The Chiefs outlook for this season could come down to the health of two knees. Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston are both coming off knee surgery, and their status for 2016 could determine how well Kansas City plays this year.
Charles, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 last year, is expected to be ready for training camp. However, there are concerns with his age (29), durability (this was his second ACL tear since 2011) and workload (Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware could share touches). But at least he should be on the field in Week 1, and that's great news for the Chiefs.
Houston might not be so lucky. He underwent surgery for his ACL and LCL in March, and Kansas City is unsure if he will play at all this season. If he does, it's not certain he can still be a dominant pass rusher if his knee isn't 100 percent, and Houston has 50.5 sacks in the past four seasons. Without Houston, you have to worry about the Chiefs defense, and even the DST is a risky option.
And even coach Andy Reid had knee replacement surgery in the offseason. Although no one is counting on him to make plays on the field.
We'll see what happens with Charles in training camp, and his status will impact West and Ware on Draft Day, although West should be considered the handcuff. Jeremy Maclin appears safe as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver, and he should be drafted in Round 5 or 6. Travis Kelce should still be considered a No. 1 Fantasy tight end despite struggling last year, and is worth drafting with a mid-round pick.
As for Alex Smith, you know what kind of quarterback he is by now. He'll do a nice job managing the offense, and his overall stats could look decent by the end of the season. But you would never want to start him in the majority of Fantasy leagues.
In 2015, Smith completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,486 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions and ran for 498 yards and two touchdowns. He had seven games with at least 20 Fantasy points, including four in the final six weeks of the season. But he also had five games with 15 points or less, so it's hard to trust him on a weekly basis.
If everyone is healthy, Kansas City can definitely challenge Denver for the AFC West title, as the Chiefs lost in the divisional round of the playoffs last year to the Patriots. There is a lot of talent in Kansas City, but having Charles and Houston at 100 percent could be the difference between a postseason appearance or a difficult year.
When healthy, Charles is among the best Fantasy running backs in any league. And in 2015, before he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in Week 5, he was on his way to another monster campaign. He had 71 carries for 364 yards and four touchdowns and 21 catches for 177 yards and one touchdown. If you project those stats over 16 games, Charles would have finished with 227 carries for 1,165 yards and 13 touchdowns and 67 catches for 566 yards and three touchdowns. He was averaging 17 Fantasy points a game in a standard league in his first four outings, so you see what he's capable of when he's 100 percent. And this is the second time in his career he has to come back from a torn ACL after he hurt his left knee in 2011. The following season in 2012, Charles had 285 carries for 1,509 yards and five touchdowns and 35 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown. His age could catch up to him this season, and the Chiefs could also want to keep him fresh by using West and Ware. You can't ignore his upside, so Charles is worth the gamble in Round 2, but you should also handcuff him to West with a late-round pick. Hopefully we see the same old Charles in 2016, but he could prove risky coming off another ACL tear as a 29-year-old running back.
I was skeptical about Maclin in 2015 with his move from the Eagles to the Chiefs. They had just gone the entire 2014 season without a receiver scoring a touchdown, and I expected Smith to ruin Maclin's Fantasy outlook. But you have to be pleasantly surprised with how Maclin played last season. He finished as the No. 17 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues with 87 catches for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns on 124 targets. His Fantasy production could be a little misleading since he had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league and six games with six points or less, but he now has consecutive seasons of at least 85 catches, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. That's encouraging, and the Chiefs didn't bring in a receiver of substance with only Rod Streater signed as a free agent and rookie Demarcus Robinson drafted in the fourth round. Those two will be role players, along with Albert Wilson and Chris Conley, but Maclin should still be the focal point of the passing game. He's not someone you should target on Draft Day, but if you're looking for a capable starter as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver then Maclin is fine in Round 5 or 6. If you can draft him as your No. 3 receiver instead of a No. 2 option then your Fantasy team will be in better shape.
The two tight ends I targeted in every league last season were Kelce and Tyler Eifert. Obviously, I was thrilled with Eifert's performance in 2015, but Kelce was a huge disappointment. Maybe we overvalued him after the way he played in 2014 with 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns on 87 targets. He had 101 targets in 2015, but his stats were basically the same with 72 catches for 875 yards and five touchdowns. The Chiefs gave Kelce a huge raise this offseason with a five-year deal worth $46 million, so they remain heavily invested in him, and Fantasy owners shouldn't completely give up on him despite last year's struggles. He only had five games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in 2015 and eight with at least seven points, and that's where he needs to improve if he wants to be considered an elite option at the position. The touchdowns need to go up, as he only had 13 red-zone targets in 2015. By comparison, Rob Gronkowski (25), Jordan Reed (24), Gary Barnidge (23) and Greg Olsen (20) all had at least 20 red-zone targets, and those were the top four tight ends in standard leagues. Kelce remains a Top 10 tight end on Draft Day, but this season you should draft him with a mid-round pick, and hopefully he'll outperform his draft position.