Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Kansas City Chiefs Buying Guide

With the preseason here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Kansas City Chiefs…

If there’s an offensive revolution coming to the NFL, last year’s Week 11 game between the Chiefs and Rams was a modern Battle of Lexington and Concord. The league’s two best offenses traded cannon blasts and musket fire in a wildly entertaining skirmish that the Rams won 54-51. The total offensive damage: 105 points, 56 first downs and 1,001 total yards.

The Rams outdueled the Chiefs that night, but it’s Kansas City that has the most potent and entertaining offense we’ve seen since St. Louis hosted “The Greatest Show on Turf” at the turn of the century. The Rams of that era peaked offensively in 2000, when they averaged 33.8 points and 442.2 yards per game. The 2018 Chiefs averaged 35.3 points and 425.6 yards.

“But defense wins championships,” say the people who forget that we would have gotten a Rams-Chiefs rematch in the Super Bowl if Dee Ford hadn’t picked the worst possible time to line up in the neutral zone, nullifying a Chiefs interception of Tom Brady with under a minute left in the AFC Championship Game and the Chiefs leading 28-24.

Obviously, the Chiefs drip fantasy goodness like the ribs at Arthur Bryant’s drip barbecue sauce. But the ribs at Bryant’s are more affordable than most of the Chiefs’ fantasy assets.

The engine powering the Chiefs’ 18-wheel offense is, of course, Patrick Mahomes. The word “generational” is so freighted with hyperbole that it’s become a term of derision on Fantasy Twitter, yet Mahomes is a player you’re going to be telling your grandchildren about. The son of former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes, the younger Mahomes has a fastball that could snap a two-by-four but can also feather in touch throws so precisely you’d think he was using military targeting technology. The kid is also whimsically creative, as we saw when he completed a left-handed throw while on a dead run

A 5,000-yard, 50-TD season in his first year as a starter? It boggles the mind. Sure, there’s probably going to be some recoil on those numbers, but Mahomes is still going to be a frequent box-score hero even if the barber of regression gets out his shears and takes a little off the top.

The question is where Mahomes should go in drafts when the QB position is as deep as it’s ever been. He’s ranked 40th overall on my board, which would put him in the fourth round of a 12-team draft,  but he’ll go earlier than that in home leagues. I’d consider talking him in the third if it allowed me to stack him with one of the Chiefs’ star pass catchers. I’d also consider taking Mahomes earlier than 40th in a 10-team draft, where the importance of the “onesie” positions (QB and TE) is magnified.

And make no mistake: The Chiefs have better onesies than Babies R Us. Mahomes is the consensus QB1, and Travis Kelce is the undisputed TE1. Kelce had already established himself as a difference-maker at tight end before Mahomes took the keys to the offense from Alex Smith. Now, the combination of Mahomes’ arrival and Rob Gronkowski’s retirement have Kelce sitting atop the position unchallenged.

“Zeus” established new career highs across the board in 2018 with 103 catches for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, finishing TE1, TE2 and TE1 over that span.

Kelce will be a first-rounder in most drafts, and I get it. He gives you a tremendous advantage at a position that can be difficult to adequately fill. I have Kelce ranked as an early second-rounder, but that reflects personal preference rather than any sort of concern about Kelce’s 2019 outlook. I just don’t like letting the RB and WR positions get away from me in the early rounds.

Some people faded Tyreek Hill going into the 2018 season, thinking he couldn’t match the number of big plays he made in 2017. Hill went out and improved his numbers across the board, finishing fourth in the league in both receiving yardage and TD catches, and leading all wide receivers in fantasy scoring. Big plays? Hill had a league-high 27 receptions covering 20 yards or more.

Hill’s talent is undeniable. No cornerback can run with him, he’s terrific at tracking deep balls, and he’s a hell of a route runner. If Hill were a model citizen, a lot of people would be ranking him WR1.

Of course, Hill has not been a model citizen, and a lot of people are outraged that he dodged a suspension. That’s the risk here. It’s a good bet that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would come down hard on Hill for any slipup. There are a lot of people who’d love to see Hill banished for the slightest misstep – speeding, jaywalking, failing to leave 20% on a tab, whistling on a Tuesday, whatever.

How willing are you to bet that Hill walks the straight and narrow for the next four months? I have him ranked WR7, which matches his ADP. I’d be willing to take him in the middle of the second round, but I think he’ll come off the board closer to the Rd. 1/Rd. 2 turn in most 12-team drafts.

Sammy Watkins’ fantasy value is tough to peg. The fourth overall pick of the 2014 draft, Watkins has been hindered by foot injuries, causing a lot of fantasy owners to back away from him. Maybe we shouldn’t be so gun-shy.

Sure, he’s a third wheel in this passing game behind Kelce and Hill, but Watkins had at least five targets in seven of the eight games he finished. (He left two games early with injuries – sigh.) He wasn’t used as a field stretcher the way he was in Buffalo – the Chiefs have Hill for that – but Watkins has enough nuance as a route runner to thrive in more of a possession role. I’m not sure if he plays to his 4.43 times speed anymore, but he’s still fast enough to occasionally turn a short completion into a big gain.

Watkins’ injury history makes for a low floor, but in this offense, with Mahomes as his QB, the ceiling is potentially lofty, particularly if one of the other primary pass catchers were to go down before Watkins did. His ADP of WR32 is fair, balancing the risk and the possible reward.

Mecole Hardman was taken in the first round of a lot of dynasty rookie drafts when it appeared Hill was facing a long suspension. Hardman has 4.33 speed and was being viewed by some as a Hill proxy, and the fact that Hardman was drafted in the second round further emboldened investors. But some saw Hardman as a draft reach. He wasn’t a regular starter at Georgia, and in his final season with the Bulldogs he topped out at 35-543-7. Although he might connect on a handful of big plays, Hardman has no stand-alone value this year.

Two other Chiefs WRs worth at least monitoring: Demarcus Robinson, who had 22-288-4 last year, and Byron Pringle, an intriguing former undrafted free agent from Kansas State.

Damien Williams has been one of the most hotly debated fantasy assets of the offseason. The Williams advocates point to his performance down the stretch last season – 602 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns over the Chiefs’ last six games, including the playoffs – and reason that he’s still the lead back in the NFL’s most explosive offense. The naysayers counter than Williams is 27, had done little to ever warrant fantasy interest before inheriting a lead role after Kareem Hunt was released and Spencer Ware was injured, gave us only a small sample of excellent results, and has a humble pedigree as a former undrafted free agent.

Still, even the Williams skeptics rank him as a top-20 running back. The most avid Williams enthusiasts see him as a low-end RB1. I have him at RB14. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which Williams continues to smash, leveraging his run-catch versatility to produce at an RB1 level over a full season. Priest Holmes was a late bloomer too, backing up Jamal Lewis in Baltimore for two years before coming to Kansas City at age 27 and unleashing a 3.5-year hail of destruction that made him one of the most valuable fantasy commodities we’ve ever seen.

But it’s also conceivable that Williams could end up in a committee or lose the starting gig on merit. The Chiefs have given us mixed messages about Williams’ 2019 usage, so this is a tough call. A couple of months ago, I was willing to grab Williams late in the second round of 12-team drafts. Now, I wouldn’t consider him until the early-to-mid third.

Darwin Thompson is a big reason I’m getting cold feet on Williams. It would be silly to say that no one knew about Williams a couple of months ago since shrewd fantasy owners have been keeping an eye on this backfield all offseason, but only a few voices in the wilderness were suggesting that Thompson could stake a major claim in this offense. The drumbeat has been getting louder in recent weeks, and his impressive performances in the preseason have put the fantasy world on notice. Thompson is now going to be drafted in every home league, and you’ll probably have to be aggressive if you want to get him.

Thompson was a junior college transfer who played one season at Utah State before going pro early. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry and 15.3 yards per catch in his only season with the Aggies, scoring 16 touchdowns on 176 touches. He’s not a special athlete, but he’s good in the passing game and is surprisingly tough to bring down for a 5-8, 200-pound back.

Thompson’s average draft position and expert consensus ranking should be disregarded since they don’t capture the rapidly growing interest. I currently have him at RB44, and I might be creeping him up the board a few more spots in the days to come.

Thompson was less attractive when it appeared he’d be a third wheel in this backfield, but Chiefs beat writers have been speculating that Carlos Hyde could be released. A former Ohio State star, Hyde was seen as the heir to Frank Gore’s throne in San Francisco coming out of college but was broadsided by soft tissue and foot issues early in his career and hasn’t been able to achieve full liftoff. 

Hyde used to have appeal as a 6-0, 230-pounder who moved well for a bigger back, but he turns 29 in September and seems an odd fit for this offense since he isn’t regarded as much of a pass catcher. Even if Hyde makes the final 53, he’s not an appealing target.

If Hyde is shown the door, Darrel Williams becomes the No. 3 RB. He’s a 6-0, 225-pound thumper who played behind Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice at LSU before finally getting a little bit of run as a senior. Williams might have sneaky goal-line potential, and he’s surprisingly competent as a pass catcher.

Patrick MahomesQB1QB1QB1A bit pricey
Damien WilliamsRB14RB13RB13Tricky call
Darwin ThompsonRB44RB67RB59Screaming
Carlos HydeRB62RB50RB45Just say no
Tyreek HillWR7WR7WR7Icky buy
Sammy WatkinsWR34WR32WR31Boom/bust
Mecole HardmanWR85WR74WR59Too soon
Travis KelceTE1TE1TE1Hail Zeus

ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)