After Romeo Crennel took over the Chiefs on an interim basis and led them to a 2-1 finish last year -- including the only regular-season win a team had against the Packers -- he became the head coach. He brought in Brian Daboll to run the offense and took control of the defense himself. With his new gig came a roster full of intrigue -- and headache.
No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe has been absent from offseason programs and workouts after getting hit with the franchise tag in the spring. Signs point to him signing his one-year deal in time for training camp, but some concern over his commitment to the team tempers his expectations even though he's potentially in a contract year for the second straight season ... not that it did him any good last season when he scored five touchdowns after catching 15 the year prior. His return to not only the Chiefs' camp but to statistical prowess is paramount if there's success to be had in Kansas City.
ACL injuries crippled three prominent Chiefs last fall, none larger than running back Jamaal Charles. He, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry are expected to be ready for camp following offseason surgeries and rehab, but all eyes will be on Charles. He's talked a big game this offseason saying that missing all of last year made him hungry to beat expectations. Assuming he doesn't miss much time in training camp, he should be ready to be an effective contributor for the Chiefs right away. The Chiefs sorely missed him last season, scoring a second-worst five rushing touchdowns and averaging a paltry 3.9 yards per carry (only four teams averaged fewer yards per rush). The additions of running back Peyton Hillis and right tackle Eric Winston should help the Chiefs run game improve.
Charles wasn't the only key offensive member to get hurt as Matt Cassel broke his hand in Week 10 and missed the rest of the season. He's healed and ready for camp but the pressure is on him to perform. Over 39 starts in Kansas City, Cassel has completed 693 of 1,212 passes (57.1 pct.) for 7,753 yards (6.4 yards per attempt) with 53 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. That isn't great, especially after posting better numbers in New England replacing Tom Brady in 2008 (63.4 completion percentage, 7.2 yards per attempt). Cassel must improve his accuracy and get the most out of all of his receivers in a year where everyone's learning a new offense. It won't be easy.
Things are better on the defensive side of the ball. Crennel's crew not only gets Berry back to patrol the backfield but also added cornerback Stanford Routt to replace Brandon Carr and drafted big nose tackle Dontari Poe. Pass rusher Tamba Hali has 26.5 of the team's 68 sacks over the last two seasons -- someone else has to emerge to disrupt opposing passers or else the Chiefs will become doormats in a division that includes Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer and now Peyton Manning.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND - not expected to get drafted|
Bust ... Jamaal Charles, running back
Unless you've been living under a rock you've known that Charles tore his ACL last September and will have rehabbed for 10 months when camp opens. It's already tough enough expecting a running back who tore his ACL to play to his pre-injury level, but Charles will additionally split reps with Hillis, who Charles said will work in the offense like Thomas Jones used to. To refresh your memory, Jones had more carries and more rushing touchdowns than Charles did in his breakout 2010 season. That's not to say Charles won't have plenty of opportunities throughout the year, but between Hillis' arrival, a new offense and the knee potentially limiting his speed (we'll have to see how fast he is in camp), Charles isn't quite the Fantasy darling he was a season ago. The later you can find him in drafts, the better off you are if you decide to take a shot on him.
Sleeper ... Peyton Hillis, running back
If you don't like the risk of taking Charles in the early portion of your draft, you might like the idea of going with Hillis several rounds later. Hillis reunites with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Kansas City just two years after Daboll helped Hillis total over 1,600 total yards and 13 touchdowns in Cleveland. The playbook familiarity there is a big plus for Hillis, who should see at the very least 10 touches per game, including short-yardage and goal-line work. And after last year's meltdown in Cleveland he's probably learned a thing or two about how to handle himself in a contract year. Perhaps this time he'll spend more time putting up numbers and less time venting. Hillis is far from the game-breaking speedster Charles is hoped to be, but he should be a good Draft Day bargain. Look for him starting in Round 8.
Late-round flier ... Jon Baldwin, wide receiver
Fantasy owners are hoping for Baldwin to have more games like he had versus the Chargers last season (five catches, 82 yards, one touchdown) and less games like he had against everyone else in the league (an average of 1.6 catches and 17.2 yards in his other 10 games). Crennel said the key to Baldwin is maturing as a player and as a person, and according to offseason reports he's done exactly that. Baldwin has reportedly starred at workouts, getting extra attention with Bowe absent, and has stepped up his work ethic in anticipation of a starting spot. Receivers with 6-foot-4 frames and excellent ability to jump high for a pass aren't easy to come by late in drafts, but Baldwin will be there. He's a decent low-risk gamble in case he can get off to a good start this season against the Falcons, Bills and Saints in Weeks 1 through 3.
Let's start at the end, where the Chiefs have the best late-season schedule of anyone in the NFL. Their final five games: Carolina at home, Cleveland and Oakland on the road, Indy at home and Denver on the road in Week 17. Even better, that Carolina game is the last of a three-game homestand to set up that finish, so there's a lot to like about Chiefs star players long-term. It's a little rough before then with matchups at New Orleans, vs. Baltimore and back-to-back road tilts at San Diego and Pittsburgh, but those are small prices to pay for what amounts to a promising schedule.
Training camp topics
|Dexter McCluster||114 carries, 46 catches|
|Thomas Jones||153 carries, 5 catches|
|Jackie Battle||149 carries, 9 catches|
|Dwayne Bowe||81 catches, 1 carry|
|Steve Breaston||61 catches, 1 carry|
The hotter topics in Chiefs camp -- Charles' return from injury, Hillis' impact on the run game, the attendance of Dwayne Bowe -- have already been brought up. There isn't a white-hot camp battle for a starting job that will have massive Fantasy implications. Even the defense's starters are pretty much set.
But that's not to say there aren't battles going on. Second-year passer Ricky Stanzi and veteran Brady Quinn will compete to back up Matt Cassel. Newcomer Kevin Boss, a Raider in 2011, will provide depth at the tight end spot and push Tony Moeaki for the starting job. And Steve Breaston will fight for playing time with Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster (who is on the verge of moving back to receiver) and rookie Devon Wylie.
The biggest topic in Kansas City: Will the Chiefs have enough to run with their division opponents. The Chargers averaged 25.4 points per game and the Raiders averaged 22.4 points per game. The Broncos averaged 19.3 points per game and that wasn't with Peyton Manning at quarterback. The Chiefs averaged a paltry 13.2 points per game in 2011 while their defense allowed an AFC West-best 21.1 points per game. The defense should have its act together -- it's up to the offense to do the same.
Jamaal Charles (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Matt Cassel (hand; probable for the start of training camp) ... Eric Berry (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Tony Moeaki (knee; probable for the start of training camp).