Veteran leadership mixed with young talent could make the Chiefs an under-the-radar fantasy defense this season.
As my fantasy draft got into the later rounds, defenses started to be selected. First, the Los Angeles Rams, then Washington and Indianapolis. All three teams are projected to be the top fantasy performing units this season.
Then I am up to draft and select the Chiefs, which the in-person draft room all looked at me sideways. However, the Chiefs’ defense has a ton of upside and could be one of the best defenses to have in fantasy, at a steal too!
First, let’s take a look at the men at the line of scrimmage.
The defensive line is headlined by Chris Jones, who has seen his role develop and grow. Lately, Jones has been able to line up on the edge in practice along with his interior role. Jones has also lost 15-20 pounds and looks to continue to lead this unit.
Jones led the Chiefs in sacks with 7.5 last season. At the edge, I could certainly see Jones climb closer to his career-high 15.5 sack mark in 2018, according to Pro Football Reference. Especially given he has lost weight to move in quicker than he already does for a defensive lineman.
Edge rusher Frank Clark had 6 sacks last season. Given he is one of the highest-paid players on the roster, some have questioned his production. However, with Jones’ increased role, this could help alleviate the pressure off of him and help him thrive in the 2021 season.
Clark will be joined by a familiar face on the interior line. The Chiefs signed Seattle Seahawks lineman Jarran Reed. Clark and Reed both had career years together and have shown to play well together.
The 2018 season saw Clark and Reed combine for 23.5 sacks for the Seahawks. The 10.5 from Reed and 13 from Clark show these two can make a difference when lined up alongside each other.
Quality talent like former first-round pick Taco Charlton and Alex Okafor make this unit pretty reliable going into the new season.
The linebackers directly behind them are inexperienced but could be ready to make significant plays if veteran leadership goes well.
The linebacker room has big questions, none greater than Nick Bolton. The second-round pick out of Missouri has been a playmaker in the SEC, both in the run and passing game.
If you watched Bolton play, he was certainly a game-changer, whether with his monster tackles and run-stopping or getting a pick and running it the other way. The man looked league-ready even in his junior year campaign, but came back and got even better as a senior.
Another young and athletic piece for the Chiefs is linebacker Willie Gay Jr. I would be surprised if teams ran all over the Chiefs like previous Andy Reid-led teams.
Both Bolton and Gay have the speed and range to make offensive linemen and tight ends really have to work to keep in front of them. But this unit will not succeed without the veteran leadership of Anthony Hitchens.
Hitchens is going into his fourth year in Kansas City and is the leader of this unit. The 29-year-old has seemed to embrace the role and provide guidance to the up-and-coming guys in Gay and Bolton.
The Chiefs shouldn’t have too much of an issue stopping the run, given their talented defensive line and speedy linebackers. In the passing game, the Chiefs secondary has a trio of safeties up top to facilitate the passing coverage.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu has emerged as one of the biggest leaders and figures in the Chiefs’ locker room. That has also carried over on the field; Mathieu has a league-high 10 interceptions in the last two seasons, leading all safties.
Alongside him will be the combination of Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen. Thornhill came off of an ACL tear during his 2019 season but is now healthy. This showed against the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason when he made a leaping interception to close the second half.
Thornhill and Sorensen have both shown to be able to play off of Mathieu. I could see the Chiefs utilizing Sorensen more on running plays given his nickname ‘Dirty Dan’ and his hard-nosed playing style. While the more athletic Thornhill plays for passing situations.
The cornerbacks for the Chiefs will be a similar group. Led by second-year standout L’Jarius Sneed, who snagged 3 interceptions along with 7 pass breakups, according to Pro Football Reference. The other two projected starters are Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes.
Hughes is a former first-round pick and could be ready to make a leap in the right direction on this new roster. He has also potentially earned returning duties on punts this year as well. For Ward, he knows the system and has been a reliable and consistent piece for Kansas City.
This entire collection of talent, veteran leadership, and overall trust in the players made me make the decision I did.
This unit led by Steve Spagnuolo has continued to get better and I could see them being one of the top teams in takeaways and sacks next season.