XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Here we are at the start of a brand new season and that means Showdowns! Week 1 starts with an exciting matchup as the Lions visit the Chiefs. The Lions, of course, exceeded expectations last year on the back of a resurgent offense and a defense that was not nearly as bad as expected, while the Chiefs . . . are the Chiefs. This should be a fun one with a whopping 54-point total and Kansas City favored by 6.5.
An important note: because we try to get the Week 1 NFL Edge out early, that means I’m writing this on Friday and don’t have the benefit of week-of practice reports and injury updates. That means things could change, and if they do, this article will be updated. Keep an eye on it if we get any injury news or clarity around roles that aren’t already noted here.
We’ll start with the Chiefs because they’re always complicated to figure out. The running back situation should be fairly clear with Isiah Pacheco as the primary 2-down back, Jerick McKinnon as the passing down back (which has also resulted in a fair bit of schemed red zone usage), and Clyde Edwards-Helaire mixing in from time to time. If we dig in here, we see that CEH never really got much run last season, as he had only 1 game of 10+ carries. Pacheco, on the other hand, had 8 such games in the regular season but was a near-zero in the passing game with just 14 targets on the year (not including a playoff game against the Bengals in which he saw six targets). McKinnon, on the other hand, is clearly a passing down back – 72 carries last year but also a whopping 71 targets, including nine (!!!) receiving touchdowns. There’s that schemed usage I was talking about, which really emerged after Mecole Hardman was injured. Hardman had been the schemed red zone guy earlier in the year so it’s possible that the red zone role rotates away from McKinnon but I don’t think it’s likely as McKinnon excelled in it, Hardman is off the team, and the only other guy who really profiles like that would be Kadarius Toney, who isn’t certain to suit up (more on him later). We’re missing DVOA stats here as Football Outsiders imploded in a wild bit of fantasy drama, but the Lions allowed 5.2 yards per carry last season and 22 rushing touchdowns, good for 3rd and 4th worst in the league, respectively. The matchup is quite favorable for Pacheco as a home favorite, and the price is very reasonable at $6,800, but just keep in mind that “Chiefs RB” has been a shakier role in recent years than what we’ve seen in the past from Andy Reid, as they have become one of the pass-happiest teams in the league in the past few seasons (hard to blame them when Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback). McKinnon is a solid option at $5,600 with a lot of touchdown equity (I think I prefer him to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who he’s priced right next to), while CEH is a pretty dubious punt option as he’s priced at $3,600 rather than the $1k range we like for punt plays, but that should also keep ownership way down as people look for value to fit the expensive studs.
Ownership updates automatically
In the passing game, we know the Chiefs by now: it’s Travis Kelce and then “everyone else.” In this case, “everyone else” includes Marquez Valdes-Scantling (MVS), Skyy Moore, Justin Watson, Rashee Rice, Richie James, Justyn Ross, backup tight end Noah Gray, and perhaps even some of TE3 Blake Bell. Whew. What we know is that the Chiefs rarely have a wide receiver that gets into the 80%+ snap percentages. Last season, there were only 12 occurrences of any WR seeing 80% of the snaps. Nobody ever saw 90%, and 7 of those 12 occurrences were JuJu Smith-Schuster, their big free agent WR acquisition, who is of course now on the Patriots. We can and should expect to see the Chiefs mix things up in their wide receiver group quite a bit, and a big wildcard here is the status of Kadarius Toney. Tony joined the team last year and was an oft-injured role player. He’s hurt again this year (surprise!), but if he suits up, he presents a wide range of outcomes. Tony is very talented, and I’d expect the Chiefs would like to use him as more than just a 30-40% snap guy, but the question is if his health will hold up. For the rest of this writeup, I’m going to assume that Toney misses this game, as I think it’s likely that the Chiefs will take a conservative approach in their first game of the season, but if we get any more news on him I’ll send over an update to the article. Out of the remaining WRs, my best guess is that the highest snaps will go to MVS and Skyy Moore, with Watson a consistent (though rarely targeted) field presence. Richie James has had a good preseason and his field time should primarily come at the expense of Watson, so you could negatively correlate the two of them (given the prolific passing offense of the Chiefs, I’m generally warier of rules that completely exclude certain pairings, as you can easily group yourself out of a winning lineup). The Chiefs coaching staff noted that they see Rice and Ross beginning the season as package players, so I’d be surprised if they saw more than 30% snap counts in the first game of the year, leaving them both as punt options (with Rice being expensive for a punt and thus, hopefully, coming in at lower ownership). The backup TEs are pure punt plays, while Kelce is, of course, a premium play who will compete with Amon-Ra St. Brown for the honor of being the highest-owned skill position player on the slate. You want me to write more about Kelce? I’m not sure what to say – he’s elite, the matchup is fine, and everything lines up for him to have a big game every single week. Deciding what to do with Kelce is more of a game theory/strategy question than it is, “Is Kelce a good play?” question. I’ll get more into that later. To rank the WRs, my favorite is Moore, who has had a really good preseason and was viewed as a good talent when drafted. I think he has a good chance of breaking out this year. MVS is next, as his role gives him upside but he hasn’t shown an ability to earn consistent targets in this offense. Watson follows, as he’s just $200 and will be on the field a lot. Next is James, who has shown talent when given the opportunity (but the opportunity here is a wild card), then Ross, then Rice.
UPDATE: On Sunday, Andy Reid announced that Toney is “good to go.” So the question is, what role will he play? Last year after being acquired, Toney was playing around 30% of the snaps and he also (of course) spent some time injured. So the big question is, will Toney continue to be used as a package player like he was last season, or do the Chiefs have bigger plans for him now that he’s been with the team for a full offseason? And how does his injury status play into this, if at all? I don’t know the answers. My best guess is he falls somewhere in the 40-50% of snaps range, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was wrong (in either direction). You can decide that this isn’t where you want to take a stand and just play into the ownership of the field on Toney, or you can decide you want to take a stand one way or another. Given his talent and the lack of WRs in this offense, personally, I want to be overweight here if it looks like ownership is going to be low (say, sub-25%) because Toney’s upside is significant.
UPDATE 2: Well the season is starting with some uncertainty as Travis Kelce injured his knee in practice and is questionable for the game. Apparently, it’s a bone bruise, though initially it seemed pretty serious (they tested his ACL, which is scary). The original writeup covers my thoughts if Kelce is in, so this update is going to be how that thinking changes if he misses. Obviously, Kelce is really the WR1 in Kansas City so that opens up a ton of targets, but it also changes the overall roster construction and strategy quite a bit. If you take $12k Kelce out of the player pool (and remember that the Chiefs other pass catchers are pretty inexpensive), all of a sudden it becomes much easier to fit all 3 of Mahomes, ASRB, and Goff, the remaining 3 studs. We’d also see ownership tick up significantly on the mid-range guys (think the 6k – 8k range, so Gibbs, Pacheco, etc.) because losing Kelce opens up extra salary to spend on those guys. What it doesn’t really change is the ownership at the low end and we’ll see fewer stars + scrubs builds. And, of course, we’ll see a lot of people play Noah Gray, who should be the one stepping into the TE1 role for the Chiefs at $2,400. Gray looked like a pretty capable pass catcher last season, catching 28 of 34 regular season targets, but the question is if he can earn targets in a very crowded offense with a lot of wide receivers….the answer to that is that I don’t know, but he’s going to be on the field plenty. At $2,400, he becomes a stronger value play to me than Kalif Raymond, Justin Watson, and those types because he should see a lot more snaps and routes run but be aware that the field is likely to view him the same way. You can definitely play him, but just recognize that if you build a roster with all 3 of Mahomes, ASRB, and Goff, and then use Gray as your value play to make it fit…well, there are going to be a lot of folks building that same type of roster, so figure out a way to make it different.