When last we saw the Chiefs, they were squandering a 28-point second-half lead at Indianapolis in the wild-card round. All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles was concussed, as was Pro-Bowl corner Brandon Flowers. And so was starting receiver Donnie Avery. Pro-Bowl linebacker Justin Houston had a knee injury, and Charles' backup, Knile Davis, had a broken leg.
So that was a long, ugly afternoon for Kansas City. But let's remember that it was just one day in an otherwise astonishing turnaround season. Andy Reid, in his first year as Chiefs head coach, engineered an all-phases franchise revival. Kansas City was a two-win team in 2012, ranking dead-last in the NFL in point differential (-214) and turnover differential (-24). Under Reid in 2013, this team won 11 games and outscored its opponents 430 to 305. The Chiefs sent eight players to the Pro Bowl last year, qualifying for the playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons.
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All things considered, it was a damn good year for KC.
Fantasy-wise, this group is not yet the equal of the high-yield offensive machines that Reid guided during his 14 years in Philadelphia. But the Chiefs have at least one upper-tier fantasy asset in Charles, a player coming off the most productive season of his career.
Casual NFL fans tend to underrate Charles, failing to appreciate his place in the all-time running back hierarchy. With over 1,000 career carries to his credit, Jamaal currently ranks as second most efficient runner in the history of his position (minimum 750 attempts). Here's the all-time list:
1. Marion Motley, 5.70 YPC
2. Jamaal Charles, 5.58
3. Jim Brown, 5.22
4. Mercury Morris, 5.14
5. Joe Perry, 5.04
6. Gale Sayers, 5.00
7. Barry Sanders, 4.99
8. Adrian Peterson, 4.98
Not such bad company, eh?
Charles is a ridiculously explosive runner, capable of turning any touch into a highlight-quality touchdown. Over his 80 career NFL games he's delivered 62 gains of 20-plus yards. Coach Reid unlocked Charles' full fantasy potential last season, utilizing him as both a primary receiving threat and a goal-line weapon. Charles led all running backs in targets (104), receiving yards (693) and receiving scores (7) last season. Eleven of his league-leading 19 touchdowns covered three yards or less.
It may not seem like such a radical idea to give the football to your most gifted runner near the end-zone, but in fact many NFL coaches routinely refuse to do it — they favor the high-mileage minivan over the high-performance roadster for the most important yards. Again, we have to credit Reid for trusting Jamaal in all situations. The man may have his faults as a coach, but running back usage isn't among them.
Charles has appeared in at least 15 games in five of his six pro seasons, so it's silly to argue that he carries unusual injury risk. He's the top player on my draft board for 2014 in all formats. I won't go so far as to place him in a tier of his own — Shady and AP belong in the top-pick debate, too — but Jamaal is massively talented player in terrific situation.
And so ends the hyper-enthusiastic portion of today's Chiefs discussion. Hope you enjoyed it. Let's wrap up this team's backfield, then review the less-than-perfect passing game.
Davis might see a small uptick in workload in his second season, but he remains little more than a handcuff. He's not in Charles' class as a runner. In fact, he's probably not in the class below Charles' class. Jamaal is an all-timer; Davis is a second-year back who averaged 3.5 YPC as a rookie. Fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas is a smallish back (5-foot-9) who could be ticketed for the multi-purpose role that Dexter McCluster played last season, but he'll face quite a learning curve. He's a rookie coming from an unconventional collegiate offense (Oregon), trying to get up to speed on the NFL return game, as well as slot and backfield responsibilities. Don't get too excited just yet.
Quarterback Alex Smith is entering a contract year in Kansas City, coming off another good-but-unspectacular campaign. Smith did a fine job limiting negative plays last season, per his usual (7 INTs). But unfortunately he also continued his career-long habit of limiting positive plays (23 TDs, 6.52 Y/A). Smith has never really been a risk-taker, even when the odds tilt in his favor. It's tough to view him as a roster-worthy fantasy QB unless you play in a league with 16 or more teams. He didn't reach the 300-yard passing mark in any regular season game last season. Smith's rushing contributions are appreciated (431 last year), but they aren't enough to vault him into standard league relevance.
Bottom line: Smith's name should not be on your cheat sheet, unless you play in a format where any 3500-yard, 20-TD passer needs to be owned.
Kansas City's receiving corps is a similarly unimpressive group, led once again by seven-year vet Dwayne Bowe. Last season, Bowe's best single-game receiving total was 70 yards. (He exploded for 150 yards on eight catches in the playoff loss to Indy, we should note, so he's still capable of the occasional big game.) Bowe is another best-shape-of-his-life guy, for those of you who love offseason propaganda. He's been a 1,000-yard receiver three times in his career, so there's definitely hope. It's tough to feel excessively optimistic about any receiver tied to Smith, however. As long as you're drafting Bowe as a No. 3 fantasy wideout (or a flex), you won't be badly burned.
Beyond Bowe ... well, it gets a lot worse. There's no one here I'm interested in talking up. Weston Dressler was really good in Saskatchewan. Donnie Avery had a big game in 2008, and another in 2012. AJ Jenkins once scored three touchdowns in a game against Northwestern, in his fourth year at Illinois. Tight end Travis Kelce might have been an interesting deep sleeper, if he weren't coming back from microfracture surgery. And ... um ... yeah, that's all I've got. Do not draft any player mentioned in this paragraph.
KC's defense was incredibly effective in the first half of 2013 — it was on pace to set the NFL sack record in late-October — but this unit couldn't stop a runaway toddler after the calendar flipped to November. Nonetheless, this D/ST finished as the top-scoring unit in most fantasy formats, thanks to seven defensive TDs, 36 takeaways and 47.0 sacks. The Chiefs have talent at every level on D — notably LB Derrick Johnson, DB Eric Berry and LB Justin Houston — so there's no reason to think they can't reemerge as a useful fantasy entity. We've ranked 'em as such. This team has a few ugly matchups in the early weeks (at DEN, NE, at SF), so KC doesn't have auto-start status.
2013 team stats: 26.9 PPG (NFL rank 6), 222.6 pass YPG (25), 24 pass TDs (15), 128.5 rush YPG (10), 27.6 rush attempts per game (15), 33.3 pass attempts per game (22)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants