- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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For a team coming off a 2-14 season after which it traded away its best offensive player (Tony Gonzalez), the Chiefs sure are getting some fantasy love this summer. That's because new general manager Scott Pioli has united former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the team's new head coach, with former Patriots one-year wonder Matt Cassel, the team's new starting quarterback.
Cassel replaces Tyler Thigpen under center for the Chiefs, but training camp will begin to illustrate whether that will mean any more success for this talent-starved team. After all, if Thigpen -- a surprise fantasy darling for the middle third of 2008 -- was simply the product of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's shotgun-based spread offense, what's Cassel? Replacing Tom Brady last year, Cassel proved he had a difficult time with the deep ball, a la Thigpen, and was obviously more comfortable running four-wide shotgun formations. And considering he led the NFL in sacks taken with 47 behind a decent offensive line in New England, what'll happen after a full season behind this new motley crew? Hey, Haley made his bones calling pass plays, Dwayne Bowe is a nice target and the Chiefs should give up a lot of points. There'll be some nice fantasy pieces in this offense. But will it make for anything close to a successful team?
What to look for in camp
Key position battles: The Chiefs look pretty bad, but they actually don't have many starting spots open for competition. Brad Cottam gets first crack at replacing Hall-of-Famer-to-be Gonzalez at tight end, but he reportedly looked awful catching the ball at minicamps this spring and summer. That could open the door for someone like Tony Curtis, late of the Cowboys, to get a few receptions (he has 11 in his three-year career). Or it could just mean that Sean Ryan, a glorified offensive lineman, could see more field time.
On defense, Kansas City acquired oft-injured former Bear Mike Brown, who can play either free safety or strong safety. The team's preference would be to use Brown (if he can stay healthy) for depth purposes, but the Kansas City Star reports that if Brown is going to crack the starting lineup during training camp, it's more likely to be at Bernard Pollard's strong safety position than at Jarrad Page's free safety spot.
Finally, how's this for drama: kicker fight! Second-year man Connor Barth went 10-for-12 after taking over the starting gig last year, but the team drafted Ryan Succop as Mr. Irrelevant in April's draft, and he's the one who won the job. Succop has a big leg and reportedly boomed some long ones in minicamp, but he was plagued by inconsistency in his college career.
Fitting in: Cassel's transition to being the face of this franchise will grab a lot of headlines, as will questions about whether Larry Johnson is over the personal and legal problems that have hounded him for a couple seasons. But in terms of big transitions, nothing outweighs the team's decision to move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. On the defensive line, this leaves former No. 5 overall pick Glenn Dorsey in a bit of a no-man's land. He's not big enough to play the nose in a 3-4, but he hasn't played much defensive end in his career, either pro or college. For now, Dorsey starts at end opposite this year's No. 3 overall pick, Tyson Jackson, a former LSU teammate of Dorsey's whose size and skills make him a much more natural 3-4 end. Most worrisome is that this roster really doesn't have anyone who can play the nose. For now, Tank Tyler will try, but unless something amazing happens in camp, this group looks like it'll be very poor against the run.
And considering the Chiefs registered only 10 sacks last year, fewest in the history of the 16-game schedule, it's hard to say that a transition is what this linebacker corps needs, either. Mike Vrabel occasionally looked cooked with the Patriots last year, but he and Tamba Hali will be counted on to be the pass-rushing outside linebackers. Problem is that Vrabel is slowing down, and Hali is just slow. The young corners, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, actually are decent. Unfortunately, with so little pass-rush pressure on opposing quarterbacks, eventually receivers are going to get open.
On the line: Left tackle Branden Albert was a right tackle in college, but he did a surprisingly (to me, anyway) good job protecting Thigpen's blind side during his rookie year. Unfortunately, he showed up to minicamp 30 pounds heavy this spring. Right tackle Damion McIntosh has been a disappointment since coming over from Miami two seasons ago. Left guard Brian Waters is a legend, but he's unhappy with his contract, and new right guard Mike Goff struggled last year with San Diego. Finally, the center position will be a camp battle between incumbent Rudy Niswanger and former Bengals starter Eric Ghiaciuc, neither of whom was even average in '08. If Cassel held the ball too long and took too many sacks with New England last season, he may be destined for worse things behind this group in '09.
The bottom line
You won't be able to blame 2009 on Pioli or Haley. Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards left behind a mess, and it's going to take Pioli a few seasons to draft his way out of it. The problems here are mostly on defense, and particularly in the front seven. And for fantasy owners, that may not actually be a bad thing. The Chiefs are already going to be programmed to throw on offense, and with such a poor pass rush, game situations will mandate that Kansas City catch up via the airways in most games. While that means Larry Johnson will probably take a back seat to the passing game again, Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley and Bobby Engram all have interesting statistical potential heading into training camp.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can e-mail him here.
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