By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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The Chiefs offense in 2017 was phenomenal. They finished 5th in total offense and 6th in scoring offense. This translated to lots of fantasy production. The biggest surprise? How about perennial fantasy backup QB Alex Smith? In 2015 and 2016, Smith finished as QB17 and QB24, respectively. In 2017, he was QB2. That’s right. A career year. As a result, WR Tyreek Hill was a big beneficiary, finishing as fantasy’s third best wide receiver. His 1,183 receiving yards led the team and he was one of two Chiefs to top 1,000 yards receiving. The other? TE Travis Kelce. And how about rookie RB Kareem Hunt? When incumbent Spencer Ware went down with an injury, the rookie from Toledo went off, leading the league in rushing and finishing as fantasy’s third best RB. Even rookie QB Patrick Mahomes showed out in Week 17 in his only start of the season, finishing with 284 passing yards. He definitely provided hope for Chiefs’ fans and the front office, making Alex Smith dispensable.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Chad Henne (w/ JAX)||-0.50||QB70|
|QB3||Matt McGloin (FA)||N/A||N/A|
|RB4||Damien Williams (w/ MIA)||59.60||RB72|
|WR2||Sammy Watkins (w/ LAR)||148.30||WR38|
Patrick Mahomes played one game in 2017. He scored 10.4 fantasy points in a game we don’t count because Week 17 games mean zilch. Digging a little deeper, he had 284 passing yards and an INT. Nothing eye-popping, right? Well, the Chiefs felt confident enough in the former Red Raider that they traded Alex Smith to the Redskins this offseason. Time to usher in the Patrick Mahomes era in K.C.
One of Mahomes’ greatest features is his arm strength. Seriously, have you seen this guy throw a football? It’s effortless and it goes a long way. On the first drive of his lone start against the Broncos, he found backup TE Demetrius Harris for 51 yards. After his Chiefs secured a two TD lead, Mahomes came out and was promptly reinserted with 2:45 left because third stringer Tyler Bray (now with the Bears) couldn’t hold the lead. Mahomes then led an 11-play drive ending with a Harrison Butker game-winning FG. Mahomes did everything well enough to win and had ice water in his veins with the game on the line. That’s great. But can the Chiefs rely on him to produce TDs and find his playmakers?
Here’s what we know: Mahomes was a rockstar at Texas Tech. His career numbers — 63.5% completion percentage, 11,252 passing yards, 93 TDs, 29 INTs, 845 rushing yards, and 22 rushing TDs — are outstanding and the bulk of those came in his sophomore and junior years. (He entered the draft after his junior year.) He has the ability to throw the deep ball and it’s pretty clear that HC Andy Reid wants that utilized in his offense going forward, as witnessed by Alex Smith’s league-leading QB Rating on passes 20 yards or more downfield. All this makes Mahomes an intriguing stash as a QB2 in season long leagues and a high upside pick in dynasty leagues. After one game, I can’t rank him in the top 20. Sorry, I just can’t. But he has legit weapons at RB, WR, and TE. If Mahomes struggles in 2018, it’s because this is essentially his rookie year.
Backing up Mahomes are a couple of veterans. Chad Henne had been in Jacksonville since 2012 and is entering his 11th season. Matt McGloin was in Oakland for a stretch, spent a season in Philadelphia, and was out of football last year. Henne is a serviceable backup who should be able to keep the playmakers fantasy relevant — albeit with a slight downtick in production — but hardly someone to get excited about. Safe to say, the Chiefs are gambling on Mahomes and I don’t see a reason for you not to be optimistic.
When the Chiefs moved on from franchise face Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware was supposed to be the guy. He put up solid numbers in 2016 — 1,368 total yards and 5 TDs — and the Chiefs felt confident in working him with Charcandrick West in a rotation as both are very capable pass catchers. (Ware had 33 receptions and West had 28 in 2016.) During the 2017 draft, the Chiefs selected Toledo’s Kareem Hunt in the 3rd round. A few months later, Spencer Ware injured his knee and was lost for the season. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hunt was a stud out of the gate, scoring 106.80 fantasy points from Weeks 1-3. That is a 35.60 points per game average. But from Weeks 4-13, Hunt was average. He ranked as RB16, averaging 12.21 fantasy points per game. He heated up during the fantasy playoffs though (Weeks 14-16), scoring 87.00 fantasy points, good enough for RB3 over that period. Hunt was like a three act play in 2017: a great hook to get the audience excited, a middling plot that is just interesting enough to keep us tuned in, and a bomb ass conclusion that makes the frustrating second act worth it. He was a rookie last year so I don’t put all the blame on him. Fact of the matter is, we’ve seen this before from running backs that are featured in an Andy Reid offense. Reid is quick to abandon the game plan that might feature Hunt toting the ball 30 times to only giving him 10 carries and maybe 5 receptions. So frustrating.
Why? Because of how much Hunt showed us in year one. Hunt led the NFL in forced missed tackles and in rushing yards. He ranked 5th in yards per carry and total touches. He contributed 53 receptions and had 11 total TDs. If Reid is smart, he’ll recognize that Hunt needs more touches and should be more involved in the passing game. As talented as Jamaal Charles was as a receiver, he had only one season with more than 45 receptions. Hunt’s 53 last year is a good sign as to what he’s capable of as a complete back. I’m expecting a downtick in overall production from Hunt in 2018, i.e. not leading the league in rushing, but he should still produce 1,600+ total yards, chip in 45 catches, and have 10 TDs, good for RB1 numbers. He’s a late 1st, early 2nd round pick and can easily be your RB1 if you’re drafting later in drafts.
Why do I think Hunt’s production will decrease? The simple answer is the return of Spencer Ware from injury. Despite his three fumbles, he was a very productive back in 2016 while splitting time with Charcandrick West. He finished 10th in the league in yards from scrimmage and 16th in touches. He didn’t score many TDs — no one on the Chiefs did — but he racked up fantasy points, good for an RB16 finish. Just like Hunt, he was better in the early going, starting as RB7 in points per game from Weeks 1 through 7. Overall, he was largely inconsistent with only three games scoring over 20 fantasy points. It’s clear he’s better as a complimentary piece and judging by his 44 forced missed tackles in 2016, he’s a load to bring down. I don’t think Ware steals too much value from Hunt, but it’s enough to knock Hunt out of the top 6 in fantasy. I think Ware accumulates about 600 total yards with 30 receptions and 4 TDs. He’ll have positive weeks as a FLEX but he’s largely a Hunt handcuff and depth at the position in the event Hunt suffers an injury.
Behind Hunt and Ware is Charcandrick West. West is built a lot like Charles. Too bad the production didn’t match. With Hunt and Ware ahead of him, it’s not likely West does much to steal touches but he’ll get his share of receptions. He’s likely good for about 20 catches and close to 300 total yards with 2 TDs. He’ll be more productive early in the season as the Chiefs look to ease Ware back from the injury. But after that, West’s value only increases if Hunt or Ware goes down. West is waiver wire fodder. Sorry guys.
Now for the stars. Tyreek Hill had an exciting rookie campaign in 2016, showcasing his electric talent. He’s fast — his Twitter and Instagram handle is @cheetah — and is uber-dangerous with the ball in his hands. He accounted for 12 TDs his rookie year — 6 receiving, 3 rushing, 2 punt return, and 1 kickoff return — and managed 100 total touches on offense. The yardage was pedestrian at best (860) but when you account for 12 TDs, you still finish high in fantasy (WR15). His encore was even better. He recorded less return yards but still managed 1 punt return touchdown. He also wasn’t given many rushing attempts (24 rushes in 2016, 17 in 2017) and scored zero TDs. But as a receiver? He looked like a legit number one option. As mentioned above, Alex Smith led the league in QB rating on passes traveling more than 20 yards down field. He also led the league in passing yards on those same throws. Tyreek Hill led the league in receiving yards on deep passes, averaging 48.3 yards per catch. All but one of his seven receiving TDs in 2017 traveled more than 20 yards downfield. Electric. I did mention Patrick Mahomes has a cannon for an arm, right? Reid will dial up those same types of passes to Hill and while I don’t expect the same results — Hill finished as WR3 last year — he’s someone you want on your team. I put Hill in the WR2 category simply because he relies so much on his game-breaking ability. If not for all the TDs in 2016, he would’ve finished a lot lower in the rankings as he had only 860 total yards. I think he hits around 950 yards this year with 6 TDs and 65 receptions. Depending on how he’s used in the return game and rushing, his ranking could increase or decrease. I’m going the cautious route with Hill which means I likely won’t own him because the value doesn’t match up for me.
Another reason for the cautious optimism with Hill is the Chiefs’ big free agent signing of former Bills and Rams WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins is a former number 4 overall pick in the NFL draft so we know he’s oozing with talent. The problem? We’ve only seen flashes of it in part because of the injuries he’s suffered through four seasons in the league. The Bills grew so frustrated with Watkins they shipped him to the Los Angeles Rams for an oft-injured corner and a 2nd round pick prior to 2017. With the Rams, Watkins had only 39 receptions for 598 yards — 15.2 yards per reception — but added 8 TDs. The TDs are what raised his fantasy ranking to WR38 and even that was meh. For his career, Watkins averages 15.9 yards per reception so putting him opposite Hill will force defenses to keep their safeties off the line, creating more running room for Kareem Hunt. Watkins was healthy last year so the Chiefs are expecting big things. We’ve all been burned by Watkins but there’s definitely room for optimism that he can produce if Mahomes is the type of quarterback we expect him to be. I can see 60 catches for 900 yards and 5 TDs, but I can also see 35 catches for 480 yards and 3 scores while playing in 10 games. Reasons like that are why I can’t rank Watkins among the top 40 WRs in fantasy. If you’re drafting him, it’s for the upside and what you think he can do. As your 4th/5th WR, he’s a worthy gamble. If you’re drafting him as your WR2/WR3, be prepared to shed a few tears.
Behind Hill and Watkins is Chris Conley. Conley’s a very average receiver but was healthy over his first two seasons in K.C. Last year, not so much. His yards per reception spiked last year in comparison to his first two seasons — 11.95 in ‘15 and ‘16 compared to 15.9 in ‘17 — while playing only 5 games. With Albert Wilson having moved on, Conley will likely take more snaps outside in 3- and 4-receiver sets with Hill and De’Anthony Thomas taking more of the snaps from the slot. This will give him more opportunities in the passing game but he’s only hitting 600 receiving yards if Hill or Watkins get injured or Mahomes throws for 4,900 yards in 2018. That said, know the name, but Conley’s the 5th option at best in the Chiefs passing offense.
Travis Kelce has firmly put himself into the conversation of best TE in the NFL along with Rob Gronkowski. We know the type of physical freak Gronk is, but Kelce is no slouch. Since Kelce’s rookie year (2014), Kelce ranks 2nd in targets, 1st in receptions, 2nd in receiving yards, and tied for 5th in TDs. In 2017, Kelce led all TEs in receiving yards on passes traveling 20 or more yards down field. He also set a career high in running 49.3% of his routes from the slot. Kelce is also the only TE to have back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons and he’s finished as fantasy’s number one TE those same seasons. It’d be easy for me to write Kelce in as the top TE in my rankings but now I’m going to provide you a couple of reasons why I like him a little less than Gronk and Eagles TE Zach Ertz.
First, the switch from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes at QB is concerning. Alex Smith has never been one to throw the ball down field much prior to last season and Kelce’s career average of 12.7 yards per reception is hardly eye-popping. (By comparison, Gronk’s is 15.1). Look no further than Zach Ertz for what switching QBs can do for production. Starting in 2013, Ertz caught passes from Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz, and then Nick Foles again. The back and forth plays with timing issues. Second, Kelce has never been a big producer of TDs until last year. The addition of Sammy Watkins and the return of Spencer Ware cuts into that total even more. Ertz finally hit 8 TDs in 2017 but he’s option 2 in the red zone behind Alshon Jeffery on the Eagles. Kelce is 4th at best for the Chiefs. These reasons and others are why I have Kelce as TE3 heading into 2017. Look, maybe Gronk gets hurt again and I change my mind, but a top 3 finish is nothing to be ashamed of. You’re drafting him between rounds 4 and 6 and you’re not looking back.
Rookie to Watch
The receiving corps in Kansas City features some serious talent with Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, and Sammy Watkins. The chances of undrafted free agent WR Byron Pringle getting any serious playing time is minimal. In his two years at Kansas State, Pringle caught the ball 69 times for 1,355 yards and 10 TDs. So yeah, pretty serious production. Pringle’s success will ultimately come from learning from great teammates and from contributions on special teams. With all the hype surrounding such great return men like Christian Kirk and Dante Pettis, no one talks about Pringle’s production on special teams. He gained 1,076 yards on 39 kick returns in college. To sum this up, on less than 70 touches, Pringle has gained over a thousand yards through the air and in the return game. This kid is special. – Chris Tyler
If Alex Smith can do it, then so can Patrick Mahomes. After sitting a full year and watching Alex Smith have arguably the best season of his career, it is Mahomes’ turn to take the spotlight in Kansas City. The team has put enough trust in him that they traded Alex Smith to the Redskins and I am also putting that same amount of confidence in him. Now, don’t take what I said so literally because he is not a QB1 just yet. He has the ability to be a viable QB2 and the upside to become a guy who you consider starting week-to-week. He has good targets in Kelce, Hunt, Hill, and the newly acquired Sammy Watkins and they will help him become successful in his first true NFL season. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Chiefs, on paper, may have the most perfect offense in terms of skill position players and how their skills compliment one another. Patrick Mahomes has a cannon for an arm and his two best receivers — Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — can fly down the field. That of course keeps defenses honest, creating running room for Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware and underneath throws to stud TE Travis Kelce. If skill players like these don’t make Mahomes’ job at QB easy, nothing will. Hunt, Hill, and Kelce are bonafide studs you are absolutely drafting. Mahomes and Watkins are wild cards that could turn into home run swings. Ware is quality depth. Kicker Harrison Butker should be one of the kickers you draft as he’s in a high-powered offense that will put points on the board. With all the turnover on defense and the Chiefs limiting Hill’s usage in the return game, I’m less bullish on the Chiefs D/ST so I’d let them sit on waivers until they show me something. Their playoff schedule is okay depending on position. Hunt should be solid against the Ravens (15th best run defense in 2017), Chargers (2nd worst), and Seahawks (19th best). But the Ravens and Chargers have top flight secondaries that should worry you about Mahomes, Hill, and Watkins. Here are a few additional tidbits I came across while researching the Chiefs:
- It’s a small sample size, but Patrick Mahomes had a higher completion percentage (50%) when facing pressure in 2017 than Alex Smith (48.2%).
- Mahomes had a higher completion percentage (66.7) on play action passes than non-play action passes (60.9).
- Kareem Hunt had 19 rushes last seasons go for more than 15 yards. That led the NFL.
- Both Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill had 6 games each where they scored 20 or more fantasy points.
- A stat Pro Football Focus uses called WR rating takes into account a quarterback’s rating while targeting a specific receiver. Tyreek Hill had the 2nd highest WR rating in the NFL last year. His new teammate Sammy Watkins ranked 5th. I think Patrick Mahomes is in good hands.
- Travis Kelce had the most receptions (9) and tied for the most TDs (3) on passes 20 yards or more downfield. Have I mentioned Mahomes’ cannon for an arm?
- Kelce had 5 weeks last year where he scored more than 20 fantasy points, 2nd to Rob Gronkowski at the TE position.
- Harrison Butker missed the first 3 games of 2017. From Weeks 4 through 16, he was the best kicker in Fantasy.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|4||10/1 (Mon)||@ DEN|
|11||11/19 (Mon)||@ LAR|
|12||** BYE WEEK **|
|15||12/13 (Thurs)||vs LAC|