KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Year two of the Scott Pioli rebuilding project begins with many of the same questions the Chiefs faced heading into the GM's first season in Kansas City. Was Matt Cassel a one-year wonder? Can Dwayne Bowe ever fully capitalize on his potential? Will the offensive line be any good?
To help answer those (and other) questions, Pioli employed a familiar formula; add former Patriots. When Pioli migrated from New England to Kansas City after the 2008 season, he built a pipeline from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest that's been steadily funneling players and coaches ever since. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel are the latest arrivals after making unsuccessful head coaching stops at Notre Dame and Cleveland respectively. With Pioli, Weis and Crennel in tow, the Chiefs now possess three men who were at the core of the early 2000s Patriots dynasty.
Along with head coach Todd Haley, the new coordinators must now uplift a team that finished with just four wins in 2009, ranked 25th in total offense and allowed more yards defensively than all but two other teams. Yet despite those discouraging numbers, there's a sense of optimism in Kansas City this season, perhaps fueled by a Week 17 beatdown of Denver that knocked the rival Broncos out of playoff contention.
The star of that season-ending win, Jamaal Charles, enters 2010 as the starting running back, buttressed by free-agent signee Thomas Jones. Between Charles, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in the second half of last season, and Jones, who posted a career-high 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns, the Chiefs suddenly boast one of the league's most formidable running back duos. With a strong running game behind him, Cassel should improve in his second year on the QB job, and some new additions at receiver will provide him with a more well-rounded group of targets.
On the other side of the ball, the outlook isn't as rosy. First-round pick Eric Berry injects some playmaking talent into a group that struggled to make big plays last season, but the unit is still devoid of star power. Outside of Berry and Brandon Flowers, not many names jump off the page, and the Chiefs may again finish near the bottom of the pack defensively.
Defense isn't the only problem here (questions abound along the offensive line and the return game must improve), but the Chiefs have put the pieces in place to flirt with .500 and potentially surpass the Broncos and Raiders in the division. Pioli doubled the team's win total (from two to four) in his first season and could duplicate the feat in 2010.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (5) Eric Berry, S, Tennessee-Dynamic playmaker should start immediately and eventually become the face of the defense.
2. (36) Dexter McCluster, WR, Mississippi-Matchup nightmare can play WR, RB or KR/PR.
2. (50) Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama-Potential nickel corner may also return kicks.
3. (68) Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois-Strong and tough, but probably won't start in 2010.
3. (93) Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa-His blocking and receiving skills could lead to immediate playing time at a wide-open position.
5. (136) Kendrick Lewis, S, Mississippi-Ball hawk is yet another addition to help shore up the secondary.
5. (142) Cameron Sheffield, LB, Troy-Pass-rushing defensive end will shift to OLB in the 3-4.
Ryan Lilja, G (Colts) Provides a much-needed lift to the right guard spot.
Casey Wiegmann, C (Broncos) Hasn't missed a start since 2001 in his first stint with the Chiefs.
Wade Smith, G (Texans) Versatile lineman could play center, guard or tackle.
CHARLES IN CHARGE?
No running back in the NFL combines elusiveness, agility and sprinter-like speed quite like Tennessee's Chris Johnson, but Jamaal Charles may be the player whose skill set comes closest. Charles instantly developed into a fantasy darling after taking over the starting job last year, averaging 121 rushing yards over the final eight games of the season. Considering his receiving skills (he caught 23 passes during that span as well) and a lack of competition for carries, he seemed poised for a monster 2010 season. The addition of Thomas Jones will change everything. Charles had 161 carries in the second half of 2009, which projects to 322 over 16 games, but he won't come close to that number with Jones in town. Even if he gets 70 percent of the work (which is a very optimistic estimate), Charles will likely top out around 250 but could easily fall in the 200-to-220 range. That's enough carries to be a strong No. 2 fantasy running back, especially considering his career average of 5.7 yards per carry, but don't expect him to be the unquestioned workhorse like he was at the end of 2009.
REPAIRING THE CASSEL
Matt Cassel stumbled to the finish line last season, tossing nine interceptions and just three touchdowns in his final five games to finish as the 21st-ranked fantasy quarterback in standard scoring systems. He'll be looking to recapture his New England magic under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who was instrumental to Tom Brady's development and success while Weis was with the Patriots. Cassel has several factors working in his favor: a strong running game behind him, a (hopefully) improved offensive line and a more dynamic group of receivers. With Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers on the outside, Jerheme Urban working out of the slot as a possession receiver and rookie Dexter McCluster creating mismatches all over the field, Cassel has enough weapons around him to make some plays. He won't move into QB1 territory, but he should be a more reliable No. 2 option than he was last year.
Charlie Weis probably spent his offseason months cooped up like a mad scientist, concocting exotic schemes and packages for the Chiefs' newest gadget: a 5-8 sparkplug from Mississippi named Dexter McCluster. Just days after the draft at the Chiefs' rookie camp, the team already had McCluster lined up everywhere on the field, from running back to wide receiver to punt returner. If he has one "primary" role, it will likely be as a slot receiver, where Weis could use him in a Wes Welker-type capacity. When you're targeting upside plays at the end of your draft, consider throwing a dart at McCluster, especially in PPR leagues. He has 50-reception potential as a rookie.
Declining: Thomas Jones proved he still has gas left in the tank, but he'll be 32 this season and finds himself on the wrong end of a time-share.
Sleeper: Dexter McCluster is a jack-of-all-trades who could top 50 receptions as a rookie in Charlie Weis' offense.
Supersleeper: Tony Moeaki is a first-round talent who fell in the draft because of injury concerns. With no sure-fire starter at TE, he could start as a rookie.
Derrick Johnson, LB Didn't start last year but has the talent to be productive if he ever puts it all together.
Eric Berry, S He'll likely start from the get-go and might make enough plays to be usable.
Brandon Flowers, CB In CB leagues, his 65 tackles and five INTs last season were huge.
RotoWire Rank: 30