One of the more predictable ways to determine opportunity is to look at coaching habits. By looking at how a coach decides which plays to run, you develop an understanding of what players will be valuable in an offense. This is especially true if a coach has been on a team for a long period of time and large sample sizes exist.
In this piece, we take a look at play calling and game script for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2016 season and how those numbers might translate to 2017.
By looking at the overall number of plays ran and pass/run ratio, we should be able to come up with a reasonable projection for how players on the team might fare in the fantasy category this season.
How the Chiefs started in 2016
Kansas City was a little shaky coming out of the gate, starting off 2-2 with bad losses to Houston and Pittsburgh. They also needed one of the largest comebacks ever to put away the San Diego Chargers in Week 1.
During that four-game stretch, quarterback Alex Smith's arm served as the primary source of offense for KC. Smith passed on 69 percent of the team's snaps.
Smith's passing workload had a lot to do with the Chiefs playing two high-powered offenses in San Diego and Pittsburgh. The Chiefs were also playing from behind in 3 out of 4 of those games.
Overall, Smith finished as a QB3 in Week 1, QB32 in Week 2, and QB18 in Week 3. Not very consistent overall.
As for the running back spot, starter Spencer Ware recorded his highest carry total in Week 3 with 20 attempts against the Jets. Game script had a lot to do with Ware's volume in that game, as the Chiefs nursed a 17-3 advantage in the second half.
Spencer Ware finished as an RB3, RB21 and RB34 in that span.
Chiefs pick up steam
After the 2-2 start, the Chiefs rattled off five straight victories. Their success stemmed from a change in offensive philosophy and a softer schedule. Smith threw the ball less with 22, 24, 19, 38 and 31 pass attempts in that stretch. Smith also only recorded one game with 250 passing yards.
The Chiefs offense also played weaker defenses, scoring close to 30 points against Oakland, New Orleans and Indianapolis.
In the run game, Ware became the team's go-to option. He out-snapped Charcandrick West 40-8, 36-14, 26-42, 0-45, and 41-20 in that stretch. The only outlier games were when Ware sustained a concussion Week 8 and missed the second half followed by missing all of Week 9.
Rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill also emerged as a key factor, doubling his snap count from 18 to 36 by Week 8 and contributing on special teams in a big way with two punt return touchdowns and one kickoff return for a score.
Closing out strong
The Chiefs were fantastic down the stretch, winning five of their last six games including tough victories against Atlanta, Oakland and Denver twice. Smith's throws per game hovered around the 25-28 mark with one or two outlier games. The passing attempts were similar to his Week 5-8 numbers.
Smith's passing yard totals were very close to the same almost every week and he averaged 238 yards per game during the stretch. He had no games deviating 30 yards + or - from that average, aside from one outlier game against Tennessee where he only threw for 163 yards.
Ware continued to assert himself as the lead back, out-snapping West 42-33, 38-11, 40-13, 36-21, 37-29 and he didn't play in the final game. His best finish came as an RB10 in Week 13 before he dropped off and failed to crack the Top 30 for the rest of the season.
Go for running backs and tight ends?
Andy Reid offenses in Kansas City haven't lent themselves to high value for the quarterback spot. He has consistently ranked low in pass plays per game and it hasn't impacted the Chiefs success at all. He's yet to record a losing season with this philosophy.
|Year||Team||Pass plays/game||Rank||Chiefs record|
This conservative passing approach has affected the wide receivers ability to have fantasy value. Here's how value shakes out at each position. Hint: This should give you pause if you're thinking about drafting Tyreek Hill.
|Year||QB fantasy finish||Highest RB finish||Highest WR finish||Highest TE finish|
|2014||QB19||RB7||None in top 50||TE8|
It would appear running backs and tight ends have the most value in Andy Reid's offense. There hasn't been a wide receiver inside the Top 15 range since Reid got to Kansas City.
Tight ends are a different story. Kelce ranked third in targets last season and sixth in 2015. Keep in mind, Brent Celek also had a Pro Bowl caliber season under Reid in 2009 and ranked 7th in targets that year. L.J. Smith was 11th in targets in 2006. So Reid has shown a tendency to get tight ends involved.
You'd think Reid's teams would be more run heavy but they aren't. Over the course of Reid's stint in Kansas City, the Chiefs ranked near the bottom in plays run per game among the 32 NFL teams. To put that in perspective, New Orleans ran 69 plays per game in 2016 to lead all teams. So Kansas City ran over 120 less plays than New Orleans did last season.
Despite that, running backs are still valuable because of the passing game. Reid likes to use running backs as receivers, as evidenced by the 82 targets doled out last season to running backs. In 2015, there were 75 between three running backs. Jamaal Charles was lethal in 2013 because of this alone.
|Year||Team||Plays run per game||Rank|
So how do you apply this to your fantasy team?
Glad you asked. That answer lies in drafting for value at running back and valuing Travis Kelce as a TE1. Spencer Ware finished as an RB2 in standard scoring leagues (RB16) and was also an RB2 in PPR (RB16).
Look for Ware to be the top back out of the gate. Expect some solid RB2 weeks out of him, but don't draft him too high. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Ware is being drafted as an RB20.
Ware's ADP is a little high with Hunt lurking but there are plenty of question marks regarding the RB's being drafted around him like C.J. Anderson, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. Still, his team has a strong defensive foundation and a coach that likes to get RB's involved. He's safe.
As for rookie backup Kareem Hunt, you'd be wise to draft him at his RB38 ADP. Hunt's elusiveness and ability to create yards after contact could land him the starter role at some point during the season.
Tough road in 2017
The Chiefs have a brutal schedule in 2017 and trail only Denver for the toughest slate in the league.
When it comes to game scripts, the Chiefs get New England Week 1, Philadelphia Week 2 and the improved Los Angeles Chargers Week 3. Three defenses with good pass rushers and potent offenses.
The Chiefs might have to throw more out of the gate and may struggle out of the gate like last year. Smith just isn't wired to throw for a ton of passing yards and is at his best when his attempts hover around 25-30.
Ware will also have his work cutout for him, but there is some passing upside due to Reid's style of getting running backs involved in the receiving game.
Summing up Kansas City's approach
Kansas City plays a conservative style of offense and looks to grind games out with defense. Their only true playmaker is tight end Travis Kelce due to his size and speed after the catch. Tyreek Hill has potential, but wide receivers have been stifled in Reid's offense due to low passing volume.
Not much changed in the offseason for Kansas City to change this approach. Smith is still the quarterback, and their defense remains one of the best in the league on paper. With a now-healthy Justin Houston rushing the passer and safety Eric Berry at the helm, Kansas City should remain true to its identity.
Cornerback Marcus Peters is also coming off a solid season, and graded out the 11th best corner in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Kelce, Ware and Hunt are the players you should be looking to draft. Ware isn't a great option given his ADP, but he will have good PPR value as a receiver. Hunt is a tremendous value.