Preseason - 2021 Kansas City Chiefs Outlook
Kansas City Chiefs Outlook
After winning his first Super Bowl title in 2019, Andy Reid led the Chiefs to another championship game, but Tom Brady worked his magic to steal the victory. Reid has been exceptional over his eight years with the Chiefs (91-37 with seven trips to the postseason). He had 10 wins or more in each of his last six seasons, and Reid has double-digit victories 15 times in his career with Kansas City and Philadelphia over 22 seasons.
His next step is improving his playoff record (17-15 in his career and 7-6 with the Chiefs). Reid improved to 6th in NFL history in career wins (221) and 23rd in winning percentage (.629).
Reid looks poised to be in the Super Bowl conversation for the next few seasons with his resume and a young elite quarterback.
Eric Bieniemy now has four years of experience as the offensive coordinator and a Super Bowl win for Kansas City after working as the running backs coach in the Chiefs' system over the previous five seasons. Bieniemy is a former NFL player with 12 years of coaching experience in the pros. In 2011 and 2012, he held the offensive coordinator job for Colorado Buffaloes. Kansas City's success on offense should lead to Bieniemy pushing his way to a head coaching opportunity soon.
After leading the NFL in points scored (565) and offensive yards in 2018, the Chiefs scored 114 fewer points in 2019 (451 – 5th) with a bump to 473 points (6th) last season. Kansas City led the league in offensive yards in 2020.
In his second season as the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, Steve Spagnuolo has a Super Bowl win and loss. He's been in the NFL since 1999, with eight years of experience running a defense and three failed seasons as a head coach (11-41).
The Chiefs dipped to 10th in points allowed (362), 54 more points than 2019 (308). Kansas City inched up to 16th in yards allowed.
Kansas City added G Joe Thuney, G Kyle Long, and C Austin Blythe to their offensive line while C Austin Reiter and T Eric Fisher were released.
Thuney plays well in pass protection with a league-average floor as a run blocker. He has five years of experience in the NFL after getting drafted in the third round in 2016.
Long retired from football in 2020 after battling a hip injury. The Chiefs added him for bench depth while understanding his pedigree (first-round draft selection in 2013).
Blythe has been up and down in his play over the past few seasons. His pass blocking is moving in the wrong direction while playing well in the run game in 2018 and 2020.
WR Sammy Watkins moved on to the Ravens. Over the past four years, he's had the opportunity to play for two high-scoring teams (LAR and KC). Injuries cost him 15 games since 2017 while failing to produce WR2 stats (39/393/8, 40/519/3, 52/673/3, and37/421/2). Watkins only made nine plays over 20 yards over his last 89 catches compared to 32 over 125 chances in 2014 and 2015. The Chiefs kept him closer to the line of scrimmage over the previous two seasons, leading to no plays over 40 yards and continued fade in his yards per catch (13.0, 12.9, and 11.4).
The Chiefs didn't bring back RB Le'Veon Bell or CB Bashaud Breeland. Kansas City added RB Jerick McKinnon and RB Elijah McGuire to improve their pass-catching depth out of the backfield.
Kansas City's big move in the offseason was the trade for T Orlando Brown for the 31st pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Brown improves the pass protection on the blindside of Patrick Mahomes while showing growth as a run blocker in 2020.
With no selection in the first round, the Chiefs added LB Nick Bolton and C Creed Humphrey in the second round.
Bolton should be sensational when attacking the line of scrimmage. He plays with vision and an excellent feel for the developing action. Bolton brings fire to the point of contact with a chance to hold his own in coverage. His only lacking trait is his speed in chase mode.
Humphrey has a high enough floor coming out of college to compete for the starting center position for the Chiefs. He understands his job with the vision to make the offensive line calls. He plays with grit and under gear if someone gets under his skin. Humphrey will have limited range but control his small area of the field with passion and desire. His foundation skill set puts him in the correct position to handle his assignments.
In the fourth round, Kansas City invested in CB Marco Wilson. His overall talents should reach a high ceiling if Wilson adds in the cerebral part of the game. He looks the part of a playmaking cornerback, with enough vision to be on-time defending passes. Wilson will need to mix it up against the run and show more fight in coverage to reach his potential.
The Chiefs shifted to the offense in the fifth round with TE Noah Gray and WR Cornell Powell.
Gray doesn't have a separator trait, but he works hard to improve his game. His size (6'3" and 240 lbs.) is closer to a big wide receiver. Gray has a feel for pass protection while needing to get stronger to handle the tougher competition at the next level. His early role with the Chiefs looks to be a delay route runner over the short areas of the field where his quickness and footwork have the best chance to shine. Gray won't threaten a defense in the deep passing game.
Powell failed to outperform many talented wide receivers in his time at Clemson. His best season (15/122/2) in college is only a game's worth of production for a top college wideout. He moves with speed and a high level of ball catch skills, but Powell has a questionable release while lacking a winning foundation in his route running. There is upside here, but he will need time to develop.
Their last swing in the draft came with G Trey Smith in the sixth round. His shortfall comes with his footwork that leads to limited range and missed assignments. Smith has the power and strength to win at the point of contact, but defenders would rather beat him in space and leverage. He has plenty of work to do if he wants to reach a starting ceiling.
Kansas City fell to 16th in rushing yards (1,799) with 10 touchdowns. Their ball carriers gained 4.5 yards per rush with only 10 runs over 20 yards while averaging 25.2 carries per game.
They led the NFL in passing yards (5,005) with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. KC gained 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranked sixth. Their offensive line allowed 24 sacks.
LT Orlando Brown
Brown saw most of his snaps at right tackle for the Ravens in 2018 and 2019 before transitioning to the full-time left tackle in Week 8 last season. His pass blocking has been a strength each year in the league. He did show risk in a couple of games last year against the pass rush, but Brown didn't allow a sack from the left side of the line.
LG Joe Thuney
Over five seasons with Patriots after getting drafted in the third round, Thuney developed into one of the best players at his position in pass blocking. He allowed minimal pressure over the past two years while finishing as a slight asset in run blocking in each of the last four seasons.
C Creed Humphrey
Despite Austin Blythe having experience and some success in the NFL, I expect Humphrey to win the starting center position early in the year. His advantage in pass protection should be the critical component over Blythe.
RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
The Chiefs signed Duvernay-Tardif to a five-year $41.25 contract in February of 2017. Over his first two seasons in the league, he excelled in pass protection. After missing the final 11 games in 2018 with a broken leg, his play failed to regain his form in pass blocking in 2019 while also regressing in the run game. Duvernay-Tardif opted out of 2020, which may lead to him losing his starting job to Kyle Long.
RT Mike Remmers
After a league-average career with the Panthers, Vikings, and Giants, Remmers signed with the Chiefs last season. He made 13 starts in 2020, with 11 coming at right tackle. Sacks can be a problem, and his ceiling in run blocking is very high.
The left side of the Chiefs' offensive line looks improved. The center position has a chance to be league average, with the top two contenders offering different strengths. The right side of the line could be flux early in the year while not offering an edge over the long haul. For now, Kansas City ranks mid-pack for their offensive line, but their quarterback's decision-making helps offset some of their downside.
Despite leading to the league in passing yards, the Chiefs still ran the ball 39.1 percent of the time. Kansas City wants to outscore opponents led by their passing game. This season, they need to run the ball better in close and find more production out of their second and third wide receivers.
QB Patrick Mahomes, KC - Stud (low risk)
Three starting seasons (45 games) into Mahomes's career, he passed for 13,868 yards with 114 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, which works out to 308 yards and 2.5 passing touchdowns per game. Mahones continues to add some production on the ground (62/308/2 in 2020). His regression yards per pass attempt (8.1) came from a step back in completions over 40 yards (8 – 26 over his first 30 contests).
As great as Mahomes was in 2020, he finished fourth in quarterback scoring (429.80 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Mahomes scored over 30.00 fantasy points in six weeks (30.50, 43.85, 34.10, 40.80, 35.20, and 36.90), but none over his final seven contests (including the playoffs). He did battle a left toe injury that required surgery in February.
Fantasy Outlook: In the 2021 draft season, Mahomes will continue to be the first quarterback off the board. The question comes down to how much of an edge is he worth compared to the rising quarterback inventory. Last year, Mahomes relied heavily on Tyreek Hill (87/1,276/15) and Travis Kelce (105/1,416/11), while no other receiver caught over 45 passes. Kansas City addressed their offensive line, but they didn't add any player with starting potential. Mahomes has league-leading upside but one significant injury to one of his top two receiving options. His starting point is 5,000 passing yards (17 games) with 40 touchdowns. To reach a higher ceiling, he needs growth from Mecole Hardman and/or Demarcus Robinson.
Other Options: Chad Henne, Anthony Gordon, Shane Buechele
RB Darrel Williams, KC - Deep-league Only
When Clyde Edwards-Helaire went down with his ankle issue, Williams saw double-digit touches in three matchups. Over this span, he gained 228 combined yards with one touchdown and 10 catches. Kansas City barely used him over their other games, leading to only 285 combined yards with one touchdown and 18 catches.
Fantasy Outlook: Williams doesn't have a high ceiling, and he isn't a lock to be the Chiefs' top handcuff in 2021. He'll after pick in 200 in most fantasy leagues.
RB Jerick McKinnon, KC - Deep-league Only
After gaining momentum in 2017 with the Vikings (991 combined yards with five touchdowns and 51 catches), injuries cost McKinnon all of the following two seasons with the 49ers. San Francisco gave him 47 touches over their first four games in 2020, leading to 295 combined yards with four touchdowns and 13 catches. They phased him out of the running back rotation in most weeks over their final 12 games (277 combined yards with two touchdowns and 20 catches).
Fantasy Outlook: McKinnon averaged only 3.7 yards per rush and 7.3 yards per catch over his last three seasons of action. His best value should come in the passing game.
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC - Solid/Safe Pick
Over the past two seasons, the Chiefs have been unable to create the explosiveness at running back they showcased in 2018 (2,502 combined yards with 26 touchdowns and 82 catches), with Kareem Hunt making big plays and scoring. Last year, their backs combined for 2,077 combined yards with 13 touchdowns and 76 catches.
Before getting injured in Week 13, Edwards-Helaire fell into the tease category in his rookie season. Kansas City worked him hard on opening day (25/138/1) in his NFL debut, setting up a fantasy buzz. In that matchup, he had 10 carries in the red zone, seven inside the 10-yard line, and six rushes inside the 5-yard line. Over the next 10 games, the Chiefs barely used him in the red zone (16 carries) with only two other chances inside the five-yard line.
After 11 games, Edwards-Helaire gained 926 combined yards with five touchdowns and 30 catches while averaging 16.5 touches. He was on pace for a combined 1,356 yards with eight scores and 44 catches (227.60 fantasy points in PPR leagues), which would have placed him 10th in running back scoring. Edwards-Helaire only had two games (20.90 and 20.70) with over 20.00 fantasy points.
He missed Week 13 with a stomach issue. A hip and an ankle injury led to three missed games.
Fantasy Outlook: Two things are working in favor of Edwards-Helaire in 2021. First, he should improve in his second season in the league, and the Chiefs don't have a top-tier runner to steal his early-down chances. Secondly, Kansas City must play better on the ground, especially in the red zone. Edwards-Helaire seems mispriced in the early draft season (ADP – 26) as the 17th running back selected. His next step should be a minimum of 18 touches per game, leading to 1,500 combined yards with double-digit touchdowns and 50-plus catches. He plays in one of the best offenses in the league, which means a top 10 running back opportunity.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Darwin Thompson, --- - Not Draft Worthy
In the preseason of 2019, Thompson drew some attention from fantasy owners after he played well in the preseason (98 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches). The Chiefs looked elsewhere for upside once the regular season started, leading to only 171 combined yards with one score and nine catches.
Thompson is an undersized back (5'8" and 200 lbs.) who lacks the wheels to beat an NFL defense on the outside or test a defense with long runs. He has a grinder feel as a north/south runner. His second gear lacks explosiveness, along with his short-area quickness. Thompson may develop as a viable threat out of the backfield.
In 2020, he finished with 162 combined yards with two touchdowns and seven catches on only 34 touches. His highlight game came in Week 17 (110 combined yards with two touchdowns and seven catches).
Fantasy Outlook: Based on his late-season flash and potential three-down ability, I would follow Thompson's movement on the Chiefs' depth chart. His age and ceiling make the most sense as the top handcuff to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2021.
Other Options: Elijah McGuire, Derrick Gore
WR Tyreek Hill, KC - Stud (low risk)
The wide receiver opportunity for the Chiefs improved by about 25 percent as far as completions (225 – 181 in 2019), but their wideouts gained only 12.9 yards per catch (14.9 in 2019). They set a three-year high in touchdowns (25) and targets (330).
In his fifth season with the Chiefs, Hill almost had the identical season (87/1,399/17) as in 2018 (87/1,630/13) while missing one game (rest in Week 17). Despite an excellent year, he gained over 100 yards receiving only three times in the regular season (9/113/2, 11/102/1, and 13/269/3), which game over three straight weeks. Hill scored in every game except Week 6 (3/25) and Week 13 (6/88). In the postseason, he failed to find the endzone while being productive each week (8/119, 9/172, and 7/78).
Hill finished with double-digit targets in nine games (including the postseason), but only twice over his first eight weeks. He finished as the second-highest scoring wide receiver (329.10 fantasy points) in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Outlook: Hill doesn't fit the high-volume catch skill set (12 games with six catches or fewer), but he makes up for it with his ability to make big plays (20 catches over 20 yards) and scoring (17 touchdowns). His catches over 40 yards regressed over the previous three years. His missing link is consistent targets each week. Hill looks poised to catch over 100 passes for 1,500-plus yards with impact scores with a healthy season. Fantasy owners can find him in the late first round in most 12-team leagues.