Kansas City Chiefs Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Indulge In Travis Kelce

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

Tyreek Hill already had fantasy hearts aflutter after scoring 12 touchdowns as a rookie and making more splash plays than a toddler in a wading pool, but then the Chiefs surprised everyone by releasing veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin in early June, and suddenly Tyreek-a-Mania was runnin’ wild.

Wide receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Tyreek Hill WR21 WR36 No thanks

With the clear expectation that Hill will absorb a hefty share of Maclin’s vacated targets, Hill’s Fantasy Football Calculator ADP has soared to a mid-fourth-round level, more than two rounds ahead of Larry Fitzgerald and more than three rounds ahead of Emmanuel Sanders. That’s absurdly expensive for a player I view as a well-to-do version of Taylor Gabriel. Hill’s ADP is a shelf cloud forming over the heartland, and I recommend that drafters stay inside rather than come out for the picnic. There are more red flags here than in Moscow during a May Day parade.

Hill scored a touchdown every 9.4 touches last season. That rate is destined to crash, and his 2016 catch rate of 73.5% is probably in for a tumble, too. Much of Hill’s value last year came as a runner (267 yards, three TDs), but counting on rushing production from a wide receiver is folly. Hill may well see a significant target bump, but expecting a massive target windfall in a slow-paced, run-heavy offense is a stretch. Hill’s inherited status as the Chiefs’ top receiver is a mixed blessing, as he’ll routinely come face to face with opponents’ best cornerbacks – and the AFC West is loaded with good ones. At 5-10 (a generous listing) and 185 pounds, Hill doesn’t exactly have prototypical size for a go-to receiver. And have you taken a look at Hill’s college stats? He had less than 550 receiving yards in each of his three college seasons, including a year at Garden City Community College and a year at West Alabama, where the competition wasn’t exactly what you’d call first-rate. In 2014, Hill received three years’ probation for choking his pregnant girlfriend and punching her in the stomach. If he steps out of line, the NFL will almost assuredly hammer him with a long suspension.

I want no part of Hill in any fantasy draft.

The Chiefs’ other projected starter at wide receiver is third-year man Chris Conley, who combines 4.35 speed with good size (6-3, 205) but had fewer than 700 receiving yards in each of his four seasons at the University of Georgia and has scored one touchdown in 32 regular-season games with the Chiefs. Another third-year man, Albert Wilson, might have a chance to catch 50-plus balls as a slot man, mostly on empty-calorie receptions underneath. Neither Conley nor Wilson registers a top-80 ADP. I have Conley ranked WR76, Wilson WR80. Demarcus Robinson and rookie Jehu Chesson could conceivably work their way into deep-league relevance, though the Chiefs’ low-voltage passing game discourages WR speculation.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Travis Kelce TE2 TE2 Indulge

While I have little enthusiasm for Tyreek Hill, the thought of what Travis “Zeus” Kelce might do in a Maclin-less offense gives me Zeusbumps. Kelce had 85 catches for 1,125 yards last season on 117 targets, and there’s a decent chance he lands in the 130-140 target range this year, given the lack of proven talent in the Kansas City WR corps.

Kelce has churned out more than 850 receiving yards for three consecutive seasons, but he’s scored just 14 touchdowns over those 48 regular-season games. It’s unlikely that Kelce could ever have a 10-TD season in this offense, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t beat his single-season high of five touchdowns. Kelce has an early-fourth-round ADP of TE2, and I’d be comfortable taking him anywhere in the third round. I think the drop-off from Rob Gronkowski and Kelce to Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Jimmy Graham is pretty steep, though some see it as more of a gentle slope.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Alex Smith QB26 QB25 Zzzzzzzzzzz

The Kansas City offense could really use a good bandleader. What the Chiefs need is James Brown. Unfortunately, they’re stuck with Lawrence Welk.

Alex Smith is now 33 and has never gotten over his pathological aversion to throwing downfield. Smith finished 22nd in passing yardage last season, yet his 3,502 yards were a new career high. He also had a career-high five rushing touchdowns last season yet finished 23rd in QB fantasy scoring. The Chiefs traded up in this year’s draft to select Smith’s eventual replacement, the rocket-armed but raw Patrick Mahomes, and it’s possible the changing of the guard could take place before the end of the regular season. Smith’s ADP reflects his lack of value in anything but 2-QB or superflex leagues.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Spencer Ware RB16 RB19 Get exposure
Kareem Hunt RB37 RB40 Consider

The most polarizing issue related to Kansas City is barbecue – specifically, which restaurant serves up the tastiest ribs, brisket, burnt ends, etc., in a town that loves its smoky meats. (I’m an Arthur Bryant’s man myself.) The second most polarizing K.C. issue is the Chiefs’ backfield – specifically, which running back is going to emerge as the better fantasy value. One camp believes Spencer Ware is a solid value at his current ADP of RB17. The other camp believes it’s only a matter of time before rookie Kareem Hunt (RB40) seizes the lead role.

Ware totaled 1,368 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns last season, finishing RB16 despite missing two games. Those who lack enthusiasm for Ware have undoubtedly noted that after a strong start last year, he had fewer than 70 rushing yards in each of his last eight games. Ware had a very unremarkable college career at LSU, topping out at 707 rushing yards and nine total TDs in his sophomore year, and has ordinary athleticism. The counterargument is that his tape the last two years has been pretty convincing.

Hunt, a third-round pick from Toledo, had a terrific college career (albeit in a non-Power Five conference), rushing for 4,945 yards and 44 touchdowns over his career and averaging 6.3 yards per carry. In his penultimate college game, Ware ripped apart a pretty good Western Michigan defense, rushing 20 times for 200 yards and a touchdown, and adding three receptions for 73 yards. Based on measurables, Hunt is no more athletically gifted than Ware, and Ware has a 20-pound weight advantage.

I haven’t chosen a side yet, but this is a backfield I want to invest in because of how run-heavy the Chiefs have been. Since Andy Reid became the Chiefs’ head coach in 2013, K.C. has finished 14th, 9th, 6th and 14th in percentage of running plays. Though it’s not clear how the division of labor will shake out, this backfield should be a reasonably fertile source of fantasy value. I’ll probably put down a few bets on both Ware and Hunt, and I’ll keep Charcandrick West’s name in my waiver-wire Rolodex in case of injury.

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