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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Kansas City Chiefs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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.

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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.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Matt Cassel ND
Running Backs
Jamaal Charles 4
Peyton Hillis 8
Wide Receivers
Dwayne Bowe 6
Jon Baldwin 12
Steve Breaston ND
Tight Ends
Kevin Boss ND
Tony Moeaki ND
Kickers/Defense
Ryan Succop ND
Chiefs DST ND
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.

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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.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
ATL @BUF @NO SD BAL @TB bye OAK @SD @PIT CIN DEN CAR @CLE @OAK IND @DEN

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

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
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.

Injury update

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).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
RB Jonathan Stewart practicing with Panthers on Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) The Panthers received some positive news Wednesday in the wake of the DeAngelo Williams injury when fellow running back Jonathan Stewart returned to practice.

Ron Rivera, who said he's hopeful Stewart can play Sunday against Chicago, was initially projected to miss a month after sustaining a knee injury in Week 3. But the Panthers might need him to give them some carrries even if he's not fully healthy.


Report: Dee Milliner practicing Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) Jets cornerback Dee Milliner participated in the portion of practice open to reporters, according to The Star-Ledger. Milliner, who's missed the past two games with a quad injury, stretched, went to the rehab area and then jogged onto the field when positional drills began, the report said.

"It looks like Milliner will play at the Chargers," the paper said.


Ryan Fitzpatrick could be worth the risk
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did a good job of limiting mistakes through the first few games of the season, but has failed to do so in two games since. Can he turn things around in Week 5 against the Cowboys?

The Cowboys have given up 20-plus Fantasy points to three quarterbacks in four games, including 50 combined over the last two games. However, they have also done a good job of forcing turnovers, with five interceptions over the last three games, so it isn't all smooth sailing for Fitzpatrick, especially given his own issues.

Fitzpatrick has a solid collection of weapons around him, and this game could turn into a shootout, but he just might not be equipped to take advantage of that. Still, the matchup is a good enough one that Fantasy owners can consider him at least a solid second quarterback in two-QB leagues for Week 5.  


Mike Pettine says he'll keep Travis Benjamin on punt returns
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(1:03 pm ET) Browns coach Mike Pettine told the Akron Beacon Journal that he's sticking with Travis Benjamin as the team's punt returner. Benjamin has returned three punts for a total of 2 yards while making five fair catches.

Can you trust in Cam Newton?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 pm ET) Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who still isn't doing much running on his surgically repaired ankle, had his worst performance of the season Week 4 at Baltimore, and yet he still managed to put together a 94.9 passer rating.

I understand passer rating doesn't mean what it used to with completion percentages on the rise, but that's not even where Newton excelled against the Ravens. He averaged 7.9 yards per attempt and didn't turn the ball over -- two important measurements regardless of the times.

And he's been great in both areas all year. The problem is it hasn't yielded much in Fantasy because he hasn't delivered the touchdowns.

I think that changes eventually -- maybe even this week against the Bears, who allowed four touchdown passes to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers last week -- but I'm of the belief that at a position as deep as quarterback, you don't start a guy until he gives you reason to start him. I feel more comfortable with everyone Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard rank ahead of Newton at quarterback for this week, which means he should probably be sitting in standard 12-team leagues.


Redskins all but mum about pace of Robert Griffin III recovery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan are taking a far quieter approach to letting the world know about the progress of his recovery from a dislocated left ankle than they did in a similar situation last season, according to CSNWashington.com.

Griffin and Mike Shanahan gave frequent updates in 2013, when he was rehabbing from a knee injury. But they have said little about his current situation, though he is expected to return sometime this season, perhaps even in a few weeks. Jay Gruden provided virtually nothing to go on Wednesday.

"He's doing a great job, and like I said, for whatever injury he has, he's probably going to recover quicker than the normal human being, faster than anybody probably," Shanahan said. "So it won't surprise me when he comes back. ... Whatever the timetable is, I have no idea."

Griffin has not played since sustaining the injury early in Week 2.


Garrett Graham staring at a great matchup
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) The Cowboys pass defense has held up better than we expected so far this season, with one notable exception; they cannot seem to locate tight ends on the field. That could work out quite nicely for Garrett Graham in Week 5, as the Texans get set to take on Dallas.

Graham has just 95 yards through three games since returning from a back injury, so this could be his best chance to breakout. The Cowboys are allowing 17.5 Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, by far the highest total in the league. They have allowed 98.8 yards per game and six total touchdowns, including at least one in each game.

Graham is, by no means, a slam-dunk starting option for Week 5. However, given the matchup, you could do worse. At this point, the Cowboys have to prove they can stop tight ends before we believe it. 


Report: Ben Tate to be limited Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) Browns running back Ben Tate, who's coming back from a sprained knee, will be limited in practice Wednesday, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Tate is tentatively expected to start Sunday at Tennessee.

Texans receivers could succeed in a shootout
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:47 pm ET) Andre Johnson is still the top target in the Texans passing game, but DeAndre Hopkins has outproduced him so far. Still, Fantasy owners should feel comfortable relying on both in Week 5 against the Cowboys.

Dallas has done a better job than we expected on defense this season, with opposing wide receivers averaging just 16.0 Fantasy points per game. However, this receiving duo has been productive so far, and we expect that to continue; they are averaging 138.3 yards per game through four games.

The Cowboys defensive backfield has held up well, but this receiving duo is too productive at this point to consider benching, especially in what could end up being a shootout. Jamey Eisenberg has Johnson ranked as low as 35th among wide receivers, but Dave Richard's ranking has Johnson inside the top-30. Consider Hopkins a solid starter, with Johnson more of a flex or No. 3 option. 


Lions DT Ndamukong Suh angered by free agency speculation
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Lions defensive end Ndamukong Suh has neither confirmed nor denied that he will bolting Detroit after this season. He declined to elaborate Wednesday on the subject.

"I don't know where that story came from," he told the Detroit News. "I want to talk about (Week 5 opponent) Buffalo."

According to several reports, Suh was angered enough by his interview that he slammed the door on the way out. He is eligible for free agency after this season.


 
 
 
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