2013 Fantasy Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

By J.D. Redemann

This article is part of our 2013 Fantasy Team Preview series in which we are profiling every NFL team leading up to the season, click here for the complete list of published previews. Also, check out our staff rankings for see how we value each player.

Kansas City: Famous for barbecue, not actually being in Kansas (the important part of it, anyway), and wallowing in utter futility in the sports world since Joe Montana’s twilight years. Last year was no surprise for Chiefs fans, as the team flubbed its way all the way to a 2-14 record and the 1st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It got so bad last year that fans at Arrowhead Stadium cheered when their own quarterback, Matt Cassel, exited with a concussion in Week 5. Head coach Romeo Crennel had the quote of the year after Week 8, which saw the team’s best playmaker in RB Jamaal Charles receive only five carries. When asked why his offensive gameplan so scarcely used its best player, Crennel responded: “Now, that I’m not exactly sure either.”

There is literally no way to spin last season in any way other than what it was: dreadful. Clearly there’s nowhere the team can go but up. So, will the fantasy black hole that is Kansas City finally be plugged? Can the Andy Reid renaissance capture the Heartland? Let’s find out…

 

Roster Moves:
Added:
QB Alex Smith, QB Tyler Bray, QB Chase Daniel, FB Anthony Sherman, WR Donnie Avery, LB Akeem Jordan, LB Frank Zombo, CB Dunta Robinson
Drafted:
OT Eric Fisher, TE Travis Kelce, RB Knile Davis, LB Nico Johnson, CB Sanders Commings, C Eric Kush, FB Braden Wilson, DE Mike Catapano
Lost:
QB Matt Cassel, QB Brady Quinn, FB Patrick DiMarco, RB Peyton Hillis, OT Eric Winston, WR Steve Breaston, TE Anthony Fasano, TE Kevin Boss, DE Ropati Pitoitua, DE Glenn Dorsey, CB Javier Arenas, SS Abram Elam

1st overall pick Eric Fisher

Let the quarterback carousel spin! The Chiefs lost two signal-callers in the offseason, but gained three, so that’s an improvement, right? Matt Cassel was fairly acceptable when substituting for Tom Brady in New England in 2008 and in 2010 in Kansas City. He has fallen off of a statistical cliff since, so they were forced to find other options for the position. Thank goodness that Alex Smith was traded for in the offseason, because while he’ll never be a cannon-armed quarterback who goes for 5,000 yards, he’s probably the most efficient passer we’ve seen in a very long time. All KC needs is a guy who won’t sink them at the QB position, and Smith is that guy. Bray could be a fine developmental player in a few years, but he’s raw right now. 1st overall selection Eric Fisher will be vital to helping protect these new quarterbacks, and it appears at first glance that he is polished and ready to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player for the next decade at least.

Other than the passer, the Chiefs didn’t do a whole lot to upgrade at skill positions. They let Steve Breaston walk, but brought in the resurgent Donnie Avery. They drafted Razorbacks’ stud Knile Davis and probably the most polished block-receive TE in the 2013 draft class, Travis Kelce. And then… not much else. These three will certainly help to draw defensive attention away from the clear studs of this offense, Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles, but I can’t see Avery being anything better than a very low WR2 on this team (not for your fantasy team, though). Davis is only a dynasty grab for 2013, but he could spell Charles as a complementary back if the main offensive engine gets overworked. Kelce is the most draftable of these three in standard, but I would only take a last-round flier on him.

Speaking of defense, the Chiefs brought in a lot of help on that front too. I’m ready to announce it… KC is no longer the worst streaming fantasy D/ST option in the league! That dishonor falls to division rivals Oakland, but don’t get carried away… Dunta Robinson and Frank Zombo will certainly help them avoid putting so much pressure on the offense to play catch-up, but they are still in the bottom third of the league in options for your fantasy team.

 

Highlight Players:
One Up: Dwayne Bowe, WR - In the time that Bowe has been in the league, this is a list of the starting quarterbacks he’s played with: Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn. The one uniting factor about all of those players? They were all absolutely terrible quarterbacks, at least in their time with Bowe. The one of them who eclipsed even 2,000 yards while passing for more TD’s than INT’s was the 2010 iteration of Cassel. That season, Cassel threw for 3,116 yards and 27 TD’s, while only tossing 7 INT’s. Now, you must be asking yourself: what does that matter when it comes to Dwayne Bowe? That was Bowe’s career season, where he brought in 1,162 receiving yards and 15 TD’s and became the top WR option in fantasy. But saddled with atrocious QB play since then, Bowe has become a shell of his former self in fantasy production. So, why do I like him so much?To be continued in Burning Question #2…

Jamaal CharlesOne Down: Jamaal Charles, RB - I have seen Jamaal Charles go in the top five this year, both among RB’s and overall. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen him go in the top three. That makes me uneasy. I’ve seen him go first overall. That to me is ludicrous. This hype is all precipitated on the supposition that Charles is an elite pass-catching running back and in a short, quick West Coast offense led by Andy Reid, he will rack up catch after catch. While he certainly will be targeted more in the passing game, I’m here to dispel the notion that this makes him a top-3 RB option. First of all, let me preface this by saying that I don’t hate Charles; J-Mail comes in at a solid 7th among RB’s for me, while overall he’s tied for our 4th ranked RB with Doug Martin. I hate the irresponsible hype surrounding him thanks solely to a scheme/coordinator change. Let’s do our due diligence and look at how RB’s have actually been used in Andy Reid offenses.

First things first: a running back’s primary job (except for those who play in New Orleans) is to rush with the ball. An elite running back needs opportunities for carries, otherwise they simply become another good, not great receiving option. In Andy Reid offenses, no running back has carried the ball more than 280 times, excepting only Duce Staley in 1999 (Reid’s first year as head coach). Lest we forget, even LeSean McCoy has only once eclipsed 250 carries in a season. Ditto for Brian Westbrook. And the aforementioned Staley only had two such seasons. Four years in a 13-year head coaching career is not a fluke; it’s a pattern. Charles, too, has only gotten more than 250 carries once in his career, but Reid’s pass-happy offense now places a clear cap on his rushing.

“So what?” you say. “He’ll catch 70+ passes and get a mess of TD’s.” Charles has never proven to be an outstanding pass-catcher, though. While he’s no bum, having caught most of his targets over his career, he’s never been been thrown to more than 70 times in a season. Bad QB play certainly contributed to that, but how often does the “Reid-option” (see what I did there?) offense throw to an RB? Except for Brian Westbrook (5’8″, 203 lb.), whose skill-set and physical ability differs greatly from what Charles (5’11″, 199 lb.) can do, has done, and is likely to do, Reid’s offenses don’t actually throw to his running backs that much. McCoy is a good physical ability comp for Charles, and he’s only passed 70 targets once. Staley only had 60+ receptions once. The grand total of running back seasons with 70+ receptions in an Andy Reid offense is only four. Three of these seasons came from Westbrook, who is built more like Ray Rice than Charles.

The best case scenario for Charles’ 2013 campaign seems to be 240 carries, and with a realistic YPC of 5.6, that accounts for 1,344 yards on the ground. Assuming 55 receptions (which would still be a career high), he’ll get 385 or so expected receiving yards for a total of 1,729 yards. Add in 7 touchdowns (Charles’ career average is 5, McCoy’s is 10, split the difference), and he winds up with 215 fantasy points, good for 6th among RB’s last season. Even LeSean McCoy would not have been the 2nd RB in 2011 if not for a ludicrous 20 TD’s. I don’t see Charles making that leap to such a lucrative scoring level, especially in a pass-first offense.

 

Burning Questions!
1. Can Alex Smith become more than a game manager with Andy Reid’s West Coast offense?
If only by sheer volume, sure. Smith’s arm has never been particularly strong (career 6.56 YPA), but in the recent shift to shorter, more accurate passing by the 49ers in 2011 and 2012, he showed that he has the pinpoint accuracy to hit his receivers in stride and laser-like focus to see plays developing. If Reid can maximize that strength and use Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, and even Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster in quick, short seam routes or flats, Smith can thrive here. Twice, Smith has been allowed 440 attempts in a season, but I could see that number creeping closer to 480. In Philly, Michael Vick‘s on-pace attempt average was 523 per season (prorated to account for missed time). While not a better athlete, Smith is a far better passer than Vick and could certainly see more plays if he stays healthy and continues to be efficient. That being said, his value comes in the fact that he doesn’t lose you weeks. In the past two seasons combined, his prorated INT average is 7.5. That number will increase due to a workload increase, but I doubt that his average of 15 TD’s will get much higher. Best-case scenario: 3,600 yards on 480 attempts, 20 TD’s, and 9 INT’s. Solid, but not much more than a game manager still. He comes in at QB #22 in our staff rankings.

 

2. Dwayne Bowe has been disappointing due to pitiful QB play, does Alex Smith get him back to the fantasy elite?
Continued from before… Aside from one standout season (1162 yards, 15 TDs in 2010) due to a fluke year by Cassel, Bowe has never lived up to his potential as an elite fantasy WR. Enter Alex Smith, a former first overall pick in 2005. In his first few years, Smith was just as bad as the QB situation in KC… But in 2011, under John Harbaugh, something clicked. He threw for 3,000 yards with a 17:5 TD-to-INT ratio. Last season, prior to his concussion and being usurped by Colin Kaepernick as the starter in San Francisco, Smith had a completion percentage of 70.2% with 13 TD’s to 5 INT’s. His on-pace numbers before the benching were as follows: 3,301 yards, 23 TD’s, and 9 INT’s. This would be only slightly worse than the best QB season that Bowe ever experienced in KC. Smith is an effective and efficient quarterback who knows how to use the weapons around him. In a shorter West Coast offense, Smith’s accuracy and uncanny ability to read the play will mesh perfectly with Bowe’s quickness and ability to make plays after the catch. This measure has dropped for Bowe recently (only 4.3 YAC in 2012), but I believe the quick pace of an Andy Reid-led West Coast Offense will bounce Bowe back to fantasy stardom. I have him as my 13th-ranked WR for 2013, and I’m drafting him accordingly in Round 4.

 

3. What kind of impact does Andy Reid have on the KC offense?
I think I said this best when discussing Jamaal Charles with a colleague. He said, “Well, I see your point, but I love Charles much more in PPR formats.” I responded, “Well, sure. But I love anyone in Dr. Robotnik’s pass-happy offense more in PPR formats…” Video game jokes aside, the biggest impact Andy Reid will bring to this team is a focus on quickness (not necessarily speed, like Chip Kelly) and an emphasis on the pass. In the last ten years, Philadelphia’s offense has only been outside the top-10 in pass attempt percentage (% of plays that are passes) once. In addition, they were 7th last year in total plays run. Reid is not going to sit back and play conservative, even in a traditionally conservative team setting like KC. He’s going to ask Alex Smith to throw a lot and he will ask his team to speed up their approach. This bodes well for the main playmakers on this team, but it also means that the lesser-used players will have more opportunities as well. The Chiefs were middle of the pack (16th) in total plays run last year, but could easily vault into the back of the top-10, making Jon Baldwin, Travis Kelce, and others feasible bye week plays for your fantasy team. In addition, the emphasis on the pass will (as I explained before) reduce some potential for Charles, as they will spread the wealth around on a newly interesting offensive unit. Reid is good at turning versatile players into useful weapons, so I like Kelce and Dexter McCluster as sneaky guys this year. Don’t draft them high, but in deeper leagues or as waiver-wire grabs, keep an eye on them.

The Chiefs have their best chance in years to be relevant in the AFC West. With only the Broncos standing in their way of the playoffs in that putrid division, I believe there’s a very real chance that a 9-7 Kansas City could find its way into a Wild Card berth. If the efficient Alex Smith can provide good support for Bowe, Charles, and the rest, this is a sneaky good team with a few interesting, dynamic options for your fantasy team.

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