Juggernaut Index, No. 18: Chiefs offer playmakers, dynamic rookies, same old Alex Smith

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Kansas City just drafted <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/7177/" data-ylk="slk:Alex Smith">Alex Smith</a>’s eventual replacement, but the takeover won’t happen just yet. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Kansas City just drafted Alex Smith’s eventual replacement, but the takeover won’t happen just yet. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On draft night, Kansas City traded this year’s first and third-round picks plus a 2018 first-rounder to Buffalo for the No. 10 overall selection, which the team used on rocket-armed Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. So the Alex Smith era in KC will soon end — we can’t say exactly when, but it’s happening.

To date, Smith’s tenure with the Chiefs has produced 41 regular season wins over four years and three playoff appearances. He’s completed 64.6 percent of his throws, averaging an unspectacular 7.0 yards per attempt. Kansas City’s offense hasn’t ranked higher than No. 20 in total yardage with Smith at the controls, yet he’s earned two Pro Bowl selections. The partnership between Smith and head coach Andy Reid has been reasonably successful in reality, if not in fantasy. Smith has thrown only 76 touchdown passes in his 61 career starts for KC.

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Smith deserves a certain amount of credit for competence, but he’s been a remarkably conservative passer — not merely risk-averse, but risk-intolerant. He didn’t lack dynamic weapons last season, yet he averaged just 3.4 air yards per attempt and 3.1 deep throws per game, ranking near the bottom of the league in both categories according to Player Profiler. Smith remained a zero-upside player for fantasy purposes. In any given week, his statistical ceiling and floor are thisclose. He’s never produced multiple 300-yard games in any of his 11 NFL seasons, an incredible record of non-production in this era.

And now he’s simply a seat-filler for Kansas City, holding the starting QB job only until Mahomes is ready.

Mahomes is entirely unlike Smith in terms of on-field tendencies. He’s fearless to the point of recklessness, perhaps too comfortable challenging coverage and eager to improvise, forever looking for explosive plays. He ran a video game shotgun offense at Texas Tech, passing for over 5000 yards in his final season while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Can he stick to an Andy Reid script? Let’s hope. Mahomes is an unnaturally gifted passer, a dual-threat quarterback with weapons-grade arm strength. He’s certainly worth a flier in dynasty formats. Based on talent and team context, I’d take him ahead of Trubisky without hesitation.

It’s possible, of course, that we’ll have to wait a full season to see Mahomes directing the KC offense. He’s not a serious rival to Smith at the moment. For now, Smith remains atop the QB depth chart, constraining this team’s offense. He’s the game-managerest of game-managers, limiting this team’s fantasy potential.

Nope, you are not gonna chase down <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/29399/" data-ylk="slk:Tyreek Hill">Tyreek Hill</a>. Sorry, opposing defensive players. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
Nope, you are not gonna chase down Tyreek Hill. Sorry, opposing defensive players. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce remain fun, despite their QB.

Hill is blindingly fast, a nightmare coverage assignment. He scored six touchdowns as a receiver last year, three as a rusher, two as a punt returner and one returning a kickoff. That’s just insane. His highlights were of the highest quality. Return TDs are obviously not bankable events in fantasy, but let’s not confuse Hill with someone like Devin Hester. Hill was simply a terrific receiver last season, hauling in 61 passes on 83 targets and excelling on contested balls. His volume should jump in the year ahead with Jeremy Maclin out of the mix — think 110 to 120 targets. At his current draft price (ADP 63.6), I’m plenty interested.

Kelce led all NFL tight ends in fantasy scoring last season, establishing new career highs in targets (117), catches (85) and receiving yardage (1125). With Smith at QB, those numbers are very close to Kelce’s upper limits. He saw 18 red-zone targets and seven inside the 10-yard line, but he only broke the plane four times. Again, that’s not really a surprise for a receiver tied to Smith. When a quarterback only manages 15 passing TDs in as many games, no one is going to finish with double-digit spikes. Kelce doesn’t yet belong to Gronk’s tier at tight end, but he’s solidly in the next group. Personally, I prefer to target guys like Kyle Rudolph, Hunter Henry and Jack Doyle in drafts, because A) they’re available 50 to 80 picks later than Kelce and B) they actually catch touchdowns. But it’s easy to understand the fantasy appeal of the Chiefs tight end; he’s likely to catch 75-80 balls and deliver 900-plus yards.

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Kansas City’s offense isn’t likely to produce a third pass-catcher who deserves attention in fantasy leagues of standard size. If you happen to play in a format in which a 50-catch, 600-yard receiver has value, then give Chris Conley a look. Like Hill, he’s a burner and a phenomenal athlete, but he’s obviously stuck in a low-yield passing attack. Rookie Jehu Chesson, a fourth-rounder from Michigan, has size and speed on his side, but he has little chance to see a substantial workload.

Spencer Ware has competition in KC’s backfield

Ware raced out to a terrific start in 2016, averaging 129.5 yards from scrimmage over his first six games and crossing the goal line three times. But he suffered a concussion against the Colts in Week 8, and he was far less productive in the season’s second half. Over Ware’s final seven games, he averaged just 77.7 scrimmage yards per week. Ware is a capable receiver and a powerful, productive runner (4.6 career YPC), and he’ll enter the season as KC’s starting back. He’s not without competition, however.

Just as the Chiefs traded up in the draft to get their QB of the future, the team did the same in pursuit of a running back. Kansas City struck a low-level deal with Minnesota to grab Toledo’s Kareem Hunt in Round 3. Hunt was a massively productive MAC runner, finishing his collegiate career with 5500 scrimmage yards (6.3 YPC) and 45 TDs. As a senior, he rushed for 1475 yards and caught 41 balls for 403 yards. He had one fumble in 855 career touches, which is crazy. He’s good. Hunt doesn’t have sprinter’s speed, but of course neither does Ware. He was a missed-tackle machine at Toledo.

Ware remains the lead back in KC, with Charcandrick West behind him on the depth chart. The Chiefs also gave a one-year, low-dollar deal to C.J. Spiller. Hunt is a clear threat to the vets, however. His preseason tape will be worth your time.

Ware is getting drafted at least a round (or two) too early for me in Yahoo leagues (ADP 43.3). If his price holds, I’ll never land him. I’d prefer Joe Mixon (44.1) or Isaiah Crowell (43.5) in the same draft neighborhood, or Mike Gillislee (76.7) much later. I’ll happily take an end-of-draft flier on Hunt, too (121.6).

Eric Berry leads a Chiefs defense that’s been fun for fantasy purposes. (Getty Images)
Eric Berry leads a Chiefs defense that’s been fun for fantasy purposes. (Getty Images)

KC’s defense is still a thing.

Kansas City led the NFL in takeaways last season (33) and tied for the lead in defensive TDs (5). This is an opportunistic group that’s finished as a top-five fantasy D in back-to-back years, and it features plenty of brand-name playmakers (Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson.) Without question this defense needs to be drafted in fantasy leagues, but you’ll note that KC’s schedule is kind of a minefield, beginning with a road game at New England. So that’s not ideal. We shouldn’t regard this D as an every-week play.

2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 24.3 (13)
Pass YPG – 233.8 (19)
Rush YPG – 109.3 (15)
Yards per play – 5.5 (16)
Plays per game – 61.1 (28)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore, 27) Chicago, 26) Minnesota, 25) Detroit, 24) Denver, 23) Jacksonville, 22) Buffalo, 21) Philadelphia, 20) Miami, 19) Indianapolis, 18) Kansas City

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