StrategyAugust 2, 2009

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Daily Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

By Tom Docherty

The Kansas City Chiefs enter 2009 with a new general manager, new head coach, and a new philosophy. Todd Haley will attempt to bring his success as offensive coordinator of the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals to Kansas City as head coach. In addition to changes in the staff, the Chiefs parted ways with perennial All-Pro TE Tony Gonzalez and traded for QB Matt Cassel, who emerged from obscurity as Tom Brady’s backup in New England last season. It’s certain that new GM Scott Pioli (GM of the Patriots for the past nine years) gave Kansas City the inside track in acquiring Cassel. The Chiefs were a dysfunctional lot in 2008, going 2-14, and suffering through QB controversy and multiple suspensions of bad-boy RB Larry Johnson. Coach Haley’s no-nonsense approach seems to be working so far. He’s getting results from Johnson, who hasn’t had any off-field incidents, yet.

QB: Matt Cassel, Tyler Thigpen
RB: Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley, Bobby Engram
TE: Brad Cottam
PK: Ryan Succop

Quarterback: Matt Cassel had a meteoric rise to fame in 2008. He went from virtual unknown to, arguably, an NFL star overnight. After Patriots superstar QB Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury, Cassel stepped in and put up exemplary numbers (3,693 yards and 21 TDs), and was a top-10 fantasy QB in most formats. The big question now, as Cassel shifts west to the Chiefs this year, will be whether Cassel is the real deal or a product of the Patriot system. Certainly Cassel is not surrounded by the same talent he had last year, but he has some pieces in place. Can he be the leader and field general to make it work? I think he can. New boss, Todd Haley, will implement a passing offense similar to the one employed in Arizona — a new source of fantasy points may be based at Arrowhead stadium.

Tyler Thigpen was a relative unknown as well in 2008. The Chiefs opened the season with Brody Croyle at QB and Thigpen had to wait until Week 8 before his opportunity came. When it did, he took advantage. Thigpen had 2,608 passing yards and 21 total TDs, good enough to be a top-12 QB in most fantasy formats (and that was with only 11 starts). I viewed him as a very interesting sleeper QB before the Cassel trade went down; however, Thigpen will only have value if Cassel falters greatly or is injured.

Running Back: Larry Johnson is one of the biggest question marks coming into 2009. Will he go back to being the bruising runner that dominated NFL defenses in 2005 and 2006? Or, will he be the sulking malcontent that suffered through injuries and suspensions, feuded with coaches, fans and the media, and was a virtual fantasy afterthought in 2007 and 2008? The simple answer is, he’ll be somewhere in between. Twenty-TD seasons are a thing of the past, as coach Todd Haley’s offense will center on the passing game. However, Johnson has been quiet and well behaved this off-season, and I think he has something to prove. At age 29, Johnson is not worn out — his only legitimate injury was a fractured toe in 2007, which has healed completely. In six NFL seasons, he has been used heavily in only two. Therefore, expect Johnson to be a reliable RB the next couple of years. He has the ability to get 1,000 yards and 6-8 TDs this season, and is a solid RB2 in all fantasy formats.

Jamaal Charles will be Johnson’s backup — likely the third-down RB. The former Texas Longhorn is an excellent change-of-pace back, who I liken to Jets RB Leon Washington. Despite a 5.3 yards per rush average in 2008, Charles probably has limited fantasy value (except to Johnson owners as a handcuff).

Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe is entering the crucial third year for a WR in good position to make his mark as a star in the NFL. The LSU product had 86 catches for 1,022 yards and 7 TDs in 2008. With the departure of TE Tony Gonzalez, Bowe has the potential to add to those TDs, as he will become Cassel’s primary red zone target. Dwayne is a physical receiver with great after-the-catch ability, and has the potential to be a WR stud in the Anquan Boldin mold — definitely a top-10 fantasy WR.

Mark Bradley spent three games with the Bears in 2008 before he was released. The Chiefs picked him up and he had some decent games last season. Bradley will be the slot receiver in the Chiefs offense and has 50-catch/six-TD potential. He’s a big step down from Bowe, however, which should lead to Cassel increasing the number of Bowe’s targets over the season.

Bobby Engram has come over from the Seahawks as a free agent. Coach Haley should be familiar with Engram’s talents after playing against him twice a season while serving as the offensive coordinator for Arizona. Engram is a veteran wideout; he had 47 catches, 489 yards and no TDs in an injury-riddled 2008. I wouldn’t expect much more from Engram in ’09, so he’s more of a waiver wire claim if you need a bye-week replacement this season.

Tight End: Sophomore TE Brad Cottam has big shoes to fill — like clown shoes. Tony Gonzalez is a tight end legend, especially in KC. Cottam probably won’t have to worry, as Todd Haley’s offense does not usually rely on passing to the TE. Don’t draft Cottam. Keep an eye on him and if he bucks the trend and becomes a receiving threat, he might be worth a pickup if your regular TE is on bye.

IDP: Derrick Johnson is probably the best IDP on the Chiefs. He is in his prime and should be all over the field. After adding Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel to the mix, LB is probably the defense’s strongest position. However, Johnson could still post numbers similar to the 85 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one INT he had in 2008. Second-year DE Glenn Dorsey may improve on his lackluster stats of 42 tackles and one sack, but it would be a stretch to consider drafting him. Nevertheless, keep an eye on his progress.

With Haley at the helm and Cassel at QB, look for the Chiefs to try and establish themselves as a passing team in 2009, a marked departure from the team’s identity earlier in the decade. There is some pretty solid fantasy talent here, if you know where to look.

Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.
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