Patrick Mahomes II shattered conventional wisdom last year. The second-year player was the NFL Most Valuable Player in his first season as a starter and threw for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. His 482.1 fantasy points rank second all-time behind Peyton Manning's 55-touchdown season in 2013. Manning was 37 years old when he threw 55 touchdowns. Tom Brady was 30 in his 50-touchdown year. Drew Brees' best year came as a 32-year old. Quarterbacks don't typically peak at 23 years old in their first full season under center. Last year Mahomes won many fantasy leagues because he did all that with a late round price tag. This year, you're going to have to draft Mahomes very early, and we need to decide if he's worth it, and at what price? We also need to understand how the Chiefs roster changes if Tyreek Hill misses significant time.
In this Roundtable, we address:
- How Tyreek Hill’s presumed absence impacts the Chiefs overall production
- Whether Patrick Mahomes II remains the No. 1-ranked fantasy quarterback
- Is Sammy Watkins in-line for an elite fantasy season
- Who benefits most on the roster
- Compelling options to bolster the receiving corps via trade or free agency
Tyreek Hill’s Presumed Absence
Jason Wood: Although we don't know Tyreek Hill's fate yet, for the sake of the conversation assume he does not play a snap in 2019. How does Hill's absence impact your projections or expectations for the Chiefs offense?
Sigmund Bloom: You have to lower the expectations by a significant amount. I expect a 10% to 20% smaller passing pie and with yards and touchdowns not coming as easily to the running game. That should still keep the Chiefs among the league's top five scoring offenses, and top ten in yardage, so the players are still among the most coveted in fantasy drafts. Pat Mahomes could also take a step forward in Year Two to offset some of the loss.
Chad Parsons: I believe in regression after monster seasons as a general rule, so expecting Mahomes and the Chiefs passing game to come back to the pack was already expected. Tyreek Hill aids the entire offense with his big-play ability and speed, so field constricts some without him. Sammy Watkins is a fringe WR1 with upside from there. Travis Kelce as the consensus No. 1 tight end is an even more secure projection, and the Chiefs No. 2 receiver becomes someone to watch. I think Mahomes is more likely to throw less than 40 touchdowns than more than 45.
Bob Henry: I’ve lowered my Chiefs team projections about 10%, so I’m in line with Sigmund conceptually. I mainly reduced Mahomes’ passing touchdowns and yards-per-attempt average, but also slightly decreased the yards per rushing attempt as the defense can better key on the ground game without Hill in the lineup. I thought about a deeper cut, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Andy Reid finds someone else that can have a similar effect as a versatile playmaker.
Phil Alexander: Hill accounted for 22% of Kansas City's receiving fantasy points last season. Unless DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, or Antonio Brown suddenly gets traded to the Chiefs, Hill's absence leaves too large a void to fill. I’m right with Sigmund and Bob, as I expect the entire offensive pie declines by at least 10%.
Mahomes as the No. 1 Fantasy Quarterback
Jason Wood: Is Mahomes still your No. 1 fantasy quarterback without Tyreek Hill? If so, how does this change where you're willing to draft him in redraft leagues?
Bob Henry: Yes, although the margin isn’t as wide. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a quarterback with such a runaway train effect compared to his peers and relative ADP. With Hill, it’s not ridiculous to consider drafting Mahomes in the late first or early second round. Without Hill, Mahomes becomes the more traditional No. 1 fantasy quarterback and should come off the board a few rounds later.
Chad Parsons: I agree, Mahomes is still my top-ranked quarterback, but I have him firmly outside the first 2-3 rounds. I'm an advocate of waiting on quarterback given the position’s depth, so I won’t be targeting Mahomes this year.
Andy Hicks: I’ll be the contrarian. Hill missing the season is reason enough to drop Mahomes from the clear No. 1 option to No. 3 for me. Hill was the No. 1 fantasy receiver in 2018 and is irreplaceable. Rookies and free agents may help, but can’t overcome the loss. Sammy Watkins offers the pedigree, but not the performance. Travis Kelce has been remarkably durable but hits 30 this year. Putting all your faith into Mecole Hardman – a second-round rookie – is a dangerous play. What street free agent is going to come in and tear the place up? We haven’t even got into opposing defenses having a whole offseason to find areas to target Mahomes, as well. His asking price will present too high for me.
Sigmund Bloom: While I understand Andy’s logic, I can’t agree. Mahomes still has to be No. 1. There was such a massive gap between Mahomes last year and the rest of the position, he has a big cushion to fall back into and remain atop the standings. He was contained by good defenses a few times last year, and it could happen a few more times this season. While I still see Mahomes as the top fantasy quarterback, I concur with my colleagues that it’s best to avoid him at his projected draft position.
Phil Alexander: Sigmund has it right. You can decrease Mahomes’ counting stats by 20% from last season, and he still finishes as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback in most years. With Hill in the lineup, I wouldn't have quibbled with anyone taking Mahomes in Round 1, although it wouldn’t have been my strategy. Without Hill, Mahomes figures to fall closer to the rest of the pack. I prefer Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers two or three rounds later.
Sammy Watkins Upside
Jason Wood: A few of you brought up Sammy Watkins. He’s been shooting up early draft boards as the presumed new No. 1 target in Kansas City. Are you okay with Watkins as the top target? While talented, he hasn't managed 600+ receiving yards since 2015. I’m skeptical, but understand the high-risk, high-reward proposition of drafting Watkins without Hill in the lineup.
Phil Alexander: I just took Watkins at 4.09 (WR19) in a 12-team Best Ball draft. If his ADP sticks in that range all summer, I'm fine taking him there. There is obvious risk opting for Watkins ahead of a more reliable receiver like Robert Woods. However, projecting Watkins for a modest 110 targets (Hill had 137 last year) equates to a Top-15 season potentially.
Chad Parsons: As you guys know, I’m a Sammy Watkins fan. For years his combination of pedigree, talent, and upside have only been held back by health concerns. If Watkins can stay on the field, he has Top-5 upside and should be no worse than a high-end WR2.
Sigmund Bloom: It's all about health, but we know Watkins has the well-rounded skill set and physical talent to be a No. 1. He's turning 26 this summer, so he is still in the juicy part of his prime as an athlete, and no quarterback adds more value to his targets than Mahomes. Watkins will project as a Top-10 receiver in any week he’s healthy, so even if he’s only healthy 8-to-10 weeks, his current draft position is more than justified.
Andy Hicks: I guess I’ll be the contrarian again. Watkins is all sizzle and no steak. Sure, if Watkins stays healthy the opportunity is there but is it all about health? Consider how much better Brandin Cooks has been with the Rams compared to Watkins, in the same role. Last year, Watkins averaged 50 yards a game and scored three total touchdowns on a Chiefs team that scored 565 points. Just because the Chiefs need Watkins to put it all together doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
Bob Henry: Don’t worry Andy, you’re not on an island this time. I have an extremely difficult time betting on Watkins to stay healthy. I’m projecting Watkins for 13 games. The question is whether he can give us a healthy 13 games or if a handful of those involve him playing through an assortment of issues and not being at his best.
Beyond Kelce and Watkins
Jason Wood: Who else steps up for the Chiefs in Hill's absence? Do you think rookie Mecole Hardman (2nd round selection) can be fantasy relevant if forced into Hill's role? Do the likes of DeMarcus Robinson, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, and Byron Pringle offer lottery ticket upside?
Sigmund Bloom: Hardman is the easy call here. The Chiefs moved up for him, in the draft, and his skill set overlaps with Hill's very well. Mahomes can keep plays alive and make deep throws that few quarterbacks will even attempt; Hardman just needs to use his quickness and speed to be a viable deep target on those plays. If he does that, Hardman will be a relevant fantasy player. Most of the fantasy community is vastly underrating him because they are discounting how advantageous his landing spot, and potential role, is to his 2019 value. Robinson is intriguing, too. He has a year under his belt with Mahomes and is an excellent physical talent with a high ceiling who’s draft stock fell because of off-field questions.
Chad Parsons: Count me as part of the fantasy community who isn’t buying into Hardman as an instant fantasy contributor. I am not a Mecole Hardman fan. His anemic production at the University of Georgia puts him in the boom-or-bust tier of 2019 prospects. I do not expect a swift transition to NFL fantasy starter for Hardman. DeMarcus Robinson, on the other hand, is dirt cheap and is the most impressive of the other receivers on the roster. He’s worth a poker chip.
Bob Henry: I expect the target distribution to normalize to the offensive talent. If Hill is suspended, that means Travis Kelce remains the target leader by a wide margin, but the running backs probably see more targets, and the receiving pecking order will ultimately be a meritocracy. Darwin Thompson and James Williams are intriguing additions to the backfield, and one can never overlook a running back that Andy Reid invests in, even if it’s a back end roster type. Carlos Hyde is risky given his fallout with the Jaguars last year. Damien Williams looked great late last year, but he’s never handled the lead role for a full season.
At wide receiver, I like Hardman and Pringle but won’t overlook Robinson. Sure, everything is different without Hill, but the team isn’t devoid of talent. Pringle was a character risk coming out of college and missed his rookie season, but he flashed big-play ability in the preseason before going on the shelf. Hardman is a work in progress but has game-breaking talent, speed and the ability to make people miss in the open field. He’s probably the closest to Hill’s profile of anybody on the roster. Robinson has played well when given opportunities, too, and offers is versatile enough to play inside or outside.
Andy Hicks: It’s hard to have conviction right now, so I’ll be focused on training camp for clues to the pecking order. I’m with Sigmund that Hardman is the player to target, but we don’t want to place unrealistic expectations on a rookie. DeMarcus Robinson isn’t the worst longshot out there, but he will be 28 years old and has 43 career catches. Gehrig Dieter and Marcus Kemp have been on and off the roster, and are unproven.
Phil Alexander: I get the feeling Kansas City isn't done adding wide receivers to their roster, but if the season started today, I'd guess Hardman and Robinson would join Watkins in 3-receiver sets. I'm not sure either has lottery ticket upside, but there are certainly worse strategies than buying up cheap pieces to one of the league’s top passing offenses.
Bolstering the Receiving Corps
Jason Wood: We all seem to agree the Chiefs aren’t done tweaking the roster. Who should they target from outside the organization to help solidify the receiving corps? Would the signing of free agents like Michael Crabtree, Pierre Garcon, Rishard Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin, or Jermaine Kearse make sense? What about trading for the likes of Nelson Agholor, Chad Williams, Keelan Cole, or Laquon Treadwell?
Sigmund Bloom: Agholor is an obvious call here with the connection to the Andy Reid coaching tree via Philadelphia. Keelan Cole has great straight-line speed and deep ball skills, so if the Jaguars are moving on, he makes sense.
Phil Alexander: It wouldn't be surprising to see the Chiefs bring back Kelvin Benjamin, but even given starter snaps, he doesn't profile as more than a No. 4 fantasy receiver.
Chad Parsons: Adding Michael Crabtree would perk my ears up but only as No. 4 fantasy option. Crabtree has physically eroded in recent years. Keelan Cole or Nelson Agholor would be of interest as potential trade targets; their open-field speed suits the Chiefs’ game plan.
Andy Hicks: Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t productive last year with the Chiefs, and they don’t seem eager to bring him back. Placing names at random won’t help until we know who and when it is. The ‘when’ is much more important than the ‘who.’ Are the Chiefs going to watch their existing group through camps before making a move? For conjecture's sake, let’s assume the team adds Rishard Matthews or Keelan Cole. Both are under 30 years old and have been productive for stretches. I think both are better fits than aging veterans like Garcon or Crabtree. Personally, seeing Cole land in Kansas City would be a dream. I've always thought there was some poor man's Antonio Brown to his game and would target him in every draft if he got to catch passes from Mahomes.
Bob Henry: I’m not enamored with any of the names you threw out, Jason. I don’t see them as difference makers versus the current roster. They’re more experienced, sure, but in terms of familiarity in the system, trust of the coaches and ability to jump into the offense and carve out a role, I’ll stick with the current cast. Agholor might be the exception. You didn’t mention him, but John Ross would be another roll of the dice worth taking if the Bengals cut him. Jordan Matthews could be available given the 49ers infusion of youth.