This Kansas City Chiefs Team Preview is an excerpt from PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit. Pre-order for access to all 32 of Ben Gretch’s Team Insights here: Fantasy-DraftKit.com.
The Chiefs had one of the all-time roller coaster seasons in 2017, starting with a statement win over New England in the season opener, knocking off eventual Super Bowl champions Philadelphia in Week 2, and generally looking like the cream of the crop into October. Then, suddenly, they looked as lost as any team in the league, losing three of four heading into their Week 10 bye and reaching a low point with three straight losses to the Giants, Bills, and Jets coming out of it. And yet they followed that up with four straight wins to reach the postseason.
As often happens with running backs, Kareem Hunt’s season followed the pattern of his team’s. After a preseason injury to de facto starter Spencer Ware, the rookie burst onto the scene with a monster early-season performance, averaging 179 total yards and scoring six times over the season’s first three weeks. He then went on a nine-game scoreless drought where his usage was at times maddeningly erratic, before closing the season with scores in five straight games, the Chiefs’ playoff loss included. It was that weird ride that made his RB4 finish feel almost a little disappointing.
Try not to get cause and effect confused when looking at Hunt’s fantasy scoring in wins versus losses, which was much more significant than his expected and observed touch differential. He posted 23.2 PPR points on 23.1 touches in wins against just 10.9 on 15.7 in losses, but his full-season production is far more actionable than trying to decode meaning in that split. Along with a strong receiving line, he managed to lead the league in rushing behind an offensive line that graded dead last in run blocking.
Despite sitting Week 17, Travis Kelce posted career highs in targets and receiving touchdowns, leading the team in both categories on the way to finishing as fantasy’s top-scoring tight end for a second-straight season. He’s still in his prime and has been among the most durable options at a position with high injury rates.
Tyreek Hill was integral in Chiefs’ receivers leading the league in average target separation (1.95), a big reason Alex Smith enjoyed the second-highest deep ball completion percentage among starters. With substantially stronger-armed Patrick Mahomes taking over for Smith, the sky appears the limit, but there’s no doubt Hill experienced an efficiency boom on downfield targets in 2017 and it might prove difficult to replicate it, better deep-ball passer under center or not.
Only the Steelers and Saints had a higher percentage of skill position fantasy scoring come from their top three producers than the Chiefs, for whom Hunt, Kelce, and Hill accounted for 66% of PPR points.
Signature Trend: Pass Strength of Schedule
It can be highly problematic to look at schedule strength early in the offseason, but the Chiefs project to face a gauntlet of opposing defensive talent that can’t be ignored. The passing offense in particular will face many of the league’s elite pass defenses, throwing some cold water on what on paper is an exciting group of skill-position players for Mahomes to lead.
Starting in the division, the Chargers were among the league’s best at defending the pass in 2017 thanks to a deep secondary and pass-rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Adding safety Derwin James in the first round of the draft only enhanced that strength. While Denver traded away Aqib Talib, they still have Chris Harris and Bradley Roby in a secondary playing behind a pass rush that added top 10 pick Bradley Chubb alongside all-world edge rusher Von Miller. Oakland is the best projected matchup in the group, but Kansas City draws them in Week 17; they’ll face the Chargers and Broncos twice each during fantasy season but the Raiders just once.
Outside the division, Kansas City draws the elite Jaguars and a Rams team that invested heavily in their defense this offseason, both of whom project among the league’s best pass defenses. They also draw few truly cake matchups. For the fantasy playoffs, they are home against the Ravens and Chargers before heading to Seattle to face the Seahawks, who are by no means the vaunted defense they once were but still roster secondary linchpin Earl Thomas and are always tougher at home.
Drafters are rightfully optimistic about Kansas City’s offense this season, and there are some additional factors to consider like their own defense potentially forcing higher-scoring games. By no means should you avoid at all costs based on early projected schedule strength. But for a team led by an inexperienced quarterback, it’s at least worth considering the Chiefs got a rough draw schedule-wise, and it probably caps the fantasy ceiling in 2018 a bit.
Kansas City boasts three skill position players with early-round ADPs in Hunt, Kelce, and Hill, plus new-acquisition Sammy Watkins in the middle rounds. For years at RotoViz, Kevin Cole has looked at teams with stark gaps between skill position ADPs and the quarterback of that offense, with the intuitive premise that such situations likely indicate someone is over- or undervalued. In this case, the inefficiency is either that Mahomes is a strong later-round target or too many Chiefs are going too high in drafts (or a little of both).
It’s easy to see why many regard Mahomes as a sleeper quarterback, as the plus prospect takes over an offense with a ton of firepower. The schedule is a cause for concern, but that just might mean picking your spots to start him. Week 1 is tough on the road against the Chargers, but Weeks 2 and 3 look like good spots. He’s an intriguing option but probably not worth chasing too high in drafts given the replaceability of the quarterback position overall.
It gets tricky projecting the offense around him with all three stars back and the addition of Watkins. If Watkins is a hit, the top three won’t repeat the high percentage of team fantasy points they accounted for. Making matters worse, the Chiefs were already seventh in overall skill position fantasy scoring, so there’s probably more room for their offense to produce fewer fantasy points overall than for the ceiling to significantly raise.
Hill in particular looks like a player to be cautious of. Last year’s WR9 is being drafted right around that spot. While he’ll almost certainly be good for some splashy plays, seven of his eight touchdowns last year came from 40 or more yards, a rate that will prove hard to match. Sometimes things just go well, like when Hill memorably scampered 56 yards for a score on a dumpoff on the final play of the half against Dallas.
Mahomes will have to be fantastic to just match the deep-ball efficiency the Chiefs displayed as a team last year, and even if that materializes there is the matter of Watkins’ skill set overlapping with Hill’s in that area. That said, it’s also hard to imagine Watkins seamlessly transitioning to his role in Kansas City, competing with a similar wide receiver in an offense with strong running back and tight end presences. He very well could have a much larger impact for the team than fantasy rosters.
Overall, there’s a ton of upside and optimism in this offense, but there are valid reasons to tread carefully in drafts.