Team Previews: 2018 Kansas City Chiefs
Team Previews: 2018 Kansas City Chiefs

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

THE SKINNY
The Chiefs rode a hot start in 2017 to the team's second consecutive division title and third straight trip to the playoffs. It ended abruptly for the third time in a row with a wild-card loss to the Titans, which sparked a major facelift on both sides of the ball this offseason.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

MAHOMES TAKES OVER
Though Alex Smith put up career numbers last year, it's not a huge surprise that the Chiefs decided to deal him to Washington after the season, given their aggressiveness in acquiring Patrick Mahomes with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2017 draft. In addition to fitting the youth movement engineered by Brett Veach in his first offseason as GM, Mahomes' mentality at the position directly contrasts with his predecessor's. Last season's stats notwithstanding, the 34-year-old Smith was long viewed as a top-tier game manager inclined to avoid taking chances. Mahomes, on the other hand, brings swagger and a rocket arm to the table, drawing comparisons to former NFL gunslingers like Jay Cutler and Brett Favre. The 6-2, 225-pounder enters training camp unchallenged for the starting job after displaying his mettle in the 2017 preseason and against the Broncos in Week 17, throwing for 284 yards in the latter in a winning effort. Coach Andy Reid doesn't plan to coddle his second-year quarterback either, believing Mahomes will "hit the ground running" with a solid nucleus of pass-catching options at his disposal, along with a capable rushing attack. Veteran Chad Henne slots in as his top backup, while Matt McGloin and undrafted signee Chase Litton will battle to earn a 53-man roster spot.

KAREEM OF THE CROP
While Kareem Hunt doesn't appear graceful carrying the football, he's effective in doing so. As a rookie, the 2017 third-rounder earned the starting nod at running back in Week 1 following the season-ending knee injury Spencer Ware suffered in late August. Hunt sprinted out of the gate in the opener to the tune of 148 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards and three total touchdowns against the Patriots. The Toledo product proved that effort wasn't a fluke, finishing his inaugural season with 272 carries for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns, while demonstrating proficiency as a pass catcher with 53 receptions for 455 yards and three scores. While Andy Reid was pleased with the 325 touches Hunt received, the Chiefs head coach would like to diversify them more in 2018. That likely suggests that the cluster of backs behind Hunt may need to pick up some slack in the ground game. Ware's recovery timeline remains hazy, but Charcandrick West returns after snagging 27 passes last season, and the Chiefs didn't shy from further reinforcing the position this offseason, upping the team's Williams quota with the signings of Damien, Kerwynn and undrafted rookie Darrel. Hunt should still lead the way by a large margin on Sundays, but the Chiefs will have a stable of ballcarriers to fall back on should he ever be sidelined.

WATKINS TO THE RESCUE
Long gone are the days of Dwayne Bowe sitting atop the Chiefs' wideout depth chart. Tight end Travis Kelce and versatile weapon Tyreek Hill each represent first-class talents at their positions, both topping 1,000 receiving yards last season. However, the Chiefs lacked a reliable option in the passing game to roll out opposite Hill, which prompted the team to make a splash in free agency with the signing of Sammy Watkins to a three-year, $48 million contract. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has disappointed the past two seasons due to foot issues and a failure to connect with Jared Goff in Los Angeles. The 6-1, 211-pound Watkins possesses the ideal speed and measurables of a deep threat and should pair nicely with Hill to help maximize the arm strength of Patrick Mahomes in his first year under center. Watkins ranked 15th in the NFL in 2017 in average air yards per target (14.4), though earning just 70 looks prevented him from equaling the production of some of the league's other top burners. Chris Conley remains on hand behind Watkins and Hill, but Demarcus Robinson developed a strong rapport with Mahomes last preseason and could challenge him for snaps. De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson and Marcus Kemp also return, while a glut of other wideouts will attempt to make names for themselves during camp.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Travis Kelce
Kelce again ranked among the elite tight ends in the game in terms of offensive production last season. Despite the addition of Sammy Watkins during the offseason, Kelce should remain a centerpiece in the Chiefs offense and also serve as a security blanket for newly anointed top signal-caller Patrick Mahomes.

BAROMETER
RISING: Kareem Hunt
It will be difficult for Hunt to replicate his league-leading 1,327 rushing yards from a season ago, but plans for greater involvement in the team's passing game should increase his value in PPR formats in 2018.

FALLING: Chris Conley
Conley received his shot at securing the No. 2 receiver role last season, but that amounted to just 11 catches for 175 yards. The addition of Sammy Watkins further depletes his upside heading into the coming campaign.

SLEEPER: Demarcus Robinson
Although targets may be sparse in the passing game behind the team's top options, Robinson's strong connection with Patrick Mahomes during the 2017 preseason could push him into extended action this year.

KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 2 RUNNING BACK
Kareem Hunt certified his place as a workhorse back last season by averaging 4.9 YPC on 272 totes to finish the season with an NFL-best 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. He also hauled in 53 passes for 455 yards and another three scores, a facet of the game in which coach Andy Reid hopes to get him more involved this season. Despite the availability of Charcandrick West and the expected return of Spencer Ware, it didn't prevent the Chiefs' brass from securing additional bodies this offseason in the form of Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams in free agency and UDFA Darrel Williams, who played behind Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice at LSU. If healthy, Reid opined that Ware would be a good option to spell Hunt on some early-down work to afford Hunt more pass-catching opportunities, but he's expected to be incorporated slowly into training camp, allowing the other backs to barge their way into the mix.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Sammy Watkins – WR (from Rams)
The big-bodied deep threat provides another quality wideout option.

Damien Williams – RB (from Dolphins)
A pass-catching running back who can also contribute on special teams.

Chad Henne – QB (from Jaguars)
Helps stabilize the backup quarterback spot.

Anthony Hitchens – LB (from Cowboys)
Brought aboard to help replace Derrick Johnson.

KEY LOSSES:
Alex Smith – QB (to Redskins)
Offseason trade paves the way for the Patrick Mahomes era.

Albert Wilson – WR (to Dolphins)
Looking for a more dynamic option at wideout, the Chiefs moved on.

Marcus Peters – CB (to Rams)
Playmaking will be missed but should benefit from a fresh start.

Derrick Johnson – LB (to Raiders)
Allowed to walk after falling short of 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons.

THE INJURY FRONT
Kareem Hunt, RB – Hunt missed a portion of OTAs and all of minicamp due to a hamstring injury, but the absence was believed to be precautionary in nature. It was later reported that he's expected to be ready by the time training camp rolls around, confirming that notion. Hunt spoiled the Chiefs with his play as a rookie in 2017 and isn't expected to abdicate his spot atop the depth chart to begin the 2018 campaign. Hamstring issues have a tendency to resurface, though, so his situation is still one to monitor throughout training camp.

Spencer Ware, RB – Ware's 2017 season ended before it began, suffering a torn PCL and LCL in the preseason that required a procedure to repair. He made a promising step partway through OTAs by participating in individual drills for the first time, but he'll be eased back into action when the team reconvenes for the start of training camp. Although the Chiefs added a few running backs this offseason to bolster the backfield depth, Ware could be a candidate for goal-line opportunities if he can prove his health.

Chris Conley, WR – The Chiefs handed Conley the keys to the No. 2 wide receiver car in 2017 and, while he showed some promise in a few games early, a season-ending ruptured Achilles truncated his campaign to just five contests. In the offseason, the team inked talented wideout Sammy Watkins to fill the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Tyreek Hill, devaluing Conley's role to third, at best, entering 2018. Conley reportedly looked good during OTAs and participated in team drills, but considering both Hill and Watkins primarily play on the outside, he may have a difficult time finding reps this fall.

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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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