2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Kansas City Chiefs
June 23, 2015 | Chet
After an impressive 11-5 first season under Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs took a small step backwards last season. They closed 2014 at 9-7 and the last time they made the playoffs in back to back years was in 1995 when then went six straight seasons. Kansas City does have some pieces that are relevant within the fantasy community, so let’s roll into their 2015 outlook.
2015 Chiefs Schedule
Take early summer schedule analysis with a grain of salt, but there’s a lot to feel uneasy about on the passing side of things for the Chiefs. It’s already not a passing game that you’re going to sink a lot of investment into, so this just aids in keeping that group suppressed. The rushing slate feels fairly comfortable overall considering who Kansas City has running the rock, so you’re looking for that part of the offense to elevate the passing game naturally.
We’re looking for more reasons to get excited about the Chiefs offense, too. They still have three players in Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin going in the front of drafts. The addition of Maclin and progression from Kelce can help improve on the pedestrian to poor totals this offense put up as a whole last season as the Chiefs went from one of the quicker tempo teams in 2013 (13th in plays per game at 65.2) to a sluggish unit in 2014.
Is Charles Back in Charge of 1.01?
We already know this offense is going to be what it is based on where Jamaal Charles takes it. After a massive 2013 season in which he carried owners to titles, Charles not only experienced some natural regression off of a historic campaign, but also had a hard time staying healthy. Often injured and frustrated, Charles lost some explosion as he limped to the finish line with just 54 carries over the final five weeks of the season, with a game high of just 13 carries over that stretch. His reception totals fell back in line with his normal career rates, but overall, his volume was the lowest it’s been since his sophomore season (2011 left out due to one full game played).
After all of that, you’d think we weren’t still talking about the seventh best back in terms of fantasy output, but we are because Charles is still immensely talented. Even in a down campaign, he posted six top-six scoring weeks and nine top-12 scoring ones. In terms of efficiency, he was still within what we normally expect from him.
He’s also been superb near the goal line, converting 12 of 24 attempts inside the five-yard line into touchdowns, tied for third highest conversion rate over the past two seasons. Before Reid arrived he had just 15 carries inside the five over his four previous seasons.
Not only will Charles be starting back off healthy, he’s also getting some help up front. The Chiefs had a strongly ranked rushing offensive line last season per Football Outsiders, but their interior will be better by moving on from Mike McGlynn and Zach Fulton at guard to Ben Grubbs and either Jeff Allen or Paul Fanaika.
There also seems to be some groundswell going on lately that Knile Davis is a factor in Charles’ ceiling and has developed some standalone value on his own. That’s more fiction than fact as Davis has been one of the league’s worst runners in terms of success rates and has only been useful for fantasy in games in which Charles was out and he leaned on immense volume.
|Year||Player||Team||Att||2 Yd or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|
Davis is going in the typical handcuff range, but has almost no value on his own. All handcuffing does is restrict your roster flexibility and even if I have Charles won’t be chasing Davis at that stage over backs that have value without doors opening for them. For Charles, he’s still cemented in the first one to three options overall for me because he’s still the main cog of his offense in terms of rushing, scoring and has a large share of his passing game. There are some red flags with all of the backs at the top, but when I look back at great pieces of analysis like this one on running back values for Dynasty (yet has immense redraft value) from James Todd, or this fantastic series from JJ. Zachariason on why early running backs are still the lifeblood of fantasy success, it’s clear to me that when it comes to running backs, you still need to largely spend money to make money at the position for fantasy.
Return of the Mac(lin)
The big move the Chiefs made this offseason was signing Jeremy Maclin to a five-year, $55 million deal after the release of longtime lead receiver Dwayne Bowe. We all know the Chiefs didn’t have a receiver score a touchdown last season and the highest weekly scoring game they had all season was a WR21 finish from Bowe in week 10, so this is an upgrade on talent regardless of opportunity. This also reunites Maclin with Reid, who was in place when he was drafted by the Eagles in the first round in 2009. Maclin is coming off of his first 1,000 season (1,318 yards) in the five seasons he’s played, but he’s returning to a system that has produced just four 1,000 yard receivers in 16 years while being attached to a quarterback in Alex Smith that has never thrown to a 1,000 yard receiver in his career. Over his first four seasons in a similar system, Maclin was still viable for fantasy, reeling off WR36, WR14, WR30 and WR25 seasons, but he never displayed the high end ceiling that he did over the front half of 2014.
Through nine weeks, only Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas were better fantasy assets than Maclin. Then over the back half of the season, Philadelphia was forced to shrink the vertical element of their passing attack after changing over to Mark Sanchez post Nick Foles injury and Maclin was the 19th ranked receiver in fantasy in points over those weeks. I’ve always referred to Sanchez as the reckless version of Smith (to be fair to Sanchez, he has pushed the ball downfield a little more than Smith over his career), so maybe looking at Maclin’s splits in games with Foles and Sanchez will at least give us some sort of proxy of what may be in store for him in the changeover to Kansas City and his attachment to Smith.
|Games||Tgt/Gm||Team %||Rec/Gm||Yd/Gm||TD||aDOT||25+YD Rec||Top12 Wk||PPG|
|Starts w/ Foles||10.4||25.3%||5.6||98.8||8||17.3||8||5||21.8|
|Starts w/ Sanchez||7.5||21.1%||5.0||66.0||2||10.2||4||1||13.1|
Maclin lost the ceiling that was tied to the explosive plays and scores he had with Foles and some of his drop off is likely regression that would’ve occurred naturally. The target share is a good ballpark for what he’ll see in Kansas City as Bowe handled roughly 20 percent of the targets in each of the past two seasons. He’s also good enough after the catch (he averaged 6.0 yards after catch) to not be completely affected by a low depth of target like a player such as Bowe was (4.0 YAC).
I can’t say how many rosters Maclin will make of mine because I’m inherently drawn to splash play WR3’s for fantasy. That said, Maclin was a player that scored favorably in C.D. Carter’s Equity Scores as being at a sound price point and I definitely agree as he has volume and ability still backing that cost. Maclin has also been a very good red zone receiver since his rookie season, converting 30.5 percent of his targets (18 of 59) for scores over his past four seasons. There’s also one more reason not to completely run away from Maclin in attachment to Smith, and that’s the fact that he’s been quarterback agnostic over his career. Using the AYA App available at RotoViz, here’s how effective he’s been per target with the quarterbacks he’s played with.
The player we’re obviously most excited for this season is tight end Travis Kelce. After missing his entire rookie season due to micro fracture surgery, Kelce was a player we consistently were campaigning for to garner more playing time throughout last season. It was for good cause because despite running just the 20th most routes out of all tight ends last season, Kelce still had eight top-12 scoring weeks, three top-six ones and a pair of top-three finishes. Here’s how effective he was among all tight ends with 25 or more targets on the season and just how small of an overall opportunity he had in comparison to those players.
Unfortunately he had to do a lot of work for himself. Kelce’s yards per target were actually 64 percent higher than his average depth of target (6.3 yards) because he was the best tight end in terms of yards after the catch (503). He had just three targets over 20 yards downfield all season long and 71.6 percent of his targets came from inside of 10 yards. Because he was getting so many pedestrian level targets, we didn’t quite see his overall numbers inflate to the ceiling we may have expected when he did finally begin to see heavy usage. After playing just 52.3 percent of the Kansas City offensive snaps over their first nine games, Kelce played 86.8 percent of their snaps over the final seven games.
While we didn’t see him set the world on fire over that run, he did still have four top-10 scoring weeks over those games. He also was stymied from failing to reach the paint in those games. If you want to use those lines as an estimate for his weekly usage this upcoming season, just tacking on six scores over the course of the season puts him in the 200 point area, which has produced a top six scoring season over the past five years.
The main debate will center on just where Kelce’s final price point falls. He’s currently going to cost you a fourth round pick, which is rich for leagues that start just one tight end. It’s also about 20 spots ahead of a guy like Greg Olsen and roughly 50 spots ahead of another high ceiling option in Jordan Cameron, who we also once elevated after a breakout season. I believe Kelce has Gronk level upside, so I’m still very intrigued in the gap that he has from Gronk’s first round sticker price, but you’re paying a big premium on Kelce’s upside at the moment.
The rest of the Chiefs receiving corps has some hanging on types in Jason Avant and Junior Hemingway but will likely be filled out by two players that I considered undervalued as real NFL prospects in Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. There will need to be a major shift in approach for these guys to get on your weekly radar since Kansas City wide receivers occupied just 246 targets in 2014, second to last in the league ahead of just St. Louis (233 targets). Those targets made up just 49.9 percent of the team total, which ranked 30th in the league.
The Chiefs traded up to select Conley in the third round this spring and I broke down his game here prior to the draft. The strengths he has right now entering the league are as a vertical threat and red zone presence, so he’s going to likely be a package player as a rookie as he grows. There’s not much in his way on the depth chart, so I do think he finds the field as a rookie. Keep a pulse on him if he pushes for major snaps at some point, but he’s just not going to be a consistent factor for fantasy weekly as early on. Evan Sandel, the winner of our opening round of the writing contest, wrote about why you should take a deep cut on Conley in drafts here.
Wilson is slightly more intriguing entering his second season. From games 13-15, the final three games Alex Smith started; Wilson was second on the team in targets (20, a 17.4 percent share) and first in receiving yards (209). He also had catches of 33 and 48 yards, which were two of the four longest receptions from a Chiefs receiver all season long. I like grabbing him as my Mr. Irrelevant pick in Best Ball leagues since I see him running into a few weeks of usable production, but the guessing of when that will be leaves him off of the weekly radar. This passing game just doesn’t have the juice to support another receiver as a fantasy asset when Maclin, Kelce and Charles are ahead in the pecking order.
The hybrid De’Anthony Thomas rounds out this potentially underrated group. As a rookie he carried 14 times for 113 yards and a score and added 23 receptions for 156 yards. He played over a third of the offensive snaps just twice all season, so it’s hard to see him really being used as more than a specialty player at juncture of his career, especially when you factor in his low yards per reception totals. If he still has running back eligibility in deep leagues he becomes a more intriguing option if he were to break through and gain significant usage in the passing game.
After a very solid 2013 season for fantasy purposes, Alex Smith reverted back into the lower end of the streaming pool for quarterbacks. He had just three top-12 scoring weeks and one lone top-six week to go along with eight weeks in the back half of quarterback scoring. The biggest reason for his dip back from the middle of the quarterback pack was that he ran far less this past season.
As a runner, Smith ran 27 fewer times for 177 less yards than he did in 2013. He ran for 25 yards in a game just five times after 10 such games in 2013 and after having five games with 40 or more rushing yards the season prior, he had just one in 2014. Smith needs that rushing output to boost him up weekly because he still performed within the same parameters we’ve come to expect from him as a passer.
I believe as a whole, this is the best group of pass catchers Smith has had to work with as Maclin, Wilson and Conley all have vertical ability and are good after the catch. Add in Kelce and Charles’ after the catch ability and they can compensate for the low level type of targets Smith has routinely delivered. The Chiefs may want to attack defenses vertically more, but that’s just not who Smith has consistently proven he is. Here’s his gradual decline in attempt rate on throws over 20 yards downfield over the past five seasons.
Smith is basically free in drafts right now and that’s because we know he’s a streaming option only. I believe he has his best statistical season in 2015, but I can’t see myself using a draft pick on him in regular leagues because as a streamer, I don’t see a usable game for him until possibly as early as week 5 at home against the Bears. As a late round Best Ball pickup, he’s a solid choice that will give you three to five usable weeks, but in seasonal leagues, he’ll be on your waiver wire.