2021 Fantasy Football Kansas City Chiefs Preview

by Cale Clinton
2021 Fantasy Football Kansas City Chiefs Preview

Welcome to our 2021 Fantasy Football Preview for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Another year, another season with red and gold dominating the top of your fantasy drafts. Kansas City has once again positioned itself to make a run at another Super Bowl according to Doc's Sports. They have revamped their offensive line in the offseason and re-invested in their defense during the draft. However, there is one area that this team has failed to improve. This may be the weakest group of skill position players Patrick Mahomes has ever played with.

Don't get me wrong. It feels extremely difficult to say that when Kansas City may boast the top receiver and top tight end in football. However, many now argue that depth--not top-end star power--is what dictates the success of a skill position group. The Chiefs seem more focused on the latter than the former.

While Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will once again top their respective position groups in fantasy points, there may not be a lot of red-and-gold players behind them. With less depth at the running back and receiver positions, success in Kansas City will now be on the top dogs more than it has ever been previously.

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2021 Fantasy Football Kansas City Chiefs Preview

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  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Chad Henne
  • Anthony Gordon
  • Shane Buechele

What is there to really write about here? We all know who Patrick Mahomes is and what he's done to football since his MVP campaign. Last year, he finished fourth in fantasy points amongst quarterbacks, second in total passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, third in EPA/play, and led his offense to the 2nd-highest DVOA in football.

Mahomes dominated the NFL ever since his first-ever start in Kansas City, and this year looks to be more of the same. The Chiefs look poised to maintain their place atop the AFC; they may even be more motivated coming off the heels of a back-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fantasy Pros' ADP Consensus has Mahomes as the unanimous QB1 headed into 2021, while their 2021 projections predict he will finish 2021 leading the league in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. This is probably the only quarterback who may be worth eyeing at the bottom of the second round in a snake draft, he's that special.

If you don't want me to get too sycophantic over Mahomes' brilliance, let me give you some reasons to hesitate on Mahomes in 2021. First and foremost, Kansas City will face a rough schedule in 2021. The Chiefs kick their season off against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and the Brandon Staley-led Chargers. Quite the trio of defenses to start the season off with.

Beyond that, the Chiefs will also be playing the Buffalo Bills, Washington Football Team, Tennessee Titans, and the loaded Broncos secondary twice. Per Sharp Football Analytics, Kansas City doesn't have the toughest schedule, but one that is above-average.

The second point I would like to raise before you draft Patrick Mahomes: this may be the weakest supporting cast of his young career. Kansas City's receiving corps has always had some semblance of depth. While he may have left a bad taste in the mouths of fantasy players, Sammy Watkins was a vital and necessary #2 receiver in the Chiefs offense. Now, the likes of Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle will be asked to take roles of increased importance. While Kansas City has most often operated with multiple pass-catching running backs, the brunt of 2021's load will be carried by Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

This team is one Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill injury away from becoming a painfully average skill position group.

I think that Patrick Mahomes should absolutely be the first fantasy QB off of every draft board. I just want to highlight the fact that 2021 might not have the same sort of certainty for success as years past.

Running Back

Headed into 2020, football fans and fantasy experts alike couldn't have been more excited for then-rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire to finally take the field in Kansas City. People lauded Edwards-Helaire's ability to catch passes out of the backfield and make defenders miss in space. Many believed he would be the piece that took Kansas City's offense into the stratosphere, turning them into a truly unstoppable juggernaut. For lack of a better term, Edwards-Helaire hit the ground running, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown in the league opener against the Houston Texans.

From then on out, however, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Edwards-Helaire put up a few impressive performances, like in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens or his 161-yard performance against Buffalo in Week 6. However, after Week 6, the rookie was forced to share touches with Le'Veon Bell. From then on out, Edwards-Helaire rushed for more than 70 yards just once that season and missed three games down the stretch. Edwards-Helaire finished the season as RB22. While this was no doubt a respectable season, it was a far cry from the top-10 projections many had placed upon him.

Now, this really looks to be Edwards-Helaire's backfield. The two backs he shares the responsibility with, Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon, serve purely complementary roles. Darrel Williams has comfortably served a backup role in Kansas City since 2018, while the addition of Jerick McKinnon will add versatility to the Chiefs passing game. The brunt of carries, however, will be given to Edwards-Helaire. Will we get the Edwards-Helaire who flashed for us early in 2020, or will he once again fall short of our expectations? Only time will tell.

In Half-PPR leagues, Fantasy Pros projects Clyde Edwards-Helaire as RB18. Consensus ADP boards place him anywhere between RB16 and RB21. One reason to be optimistic about Edwards-Helaire to out-perform these predictions.

With Kansas City's completely revamped offensive line, there is a chance he cracks into the top 10. The additions of Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Creed Humphrey have all bolstered the ball-running capabilities of the Chiefs offense. Fantasy Pros projects Edwards-Helaire to rush for 939.2 yards in 2021. However, I could see him flirt with 1,200 rushing yards if the chips fall the right way.

As for the backups, Jerick McKinnon is listed at RB40 in Half PPR leagues, with Darrel Williams at RB79 and Darwin Thompson at RB87. McKinnon may be a nice depth grab in the late rounds of your draft, but Williams and Thompson should really only be selected in extremely deep leagues.

Wide Receivers

The Super Bowl often acts as a culmination of all of that previous year's storylines. It helps put a bow on team narratives and players closing their personal story arcs for the season. In my opinion, Super Bowl LV actually foreshadowed what will come this season for the Chiefs.

Tampa Bay's defense decided to double Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, taking away Patrick Mahomes' best weapons. Instead of trying to win the battles against one of the best wide receivers and arguably the best tight end in football, they elected to just let Mahomes try and beat them with his second and third options. We all know how that ended. Mahomes ran for his life all night and eventually conceded the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

I say all that to say this: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce control this offense, and a bunch of pretty average receivers back them up. Mecole Hardman, who led his team in drops despite getting just 62 targets, will be stepping into the WR2 in Kansas City. Demarcus Robinson has improved every year, but may not be the best third wide receiver on the field in 11 personnel. Byron Pringle and Cornell Powell will be bringing up the bench; relying on a 5th-round rookie and a veteran with 25 career catches to lead your receiver bench does not bode well for a team's depth.

From a football perspective, things may not go as swimmingly as they have gone in 2018 and beyond. From a fantasy perspective, you should be putting the house on Tyreek Hill. Even when this roster had Sammy Watkins as the second receiver, Hill still drew 135 targets in 2020. While Watkins' 55 targets should be disseminated across the rest of the corps, Hill may pick up even more targets because Mahomes has no true second option.

Tyreek Hill can be plugged in anywhere on the field. His skill set allows him to beat just about any corner in the league. His speed is second to none. It's no wonder that Fantasy Pros has Tyreek Hill as WR2 on their Consensus ADP board, the 10th player on their overall board. If Davante Adams ends up stranded in Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers, Hill could take over as top wide receiver in fantasy. The rest of this wide receiver crew is far behind Tyreek Hill on this Consensus ADP list. Hardman is the next wide receiver listed, but he is all the way down at WR61. Demarcus Robinson slots in at WR82, while Byron Pringle rounds things out at WR123.

Hardman should be a relatively safe flex option. However, if you want to maximize your roster space by taking some risks, draft Demarcus Robinson ahead of Hardman. Robinson caught 45 passes to Hardman's 41 despite having three fewer targets than Hardman. Hardman is the overall better receiver: he has a higher YAC per reception than Robinson, has a higher ADOT than Robinson, and breaks more tackles than Robinson. However, that drop rate of 12.9% really scares me. I could see a world where Mahomes loses trust in Hardman and looks elsewhere on the roster to generate offense.

Tight End

The Kansas City tight end position is a similar song and dance to their wide receiver position. Travis Kelce is most likely the most dominant tight end in the NFL at the moment; he is certainly the most dominant tight end in fantasy. Behind him, there really isn't much to write home about. Blake Bell has played for five different teams since 2015. He is returning to the Chiefs after leaving in 2019 for the Dallas Cowboys. Bell caught 15 passes for 186 yards in his rookie season and has yet to top either total since. Noah Gray is a 5th-round rookie out of Duke, who Kelce has given a vote of confidence to during camp.

In reality, this will most likely once again be the Travis Kelce show. Kansas City runs 73% of their passing plays out of 11 personnel, tied for the third-highest rate in football. There isn't much room for a second tight end on this roster, let alone one with Blake Bell's offensive output. Fantasy Pros' Consensus ADP reflects this: Travis Kelce is the unanimous top tight end, 11th on the overall board. After him, there isn't another Chiefs player on the list. I believe that Kelce will continue his incredible stretch of success into 2021. He better, because Patrick Mahomes will rely more on him and Tyreek Hill than he ever has before.

Dynasty players, keep an eye on Noah Gray. A player of Kelce's caliber giving Gray this kind of endorsement should mean something. If a player is "years ahead of being a rookie" in the eyes of a top 10 all-time tight end, he could end up developing into a meaningful player.

Final Verdict

The Kansas City Chiefs are still the team to beat in the AFC. They are still a juggernaut with elite talent at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end. However, beyond the Big Three, I cannot fully endorse most of the other Chiefs players from a fantasy perspective.

I may be higher on Edwards-Helaire than most, but he might be the only other Chiefs player worth drafting. There are simply too many questions about the depth guys for me to trust any of them The names you are familiar with to will continue to dominate their respective positions in fantasy. However, don't be surprised if they are the only players in red and gold uniforms worth taking.

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