This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City took a leap forward as a franchise last season, falling just an overtime possession short of making a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969. Despite some concerns surrounding key offensive pieces, the Chiefs should once again contend for the AFC West crown.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
SHOWTIME UNDER CENTER
In his first season as an NFL starter, Patrick Mahomes exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations, completing 66 percent of his passes for 5,097 yards. For his stellar efforts, he was named the league's 2018 MVP. Coming out of college, Mahomes' playing style was compared to that of gunslinger Brett Favre. The Chiefs were enamored enough with the Texas Tech product to move up 17 spots in the 2017 draft to secure the big-armed signal-caller. While comparisons between the two players have some merit, Mahomes has quickly separated himself from Favre in the turnover category, putting up a sparkling 50:12 TD:INT last season. Heading into his third year as a pro, Mahomes – who turns 24 in September – is one of the bright stars in the league, and his upside hinges on how well his supporting cast performs. For some time this offseason, a major variable on that front rested on the status of explosive receiver Tyreek Hill, whose availability for the coming season was in question. That is, until the NFL opted not to suspend him for alleged off-field conduct. Beyond Hill, Mahomes has an elite tight end in Travis Kelce to throw to, and there's always the hope that Sammy Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick in 2014, can put his injury woes behind him and live up to his pedigree. Additionally, speedy rookie Mecole Hardman could be an effective downfield threat for the team.
REINFORCING THE WIDEOUTS
Dynamic playmaker Tyreek Hill is back to head the Chiefs wideout corps, but this past offseason the team wisely added another offensive weapon to work with ascending signal-caller Patrick Mahomes. Enter Mecole Hardman, who ran a 4.33 40 at the NFL Combine. He both complements Hill and provides insurance for him in the event that Hill misses time for any reason. With that in mind, the team's coaching staff plans to expedite Hardman's learning curve, with the intention of finding ways to use him out of the gate. Bringing the 5-10, 187-pounder into the mix also makes plenty of sense considering that Sammy Watkins once again struggled to stay healthy in 2018, competing in just 10 regular-season contests. His health concerns are a recurring theme at this point, as the 26-year-old has suited up for all 16 games just once in his five-year career. Rounding out the depth chart are Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter and Byron Pringle, as well as a handful of UDFAs. Of that group, Robinson carries the most short-term upside, but any player who ends up garnering significant snaps in a Mahomes-led attack merits fantasy consideration.
NEW LOOK BACKFIELD
Heading into last season, the Chiefs were counting on second-year back Kareem Hunt to head their rushing attack. Instead, he was released by the team in November, stemming from conduct that eventually led to his suspension. The team initially auditioned Spencer Ware for the starting job, before ultimately settling on Damien Williams. Despite lackluster production (3.6 YPC) during his time in Miami, Williams racked up 5.1 yards per tote with the Chiefs during the 2018 regular season, while hauling in 23 of his 24 targets for 160 yards and two TDs. Once free agency got going this past offseason, the Chiefs parted ways with Ware, and his spot was filled by veteran Carlos Hyde. A workhorse back in 2016 and 2017, Hyde trudged his way to just 3.3 yards per carry with the Browns and Jaguars last season. At a minimum, the 6-0, 229-pounder should work in a complementary role with Williams, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hyde carve out a goal-line gig. Speculation that the Chiefs may invest a premium draft pick to fortify their backfield was unfounded, as they waited until the sixth round to add Darwin Thompson, whose pro day vertical (39 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, six inches) would have ranked in the top five at the combine. Also in the mix is Darrel Williams, who logged just 13 carries last year.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Patrick Mahomes
Following a five-year run with Alex Smith under center, Patrick Mahomes took the reins last season and led the Chiefs to the verge of a Super Bowl appearance. The third-year signal-caller brings a rocket arm and high football IQ to the table, and now unquestionably tops the charts at his position in our 2019 fantasy rankings.
RISING: Mecole Hardman
The Chiefs traded up five spots in this past April's draft in order to select Hardman 56th overall. Tyreek Hill is still around, but the speedster could still have a solid role right away.
FALLING: Damien Williams
Williams did a nice job after unexpectedly being pressed into a featured role last season. He still tops the team's running back depth chart, but it's conceivable that newcomers could supplant him.
SLEEPER: Carlos Hyde
Damien Williams is poised to open the season as the Chiefs' top back, but he's never logged more than 50 carries in a given year as a pro. If he takes a step back, though, Hyde could potentially step in and thrive within a team context that's much better than what he contended with last year in Cleveland and Jacksonville.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER
In need of production beyond Tyreek Hill and the oft-injured Sammy Watkins, Kansas City spent its first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft looking to fill that void by selecting Mecole Hardman. The speedster could slot in as a worthy replacement in the event that either Hill or Watkins suffer an injury. Hardman's chief competitors to earn the WR3 designation come in the form of Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle. The Chiefs selected Robinson in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he's displayed flashes of productivity over his first few seasons in the league, including a particularly strong connection with Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 preseason. Pringle's offseason showing may have tossed his name into the competition, while carryovers from 2018 (Marcus Kemp and Gehrig Dieter) will also aim to make an impression in training camp.
CARLOS HYDE – RB (from Jaguars)
Bolsters the team's running back depth behind Damien Williams.
MECOLE HARDMAN – WR (Rd. 2, No. 56 – Georgia)
Gives defenders another explosive player to worry about in addition to Tyreek Hill.
TYRANN MATHIEU – S (from Texans)
Signed to shore up a pass defense that was subpar in 2018.
FRANK CLARK – DE (from Seahawks)
A pass-rushing force who totaled a career-high 13 sacks last season.
SPENCER WARE – RB (to Colts)
Gives way to Hyde and rookie Darwin Thompson.
CHRIS CONLEY – WR (to Jaguars)
A toolsy prospect who never really flourished in the Chiefs' system.
ERIC BERRY – S (FA)
Played in just three regular-season games over the past two seasons.
JUSTIN HOUSTON – DE (to Colts)
Despite missing time, posted 18.5 sacks over the last two campaigns.
THE INJURY FRONT
Travis Kelce, TE – Kelce underwent ankle surgery in early March, but was cleared to practice in advance of training camp. Even before the Chiefs' veteran players took the field for their first official practice, Kelce got some work in with some of the team's younger players, indicating afterward that he experienced no issues with his previously balky ankle.
Damien Williams, WR – A hamstring injury has bogged down Williams in the opening days of training camp. His absence has allowed veteran back Carlos Hyde to run with the first-team offense, but the next two players on the depth chart (Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams) could begin to stake a claim to a role if Williams' continues to sit out. Nevertheless, coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have been steadfast in support of Williams as the starting RB, so his stock remains static for the time being.
Byron Pringle, WR – Pringle pieced together a solid camp and preseason for the Chiefs in 2018 before a hamstring injury forced him to injured reserve. With the issue now in the past, the second-year wideout has reportedly starred this offseason. While most of the hype behind Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill goes to the likes of rookie Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson, Pringle could find himself in dark-horse territory for reps in the high-powered Chiefs offense.