Now that we're entering the fourth year of the Matt Cassel era, Kansas City fans probably don't have an excess of optimism where the quarterback position is concerned. The Chiefs haven't ranked in the top-half of the league in passing since 2005, when Trent Green was lobbing bombs to Eddie Kennison.
But at least we won't have to suffer through another Tyler Palko prime-time massacre, so that's, um ... something.
Cassel is back at the controls of what figures to be a run-heavy offense in KC. He missed the final seven games of the 2011 season, but he's healthy now, ready for his usual 400-something pass attempts. This year, he'll have a new offensive coordinator on the sideline, 37-year-old Brian Daboll, plus he'll have a pair of familiar faces back in the huddle, as Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki return from ACL injuries. This franchise had zero luck in terms of health last season, obviously, so we can't expect the offense to be as miserable as it was when last we saw it. The Chiefs averaged just 9.3 points per game over the final nine weeks last year. That can't happen again. If it does, I'm pretty sure they'll be relegated to the Big Ten's Leaders Division.
I can't recommend Cassel to fantasy owners in standard leagues — the volume is low, the skills are ordinary — and I certainly won't try to build a case for either of his back-ups (Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi). If Cassel is going to somehow finish as a top-16 quarterback, he'll need to have the sort of year he did in 2010, when he maximized his opportunities (27 TDs on 450 attempts) and he rarely gave away the football (seven INTs). But even if he successfully does those things and remains healthy, there's still a yardage problem. This guy has averaged 6.6 Y/A for his career, and he hasn't topped 7.0 in a season since the one crazy year in New England. Cassel has almost no shot at a 4,000-yard season, and there's no rushing component to his game to cover the blemishes. Bottom line: You need to look elsewhere.
We need to assume that Dwayne Bowe will eventually sign his franchise tender and report to Chiefs camp, although it hasn't happened yet. It seems unlikely that he'll turn down paychecks in the regular season, at a $9.5 million salary. But the longer he stays away, the fewer reps he gets in a new system — and if he hopes to land a big deal at some point, he'll probably want to have a productive 2013.
Fantasy-wise, I think everyone knows by now what they're getting with Bowe: He's a 1,000-yard receiver who has the trust of his quarterback, although his hands occasionally malfunction. He ranked seventh in the NFL in targets last year (142) and tenth in receptions (81), but he only broke the plane five times in KC's low-yield offense. Bowe reached the end zone 15 times the year before, so it's not like he needs a map to find it. Just please get yourself to camp, Dwayne. Sign on the line which is dotted. Be ready for Week 1. Please.
The longer Bowe stays away, the more buzz builds for second-year wideout Jonathan Baldwin. According to pretty much all accounts, he was sensational in OTAs and he's carried that same level of performance into camp. He made a handful of highlight plays last season, you might recall; this one had to be the best, but there were others. No one has ever questioned Baldwin's physical tools. The former first-rounder is 6-foot-5, with a freakish vertical (42 inches). He's an excellent late-round flier in fantasy drafts, as he clearly has a very high ceiling, long-term. And if Bowe continues to misplay his hand, the Chiefs will only get more comfortable with the idea of Baldwin as a No. 1.
Steve Breaston remains in the team picture, but it's hard for me to muster any real enthusiasm. We shouldn't expect this offense to deliver a third roster-worthy fantasy receiver. Breaston is coming off another season with 700-something yards (his third straight) and a low touchdown total (two). He's a low-level producer, a guy that deep leaguers might toss into their lineup once a year to cover a bye. If you find yourself starting him consistently, it's a sign that your team might just be terrible. Let's hope your other two receivers are Fitz and Megatron.
Tony Moeaki is back at tight end, and he'll be a full 12 months removed from knee surgery by Week 1. He's made a few notable plays early in camp, too. Moeaki is a gifted receiver, definitely as talented as the guys who rank 8-14 at his position, but he's had lousy luck in the injury department. He has fantasy potential, if he can just stay on the field. Kevin Boss is on the roster, too, but he can be safely ignored unless you're in a mega-league (20-plus owners, a zillion spots to fill).
Dexter McCluster is entering his third season, officially listed at RB but likely lining up at various spots. He saw 160 total touches last season (46 catches, 114 carries), but it doesn't seem reasonable to forecast a similar workload for Dexter in 2012, not with key weapons returning to KC. And not with this dude added to the mix...
That would be running back Peyton Hillis, a player who had a pretty decent year in Cleveland in 2010, with Daboll as his OC. Hillis rumbled for over 1,600 scrimmage yards that season, catching 61 balls and accounting for 13 touchdowns. He ran out of fuel over the final three weeks, however, finishing his breakout campaign as a fantasy playoff dud. And then Hillis was a mess last year, limited to 10 games due to injuries. His yards-per-carry plunged from 4.4 to 3.6, he scored only three touchdowns, and he caught just 22 passes. Instead of cashing-in with the Browns in a free agent year, the best deal he could find was for one-year and $2.8 million with the Chiefs. Hillis now finds himself in an excellent situation with a familiar coordinator, getting carries behind a terrific run-blocking line. If he can avoid the fumbling issues that plagued him in 2010, he should get plenty of work near the goal line.
Sure, Hillis is involved in a job-share with Charles, but we're talking about a significant workload. If things go as scripted for Kansas City (which never happens, but let's just say), then both backs could see 200-plus carries and 35-plus catches. Hillis is going 55 picks later than Charles in average drafts, so there's plenty of room for profit. When you're shopping for running backs with picks 65-80, you won't find many no-doubters: Beanie, Hillis, Brown, Starks, Spiller, et al. Peyton is a reasonable flier at a friendly price.
Charles tore his ACL in Week 2 last season, early in a 45-point loss at Detroit. Like Moeaki, he'll be functioning on a normal recovery timeline this season — we're not asking for a mutant healing event here, as with Adrian Peterson. He'll see the field in KC's preseason opener later this week, too, which is surely a good sign. We've priced Charles as if he'll be more or less the same back he was pre-injury (ADP 17.2, RB11), so I can't really say he's looking like a steal at the moment. But still, if this guy takes 200 carries in the year ahead, then you're definitely getting 1,000 yards with a handful of scores. Charles' career YPC is a ridiculous 6.1, so he can lose a full yard off that rate and remain elite, ranking near the top of the league. If you're drafting in the 4-8 range and decide to take a non-RB at the top, then Charles will probably be one of your starters. He'll be waiting for you in Round 2 or 3.
Kansas City's defense offers talent and continuity, enough to at least be a match-up play in fantasy. Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of obviously great match-ups in the first half of the season. KC will face Atlanta, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Diego and Baltimore to open the year. The prime IDPs of interest here are Derrick Johnson (131 tackles), Tamba Hali (66 tackles, 12 sacks) and Eric Berry (92 tackles in 2010, ACL in 2011).
Shall we close with an action shot of Romeo Crennel? Yes, I think we shall. Back in his Cleveland days, Crennel used to coach as if he owned Phil Dawson in seven fantasy leagues, so I suppose that portends well for Ryan Succop, if you care about kicker ranks.
2011 team stats: 13.3 PPG (NFL rank 31), 118.3 rush YPG (15), 205.5 pass YPG (26), 25.83 yards/drive (25), 0.128 turnovers/drive (17)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco