Juggernaut Index, No. 17: The Kansas City Chiefs

There's plenty of fantasy talent on KC's roster, but an Alex Smith-led offense is tough to fully embrace. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
There’s plenty of fantasy talent on KC’s roster, but an Alex Smith-led offense is tough to fully embrace. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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During the Andy Reid era, the Chiefs have been a wonderfully uncomplicated team for fantasy purposes. All the good stuff goes to Jamaal Charles — all the yards, all the red-zone chances, all the fantasy goodness. Every other skill player is like a decoration on a cake.

As it should be. Charles ranks among the most efficient runners in NFL history, having never averaged less than 5.0 yards per carry in any of his eight seasons. And to Reid’s everlasting credit, he’s had the good sense to feed his team’s most explosive offensive weapon when the Chiefs are near the goal-line. Charles has scored 38 touchdowns in 35 games under Reid. In his previous 65 games, JC had broken the plane just 24 times.

If Charles happened to be coming off a typical season and had no significant medical red flags, he would of course rank as a first-half-of-the-first-round player in all fantasy formats. But as everyone knows, he is not, in fact, free of health issues. He tore the ACL in his right knee last year, and he’ll be 11 months removed from surgery when the Chiefs open the 2016 season against San Diego. He tore his left ACL back in 2011, you might recall, so it would be fair to say that he’s a high-mileage back with a complicated history.

Jamaal Charles is an all-time RB, but he's returning from another significant knee injury. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Jamaal Charles is an all-time RB, but he’s returning from another significant knee injury. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Charles is currently on the PUP list (no surprise), but the widespread expectation is that he’ll be ready for opening week:

The big question is whether he’ll return as the same electric player, with the same workload he previously enjoyed. Early drafters don’t seem too skeptical about Charles’ recovery, dropping him only 8-10 picks beyond where he’d land if his knees were pristine (ADP 14.9). So far, it’s a price I’ve been unwilling to pay, because there are so many no-doubt upper-tier WRs available in Jamaal’s draft neighborhood — guys like Dez, Marshall, Robinson, and Keenan. The safest assumption regarding Charles is that he’ll return on a pitch-count of sorts, that the Chiefs won’t expect him to handle a 2013-level workload. The man turns 30 in December and he’s playing on two rebuilt knees; you’d think KC would simply try to get Charles through the early months of the season undamaged.

Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West both had their moments in Charles’ absence, and both backs should continue to see the field in cameo roles. Ware averaged 5.6 YPC on 72 attempts last year, crossing the goal-line six times, and he was running ahead of West in KC’s preseason opener. If you’re handcuffing anyone to Charles, Ware is the guy. He’s a big back (230) who had almost no role as a receiver last season (6 REC). It’s possible we’ll see him poach carries in short-yardage situations, but I’ll be moderately surprised if he claims a significant inside-the-five role. Charles has been fantastic near the goal-line over the past three seasons, delivering 19 TDs of 5 yards or less.

The Chiefs’ passing attack ranks among the least interesting in the league for our purposes, as it’s led by a risk-averse passer who rarely gives away the football and rarely throws a touchdown pass. Alex Smith has produced only two 300-yard games under Reid, and he’s never thrown for more than 23 scores in any season. Someone has to own him in a two-QB league, but he offers very little obvious fantasy upside. During the Reid years, KC’s passing offense has ranked No. 24, 29 and 30 in terms of yardage.

Considering this team’s low-volume approach to passing, it should really go without saying that KC has little hope of producing more than one ownable, startable fantasy receiver. Jeremy Maclin caught 87 balls for 1088 yards last season, hauling in eight of Smith’s 20 touchdown passes. He clearly merits attention from fantasy owners, but he won’t leave many statistical scraps for any other Chiefs wideouts. Second-year receiver Chris Conley is an interesting talent likely to start opposite Maclin, and he trained with his veteran teammate in the offseason. Albert Wilson should work from the slot for KC. But c’mon, in fantasy leagues with standard configurations, Maclin is the only Chiefs receiver worth considering. Smith has averaged only 480.7 pass attempts per season as Kansas City’s starting QB.

Kansas City's team DEF is definitely a unit to target. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Kansas City’s team DEF is definitely a unit to target. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Tight end Travis Kelce will very likely finish as this team’s second leading receiver, just as he did last year. Let’s hope you’ve abandoned the notion that he can possibly produce a Gronk-ish fantasy campaign; it ain’t happenin’ in this offense. Kelce has, however, delivered back-to-back seasons with nearly identical numbers — 67-862-5 in 2014, 72-875-5 in 2015 — and he’s twice finished as a top-8 tight end. He should be drafted as a fantasy starter, no question, but please make sure you’re not paying a price that assumes a jump in value.

Kansas City’s defense was excellent a year ago, ranking seventh in the NFL in yards allowed (329.3 YPG), third in scoring (17.9), fourth in sacks (47) and fifth in takeaways (29). The division schedule is a little rough for KC, but this group features impact players at every level — some healthier than others, but it’s an impressive unit. Draft this squad with confidence among the top-five or six D/STs.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 25.3 (9)
Pass YPG – 203.4 (30)
Rush YPG – 127.8 (6)
Yards per play – 5.4 (16)
Plays per game – 61.1 (26)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee, 27) Los Angeles, 26) Miami, 25) Detroit, 24) Chicago, 23) San Diego, 22) Minnesota, 21) Tampa Bay, 20) Atlanta, 19) Washington, 18) Buffalo, 17) Kansas City