WR: Tyreek Hill
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: Mecole Hardman/Demarcus Robinson
RB: Damien Williams
TE: Travis Kelce
Hill led the league in yards per touch last year (15.0) and his 1,479 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns made him the highest-scoring receiver in fantasy football. Kelce set the all-time mark for receiving yards by a tight end last year (1,336), but it was broken three hours later by San Francisco’s George Kittle. Watkins is talented enough to be the top wideout on a few teams but he’s Kansas City’s third option at a cool $16 million per year. He hasn’t had more than 593 receiving yards since 2015. Kansas City’s fourth option will either be Demarcus Robinson or second-rounder Mecole Hardman, the speedster drafted to fill Hill’s role when the Chiefs were unsure whether Hill would be arrested or suspended as a result of a child abuse investigation into injuries sustained by his 4-year-old son. (The league ultimately decided not to punish Hill.) The Chiefs have a faster receiving corps than last year’s group that was part of one of the best offenses in NFL history.
IDL: Chris Jones, Chiefs
Jones broke out in a big way last season, notching 15.5 sacks to go along with 19 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hits. With the Chiefs transitioning to a 4-3 base defense and Jones’ role thus calling for even more backfield-penetration, he should be in line for another huge campaign.
Last year’s changes didn’t work. The Chiefs got old on defense. They received almost nothing from safety Eric Berry, who was injured for most of a second straight season.
The Chiefs finished last season 31st in total defense, ahead of only the 6-10 Bengals.
”Unfortunately in this business, sometimes that happens,” Reid said. “That transition sometimes just doesn’t work.
”Sometimes change can be good. It can be healthy if handled the right way. Spags is a veteran coach. Bringing people in that worked with him or were familiar with his system was a good get there and important.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes vs. 49ers’ pass defense
314. That’s the number of yards that third-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for in Week 3 against the 49ers last year. It was an absolute clinic in the first half, as the former Red Raider lit up Saleh’s pass defense play after play.
While Reid may not be as exotic with his play-calling, all eyes will be on the 49ers’ defense to see how they match up with the array of weapons that Kansas City has at their disposal. Between tight end Travis Kelce, wideouts Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, the 49ers’ defensive backs will have their hands full.
With corner Richard Sherman completely healthy and corner Ahkello Witherspoon looking for a bounce-back season, can the duo slow down the Chiefs’ receivers? Free safety Tarvarius Moore will likely see lots of action in the center-field safety role as well, after impressing the coaches during the preseason.
But after last season’s beatdown, the 49ers’ pass defense is on high alert for Saturday against the NFL’s reigning MVP.
The thought of losing a star in a televised scrimmage before the most anticipated Chiefs season in a generation or more is terrifying to Chiefs fans, but when an innovator like Reid doesn’t budge, it’s worth thinking about why.
The short answer: It works.
Reid has had starts of 9-0, 5-0 and 5-0 with the Chiefs. Alex Smith was on an MVP track in early 2017. The most efficient chunk of Mahomes’ MVP season in 2018 was the first four games
While the defensive players have made strides in implementing and getting comfortable in Spagnuolo’s 4-3 system, they’re still not where they want to be for the season opener in Jacksonville. And for that reason, Clark is grateful for the final two preseason games.
“We’ve got to fine-tune a few more things, throw some plays out, add some new plays, you know how it goes,” he said. “We’ve got two more weeks. We’re still in training camp. We went home, but we still in training camp. So we still fine-tuning everything. These next three weeks are pivotal.”
The defense showed improvement in the preseason loss to the Steelers, but the entire starting corps only played together for a handful of snaps before Mathieu exited early.
“The group that we envision to be out there for a lot of snaps against Jacksonville, haven’t had a lot of snaps in a game situation,” Spagnuolo said. “So, there’s a little concern there, but if we can get all of those guys out there Saturday night, it’ll be about chemistry, it’ll be about communication. How they react with each other.”
Elsewhere on offense, Reid explained the Chiefs’ situation at left guard with Andrew Wylie and Cam Erving both getting some work at the position.
”[Erving] has been working [there] this week. We had [Andrew] Wylie there, and we feel like both of the guys are starters - you just don’t have enough spots,” Reid said. “We let Wylie work some at tackle this week and put Cam in at guard this week to give him some shots there. Listen, they’re all going to play. That’s how it’s worked out here. You can’t have enough of those guys. Those two, like I said, we consider starters and we feel comfortable. We want to make sure we get Cam some good, condensed work in there at guard. He’ll get some work there Saturday night.”
Around the league
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo Bills: I’ll admit to questioning the long-term potential of Allen when he was selected seventh overall despite being a sub-60 percent passer in college. However, the Bills’ QB1 acquitted himself quite well in Year 1 as a dual-threat weapon with spectacular running skills and impromptu playmaking ability. Allen became the only QB in NFL history to pass for 200-plus yards and rush for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. No. 17 led all quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns and finished second among signal-callers in rushing yards (631, trailing only Lamar Jackson’s 695). Although the Bills would prefer for Allen to do his damage with his cannon arm, the running skills certainly add an element to his game that makes defensive coordinators stay up at night. With the Bills surrounding their young QB1 with a stable of catch-and-run specialists on the perimeter (see: Cole Beasley, John Brown and Zay Jones), the second-year pro could really break out in 2019.
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 17.2%
First-time offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello might instead hope for one of his wideouts to make a second-year leap alongside Sanders, who made his return to the field on Monday night as part of rehabbing his torn Achilles. Sutton’s role in the offense grew when Thomas was traded and was expected to rise further after Sanders went down, but during those final four games without either veteran, Sutton was third on the team in targets (25) and receiving yards (146), trailing both Tim Patrick and Hamilton. The latter’s versatility led to 38 targets over four games, although Hamilton averaged just 7.3 yards across his 25 receptions during that stretch.
The problem for Hamilton, in a way, might be Scangarello. The Broncos imported their new coordinator from San Francisco, where Scangarello had worked under Kyle Shanahan. The former 49ers and Falcons offensive coordinator loves to use a fullback and runs plenty of plays with two or more tight ends on the field, and when the Broncos use either of those options, it will likely be at Hamilton’s expense. The late addition of Theo Riddick also seems more likely to eat into Hamilton’s targets than those of any of the other wideouts. Sutton didn’t impress over the final month of the season, but he has the best chance of breaking out in 2019.
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
In Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense, these skills will become even more important — especially for the WILL (weak-side) linebacker. So rather than entrusting this role to a player already on the roster, the Chiefs have endeavored to find a new one.
In the first two preseason games, the first-team WILL position has mostly been manned by former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damien Wilson. Former New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee has had most of the second-team snaps. Since these have been exhibition games, it’s hard to be certain of the final plan at any position — but there are some trends to be observed and skills to evaluate.
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