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Team Previews

Kansas City Chiefs 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 7, 2021, 1:27 am ET

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,653 (1st)

Total Touchdowns: 53 (8th)

Offensive Plays: 1,057 (7th)

Pass Attempts: 630 (3rd)

Rush Attempts: 403 (23rd)

Unaccounted for Targets: 87 (18th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 70 (22nd)

 

Coaching Staff

Approaching his ninth season as Kansas City’s skipper, Andy Reid’s offenses have ranked top-six in total yards and points the past four years, most recently compiling league-highs in yards (414.7) and first downs (24.8) per game as an unstoppable force during the regular season. The Buccaneers became an immovable object in Super Bowl LV, registering four sacks and five quarterback hits while hurrying Patrick Mahomes on 62.5% of his dropbacks, which ultimately compelled GM Brett Veach to overhaul the trenches with an influx of talent. The Chiefs have long favored a zone blocking system with smaller, more athletic linemen but could partake in a schematic change with LT Orlando Brown (6’8/345), LG Joe Thuney (6’5/308), second-round C Creed Humphrey (6’5/320), and rookie RG Trey Smith (6’6/330) up front.

 

Passing Offense

QB: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne

WR: Tyreek Hill

WR: Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson

WR: Byron Pringle, Cornell Powell

TE: Travis Kelce, Noah Grey

Life was simple enough for Mahomes to open the year, rolling to a 6-1 record with below league-average rates in pass attempts (34.6) and pass play rate from neutral game script (56%, 21st), only for Reid to stop toying with his food in November and open the dams for the league's second-highest pass play rate in one-score situations and fourth-highest with a lead. That change in approach allowed Mahomes to average an increased 43 attempts from Week 8 on, compiling a position-high 26.3 fantasy points per game over the second half of the season. Adding 4.6 carries per game (across 27 starts) since he returned from a dislocated kneecap in Week 10 of the 2019 season, it takes an excuse not to have Mahomes ranked atop his position for both fantasy and bar debates.

Previously dependent on touchdowns and uber-efficiency within Kansas City’s offense, the situation initially appeared to be the same for Hill, who averaged 6.8 targets and failed to eclipse 100 receiving yards through Week 8. The script flipped with the team’s mid-season change in offensive philosophy, jamming Hill a concerted 11.2 targets per game (including 10.3 in three postseason starts) over his last 10 contests. Still projected for volume both downfield (league’s fourth-most air yards) and in the red zone (team-high 15 end zone targets) following the departure of Sammy Watkins and his vacated 5.5 targets per game, Hill enters the year as fantasy’s unanimous overall WR1.

Expected to break out the moment Watkins was lost for five games mid-year, 22-year-old Hardman continued struggling with the intricacies of the position and failed to emerge as the third man on the totem pole, averaging 3.4 targets and 43.4 receiving yards on just one more route than Byron Pringle (101-100) in that span. The latter didn’t produce much more (8/85/0) in Watkins’ stead but did run 82 routes to Hardman’s not-so-nice 69 in the postseason and received a second-round tender to return in 2021. Demarcus Robinson actually ran more routes than both (94) in the playoffs but totaled two catches on five targets because he’s Demarcus Robinson. With Watkins' 234 slot snaps from last year up for grabs, the entire trio of Hardman (110.0 ADP), Robinson (188.4) and Pringle (209.8) are worth taking shots on in hopes that one materializes into a weekly WR3/4. Having said that, Pringle’s availability in the last round is an easier pill to swallow than Hardman’s ninth-round bullet.

Darren Waller closed the year with 43/654/4 over his last five games and yet Kelce, who careered with the most receiving yards (1,416) and second-most fantasy points (312.8) for a tight end in league history, still finished with a 34.1-point lead as the overall TE1 for the fifth consecutive season. Having recorded at least six catches in 15-of-18 games with a team-high 25.2% target share last year, even the 31-year-old’s anomaly performance following a career-high 11 touchdowns shouldn’t budge his outlook atop the tight end hierarchy for 2021. Prioritizing his position in the first round has been far more successful in TE-Premium leagues than PPR or standard formats and Kelce’s dominance deserves that consideration again this year. The team will also reportedly run “more two-tight end sets than they’ve ever used” after trading up for fifth-round Duke TE Noah Gray; I'll believe it when I see it since only 2.1% (8-of-373) of tight ends drafted in the fifth round or later have recorded 400-plus receiving yards in their first year. Gray remains a tremendous stash for dynasty given Kelce’s career status.

 

Running Game

RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon, Darwin Thompson

OL (L-R): Orlando Brown Jr.-Joe Thuney-Creed Humphrey-Laurent Duvernay-Tardif-Mike Remmers

Still in the same calendar year as his egregious ADP-spike to the first/second-round turn as the surprising No. 32 overall pick during 2020’s pandemic-centric NFL Draft, Edwards-Helaire has since been publicly left for dead after failing to punch in even one of his team-high seven carries inside the 10-yard line (including six from inside the five) on national television in Week 1. Those ensuing results (in an island performance nonetheless) have overshadowed that elite opportunity over time as the 22-year-old quietly averaged 17.8 carries and 5.2 targets through Kansas City’s first six games, receiving 25 touches in three separate instances in that span. The corpse of Le’Veon Bell joined the party in Week 7, forcing Edwards-Helaire to earn 9.8 carries per game through ankle and hip injuries for the rest of the year, but those first six starts — proof of Reid’s belief in the first-rounder as a true workhorse — are why fantasy players should overcome their recency bias and treat the latter as a low-end RB1. He’s currently ranked as such in my Best-Ball Tiers and will likely close the summer as my highest rostered player given where he falls in drafts. Darrel ‘The Mentor’ Williams and Jerick McKinnon serve as viable last-round darts that could provide committee value if Edwards-Helaire were injured. Darwin Thompson is a better theory than NFL player.

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Win Total

The Chiefs unsurprisingly opened with Vegas’ highest projected Win Total for the 2021 NFL year, accepting plus-odds if confident enough to bet Over 12.5 wins (+110) in an inaugural 17-game season. Though the next closest number in the AFC West (Chargers, 9.0) suggests a runaway given the surrounding talent and core pieces for Kansas City’s organization, the Under vig (-140) essentially forces bettors to either lean in one direction or pass altogether. I’m choosing the latter.