2021 Kansas City Chiefs Fantasy Team Outlook: Rebuilt Offensive Line Critical to Patrick Mahomes' Continued Dominance

A fantasy football breakdown of the Kansas City Chiefs by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs
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Coaching

After winning his first Super Bowl title in 2019, Andy Reid led the Chiefs to another championship game, but Tom Brady worked his magic to steal the victory. Reid has been exceptional over his eight years with the Chiefs (91–37 with seven trips to the postseason). He had 10 wins or more in each of his last six seasons, and Reid has double-digit victories 15 times in his career with Kansas City and Philadelphia over 22 seasons.

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His next step is improving his playoff record (17–15 in his career and 7–6 with the Chiefs). Reid improved to sixth in career wins (221) and 23rd in winning percentage (.629).

Reid looks poised to be in the Super Bowl conversation for the next few seasons with his resume and a young elite quarterback.

Eric Bieniemy now has four years of experience as the offensive coordinator and a Super Bowl win for Kansas City after working as the running backs coach in the Chiefs’ system over the previous five seasons. Bieniemy is a former NFL player with 12 years of coaching experience in the pros. In 2011 and 2012, he held the offensive coordinator job for Colorado Buffaloes. Kansas City’s success on offense should lead to Bieniemy pushing his way to a head coaching opportunity soon.

After leading in points scored (565) and offensive yards in 2018, the Chiefs scored 114 fewer points in 2019 (451—fifth) with a bump to 473 points (6th) last season. Kansas City led the league in offensive yards in 2020.

In his second season as the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, Steve Spagnuolo has a Super Bowl win and loss. He’s been in the NFL since 1999, with eight years of experience running a defense and three failed seasons as a head coach (11–41).

The Chiefs dipped to 10th in points allowed (362), 54 more points than 2019 (308). Kansas City inched up to 16th in yards allowed.

Free Agency

Kansas City added G Joe Thuney, G Kyle Long, and C Austin Blythe to their offensive line while C Austin Reiter and T Eric Fisher were released.

Thuney plays well in pass protection with a league-average floor as a run blocker. He has five years of experience after getting drafted in the third round in 2016.

Long retired from football in 2020 after battling a hip injury. The Chiefs added him for bench depth while understanding his pedigree (first-round draft selection in 2013).

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Blythe has been up and down in his play over the past few seasons. His pass blocking is trending in the wrong direction while performing well in the run game.

WR Sammy Watkins moved on to the Ravens. Over the past four years, he’s had the opportunity to play for two high-scoring teams (LAR and KC). Injuries cost him 15 games since 2017 while failing to produce WR2 stats (39/393/8, 40/519/3, 52/673/3, and37/421/2). Watkins only made nine plays over 20 yards over his last 89 catches compared to 32 over 125 chances in 2014 and 2015. The Chiefs kept him closer to the line of scrimmage over the previous two seasons, leading to no plays over 40 yards and continued fade in his yards per catch (13.0, 12.9, and 11.4).

The Chiefs didn’t bring back RB Le’Veon Bell or CB Bashaud Breeland. Kansas City added RB Jerick McKinnon and RB Elijah McGuire to improve their pass-catching depth out of the backfield.

Kansas City’s big move in the offseason was the trade for T Orlando Brown for the 31st pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Brown improves the pass protection on the blindside of Patrick Mahomes while showing growth as a run blocker in 2020.

Draft

LB Nick Bolton

Bolton should be sensational when attacking the line of scrimmage. He plays with vision and an excellent feel for the developing action. Bolton brings fire to the point of contact with a chance to hold his own in coverage. His only lacking trait is his speed in chase mode.

C Creed Humphrey

Humphrey has a high enough floor coming out of college to compete for the starting center position for the Chiefs. He understands his job with the vision to make the offensive line calls. He plays with grit and under gear if someone gets under his skin. Humphrey will have limited range but control his small area of the field with passion and desire. His foundation skill set puts him in the correct position to handle his assignments.

DE Joshua Kaindoh

He had a limited resume at Florida State while battling some injuries. When on the field, Kaindoh has the look of an attacking pass rusher with an intriguing combination of speed, power, and quickness. His motor and fight need work supporting the run. The key to turning his skills into production starts with adding more strength to help beat bigger bodies in the trenches.

TE Noah Gray

Gray doesn’t have a separator trait, but he works hard to improve his game. His size (6’3” and 240 lbs.) is closer to a big wide receiver. Gray has a feel for pass protection while needing to get stronger to handle the tougher competition at the next level. He won’t threaten a defense in the deep passing game.

WR Cornell Powell

Powell failed to outperform many talented wide receivers in his time at Clemson. He moves with speed and a high level of ball skills, but Powell has a questionable release while lacking a winning foundation in his route running. There is upside here, but he will need time to develop.

G Trey Smith

His shortfall comes with his footwork that leads to limited range and missed assignments. Smith has the power and strength to win at the point of contact, but defenders would rather beat him in space and leverage. He has plenty of work to do if he wants to reach a starting ceiling.


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Offensive Line

Kansas City fell to 16th in rushing yards (1,799) with 10 touchdowns. Their ball carriers gained 4.5 yards per rush with only 10 runs over 20 yards while averaging 25.2 carries per game.

They led in passing yards (5,005) with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. KC gained 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranked sixth. Their offensive line allowed 24 sacks.

LT Orlando Brown

Brown saw most of his snaps at right tackle for the Ravens in 2018 and 2019 before transitioning to the full-time left tackle in Week 8 last season. His pass blocking has been a strength. He did show risk in a couple of games last year against the pass rush, but Brown didn’t allow a sack from the left side of the line.

LG Joe Thuney

Over five seasons with Patriots after getting drafted in the third round, Thuney developed into one of the best players at his position in pass blocking. He allowed minimal pressure over the past two years while finishing as a slight asset in run blocking in each of the last four seasons.

C Creed Humphrey

Despite Austin Blythe having experience and some success, I expect Humphrey to win the starting center position early in the year. His advantage in pass protection should be the critical component over Blythe.

RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

The Chiefs signed Duvernay-Tardif to a five-year, $41.25 contract in February 2017. Over his first two seasons in the league, he excelled in pass protection. After missing the final 11 games in 2018 with a broken leg, his play failed to regain his form in pass blocking in 2019 while also regressing in the run game. Duvernay-Tardif opted out of 2020, which may lead to him losing his starting job to Kyle Long.

RT Mike Remmers

After a league-average career with the Panthers, Vikings, and Giants, Remmers signed with the Chiefs last season. He made 13 starts in 2020, with 11 coming at right tackle. Sacks can be a problem, and his ceiling in run blocking is very high.

OL Snapshot

The left side of the Chiefs’ offensive line looks improved. The center position can be league average, with the top two contenders offering different strengths. The right side of the line could be flux early in the year while not offering an edge over the long haul. For now, Kansas City ranks mid-pack for their offensive line, but their quarterback’s decision-making helps offset some of their downside.

Offense

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Despite leading to the league in passing yards, the Chiefs still ran the ball 39.1 percent of the time. Kansas City wants to outscore opponents led by their passing game. This season, they need to run the ball better in close and find more production out of their second and third wide receivers.

Quarterbacks

Patrick Mahomes

Three starting seasons (45 games) into Mahomes's career, he’s passed for 13,868 yards with 114 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, which works out to 308 yards and 2.5 passing touchdowns per game. Mahomes continues to add some production on the ground (62/308/2 in 2020). His regression yards per pass attempt (8.1) came from a step back in completions over 40 yards (8–26 over his first 30 contests).

As great as Mahomes was in 2020, he finished fourth in quarterback scoring (429.80 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Mahomes scored over 30.00 fantasy points in six weeks (30.50, 43.85, 34.10, 40.80, 35.20, and 36.90), but none over his final seven contests (including the playoffs). He battled a left toe injury that required surgery in February.

Fantasy Outlook: In the 2021 draft season, Mahomes will continue to be the first quarterback off the board. The question comes down to how much of an edge he is worth compared to the rising quarterback inventory. Last year, Mahomes relied heavily on Tyreek Hill (87/1,276/15) and Travis Kelce (105/1,416/11), while no other receiver caught over 45 passes. Kansas City addressed their offensive line, but they didn’t add any player with starting potential. Mahomes has league-leading upside but one significant injury to one of his top two receiving options. His starting point is 5,000 passing yards (17 games) with 40 touchdowns. To reach a higher ceiling, he needs growth from Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson.

Other Options: Chad Henne, Anthony Gordon, Shane Buechele

Running Backs

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Over the past two seasons, the Chiefs have been unable to create the explosiveness at running back they showcased in 2018 (2,502 combined yards with 26 touchdowns and 82 catches), with Kareem Hunt making big plays and scoring. Last year, their backs combined for 2,077 combined yards with 13 touchdowns and 76 catches.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Before getting injured in Week 13, Edwards-Helaire fell into the tease category in his rookie season. Kansas City worked him hard on opening day (25/138/1) in his NFL debut, setting up a fantasy buzz. He had 10 carries in the red zone in that matchup, seven inside the 10-yard line, and six rushes inside the 5-yard line. Over the next 10 games, the Chiefs barely used him in the red zone (16 carries) with only two other chances inside the five-yard line.

After 11 games, Edwards-Helaire gained 926 combined yards with five touchdowns and 30 catches while averaging 16.5 touches. He was on pace for 1,356 combined yards with eight scores and 44 catches (227.60 fantasy points in PPR leagues), which would have placed him 10th in running back scoring. Edwards-Helaire only had two games (20.90 and 20.70) with over 20 fantasy points.

He missed Week 13 with a stomach issue. A hip and an ankle injury led to three missed games.

Fantasy Outlook: Two things are working in favor of Edwards-Helaire in 2021. First, he should improve in his second season in the league, and the Chiefs don’t have a top-tier runner to steal his early-down chances. Secondly, Kansas City must play better on the ground, especially in the red zone. Edwards-Helaire seems mispriced in the early draft season (ADP – 26) as the 17th running back selected. His next step should be a minimum of 18 touches per game, leading to 1,500 combined yards with double-digit touchdowns and 50+ catches. He plays in one of the best offenses in the league, which means a top 10 running back opportunity.

Jerick McKinnon

After gaining momentum in 2017 with the Vikings (991 combined yards with five touchdowns and 51 catches), injuries cost McKinnon all of the following two seasons with the 49ers. San Francisco gave him 47 touches over their first four games in 2020, leading to 295 combined yards with four touchdowns and 13 catches. They phased him out of the running back rotation in most weeks over their final 12 games (277 combined yards with two touchdowns and 20 catches).

Fantasy Outlook: McKinnon averaged only 3.7 yards per rush and 7.3 yards per catch over his last three seasons of action. His best value should come in the passing game.

Darrell Williams

When Clyde Edwards-Helaire went down with his ankle issue, Williams saw double-digit touches in three matchups. Over this span, he gained 228 combined yards with one touchdown and 10 catches. Kansas City barely used him over their other games, leading to only 285 combined yards with one touchdown and 18 catches.

Fantasy Outlook: Williams doesn’t have a high ceiling, and he isn’t a lock to be the Chiefs’ top handcuff in 2021. He’ll after pick in 200 in most fantasy leagues.

Darwin Thompson

In 2019, Thompson drew some attention from fantasy owners after he played well in the preseason (98 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches). The Chiefs looked elsewhere for upside once the regular season started, leading to only 171 combined yards with one score and nine catches.

Thompson is an undersized back (5’8” and 200 lbs.) who lacks the wheels to beat an NFL defense on the outside or test a defense with long runs. He has a grinder feel as a north/south runner. His second gear lacks explosiveness, along with his short-area quickness. Thompson may develop as a viable threat out of the backfield.

In 2020, he finished with 162 combined yards with two touchdowns and seven catches on only 34 touches. His highlight game came in Week 17 (110 combined yards with two touchdowns and seven catches).

Fantasy Outlook: Based on his late-season flash and potential three-down ability, I would follow Thompson’s movement on the Chiefs’ depth chart. His age and ceiling make the most sense as the top handcuff to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2021.

Other Options: Elijah McGuire, Derrick Gore

Wide Receivers

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The wide receiver opportunity for the Chiefs improved by about 25 percent as far as completions (225 – 181 in 2019), but their wideouts gained only 12.9 yards per catch (14.9 in 2019). They set a three-year high in touchdowns (25) and targets (330).

Tyreek Hill

In his fifth season with the Chiefs, Hill almost had the identical season (87/1,399/17) as in 2018 (87/1,630/13) while missing one game (rest in Week 17). Despite an excellent year, he gained over 100 yards receiving only three times in the regular season (9/113/2, 11/102/1, and 13/269/3), which game over three straight weeks. Hill scored in every game except Week 6 (3/25) and Week 13 (6/88). He failed to find the end zone in the postseason while being productive each week (8/119, 9/172, and 7/78).

Hill finished with double-digit targets in nine games (including the postseason), but only twice over his first eight weeks. He finished as the second-highest scoring wide receiver (329.10 fantasy points) in PPR leagues.

Fantasy Outlook: Hill doesn’t fit the high-volume catch skill set (12 games with six catches or fewer), but he makes up for it with his ability to make big plays (20 catches over 20 yards) and scoring (17 touchdowns). His catches over 40 yards regressed over the previous three years. His missing link is consistent targets each week. Hill looks poised to catch over 100 passes for 1,500+ yards with impact scores with a healthy season. Fantasy owners can find him in the late first round in most 12-team leagues.

Mecole Hardman

Patrick Mahomes struggled to get Hardman the ball in almost every game while working as their WR3/WR4 in most weeks. He only had one week (7/96/1) with more than four catches while averaging only 3.9 targets. Over his final 11 matchups, including the playoffs, Hardman gained fewer than 50 yards in 10 games. His best stat was his catch rate (66.1).

Hardman gained 20.7 yards per catch in his rookie season, with over one-third of his catches (9 of 26) gaining over 20 yards.

Fantasy Outlook: Based on his ADP (143) in early June, not many fantasy owners will fight for Hardman on draft day. His big-play skill set will lead to streaky value from week to week. He has the makings of a third-year breakout player with a chance to offer multiple impact games. Hardman should push his game toward 65 catches for 1,000 yards with about eight scores.

Demarcus Robinson

Kansas City gave Robinson the second most wide receiver snaps last year, mainly due to his ability to help in run blocking. Over the past three seasons, he improved on his catches and receiving yards each year. Robinson finished 2020 with 45 catches for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 59 targets. He scored over 15.00 fantasy points in only one game (4/63/1). Over the last two years, Robinson had 14 catches over 20 yards.

Fantasy Outlook: Robinson continues to improve, and he will catch (76.2 percent in 2020) a high number of passes thrown to him. With more length on his catches (10.7 yards in 2020), Robinson looks to be on a path for 60 catches for 800+ yards and five to seven scores.

Antonio Callaway

In the early draft season, fantasy owners are drafting Callaway as the Chiefs’ WR3 which is a big assumption. He flashed in his rookie season (43/586/5 on 79 targets). Over the past two seasons, he only caught 10 passes for 109 yards over nine games for the Browns and Dolphins. Only a follow until Callaway makes the team.

Other Options: Byron Pringle, Cornell Powell, Marcus Kemp, Daurice Fountain

Tight Ends

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Kansas City gave their tight ends about 28 percent of the completions over the last two seasons. They gained more than 29 percent of the Chiefs’ receiving yards in three straight years.

Travis Kelce

The stud of studs at tight end remains Kelce. He gained over 1,000 yards for the fifth straight year. In 2020, he set career-highs in catches (105), receiving yards (1,416), and touchdowns (11) while averaging 9.7 targets.

His season started with 40 catches for 501 yards and five touchdowns over his first seven weeks. Over this span, he gained over 100 yards in one game (8/108/2). Kansas City featured him in the passing game over his final 11 starts (96/1,275/9 on 129 targets), including the postseason. He had a floor of seven catches in each game while gaining over 100 yards in seven matchups.

Fantasy Outlook: Kelce continues to be a significant edge at the tight end position. Last year, he outscored all but three wide receivers and three running backs. His late-season success and the Chiefs’ questions at WR2 and WR3 points to another excellent season. His ADP (8) makes sense if Kelce lives up to his preseason hype and projections (110/1,500/12). Just for comparison, he needs 713 catches and 7,246 receiving yards to tie Tony Gonzalez for his career.

Other Options: Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Kick Keizer, Evan Baylis

Kicker

Harrison Butker

Butker is off to a great start to his NFL career while back-drafting Justin Tucker in field goal percentage (90.3 – 2nd highest all-time). In 2019, he led the league in kicker scoring (175.10), field goals made (34), and field goal attempts (38). Last year, Butker slip to 14th in kicker scoring (141.20) due to a drop in field goal tries (11 fewer than 2019). Over the past three years, he missed 13 of his 171 extra points. Butker is 13-for-18 in his career from 50 yards or more.

Fantasy Outlook: Butker can kick with the best legs in the league, but his team tends to score too many touchdowns. He has a high floor and the leg to excel if Kansas City stalls in the red zone. Butker should be the second kicker drafted in most fantasy leagues in 2021.

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Defense

The Chiefs pushed up to 21st against the run (1,954 yards). They allowed 4.5 yards per carry with 14 rushing touchdowns and eight rushes over 20 yards.

Kansas City dropped to 14th in passing yards allowed (3,779) with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Their defense regressed in 32 sacks while allowing 54 catches of 20 yards or more.

DE Mike Danna

In limited action his rookie season, he made 25 tackles with 2.5 sacks.

DE Frank Clark

In his second season with Kansas City, Clark finished with 29 tackles, six sacks, and two defended passes over 15 games. His run defense was the worst of his career, despite improving his tackling. Clark offers the most upside in the pass rush.

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DT Chris Jones

After an impactful 2018 season (40 tackles, 15.5 sacks, one interception, four defended passes and one touchdown), Jones saw a regression in his sack output in 2019 (nine sacks) and 2020 (7.5 sacks). His run defense came in below his career path due to a significant increase in missed tackles.

DT Jarran Reed

Reed developed his pass-rushing skills (19 sacks ) over the past three seasons with the Seahawks. His game peaked in 2018 (50 tackles and 10.5 sacks). Reed is league-average against the run.

LB Nick Bolton

Bolton should slide into the starting lineup in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round. His best value should come in run support while also having the chance to handle pass coverage. Bolton is undersized (5’11” and 235 lbs.) with some restrictions in his speed.

LB Anthony Hitchens

Over three seasons with the Chiefs, Hitchens has 301 tackles and two sacks while showing the most value in 2018 (135 tackles). Only once in his career has he been considered an asset vs. the run. Hitchens tends to allow a high catch rate with some damage in receiving touchdowns.

LB Willie Gay

In his rookie season, he made 39 tackles with one sack. His run defense will improve when he corrects his tackling issues.

CB L’Jarius Sneed

He made 41 tackles with two sacks, three interceptions, and seven defended passes in his rookie season. Sneed came up short in run support and expectations are high for Year 2.

CB Charvarius Ward

Ward was one of the better cornerbacks in the league in 2019 in his completion rate against, but he also had risk at times in the deep passing game. Last year, wide receivers made smaller plays, but they beat Ward for some scores and a higher catch rate. His success or failure falls on the passing window created by the Chiefs’ pass rush.

CB Mike Hughes

KC traded for the former first-round pick, plucking him away from the Vikings. He projects as the team's starting nickel corner.

S Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu finished with 62 tackles, no sacks, six interceptions, and nine defended passes. He played well in run support for the second time in three seasons.

S Juan Thornhill

In his first two seasons, Thornhill made 99 tackles, four interceptions, eight defended passes, and a touchdown. He continues to struggle against the run.

S Daniel Sorensen

He led the team in combined tackles (91) and should see that role continue on given his penchant to be in the mix on almost every play.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

The buzz of this defense starts with the pass rush by Chris Jones and Frank Clark. There is work to be done to stop the run while having a big question at one cornerback and safety slot in the starting lineup. The structure at linebacker should improve, but I don’t see a difference-maker at any position in 2021. In the fantasy market, I view this defense as a backup option with possible matchup value. 

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