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Viewing Chiefs Pass-Catchers From a Fantasy Perspective

Kansas City lays claim to perhaps the NFL's best offense. As fantasy season approaches, how many of their skill position players deserve a look?

Despite boasting the No. 1 standing in nearly every conceivable offensive metric, the Kansas City Chiefs — like a Steve Spagnuolo-led defense on third down — remain incredibly difficult to get a read on from a fantasy football perspective.

The reigning Super Bowl champions boast both (perhaps) the best quarterback and tight end on the planet. Even considering the security that comes with attempting to acquire them, however, come a few baked-in questions. At the tight end position, Travis Kelce has pieced together arguably NFL history’s greatest seasons as a 30-year-old, 31-year-old, 32-year-old, and 33-year-old. Is it worth pushing luck in hope that Year 34 will be just as fruitful?

Among a few others: How soon is too soon to snag Patrick Mahomes? How much better will Isiah Pacheco’s year two be? Is it even worth investing in a wide receiver on the NFL’s top-ranked offense? Did we really just ask that question? Below is some insight on a few of those, focusing in on the Chiefs’ pass-catchers.

Is age just a number for Travis Kelce in Round 1?

It’s unclear how legitimate it was, but the argument surrounding the NFL’s No. 1 tight end may have been officially put to rest following Kelce’s 2022 campaign — culminating with a First Team All-Pro nod, career-highs in receptions (110) and touchdowns (12) and a Super Bowl ring for good measure. Yet, for as much as he paced the position in real life, it might’ve been even more demonstrative in the fantasy world.

Kelce finished 2022 with 316.3 points in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. The next-best player, T.J. Hockenson (215.4), was a full 100-plus points behind. That positional edge has Kelce’s average draft position (ADP) at 6.0, meaning that realistically, there are only five players most would select ahead of No. 87. The next best at tight end: Mark Andrews (27.8), Hockenson (44.0), George Kittle (47.3) and Darren Waller (57.3). In “tight end premium" leagues featuring point boosts at the position, one could make the case that Kelce commands No. 1 pick consideration.

That’s nearly 200 words explaining what you already knew. Yet, even so, analysts remain conflicted on whether to bite on the 34-year-old’s hefty price tag, largely for that reason: age. Some say it’s better to be one year early on projecting that regression than being right in the middle of it.

A respectable approach, sure. But if the fantasy football world is aware of it, Andrew Walter Reid is, too. The Chiefs have become cognizant of Kelce’s snap count — it has regressed to 80% in 2022-23 — dropping it in every season since he turned 30. In trade, they’ve utilized him in more high-leverage situations; he paced the NFL in targets inside the 20-yard-line (30) and inside the 10-yard line (19). No game exemplifies that quite like his seven-catch, 25-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece on Monday Night Football in Week 5.

To illustrate how his brilliance compares to both fellow tight ends and against other potential choices in his area, a la Tyreek Hill or Austin Ekeler:

kc graphic

To be secured at fantasy football’s most volatile position (53 different tight ends finished in the top 10) and one you have to play anyways, makes Kelce worth the look. That's especially true when you consider when those single-digit weeks came. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a mid-December race and needing your tight end to provide a 10-point performance, only for them to give you a doughnut. A whopping 36.2% of those single-digit games came after Week 12, a time in which teams’ margin for error was much slimmer.

Kelce’s speed, both on-field and in how quickly he is to respond to trash talk, hasn't seemed to decline by a mere second. He remains motivated and on a team without a surefire wideout No. 1, he offers a rare mix of the highest floor and the highest ceiling. It’s difficult to argue against him at any point in Round 1.

Who can be trusted among the receivers?

The rationale behind selecting a Chiefs receiver, even if for a dart throw, is a case in simple arithmetic. If he remains healthy, Mahomes is as safe a bet for a 5,000-yard season as there is. Penciling in Kelce for his yearly 1,300-yard season means that there’s roughly 3,500-ish yards left to divvy up to someone.

Sometimes, you can project greatness on an up-and-coming receiver, something the Chiefs have in abundance. At other times, warnings write themselves. In 2022, Mahomes went as far as to issue an apology to fantasy owners wondering which wideout to snag in acknowledgement of how he planned to spread the ball around

And boy, did he. The chart above, outlining the week-for-week position leaders, has more faces than a high school yearbook. Among the most intriguing takeaways:

  • Six different wideouts led the Chiefs at some point.
  • Kadarius Toney led the wideouts in Week 16 with one catch.
  • There were four instances in which it took fewer than two receptions to be the Chiefs’ WR1.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster, commonly No. 1 last season, is off to the New England Patriots. Thus, the Chiefs enter 2023-24 high in vacated targets (135) and air yards (1,104).
  • The Chiefs "WR1,” on average, finished with: 82 catches, 1,225 yards and seven TDs. Extrapolated over a full season, those numbers would’ve commanded 246.5 PPR points. This would’ve ranked No. 11 — right in between Amari Cooper and Ja’Marr Chase — if only it came consistently from one player.

The tea leaves, despite how quickly we’ve jumped to praise Chiefs receivers, makes it incredibly difficult to find a fantasy standout. In a span of two months, we’ve seen Justyn Ross become the darling of OTAs, Skyy Moore take first-team reps and the Chiefs declare that Kadarius Toney could be the top dog. This doesn’t even account for second-round pick Rashee Rice, a show-stealer in the preseason. 

From a fantasy perspective, there’s so much to smile about that there’s, in turn, nothing to smile about.

Realistically, the Chiefs' wideouts will be better on-field field players than they will be on fantasy box scores. To play both sides, there’s opportunity. Mahomes was the only quarterback with 100-plus passes inside an opponent's 20-yard line (123), and his 73 passes inside the 10 were 20 more than No. 2 (Kirk Cousins, 53). That sounds swell until you consider that only 13 of Mahomes’s 41 touchdowns went to receivers and Kansas City ran 12 personnel at the NFL’s second-highest rate.

Toney, WR47 according to ADP, might remain the safest of the dart throws given his talent and the special teams touches baked in. Nonetheless, those watching from their couches and those playing on the field will, coincidentally, both be tasked with answering the same impossible question:

Outside of Kelce, who on earth is No. 15 going to impose his will with this week?