Team Previews: Kansas City Chiefs
Team Previews: Kansas City Chiefs

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Kansas City Chiefs

THE SKINNY

The Chiefs didn't make any big splashes in free agency and opted to trade out of the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, but the core group that led them to the playoffs the past two seasons remains intact. Following Peyton Manning's retirement, the Chiefs could be poised to overtake the Broncos in the AFC West.

THREE KEY STORY LINES

CHARLES STILL IN CHARGE

Jamaal Charles approached the 2015 campaign as the Chiefs' undisputed workhorse back, with Knile Davis assumed to be his clear-cut top backup. However, when Charles went down with a season-ending right knee injury in Week 5 of last season, it wasn't Davis who filled in. Instead, the team unearthed hidden RB gems further down the depth chart, with pleasing results. Charcandrick West took on the team's primary role, leading the backfield with 634 rushing yards and four TDs on 160 carries, while hauling in 20 passes for 214 yards and another score. Behind him was Spencer Ware, who logged 403 rushing yards and six touchdowns, working largely in a short-yardage role. For his part, Davis was limited to just 28 carries, while focusing on kick return duties. To ensure depth and continuity in 2016, the Chiefs inked both West and Ware to offseason contract extensions. While Charles' status as the team's lead back remains unquestioned, assuming his health, the 29-year-old's workload may well be lightened this season as he bounces back from the second torn ACL of his stellar career.

WIDE RECEIVER ROULETTE

Though WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce clearly stand out among the team's pass-catchers, questions still loom regarding who will supplement their production, particularly at wideout. Albert Wilson made a strong impression toward the end of 2014, but his sophomore season resulted in just 451 receiving yards and two TDs in 14 games. Another promising youngster, Chris Conley, was considered raw coming out of college, and he amassed just 199 yards on 17 grabs in his first pro season. The Chiefs hope to parlay his blazing speed into further production in 2016. The team did add veterans Rod Streater and Mike Williams via free agency this offseason, but both are reclamation projects at this stage of their careers. Meanwhile, draftees Demarcus Robinson and Tyreek Hill saw their stock drop due to off-field concerns, but both possess untapped potential. Wilson and Conley figure to enter camp as the next two options behind Maclin in the team's wide receiver pecking order, but they'll face competition, with the player ending up as the team's WR2 a candidate to merit attention in deeper fantasy formats.

THE STATE OF THE DEFENSE

Kansas City's defense wreaked havoc in 2015, placing near the top of the pack in several statistical categories, including points per game (17.9, third in NFL), interceptions (22, second) and sacks (47, fourth). Not surprisingly, the Chiefs focused on re-signing their own key players on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, notably Jaye Howard, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Eric Berry (franchise tag). Moreover, further depth for the unit was added early in the 2016 NFL Draft. The team took DT Chris Jones in the second round to fortify an already stout defensive front and followed that up with third-rounder KeiVarae Russell, a DB who could challenge for a starting job immediately. Most of the team's fantasy-relevant personnel will return in 2016, including Berry, Johnson and Marcus Peters. Meanwhile, key pass-rusher Justin Houston continues to bounce back from an ACL injury. By adding some new faces to the nucleus of the returning group, the unit has the makings of an elite defense again in 2016, with the main questions being who will start across from Peters at cornerback and how soon Houston returns.

KEY JOB BATTLE

Kansas City has had a defined backup quarterback each of the last three seasons in Chase Daniel, but that role now sits idle as the team enters training camp following Daniel's departure for Philadelphia in the offseason. Candidates to replace him behind Alex Smith include 2014 fifth-round pick Aaron Murray, 2013 undrafted free agent Tyler Bray, and 2016 fifth-round pick Kevin Hogan. Murray served as the team's third-string quarterback last season, but Bray spent each of the two previous seasons on injured reserve – due to a knee and ankle injury in 2014 and a torn ACL in 2015. The Chiefs are unlikely to cut their rookie quarterback (Hogan), but Bray and Murray appear the primary candidates battling for the top backup job. Bray reportedly took most of the snaps in minicamp as the team's No. 2 option, possibly giving him a slight edge entering camp, but the battle likely won't conclude until rosters are trimmed to 53.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

Jeremy Maclin

After enduring a spell of lackluster wideout production, the acquisition of Maclin in 2015 paid immediate dividends, giving QB Alex Smith a vertical threat and a clear-cut No. 1 option.

BAROMETER

RISING: Travis Kelce
While Kelce's 2015 season (72 catches, 875 yards, ve touchdowns) was nothing to scoff at, he didn't enjoy the meteoric rise many expected. The talent remains and so does his potential to attain elite TE status.

FALLING: Knile Davis
Though Davis was assumed to be the direct backup to Jamaal Charles entering 2015, he hardly saw the field following Charles' ACL tear. At this point, Davis isn't a lock to retain his spot on the team's 53-man roster.

SLEEPER: Chris Conley
The Chiefs selected Conley in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft knowing he required some development. With a full pro campaign and an offseason under his belt, he could challenge for the team's No. 2 WR job.

THE INJURY FRONT

Jamaal Charles, RB - The star ball carrier underwent surgery in October for a torn ACL that he suffered in Week 5. On the plus side, he participated in a limited capacity in OTAs and did some individual drills in minicamp. Assuming no setbacks during training camp, he should be good to go come Week 1.

Jeremy Maclin, WR - The Chiefs' top wideout suffered a minor ankle injury in OTAs, but there's no indication the issue will force him to miss time during training camp. It's worth noting he previously dealt with a high-ankle sprain in the Divisional round of last season's playoffs, giving rise to a situation worth monitoring in training camp.

IDP FOCUS

Derrick Johnson, LB - After playing in just one game in 2014 before suffering a season-ending rupture of his Achilles tendon, the veteran linebacker made a triumphant return to the field in 2015, recording triple-digit tackles for the fifth time in his past six seasons (2014 being the exception). The Chiefs rewarded him with a three-year contract extension in the offseason and Johnson should remain a key cog in the team's defense again in 2016.

Eric Berry, S - Another successful return to the field came in the form of the team's strong safety. When healthy, he's one of the best safeties in the league, and his full season in 2015 translated to 61 tackles (55 solo) and two interceptions. There's no reason to expect a decline in 2016, in fact, it's quite possible he'll be even better another year removed from his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma and playing on the Chiefs' franchise tag.

Marcus Peters, CB - The 2015 first-round pick burst onto the scene in his rookie campaign, collecting eight interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and forcing a fumble in addition to his 60 tackles (53 solo). Teams may learn from this and begin looking the other direction, which could lead to a slight depression in numbers in his sophomore season, but there's plenty of reasons to believe he will post another solid campaign.

OFFSEASON MOVES

KEY ACQUISITIONS:

Rod Streater – WR (from Raiders)
Could be in the mix for No. 2 wideout spot behind Jeremy Maclin.

Demarcus Robinson – WR (Rd. 4, No. 126 – Florida)
Off-field concerns caused draft tumble, but has after-the-catch skills.

MITCHELL SCHWARTZ – OT (from Browns)
Should reinforce an offensive line that allowed 46 sacks last season.

Chris Jones – DT (Rd. 2, No. 37 – Mississippi State)
Helps fill the void created by Mike DeVito's retirement.

KeiVarae Russell – CB (Rd. 3, No. 74 – Notre Dame)
Could challenge for playing time immediately in thin cornerback group.

KEY LOSSES:

Chase Daniel – QB (to Eagles)
Bolted for Philadelphia, leaving primary backup QB job up for grabs.

SEAN SMITH – CB (to Raiders)
Departure stings, but three cornerbacks were drafted by team in April.

HUSAIN ABDULLAH – S (retired)
Concussion concerns led to his retirement at age 30.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Benzine
Chris has been a RW contributor since early 2014, focused on Breaking News, MLB Daily Lineups and occasional NFL Team Previews.
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