The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I.
It doesn't seem quite right to call KC a team in transition, even though the franchise is coming off a two-win season. This is a team with six returning Pro Bowlers, so the Chiefs will put talent on the field in all phases. Kansas City also spent top-dollar on its new head coach, Andy Reid, plus the team dealt away a pair of early-round picks for its new quarterback, Alex Smith.
If you're a Chiefs fan, it's not unreasonable to demand rapid and significant improvement. It's crazy that this group went 2-14 last year. KC has the personnel necessary to make a major leap in 2013 — maybe not a worst-to-first leap, but certainly worst-to-.500. This team's roster will clearly assist the fantasy community this season. Jamaal Charles, by himself, is enough to nudge Kansas City out of the bottom-quarter of the Juggernaut Index.
Here's a fact that not enough people seem to know: Charles actually has the highest yards-per-carry average of any running back in NFL history. Higher than Jim Brown, higher than Barry Sanders, higher than Gale Sayers, higher than AP, higher than ... well, than everyone. Ever.
Charles has gained an astounding 5.8 yards-per-carry over the the course of his five-year career, a silly number. He set new personal highs in carries (285), touches (320) and rushing yards (1,509) last season — in a year when he was coming off ACL surgery — so he's proven that he can handle a full featured workload. You should have zero doubts about this player. He's the No. 3 overall player on my draft board, and I'm awfully tempted to bump him to No. 2. Don't look back, Arian Foster.
I suppose I can understand why you might be concerned about Charles' 2013 touchdown potential, since we're all still waiting for his first double-digit TD season. But I'm convinced he'll find the end zone 10-12 times (or more) in Andy Reid's offense. Whatever else you think about Reid's coaching tendencies, you need to understand that he's been a friend to his featured backs. Brian Westbrook averaged 10.7 touchdowns per season under Reid from 2003 to 2008; LeSean McCoy led the league with 20 spikes in 2011.
It's fair to expect Charles to exchange a few carries for catches in the year ahead, but fantasy owners shouldn't complain about that. Jamaal is going to deliver a substantial number of scrimmage-yards in 2013; you'll want to own a few shares of this season.
If you're not buying my fantasy spin, then listen to Charles himself, speaking with NFL Network:
"I get the goosebumps when I start talking about [Reid's offense] because his system is so perfect for me. Having me look at what he did with LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook in a similar offense. The sky is the limit for me in this offense. I feel like I could be one of the top running backs that you guys might be talking about."
"I'm playing wide receiver, I'm doing it all ... watch out."
And then there's this:
"He tells me 'You're the fastest one on the team Jamaal. I don't care who lines up — a cornerback, a free safety. You can beat them.' He just gives me that confidence to go out there and be better."
So I'll just say it again: Jamaal is set up for a stellar season. Charles' O-line isn't a worry, his talent is top-of-the-charts, and the new system fits. Plus the handcuffs here are completely un-threatening (Shaun Draughn, rookie Knile Davis). I'm in.
Kansas City has been messing around with the pistol, bringing Chris Ault on board to consult, so we'll need to see where this story goes. Reid obviously won't scrap his west coast principles, but a handful of pistol looks each week would be a nice wrinkle — good for Charles, good for Smith. Remember, it's not like teams are required to run the ball from the pistol. Play-action out of the formation could get interesting.
Smith's name may not be the most exciting on your cheat sheet, but he's a clear upgrade over last year's horrors in KC. (Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined to throw 20 INTs, the highest team total in the AFC.) When Smith lost the starting gig in San Francisco last year, he'd actually completed 25 of his previous 27 throws for 304 yards and four scores. It's not as if he'd played poorly. He put up a QB-rating of 104.1, he completed 70.2 percent of his passes at 8.0 yards per attempt, and he was intercepted just five times. Accuracy is key with Reid, and it was a strength of Smith's in 2013.
We're not talking about the league's most aggressive quarterback (or even its 50th most aggressive quarterback), so you shouldn't expect the Chiefs' weekly highlight tape to be full of deep bombs, into coverage. But you can expect a level of competence that's been absent in Kansas City in recent years. Smith will likely shatter his career-high in pass attempts this season (445), perhaps by 100-plus; he's a reasonable deep-league platoon QB, and a respectable option in two-quarterback leagues.
Dwayne Bowe signed a five-year deal during the offseason, loaded with guaranteed money ($26M), so Smith is guaranteed to have a legit No. 1 receiver at his disposal. Bowe has a few negatives on the scouting report, sure, but he's topped the 1,000-yard mark three times, despite being tied to a series of sketchy passers. He's one of those receivers you'll enjoy owning, as long as you're not actually watching. The man will drop the occasional pass. Still, Bowe is likely to rank among this year's target leaders (think 150-plus). To me, his Yahoo! ADP (42.1) seems acceptable, though not a clear bargain.
It's inevitable that I'll add Jonathan Baldwin at some point during the season, but that's my burden. You certainly don't have to make the same idiotic mistakes that I will. Baldwin appears to have the traits necessary to be an outstanding complement to Bowe — the size (6-4), the strength, the jump-ball ability (42-inch vert) — yet he's been relentlessly unproductive over two NFL seasons. I won't even attempt to build a case for owning him in leagues of standard size.
Donnie Avery joins the Chiefs this year, coming off a decent season in Indianapolis (60-781-3). Tight end Tony Moeaki is still in the team picture (and of course still an injury risk), plus KC signed Anthony Fasano to a four-year deal back in March. Dexter McCluster is still lurking on the depth chart, likely to serve as this team's primary slot receiver. But realistically, you're not drafting any members of this receiving corps other than Bowe. Charles could easily finish with the second-highest reception total on this team.
On paper, the KC defense seems OK. On the field, however, it wasn't so great last season. The Chiefs were terrible vs. the run (135.7 YPG, 4.5 YPC), they didn't sack opposing QBs (27), and they didn't force many takeaways (7 interceptions). Yet when you look at the individual names here — SS Eric Berry, CB Brandon Flowers, LBs Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali — it's hard to believe this unit is so user-friendly. Fantasy owners won't be drafting this D/ST, but it's tough for me to believe this group won't improve. If nothing else, this defense will be a streaming option against the softer opponents on the schedule (JAC, CLE, BUF, OAK).
2012 team stats: 13.2 points per game (32), 183.6 passing yards per game (31), 149.7 rushing yards per game (5)