Several years ago, I took a road trip to visit some friends in Kansas City. We tailgated at Arrowhead (which we affectionately dubbed "Camaro-head" that day), then attended a Rams-Chiefs game. I remember it for three reasons: 1) It was 400 degrees below zero with the wind chill (the way football should be; 2) Dante Hall returned two kicks for TDs; 3) The drunk guy right behind us yelled, "Show 'em the Priest!" every 20 seconds (even when KC was on defense).
A lot has changed since that day, though I'm sure the tailgating there still is second to none -- and I'm sure there are still large trucks parked on 60-degree angles on boulder-filled hills near Camaro-head. Hall is now a Ram, and, as much as it pains fans and fantasy owners to admit it, Priest Holmes is finished. Luckily, Larry Johnson's long holdout is over.
It's Year 2 of the Herm Edwards era, and it appears Brodie Croyle -- even after a miserable performance against the Saints on Thursday -- will take the reins from Trent Green (now in Miami). Unfortunately, the Chiefs' receiving corps still is among the league's worst. They really, really need Dwayne Bowe to make an immediate impact. On the defensive side, a few free-agent signings will give this unit a fantasy boost.
Projected draft round Player Round Brodie Croyle, QB 17-DND Larry Johnson, RB 1 Michael Bennett, RB 16-17 Eddie Kennison, WR 10 Samie Parker, WR DND Tony Gonzalez, TE 3-4 Justin Medlock, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: LB Donnie Edwards, LB Napoleon Harris. Key losses: QB Trent Green, WR Dante Hall, DL Eric Hicks, S Sammy Knight, LB Kawika Mitchell, DL Ryan Sims, DB Lenny Walls.
Larry Johnson, RB. How does a guy coming off a season with 2,199 total yards and 19 TDs fall to third (or lower) in so many drafts? Well, it has nothing to do with Johnson's holdout, which finally ended this week. Instead, the concerns include his durability, the Chiefs' passing game and the effectiveness of the offensive line. Johnson carried the ball an NFL-record 416 times last season, so while he is just 27 years old, he has plenty of wear and tear on his body. With a rookie under center and a weak receiving corps, defenses will load up against the run and dare K.C. to beat them in the air. That puts even more pressure on the line. That said, Johnson is a special talent who is capable of big production despite all of these challenges, and he shouldn't last until the fifth pick in your draft.
Tony Gonzalez, TE. There are two schools of thought about Gonzalez. The first is that he is an elite tight end who ranks behind only Antonio Gates. The second is that his numbers will suffer with a first-year starter at QB, and if he again has to dedicate a good chunk of his time to blocking. You should lean more toward the former. Gonzalez is the team's best option in the passing game, and Brodie Croyle will look to him often. Even in a "down" year, Gonzo goes for 70 catches and five TDs. Don't let him slip past the fourth round.
Tamba Hali, DL. Hali had an impressive rookie year, and he has the tools to be even better in his sophomore season. He provides plenty of tackles, he should make a run at double-digit sack totals and he might even contribute a pick. His numbers could suffer early, however, as fellow pass rusher Jared Allen serves a two-game suspension.
Eddie Kennison, WR. Despite being the Chiefs' No. 1 receiver -- OK, that honor actually belongs to Tony Gonzalez, but hear me out -- Kennison slips further and further in drafts each season. I was able to pluck him in Round 11 in our in-house experts league earlier this week. He isn't a 1,000-yard wideout, won't do much better than five or six TD receptions and will have to adjust to a new QB, but you can do much worse than Kennison if you're hunting for a No. 3 or even reliable depth for your bench.
Donnie Edwards, LB. After a five-year layover in San Diego -- there are worse places to spend five years -- Edwards is back where his career began (he was a Chief from 1996-2001). In his Chargers tenure, Edwards averaged 146 tackles per season and didn't miss a start. He also has the speed to get to the QB and cover receivers and tight ends, so expect a few sacks and interceptions. Even at age 34, Edwards is a durable and reliable No. 2 LB.
Chiefs defense/special teams. The good news is that this unit has room for improvement. And with additions of LB Donnie Edwards, LB Napoleon Harris and DT Alfonso Boone, improvement is likely. The unit tied for ninth in sacks last season and was 11th in takeaways. With the cornerback tandem of Patrick Surtain and Ty Law, the Chiefs will produce turnovers. However, it struggled to stop the run (allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 14 rushing TDs); thus, the addition of Boone. As far as the return game, there's a nice void to fill. Overall, this unit has some sleeper value, especially when matched up against Oakland twice this season, but you can put in a bye-week waiver claim for it.
Brodie Croyle, QB. Cue the horrible theme song to "Growing Pains," because there will be plenty of those, at least early in the season. And before you optimistically think the Week 1 matchup at Houston will provide Croyle with a confidence boost, take note of the Week 2 matchup vs. Chicago. Croyle has a strong arm, if the Chiefs uncharacteristically choose open things up a bit; what he doesn't have is much talent at wideout. He also isn't much of a scrambler, and he hasn't displayed the best decision-making skills this preseason (see: ugly INTs). Track him, but don't draft him.
Damon Huard, QB. Huard is a more appealing fantasy option than Croyle as the starter, thanks to his 11:1 TD:INT ratio last season when he replaced the injured Trent Green. Plus, a veteran QB would be more advantageous for owners of Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison and Dwayne Bowe. However, the Chiefs are looking to the future, meaning Huard will be holding a clipboard at the start of the season. If Croyle struggles or is injured, Huard will be worth a pickup, but not as anything more than a backup.
Dwayne Bowe, WR. There is no shortage of rookie receivers who are capable of making instant impacts this season, and that bunch includes Bowe. But because he missed a nice chunk of camp, a slow start can't be ruled out. As thin as the Chiefs are at the position, however, Bowe still has a good chance to start in Week 1. A first-year starter at QB throwing to a rookie wideout isn't an equation for fantasy success, so if you draft Bowe, do it late and leave him on your bench early in the year.
Jared Allen, DL. Allen is a solid pass rusher who also will help you in the tackle department. A two-game suspension hurts his draft-day value, but you'll be thankful if you select Allen and then stash him on your bench.
Samie Parker, WR. Parker currently is listed as the team's No. 2 receiver, but Dwayne Bowe certainly can change that. And if Parker begins the season as a starter in Kansas City, he very well could be the least valuable starting NFL receiver in terms of fantasy value.
Justin Medlock, K. What's worse than taking a kicker in the fifth round of the NFL draft? Not much, but taking a rookie kicker in any round of a fantasy draft is pretty close. Unless you're using some asinine three-kicker format, Medlock shouldn't be in your plans.
Michael Bennett, RB. The speedy Bennett is the official No. 2 behind Larry Johnson, but he typically gets about as much playing time as Brett Favre's backup. Even if something were to happen to LJ, Bennett wouldn't be an every-down back. In other words, LJ owners shouldn't jump off a building if they fail to land Bennett as a handcuff.
Kolby Smith, RB. In time, Smith could overtake Bennett on the depth chart, but he'll probably spend most of his time on special teams as a rookie. Move along.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: The schedule (see below) doesn't have a true soft spot if you're looking for offensive bargains. Therefore, the $3M price tag for the Chiefs' defense looks attractive, especially because the team's first three games come against questionable offenses (Texans, Bears and Vikings). Build some value during that stretch, but be sure to sell this unit before it heads to San Diego in Week 4.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: The team continues to distance itself from the high-flying days of the Dick Vermeil era, as Herm Edwards' focus clearly is on the running game and defense. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will use the cover 2, and he has a few more weapons at his disposal this season. On offense, coordinator Mike Solari will keep things conservative.
Offensive line: The team still is trying to replace Willie Roaf, and that was the goal when it signed free agent Damion McIntosh to take over at left tackle. Improvement certainly is needed in pass protection, as Chiefs QBs were sacked 41 times in 2007. With the retirement of 14-year veteran Will Shields, there also is a hole to fill at right guard. That job belongs to John Welbourne. Chris Terry moves into the starting lineup at right tackle, and solid linemen Casey Wiegmann (center) and Brian Waters (guard) round out the unit. There is plenty of pressure on this line, especially from Larry Johnson owners.
Schedule analysis: The schedule makers didn't do Kansas City any favors. In addition to the tough defensive opponents in the AFC West, the Chiefs must contend with the NFC North -- a division featuring the Bears, the improving Packers' D and the Vikings' top-notch run defense. And then there are matchups against the Colts, Jets and Jaguars. The only upside is that the Chiefs face the Titans in Week 15 and the Lions in Week 16 during the fantasy playoffs. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Fourth toughest (or 29th easiest).