Dynasty Capsule: Kansas City Chiefs
Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the regular season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
The Chiefs went on a truly impressive eleven game win streak before falling at Foxboro to the New England Patriots. Alex Smith was NOT the main reason the team performed so well. A top-end defense to go along with a very solid running game allowed Smith to be Smith and manage the games effectively. In 2015 Smith threw for the most yards of his career, 3,486, which placed him 20th overall amongst quarterbacks. He also threw for the second-most touchdowns of his eleven seasons, 20, again ranking him at 20th at his position. His seven interceptions over 16 games are a staple of conservative Smith-ball though he did manage to toss four over the final four games of the regular season. Fantasy owners may always love the dependable 30 yards rushing he provides, but when you are dealing with a guy whose weekly ceiling for points is quite low, three points is not going to be a difference maker.
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As a Kansas native and Chiefs fan I definitely hold no allegiance to Smith. I always argue how his ultra–conservative nature costs Kansas City the ability to really ever compete at the highest level and I feel that was on full display in their latest loss. The great team over at Football Outsiders even devised a stat named after Smith (aptly named ALEX) that measures the average difference between how far a quarterback throws a pass in the air compared to how many yards he needed for a first down. Smith ranks dead last in the league under this measurement at minus 3.4 yards. Only one other signal caller failed to at least throw within a yard of the first down. Before the New England game where Smith threw the ball 50 times, he was unable to throw for even 200 yards for six games running. There is just not a lot to love about Alex’s game in terms of fantasy and he is still signed for three more years. (I would expect a restructure before 2018 as Kansas City is unlikely to pay out $20 million for average returns.)
Last year I proclaimed that Chase Daniel was essentially a watered-down version of Alex Smith. I will stick with that reference today. Daniel has not had much opportunity throughout his NFL career and I fully would expect him to move on from the Chiefs during the offseason as he is an unrestricted free agent. When you consider the group of signal callers the Houston Texans rolled out this season Daniel may actually get a chance to compete for a starting spot in the league. The problem is that his lack of experience coupled with talent means he should not be owned anywhere in fantasy.
The man poised to take over the number-two job in Kansas City is former Georgia Bulldog Aaron Murray. Murray is the SEC’s all-time leader in yards, completions and touchdowns as he passed for 3,000 plus yards all four years of college. He was selected in the 5th round in the 2014 NFL draft but outside of a few preseason performances we have not been able to see much. Murray’s credentials in college are impressive but overall he is a smaller sized quarterback and durability and pocket awareness were concerns coming out of college. His rookie deal still has two more years and even if Murray gets the chance to play meaningful snaps you would expect Andy Reid to dial up the conservative game plans even more. There currently just is not enough to get excited about along with a presumably low fantasy ceiling given the team.
Can he do it again? That is the big question fantasy owners are betting on when it comes to Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. In 2011 Charles tore his left ACL and returned the next season to rush for 1,509 yards and add another 236 in the receiving game. He managed to rush for 5.3 yards per carry while also putting up the biggest workload of his career to that point. Four years later Charles tore his right ACL and is again trying to make the triumphant return. In a recent interview Charles said he wanted just one more shot, be the leader in rushing and help his team win the Super Bowl. In his last five full seasons Charles never averaged less than 15 touches per game and in the two seasons following his first knee injury he was at 20 plus per contest. Charles will be 30 next season but that number does not seem as scary as it once did for running backs. He also has the benefit of improved medicine and rehab techniques to get himself back to where he left off. If there are no complications in the coming months I expect Charles to be the starter and continue to get 15 – 18 touches per game. Andy Reid may look to preserve him more in short yardage situations and spell him with the two guys behind him but Charles will be the man. In a year where being an RB1 was nearly impossible to predict why bet against him? He may only have two more years to put up effective weekly fantasy points, but if he laces them up I would rather bet on him to perform.
Entering the 2015 season Knile Davis was presumed to be one of the clear handcuffs in the league. The previous season he logged 134 carries alongside of Charles’ 206 leading to more of a split situation rather than simply a backup role. Of course Davis only averaged 3.5 yards per carry on those touches and his career averaged is at 3.3. The writing was on the wall that Davis would not simply be the next man up because functioned in that capacity previously. He was quickly passed up by not one, but two other runners dissipating any hopes for fantasy success. He still has one year left on his contract and may still find work after that but there is no need to keep him hanging around on rosters.
The man who was called upon after Charles went down was second-year pro Charcandrick West. Andy Reid explained that he preferred West’s abilities and could most easily slide into the offense both as a runner and a receiving back. In week six the Vikings defense stymied the Kansas City rushing attack but between weeks seven through ten West averaged 25 touches per game and scored four total touchdowns. In week 11 West had to leave the game after gaining 16 yards and 11 carries due to injury and opened the door for Spencer Ware to showcase his talents. This opportunity led to more of a split workload moving forward and while West continued to log more carries, Ware appeared to be the better true runner. West definitely excelled more in the passing game and I would expect him to be the first option in after Charles next season. Overall I am not sold on West as necessarily the best Chiefs running back to handcuff Charles. He is an ERFA (exclusive rights free agent) next season meaning Kansas City could decide to not resign him but indications are that they will.
When it comes to simply running the football Spencer Ware established himself ahead of West in 2015. Looking beyond Ware’s 5.6 yards per carry compared to West’s 4.0, Rich Hribar shared some interesting stats recently. 57 percent of West’s runs went for two yards or less. Ware saw only 36% of his carries go for short or no gains while he also bested West with a higher percentage of carries going for plays of 20-plus yards. Ware is also the larger running back getting more opportunities to finish at the goal line and accumulate a quick six points for your fantasy squads. Ware was barely used in the receiving game catching six balls for only five yards, but I like what he showed as a runner. He can pick up tough yards and grind on opponents. He is unlikely to develop into a complete runner limiting his upside but in a split rotation with West I would bet on Ware putting up more fantasy points week to week.
Based on my perceptions of Alex Smith the quarterback and the Kansas City offense in general I would say Jeremy Maclin’s first season with the Chiefs was a resounding success. The 1,088 yards receiving may have been a little more than expected but it was the eight scores that really made an impression. Maclin is clearly the best wide receiver on the team and also better than anyone the team rolled out in 2014 when the entire wide receiver corps failed to catch a touchdown, but I honestly expected closer to five scores. Maclin did record the most catches in a season in 2015 but his total yardage was lower than his final year in Philadelphia due to Smith’s reluctance to push the ball down field. While Maclin did post total year-end numbers landing him as a WR2, he still dealt with weekly inconsistency. He had only three 100-plus yard receiving games, but in each of those 141 was his smallest output. When he went off, he blew up. Nevertheless, he also recorded three catches or less in seven of the 17 games (playoffs included) this season. Over the last six regular season games Maclin did appear to become more involved as he grabbed 45 percent of his receptions for the year and six of his eight touchdowns as well. Looking forward you can count on Maclin to remain the top target in the receiving game, but unfortunately the offense caps his season long performance at wide receiver two levels.
Coming out of the NFL Combine Chris Conley definitely had NFL teams taking notice. Posting the best marks for wide receivers in the broad and vertical jumps as well as top four finishes in the 40-yard dash and bench press will do that. Standing at 6-foot-2 and coming off a year with the Georgia Bulldogs leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns a lot of hype followed Conley, and for good reason. Of course the Chiefs offense is not the best place for receivers to bloom. Conley was third amongst the group in offensive snaps as a rookie seeing the field about 37 percent of the time. That limited his opportunities and being a speedster who can win balls down field does not necessarily mesh with his quarterback’s talents. Conley could easily be the number two receiver for the Chiefs next season but fighting for targets behind Maclin, Travis Kelce and the running backs greatly limits his upside. His best game this season was when Maclin was out and he also performed well against New England with Maclin hobbled but you can not count on an injury in the hopes a player gets looks.
Albert Wilson was the No. 2 receiver for Kansas City in 2015 in all relevant categories. The second-year pro doubled his receptions from his rookie campaign and caught two scores of his own. On both touchdowns this year he scored from more than 40 yards out displaying some playmaking in his game. However, he is a boom or bust receiver who will see limited targets and unless he can bust a crossing route deep he will return no real fantasy value week to week. The Chiefs are likely to add another receiver in the draft or free agency, which could push him further down the depth chart in 2016.
Jason Avant is an unrestricted free agent after finishing his 10th season in the NFL. The Chiefs or another team could sign Avant to another one-year deal but he holds no fantasy value at this stage in his career.
If there is minimal value in a guy like Albert Wilson you can simply pass over Frankie Hammond.
If you are still waiting for Travis Kelce to break out, it might have already happened. Kelce’s size, speed and talent are prevalent and in today’s game where tight ends are being used more as receivers you could expect him to start putting up 1,000 plus yard seasons with double digit scores. This is, of course, unlikely to happen as he plays for the Chiefs. Last season while logging approximately two-thirds of the offensive snaps, Kelce accumulated 67 catches, 862 yards and five scores. These solid numbers from your tight end spot landing him as a mid-to-low end TE1. Entering the 2015 season Anthony Fasano had moved on and Travis was in on 92 percent of snaps on offense. Unfortunately his stat line of 72 catches, 875 yards and five touchdowns was practically a mirror image of the previous season. As always opportunity is a lead indicator for success in fantasy football and simply being on the field does not equate to more points. In most fantasy leagues, Kelce’s contributions average out around a two to three point difference over the thirteenth best tight end. The lack of scoring opportunities limits his upside compared to players like Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert. So while he is appropriately ranked around the fourth best tight end in dynasty, he may not be worth the top dollar price tag.
Demetrius Harris was the only other tight end to play meaningful snaps for the Chiefs in 2015. He only managed seven receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown and was clearly not a factor within the offense. Harris originally played basketball in college and due to his size drew interest from NFL teams. He did just recently sign a three year extension to remain in Kansas City so the organization clearly still sees upside to his game and also cements him as the number two behind Kelce. Unfortunately, without injury he will likely be used more to block and his lack of experience in football makes it more unlikely for him to put up similar numbers to Kelce if called upon.