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Team Previews: Kansas City Chiefs

Chris Benzine

Chris has been a RW contributor since early 2014, focused on Breaking News, MLB Daily Lineups and occasional NFL Team Previews.

THE SKINNY
GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid took their respective jobs in 2013, and since then the Chiefs haven't won fewer than nine games. The team's regular-season success may have granted the duo some good will in Kansas City, but it's only translated to one postseason victory thus far.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

CHARLES NO LONGER IN CHARGE
Jamaal Charles, who had headed the Chiefs' backfield since the release of Larry Johnson back in 2009, moved on to division rival Denver following another injury-marred campaign. When fit to play, Charles was highly productive, but the 30-year-old saw action in just eight games over the past two seasons due to a variety of knee woes. In his stead, Spencer Ware worked his way into the lead role, rushing for 921 yards last season. To help fill the void created by the release of Charles, the Chiefs traded up in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select Toledo running back Kareem Hunt 86th overall. Look for Ware and Hunt to battle for reps through training camp and the preseason, but ideally the duo's skill sets will complement each other well. While Ware can wear down defenses with his powerful, straight-line running style, Hunt boasts the ability to make people miss in the hole and developed into a solid pass catcher in his final collegiate season. It's quite possible the duo will split duties in Kansas City's backfield this year, something of a fantasy headache, but in real terms it's an arrangement that could result in a more balanced attack. Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller are also around, but they profile as role players in a scenario in which both Ware and Hunt enjoy good health.

SMITH'S LAST STAND?
Alex Smith, selected first overall by the 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft, took over as the Chiefs' starting quarterback in 2013 in conjunction with the organization's transition to coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey. Since then, Smith has prided himself on protecting the football, throwing eight or fewer interceptions in each of his four seasons with Kansas City. In that span, however, the signal-caller, who turned 33 in May, never produced more than 23 TD passes in a season. In the process, Smith maintained the image of game manager, versus game changer. With just one playoff victory in a Chiefs uniform to his credit and the mileage on his career odometer building, the team's brass aggressively traded up to the 10th overall spot in the 2017 draft in order to tab the strong-armed Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech. In contrast to Smith, Mahomes brings a gunslinger mentality to the gridiron, drawing comparisons to the likes of Brett Favre and Jay Cutler. The upcoming season should belong to Smith, but the Chiefs have positioned themselves to move on once Mahomes displays the polish necessary to helm the team's attack. Smith's deal with the team expires in 2019, but with just $3.6 million of his $20.6 million salary in 2018 guaranteed, the veteran QB's long-term future with the franchise is far from secure.

MACLIN ON THE MOVE
After landing in Kansas City in 2015, Jeremy Maclin acted as a much-needed dynamic threat in coach Andy Reid's deliberate offense, notching more than 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Last season was a different story, though, as a groin injury aided in career worsts across the board. Maclin's release in early June was nonetheless a shocker. That is, until salary-cap savings of $10 million is taken into account. In the wake of Maclin's jarring exit, Kansas City's top pass-catching options are now wideout Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. With Maclin's targets needing to be absorbed, the dynamic and versatile Hill should experience a boost in touches in his second year as a pro, with Chris Conley, a 2015 third-rounder, a prime candidate to see added opportunities as well. Meanwhile, the likes of Albert Wilson, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson and De'Anthony Thomas will jostle for depth chart slotting in advance of the season. It's also possible that a low-cost veteran free agent ends up joining the mix. Either way, there's a chance for a sleeper to emerge on the fantasy radar. The release of veteran running back Jamaal Charles signaled another changing of the guard on offense, but the Chiefs' selection of Kareem Hunt, who brings a reliable pair of hands to the table, bolsters the team's pass-catching capabilities out of the backfield.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Travis Kelce
Kelce took a significant leap forward in 2016, posting career highs in receptions (85), targets (117) and receiving yards (1,125). He only scored four TDs, but the tight end, who is bouncing back from shoulder surgery, figures to improve on that mark after being targeted 18 times inside the 20 and seven times inside the 10 last season.

BAROMETER

RISING: Tyreek Hill
Hill's workload gradually expanded after he exploded onto the scene in 2016, en route to accumulating 61 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns. The speedster should play an even larger role in the offense in 2017.

FALLING: Spencer Ware
Ware emerged as the lead back for the Chiefs last season due to Jamaal Charles' various ailments. While Charles has departed, Kansas City's third-round selection, Kareem Hunt, could eat into Ware's workload.

SLEEPER: Kareem Hunt
Hunt's ability to catch the ball makes him an attractive option, especially given quarterback Alex Smith's tendency to dish the ball off to his running backs frequently. Charcandrick West is on notice.

KEY JOB BATTLE THIRD WIDEOUT
Following the Chiefs' release of Jeremy Maclin, the third spot on Kansas City's wide receiver depth chart has opened to the masses. Tyreek Hill emerged from the slot position last season to earn a spot as one of the team's cornerstone receivers in 2017 and Chris Conley profiles as a key cog at the position as well. Second-year wideout Demarcus Robinson and 2016 practice squad addition Seantavius Jones both left a positive impression on Coach Andy Reid during OTAs, but Albert Wilson -- who has a history of production for the club -- likely emerges as the favorite to see additional reps. De'Anthony Thomas and 2017 fourth-round selection Jehu Chesson will also attempt to seize the role, one which the club appears content to let play out in training camp.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Patrick Mahomes QB (Rd. 1, No. 10 Texas Tech)
Could commandeer the starting role as early as 2018.

Kareem Hunt RB (Rd. 3, No. 86 Toledo)
Adept pass catcher could challenge Spencer Ware for the starting role.

C.J. Spiller RB (from Jets)
Adds veteran depth to backfield but has bounced around of late.

Bennie Logan DT (from Eagles)
Expected to take Dontari Poe's spot at nose tackle in 2017.

KEY LOSSES:
Jamaal Charles RB (to Broncos)
Injuries and age led to departure of the Chiefs' all-time leading rusher.

Jeremy Maclin WR (to Ravens)
His unexpected release frees up considerable cap room for the team.

Dontari Poe DT (to Falcons)
Was wanted back but he opted for the big payday offered up by Atlanta.

Nick Foles QB (to Eagles)
Experienced backup returned to his old stomping grounds in Philly.

THE INJURY FRONT
Spencer Ware, RB Ware missed part of mandatory minicamp due to a hamstring injury, but it was referred to as "slight" and it likely won't impact his availability for training camp.

Travis Kelce, TE After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Kelce missed all of OTAs as he continued to recover from the procedure. However, he was able to take part in on-field work on the first day of training camp.

Derrick Johnson, LB Despite playing through a couple of injuries in 2016, the 34-year-old linebacker racked up 90 tackles (70 solo) through 13 games in 2016. A ruptured Achilles ended his season early, and while he avoided the PUP list to start training camp, he may still be eased into drills.