaps last year, but did little with them. The team added Charlton, a first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2017, to the mix in May. Charlton has flashed playmaking ability in Dallas and Miami, but quickly wore out his welcome with both and looks like a deep reserve. Pennel and Saunders share depth snaps as dedicated run-stuffers on early downs. Fifth-round rookie Danna is a tweener on the line, but was productive at Michigan.

Linebackers

Starters: LB Anthony Hitchens, LB Willie Gay [R], LB Damien Wilson
Backups: LB Ben Niemann, LB Dorian O'Daniel

Starting LBs: Hitchens looks like the clearest-cut starter of this crowded bunch, but remains a very limited starter and a low-end fantasy target. He provides virtually nothing but tackles, and even those dipped majorly in 2019, from 9.0 per game to 5.9. Over two years in Kansas City, he's recorded all of 2.0 sacks and broken up a single pass. Wilson actually led this unit in snaps as a 2019 starter, but looks destined to slide a bit with the addition of Gay. Wilson was simply rolled over on the ground, while Gay could at least bring some playmaking athleticism to the table. The rookie is raw and a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, but showed dazzling speed and quickness at the combine. He's by far the most attractive "potential" guy of the group, and the best bet to sniff the LB2 level.

Backup LBs: Niemann has filled in here and there over the past two seasons, but also contributes little beyond a few downfield tackles. O'Daniel was a third-round pick from Clemson two years ago, but has yet to establish himself as an NFL talent.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Tyrann Mathieu, FS Juan Thornhill, CB Charvarius Ward, CB Rashad Fenton
Backups: SS Daniel Sorensen, CB L'Jarius Sneed [R], CB Bashaud Breeland, FS Tedric Thompson, FS Armani Watts

Starting DBs: Mathieu didn't disappoint one bit in his first season in Kansas City. Playing all 16 games for the third year in a row, he totaled 75 tackles, 12 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, and 2.0 sacks from all over the defense. There's little he doesn't do, and he enters 2020 as a clear DB2 for fantasy purposes. Thornhill's ACL tear in Week 17 was devastating as it broke up an extremely promising rookie year. Thornhill is still learning some nuances, but already brings speed, athleticism, and a nose for downfield coverage. He picked off three passes as a rookie, including a pick-six, and broke up five more. His ACL surgery was reportedly clean and easy, so Thornhill should be on the field for Week 1. He's a strong DB3 pick with DB1 upside. Ward played 95% of team snaps last year; he didn't make as many plays as in 2018, but showed well enough to be entrenched as the top cornerback. With Breeland in the doghouse, Fenton, last year's sixth-round pick, will likely open the season across the field.

Backup DBs: Sorensen remains an important part of this defense - he crept back into major snaps last year even before Thornhill went down. Sorensen doesn't offer much help against the pass, but has long been a cheap source of tackles as a fantasy DB4 type. Sneed and Breeland will battle for No. 3 cornerback duties, and it certainly appears the rookie enters the fall with the upper hand. Breeland was already facing a four-game suspension before his April arrest, and he was one of football's shakiest cover men in 2019. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team move on in favor of talented fourth-rounder Sneed, who blazed a 4.37 dash and 41-inch vertical at the combine. He's versatile, too, having spent most of his Louisiana Tech career at safety. Essentially, he's an update as a prospect on Watts, who has shown very little and looks destined for special teams. The team added ex-Seahawk Thompson as insurance for Thornhill's injury. He's a deep-center specialist, but not a particularly effective one. A young prospect should claim that role.