This is a weekly series where I break down the best contrarian stacks for the upcoming NFL week. For preseason purposes I’m focusing on largely ignored players, teams or offenses who could have a big impact early in the daily fantasy season.
Last year Kansas City Quarterbacks (aka Alex Smith) failed to complete a forward pass to their wide receivers for a TD. To say this offense was stunted and semi one-dimensional was probably the understatement of the year. They took cautious and restrained to the next level on offense and ultimately paid the price by missing the playoffs. However, part of the problem in Kansas City last year wasn’t just a lackluster offensive scheme or overly reserved mindset but a lack of talent. Dwayne Bowe looked finished as a top flight receiver in the league and outside of the emerging Albert Wilson (who only got playing time late in the season) there was not much else to throw to on the outside (remember Donnie Avery actually started at WR for KC last year).
Over the offseason though things changed. KC went out and signed Jeremy Maclin who looked explosive as the de facto number 1 receiver in Philly last season. They also essentially promoted the aforementioned Albert Wilson to the number 2 WR position and drafted the extremely talented Chris Conley. When you add in the fact the Chiefs rid themselves of the aging Anthony Fasano, essentially handing the starting TE job to ultra-athletic Travis Kelce, the receiving core of this team actually rates out as one of the most talented in the league.
A funny thing happened when I watched Kansas City’s first preseason game. On his first pass, Alex Smith attempted a bomb down the sidelines to Jeremy Maclin. This may not seem significant (especially since it was incomplete) but having watched KC play a lot last year I don’t ever remember them starting out a game like that. This trend continued throughout the first quarter as Smith completed a couple longer passes (not screens) of 12 and 16 yards to Maclin and Wilson. I know it’s early and that’s a small sample size, but I think you are going to see a shift in mindset in Kansas City this year. Jamaal Charles will continue to be the focus of the offense but you will see more of an attempt by Reid and the Chiefs to use their new talent and take advantage of teams who try to stack the box and eliminate Charles exclusively. This will mean more downfield passes, more pass attempts and hopefully a lot more fantasy points.
For fantasy purposes, let’s look at who the biggest benefactors of this shift in mindset might be and who we should be targeting for DFS come September.
Alex Smith is not Aaron Rodgers. He isn’t going to rack up 5,000 yards passing or throw 40 tds (probably not anyways), but he is a solid QB who can make plays with his feet and won’t turn the ball over much. The biggest drawback of Smith as a fantasy QB is his lack of upside. Last season Smith completed three passes of 35 yards or more (one was a 70 yard screen to Knile Davis). In 8 of the 15 games he played Smith failed to record a completion of over 30 yards. On its face this presents issues for daily fantasy, mainly a lack of upside. However, as mentioned at the start we also have to consider the context.
Smith’s proven over the course of his career that he can produce when given the opportunity. In games where has been asked to pass 35 or more times—over the past two seasons—Smith’s average fantasy point total (4pts per td, -1int scoring) is over 20 fantasy points per game. With Smith not only do you get a low turnover rate—td/int ratio of 3.15 over past two years—but you also get some running—average 22yards per game over last two years. In short, there is some potential here for big fantasy games, but it still hinges on whether or not the Chiefs increase the amount of downfield passes they throw (and complete).
The biggest step in seeing Smith as a plausible daily fantasy option comes from believing that the additions in weapons will also bring about a change in mindset and performance. Even if Smith loses some of his efficiency if he can improve on his awful downfield completion rate his fantasy production should spike thanks to his low turnover ratio and ground game. While I don’t see Smith as an every week option, he is someone I’m going to target when the Chiefs are in games with high point totals this year. I don’t think you’ll see the same conservative mindset and the improved receiving options (which we’ll discuss below) should mean an increased rate of downfield completions and big plays.
Travis Kelce is likely going to end up as the most reliable receiver on this team for fantasy. Kelce’s a perfect blend of size, speed, agility and pass catching ability who became one of Smith’s favorite targets last season, even in semi-limited playing time. In 10 out of the 16 games he played, Kelce was able to haul in a pass that went for 20 yards or more. In the 2014 ultra-conservative KC offense that is actually quite a feat. With added Wide Receiver talent and an already stellar connection with Alex Smith, Kelce’s production seems to be headed up. Just with added playing time I see Kelce’s numbers likely to increase by 10-15 catches and 1-2 tds (conservatively) making him a potential 80 catch 8+td TE.
Regardless of what happens with the rest of the offense Kelce is locked and loaded as a top 5 fantasy TE. However, if Kansas City really commits to a more pass oriented attack Kelce’s numbers could increase even more and possibly even push him to challenge for the top spot in fantasy. He’ll without a doubt be one of the best options at his position week in week out for DFS NFL.
This is where things get tricky. We know Jeremy Maclin is the new boss in town but how much of his 2014 production (85 catches, 1318 yards, 10 tds) will he be able to replicate? It’s very doubtful Maclin will hit 10tds in an offense where last year zero WR’s caught td’s. However keep in mind that even in a career filled with some shaky QB play, injuries and a head coaching change, Maclin has remained very consistent. In his past two seasons played only 7 times did Maclin catch fewer than 4 passes, and in 12 of those games over this same span, Maclin was able to cracked 90 yards receiving. Considering that Maclin had Mark Sanchez and a declining Michael Vick throwing to him over that span those numbers are actually pretty good. Alex Smith may not turn Jeremy Maclin into Antonio Brown but he won’t turn him into Michael Crabtree either. I think a fairly solid season, more solid than people realize, awaits Maclin with his receptions remaining close to the same and his tds and yards seeing a 10-20% drop.
The two wildcards on this offense and potential cheap fantasy plays in any given week will be Chris Conley and Albert Wilson. Conley is an athletic freak who ran a low 4.3 40m and hit 45” on his vertical. Conley has been injured early in camp and so we don’t know how he’ll fit in yet but he’s someone you absolutely should keep an eye on. He has the ability to be a red zone target, short game passing monster and deep threat and could see more snaps as the season progresses.
Albert Wilson though is the one who is likely to start the season as the WR2 in this offense. Wilson is no slouch himself and looks like he might be a decent ppr option for certain weeks. Last year he put up some good ppr numbers once he got regular playing time (averaged 4 catches for just under 70 yards in 3 games as a starter). He’s smooth, decently built for his size and showed a knack for getting open. In games where KC is forced to pass, or Maclin is being shadowed by a shutdown corner, Wilson could emerge as the primary receiving option for Alex Smith.
Outside of the obvious play in Jamaal Charles, Kansas City offers some pretty interesting fantasy options for this upcoming season. Alex Smith may actually turn into a more reliable QB with a decent floor every week due his running and the improvement to his receiving core, and the change in offensive philosophy may mean he offers more weekly upside than most realize. Additionally, The Kansas City receivers may make for great contrarian options in large tournaments given most people’s distaste for Smith. As we speak Albert Wilson is priced at the minimum on DraftKings for week 1 and Jeremy Maclin is on no one’s list of early season targets. Although certain matchups could make a Kansas City passing stack intriguing, the real week in week out option to target will be TE Travis Kelce, who is likely going to be a cash game staple of many, at least until his price gets too high. All in all this is an offense you should be monitoring every week as you search for both consistent performance and that high upside, overlooked player, who might be able to lift you to a large gpp win.