Jamaal Charles was a fantasy sleeper two years ago.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West in 2010, and Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki had promising seasons. Entering the 2011 season, the offense was poised to make even more noise with Charles getting the bulk of the carries and with the addition of first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin.
Moeaki was entering his second season, Dwayne Bowe was under contract and the 2011 Chiefs felt good about their chances to win the division again. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Moeaki and Charles both injured their ACLs and combined to miss 31 games. Cassel got through nine games, missing seven games after injuring his hand.
The wheels fell off last year, but time heals, and the Chiefs are hoping the lug nuts are a little tighter in 2012. If the Chiefs can stay healthy, there are several players who could be primed for breakout seasons, and fantasy owners shouldn't ignore the possibility of good fantasy value coming out of Kansas City.
As a rookie, Baldwin caught 21 balls for 254 yards and a touchdown despite playing only four games with Matt Cassel. Baldwin had five receptions for 82 yards and one touchdown in one of the four games, outpacing No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe that day.
Reports out of Kansas City this offseason are positive and suggest Baldwin is having a successful offseason, as opposed to last season when he got injured in an altercation with veteran running back Thomas Jones. Baldwin will enter his second season at age 23, and a good, general rule of thumb is that receivers will break out somewhere between their second and fourth seasons if they are going to break out at all.
The expectation in Kansas City is that Baldwin will be the starter opposite Bowe and push Steve Breaston to the slot. Baldwin should get plenty of looks from Cassel as opposing defenses focus on Bowe and stopping the running game. Baldwin's impressive size should make him a good candidate to be targeted in the red zone if the Chiefs can get there with more regularity.
If Baldwin has matured and can carry his offseason into the regular season, he could be a good fantasy sleeper who can be had late in drafts and can give you enough value to help you during a bye or in case a starter goes down for a few weeks with an injury.
The Chiefs added veteran bruiser Hillis to the fold this offseason to take some of the load off Charles, who is returning from a torn ACL. According to research done by NFL.com's Michael Fabiano, fantasy stats decline for running backs coming off ACL injuries. As Fabiano notes, Charles has age and the fact that the injury happened early in the 2011 season is on his side, but the Chiefs are still likely to be cautious with him to start the year. That could mean additional opportunities for Hillis.
Hillis' size could make him a primary candidate to get short-yardage and goal-line carries, and could mean he will vulture touchdown opportunities from Charles in 2012. Hillis also is a solid pass-blocker because of his size, and that might afford him a few more opportunities in the passing game.
If Charles were to miss games, Hillis could easily step in and and carry the load for what is expected to be a much-improved offensive line in Kansas City. He's a required handcuff of Charles, but should provide value on his own as well.
Everybody's favorite whipping boy in Kansas City is Matt Cassel. Never mind that Cassel was the quarterback when the Chiefs went to the playoffs in 2010 and was the 12th-ranked quarterback in fantasy that season. That means, in a 12-team league, Cassel should have been the starter, and if he wasn't, he was a very good backup.
You could make a case that the Cassel needs the running game to be successful, but that's something he should have in 2012. Cassel gets Charles back, Hillis is a quality backup and Dexter McCluster will move back to wide receiver. Cassel also will have an entire offseason to work with Baldwin, and Tony Moeaki returns from an ACL injury and should be a safety valve. Kevin Boss just gives Cassel another option when the Chiefs decide to go to two-tight end sets.
Along with an improved offensive line and a weak schedule, Cassel has more than enough opportunity to repeat his 2010 and become a reliable fantasy backup and potentially a starter.
Grabbing Cassel and another quarterback late could net you a better overall roster as you load up on receivers, tight ends and running backs early in your draft.
Moeaki had a promising rookie season, with 47 receptions, 556 yards and three touchdowns. After blowing out his ACL during the preseason last year, Moeaki will return to a completely changed fantasy landscape at tight end in 2012, as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham raised expectations for the position last season.
The league is expected to copy what the Patriots did with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season. The Chiefs might be one of those teams, as Moeaki returns and Kevin Boss was signed after being released by the Raiders. The tandem in Kansas City is obviously not going to produce at the same level, but they can still be effective together.
Moeaki is a young tight end with a ton of potential. He could see expanded opportunities down the seam if Baldwin and Bowe can draw the safeties a step to the outside and Cassel has the confidence to throw in traffic.
With an improvement from his rookie season and potentially expanded opportunities in the passing game and red zone, Moeaki could be a low-end tight end option that could potentially reap big dividends.
For four years Steve Breaston has been a solid receiver. He's not going to be a No. 1 option and nor does he need to be, but there are several ways Breaston can still be a good receiver to have on your fantasy bench or a receiver you target in case of a devastating injury to your starter.
If Baldwin is everything the Chiefs are hoping, Breaston will be shifting into the slot receiver role and will be able to stay there. Breaston thrived in that role in Arizona three years ago and had more than 77 receptions and more than 1,000 yards receiving.
The weakness of the passing defenses the Chiefs will face make Breaston a flex-candidate matchup play, and he'll still be a fallback option should Baldwin not carry his offseason success into the regular season.
Baldwin, Bowe and Moeaki should all open up pass routes for Breaston, and opposing defenses will have to pick their poison in the passing game provided Matt Cassel can get the ball to the open receivers.
With a good running game to keep the pressure off Cassel and all the other options in the Kansas City passing attack, there is great potential for Breaston to have an above-average season. Worth watching how the offense looks early to see if it's worth it to add a solid receiver like Breaston to your fantasy bench.