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IDP Fantasy Forecast: 2021 Kansas City Chiefs

@Glosser13 brings you an in-depth look at the back to back AFC Champions Kansas City Chiefs defense.

Although the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t able to complete their quest of back-to-back Super Bowl Champions, they had a very good 2020 season. The Chiefs finished inside the top 10 in both points for (6th) and points against (10th). The Chiefs’ offense gets all the credit, but it’s their defense that has been a big reason why they’ve been winning consistently. Kansas City has finished inside of the top 10 in points against each of the last two seasons.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo returns for his third season, Although his defensive philosophies are unique and frustrating at times for dynasty managers, you can’t argue with the results. Since Spagnuolo has taken over, the Chiefs have only lost six regular-season games in the past two seasons. The Chiefs’ defense ranked 24th in points before Spagnuolo being hired as the defensive coordinator. The Chiefs have a mix of veteran players along with young players that offer upside for dynasty IDP fantasy football leagues. 

Credit: pro-football-reference

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Chris Jones DL33 161.8 Fantasy Points

– 9 Forced Fumbles, 2 Interceptions, and 38.5 sacks since 2017

– 64.47% snaps in 2020. Has played at least 58% snaps in each of the last 4 seasons

– Only Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner had more sacks from the DT position in 2020

Jones is one of the best defensive tackles in football and fortunately enough for dynasty managers that translates over to his fantasy football production. The Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle has 77 quarterback hits over the last three seasons, that is on average an extra 20 fantasy points per season in IDP123 scoring. Jones is an absolute stud in DT-required leagues and one of the rare defensive tackles who contribute in coverage. He has 24 pass deflections and two interceptions over his first five seasons. 

Only Donald and Buckner are ranked higher at the DL position on the Dynasty Tool at http://dynastynerds.com. Jones is currently the consensus DL12 among our rankers and he continues to be one of the top 12-15 defensive linemen drafted in startup drafts despite being a defensive tackle. Jones should remain the most productive DL for the Chiefs and dynasty managers should have no questions about starting him every week. 

Frank Clark

Clark enters the 2021 season with an off-the-field incident that surely will cost him some games. The early speculation is at best his legal troubles could cost him up to three games this season. This is an unfortunate situation for the Chiefs who already have fully guaranteed his $25 million salaries this season. There’s no question the Chiefs will take their potential out and cut Clark after this season but for now, they have to be hopeful he can contribute as the team looks to make it to their third straight Super Bowl. 

The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end has six sacks or more in five straight seasons. Clark finished as the DL64 last year while averaging 8.8 fantasy points per game. Frank Clark had career lows in tackles, sacks and failed to create a turnover in 2020. He turned 28 last month and appears to be on the downside of his career. He returns as the only DL for the AFC Champions that played at least 70% of the defensive snaps last season. Dynasty managers should be looking for a selling window for Clark if one appears, I know it’s unlikely with a black cloud of a suspension hanging over his head. The sack numbers alone make Clark a viable fantasy option at a very thin position so if I’m not a contender I would take a fourth or fifth-round rookie pick to move him. 

Jarran Reed

The ex-Seahawk joined the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency after spending the last five seasons in Seattle. Reed only played in 10 games in 2019, but had a bounce-back year in 2020 finishing as the DL55, collecting 38 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Reed will have an opportunity to play alongside one of the game’s best, Jones, and should flourish.

According to pro-football-reference, Reed has accounted for 66 pressures and 19 sacks over his past three seasons. The addition of Reed may allow Jones to play more snaps outside, especially if Clark is to miss several games. Keep an eye out for Reed as he’s been underrated in IDP leagues for most of the past three seasons, with the troubles the Chiefs have had creating a pass rush he can be a great value. 

Taco Charlton

Charlton suffered a season-ending leg injury in week 8. Had at least 10 pressures in each of his first two seasons and had six in seven games in 2020. He only played 18 snaps or more twice last season. but had 13+ fantasy points in both games. 

LINEBACKERS

Credit: chiefswire.usatoday.com

Nick Bolton

Bolton was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft 58th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2020, Bolton led the SEC with 67 solo tackles. He was named first-team All-SEC, second-team All-American, and a finalist for the Butkus Award. If we use Bolton’s 2020 college stats, he would have registered 194 fantasy points in IDP123 scoring; that would be the most of any Chiefs linebacker last season. 

Bolton is a tackling machine, in 32 career college games, he has registered nine games with at least ten tackles. He gives the Chiefs a much-needed youth movement at LB. Bolton will hopefully play alongside Willie Gay Jr. to give the Chiefs some speed and versatility at the linebacker position. Spagnuolo has not played an LB over 65% of snaps since taking over in 2019. We can hope that with the Chiefs spending back-to-back second-round picks on linebackers, this will change in 2021. You can check my IDP rookie profile on Bolton here.

Credit: chiefswire.usatoday.com

Willie Gay Jr.

There wasn’t much for IDP Dynasty managers to get excited about from Gay in 2020. He wrapped up his rookie season as the LB122, scoring 95.1 fantasy points. It was clear the Chiefs didn’t trust the rookie LB in coverage, as most of his snaps came on run downs. Gay did manage two impact plays and three passed defended on just 25% of snaps. The departure of Damien Wilson in free agency, who accounted for 49% of the defensive snaps last year, should help Gay see the field more in 2021. 

Anthony Hitchens

Hitchens returns to Kansas City with two years remaining on his contract. He returns as the linebacker who played the most snaps last season (55.91%). In 2018, the Chiefs LB had a career year with 135 tackles and played 994 defensive snaps that season (80%), the most of his career. Since 2018, Hitchens has not played more than 63% of snaps in any season. In turn, Hitchens’ tackles, tackles for loss, and impact plays have declined in each of the last two seasons.

There’s no secret that the Chiefs’ defensive strategy favors more defensive backs on the field than linebackers. In 2020 the Chiefs only played three linebackers over 400 snaps while seven different defensive backs played north of 400 snaps. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise with the pass-happy division the Chiefs play in, last season all of their division opponents finished in the top 20 in pass attempts last season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Tyrann Mathieu

The “Honey Badger” has made a big impact throughout his career. Mathieu finished as the DB34 last season, his worst overall finish since 2017. He’s turned in top 20 DB performances in each of the previous three seasons. In 2020, Mathieu fell just short of his fourth consecutive 200+ point fantasy season. Although he finished as a low-end DB3, he was effective down the stretch scoring 66.7 of his 194 fantasy points from weeks 12 to weeks 14. 

The former LSU defensive back has seen his tackle numbers drop in each of the last two seasons, and 2020 was his first season since 2014 that he finished without a sack or forced fumble. He led all Chiefs in defensive snaps with 979 (91%). Mathieu will remain a big-play-dependent safety who is used in a multitude of roles. In 2020 he played 979 snaps, he spent at least 300 snaps playing as a slot corner or in the box, and most of the remaining snaps as a deep safety. IDP managers should continue to roll out the former All-Pro DB weekly and hopefully, he bounces back and rewards them with solid production.

Juan Thornhill

The young safety has been the least dynamic of the three Chiefs safeties, Thornhill led the defensive backfield with over 400 snaps at deep safety. He finished as the DB170 last season with less than 100 fantasy points. All in all, he has been mediocre as a player over his first few seasons and only started eight games in 2020, after starting all 16 as a rookie. The Chiefs’ safety saw a regression in his tackles, passes defended, and interceptions from his first to the second year. 

In the 2019 season as a rookie, Thornhill allowed a 46.4 completion percentage and a 43.0 quarterback rating when targeted. Those numbers dropped to a 64.5 completion percentage and a 102.8 QBR according to pro-football-reference. There’s very little reason to believe Thornhill is anything more than a spot start DB in mostly all scoring formats across IDP leagues. 

Credit: arrowheadpride.com

Daniel Sorensen

Sorensen was an unsung hero for IDP managers in the 2020 season. He finished as the DB24 in IDP123 scoring and had a career year in tackles (91), solo tackles (68), and tied a career-high in interceptions (3). The veteran safety has found a home with Kansas City; he played the second-most snaps of any defensive player (879) while also leading all defensive starters with 170 special teams snaps in 2020. 

Sorensen was a great find early in the season for IDP managers who needed help at the DB position. He started 11 games last season and played 95% or more of the defensive snaps in every game except one, that being a blowout win against Denver where he scored a defensive touchdown. Sorensen may not be the most flashy player but he’s highly productive in the Chiefs defensive scheme and if he plays nearly 400 box snaps next season as he did in 2020 he should continue to be a great value in IDP leagues. 

Conclusion

There’s plenty of reason to be excited for the Chiefs defensive players heading into the 2020 season. Defensive coordinator Spagnuolo can be frustrating with his player usage from a fantasy perspective, but there’s a method to the madness, and the Chiefs winning ways should continue. Linebacker is the position most IDP managers would like to see more consistency out of. The writing is on the wall for the two youngest and most explosive players at that position to see more snaps. 

At the rapid rate at which the Chiefs’ offense scores points, there should be plenty of opportunities for the defense to take advantage of opposing offenses becoming one-dimensional. The Chiefs’ defense should have more depth than they did a season ago and hopefully, for IDP managers it could lead to more players becoming startable players in all scoring formats. 

Jon Glosser

@Glosser13

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