2021 Chiefs Offseason Preview

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Hayden Winks
·12 min read
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My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

Chiefs 2020 Recap

Chiefs2020
Chiefs2020

The Chiefs cruised to a second-straight Super Bowl despite never looking like the best team in the NFL. They finished sixth in point differential on just the sixth most points. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce were insane, but the rest of the offense was suspect. Clyde Edwards-Helaire busted behind an oft-injured offensive line, and the ancillary receivers never threatened. Those issues remain, although it’s easy to trust this coaching staff and Mahomes to make the most out of a non-perfect supporting cast. Defensively, Steve Spagnuolo got the most out of an average defense, ultimately ranking 10th in points allowed. Like the offensive line, the front office has to find multiple replacements on defense, particularly at corner and linebacker. For the first time in two-plus years, the Chiefs look to have some legit weaknesses heading into 2021. Hopefully Mahomes bails everyone out.

Chiefs 2021 Offseason

Notes

Chiefs Cap Space

-$4.4 million (25th)

Chiefs Draft Picks

1.32, 2.64, 3.96, 4th, 5th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Chiefs Departures

LT Eric Fisher, RT Mitchell Schwartz, WR Sammy Watkins, LG Kelechi Osemele, RG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RT Mike Remmers, RG Stefen Wisniewski, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Byron Pringle, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Charvarius Ward, SS Daniel Sorensen, EDGE Tanoh Kpassagnon, EDGE Alex Okafor, LB Damien Wilson, RB Le'Veon Bell, FB Anthony Sherman

Chiefs Cut Candidates

LB Anthony Hitchens ($6.5M cap savings), RB Damien Williams ($2.2M)

Chiefs Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

-

% of Passes

82%

-

QB

Patrick Mahomes

Chad Henne

WR

Tyreek Hill

WR

???

WR (Slot)

Mecole Hardman

TE

Travis Kelce

RB (Early Down)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Damien Williams

RB (Third Down)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Darwin Thompson

LT

???

Martinas Rankin

LG

Nick Allegretti

Yasir Durant

C

???

RG

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

RT

Lucas Niang

Offensive Coordinator: Everyone knows the drill. The Chiefs under coach Andy Reid and OC Eric Bieniemy are going to place fast (7th in neutral pace), lean on the pass (2nd in neutral pass rate), use three receiver sets (82% of passes in 11 personnel), and take what’s given to them. Last year defenses used more two-high looks against the Chiefs, leading to a slightly lower aDOT for Patrick Mahomes and more reliance on Travis Kelce over the middle. I’m not expecting that to change with more defenses across the league moving from Cover 3 to Cover 2/4, so the Chiefs may have to take the underneath pass and/or run the ball more in 2021 than we’ve seen in years past. Even if it looks slightly different, the offense should still be wildly efficient assuming the front office can address the injury-derailed offensive line.

Passing Offense: So here’s why I think Patrick Mahomes is good: …. Jk. Let’s move on. The Chiefs receiver depth beyond Tyreek Hill is very much worth tracking. Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle are all free agents, leaving gadget receiver Mecole Hardman as the current No. 2 receiver. Hardman hasn’t shown the craftiness and route running of a typical full-time NFL receiver through two seasons and his skillset is too similar to Hill’s to go into the season with those two at the top of the depth chart. A bigger receiver who can block and offer red zone skills would best compliment Hill and Hardman. Obviously All-Pro TE Travis Kelce fills this exact role, but he wouldn’t be force fed 9.67 targets per week during the regular season as a 32-year-old in a perfect world. Given the Chiefs cap situation, this “big receiver” replacement will likely come via the 2021 NFL Draft.

Rushing Offense: As we saw in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ offensive line is a total mess with LT Eric Fisher (torn Achilles), RT Mitchell Schwartz (back surgery), LG Kelechi Osemele, RG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RT Mike Remmers, and other backups hitting free agency. It’s just 2019 seventh-round LG Nick Allegretti, literal doctor RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (COVID-19 opt out), and 2020 third-round OT Lucas Niang (COVID-19 opt out) as potential starters, and all three are wild cards. Every spot on the line is open for business. This is obviously bad news for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who painfully was the RB70 out of 74 qualifiers in my efficiency stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (-2.7). After failing to establish the run early, the Chiefs abandoned it all together down the stretch, ultimately ending as the No. 27 rushing EPA offense. Edwards-Helaire simply needs more help from his offensive interior to be a capable between the tackles runner, and his rookie tape showed a player with just average explosion. He’s currently backed up by Damien Williams ($2.2M cap savings) with Darrel Williams and Le’Veon Bell hitting free agency.

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Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 2

-

% of Plays

33%

-

CB

Rashad Fenton

Thakarius Keyes

CB

Deandre Baker

CB (Slot)

L'Jarius Sneed

SS

Tyrann Mathieu

Armani Watts

FS

Juan Thornhill

LB

Anthony Hitchens

Dorian O'Daniel

LB

Willie Gay

DT (1T)

Derrick Nnadi

Khalen Saunders

DT (3T)

Chris Jones

Tershawn Wharton

Edge (5T)

Frank Clark

Mike Danna

Edge (7T)

???

Defensive Coordinator: Steve Spagnuolo’s passing defense has overperformed their on-roster talent in each of his first two seasons, finishing second in fantasy points allowed to receivers in back-to-back years. It’s primarily a Cover 2 unit, but their safeties are versatile, allowing them to disguise coverage pre-snap and send a decent number of blitzes (9th). The pitfall in the unit has been defending the run -- Kansas City was 27th in rushing EPA last year and 28th the year prior. This isn’t a surprise because of their Cover 2 lean, but charting shows that the Chiefs have slightly more defenders in the box than the average defense. That tells me two things: 1) defensive backs showing up to the box late like what Kansas City does does not equal having seven linemen plus linebackers sitting in the box, and 2) the Chiefs’ talent up front has been lacking. Fixing No. 2 is a priority this offseason.

Passing Defense: The Chiefs highest paid corner at the moment is 2020 fourth-round slot CB L’Jarius Sneed. He’s at least good, but the entire outside corner depth chart needs revamping with Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward hitting free agency. The current starters are 2019 sixth-rounder Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker (2020 broken leg), and/or 2020 seventh-rounder Thakarius Keyes. That’s not going to cut it. Safety is set, however, assuming SS Tyrann Mathieu isn’t traded ($14.8M cap savings). The Honey Badger is joined by 2019 second-round FS Juan Thornhill on the backend in this two-high heavy defense. Up front, the Chiefs get a strong pass rush from DT Chris Jones (7.5 sacks), but DE Frank Clark (6.0) has been a major disappointment off the edge, and there’s nobody behind him with Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor off to free agency. Clark’s $25.8 million cap hit is really hurting the Chiefs. Overall, it’s easy to see how the Chiefs’ No. 9 passing EPA defense regresses in 2021.

Rushing Defense: Opposing offenses had the fifth-highest neutral run rate against the Chiefs, meaning OC were choosing to run the ball in normal circumstances. It was working, too. Kansas City was 27th in rushing EPA, and a lot of the blame can be put on the linebackers. 29-year-old Anthony Hitchens is a cut candidate ($6.5M cap savings) after three forgettable seasons with the team, and former fourth-rounder Damien Wilson (a free agent) was playing ahead of 2020 second-rounder Willie Gay last year. Gay is a total wild card and the other two are backup-level players. Assistance is needed. On the defensive interior, the Chiefs are set with three-tech Frank Clark and their pair of one-techs -- 2018 third-rounder Derrick Nnadi and 2019 third-round athletic outlier Khalen Saunders. Defensive tackle is one of the lone strengths of the entire defense.

Chiefs Team Needs

1. Offensive Tackle - Both LT Eric Fisher (torn Achilles) and RT Mitchell Schwartz (back) were released largely due to injuries. Kansas City spent a third-round pick on OT Lucas Niang last offseason, but he opted out so he’s more or less a rookie in 2021.

2. Outside Corner - The Chiefs have a bunch of options to defend the slot -- L'Jarius Sneed looks like a fourth-round steal so far -- but only 2019 sixth-round CB Rashad Fenton is under contract among the outside corners from last year with Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward hitting free agency. Kansas City managed to be the No. 9th passing EPA defense despite investing little into their cornerback group last year. That’s not sustainable. Draft picks are needed.

3. Center - Austin Reiter is headed for free agency, and the Chiefs spent the entire 2020 season unable to run between the tackles. Short-yardage power running is the only weakness in Kansas City’s offense (27th), and we know that offensive line talent matters far more than running back talent when it comes to picking up a first down in short yardage.

4. Linebacker - The Chiefs can save $6.5 million against the cap by cutting veteran LB Anthony Hitchens this offseason. Even if he hangs around, the Chiefs need an upgrade to pair with 2020 second-rounder Willie Gay. Kansas City was 27th in rushing EPA defense, largely because of poor linebacker play.

5. Outside Receiver - With Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle all free agents, the Chiefs need bodies at outside receiver. Through two seasons, Mecole Hardman is on a gadget-player trajectory, one that’s best suited for a No. 3 receiver role particularly in the slot. A physical receiver who can win in the red zone would complement Hardman and Tyreek Hill’s speed.

6. Offensive Guard - Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will be returning after a 2020 opt out and was an average starter before focusing on his medical profession. It’s unknown how he’ll look after a year off, and the Chiefs don’t have a stable starting left guard either with 2019 seventh-rounder Nick Allegretti projected to start. It’s possible that 2020 third-rounder Lucas Niang kicks inside despite playing tackle at TCU. He also opted out last season and is a total mystery as an NFL talent.

2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Travis Kelce (The TE1) - He had the second best PPR season among tight ends all time last year, and he did so in 15 games. With the ancillary receivers hitting free agency, Kelce should remain an outlier at the position. The only possible knocks are offensive line, age (31), and opportunity cost in the first round.

Tyreek Hill (WR1) - With Watkins and Hardman next to nothing, Hill exploded for 21.9 PPR points per game (WR2 overall) on WR8 fantasy usage last year. He’ll be 28 years old next year, and the Chiefs have a lot of questions behind him on the depth chart. Another huge season is expected. That’s not a bold take of course.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB2) - Only Kalen Ballage, Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs, and Kenyan Drake performed worse in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game than CEH last year. Forgettable explosion and a brutal offensive interior played into things, but the real surprise was lack of involvement on third downs. Despite all the negativity, the first-rounder finished as the RB23 per game (13.5 PPR). To get out of RB2 land, Edwards-Helaire has to get better near the goal line and as a pass protector. Damien Williams could be a threat if he comes back from a COVID-19 opt out.

Patrick Mahomes (QB1) - Among quarterbacks with at least five starts, only Dak Prescott finished with more fantasy points per game than Mahomes (25.0). His top two targets return, but the rest of the offense needs a lot of work. The offensive line is one of the worst on paper heading into the offseason, and Mecole Hardman is the current No. 2 receiver. Not ideal. Still, it’s impossible to rank Mahomes outside of the top three because ballers gonna ball.

Mecole Hardman (WR6) - Through two seasons, the second-rounder hasn’t shown any confidence as a legit NFL receiver and route runner. His speed alone gets him schemed touches, but the Chiefs easily could view Hardman as a 3-6 touch player instead of as a full-time receiver. We’ll see if the hype gets out of control like last year.

FA Sammy Watkins (WR6) - The Lizard King likely wants to return to Kansas City, but the salary cap will be a major hindrance. Watkins, 28 next season, is as boom-bust as they come, and the long streak of duds will likely keep his free agency interest minimal. Likely signed to be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, Watkins’ fantasy appeal is unfortunately limited. … That won’t stop me from dabbling at a double-digit round price tag in fantasy.

Damien Williams (RB5) - His status is up in the air following a 2020 opt out. With Darrel Williams and Le’Veon Bell unsigned, Williams currently sits as the No. 2 back behind CEH. He’s owed $2.5 million.