Kansas City Chiefs: Anthony Fasano

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Regarding the Kansas City Chiefs’ inability to get the ball to a wide receiver for a touchdown this season, quarterback Alex Smith’s comments about tight end Anthony Fasano could be instructive.

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“He’s a guy that you can really trust [with] a lot of throws," Smith said Wednesday. “You can see the last two years the types of catches he’s made in traffic with people around him. That’s certainly one of his strengths. Certainly as a quarterback you feel good throwing those balls into those tighter windows."

Fasano has developed into one of Smith’s receivers of choice when the Chiefs are near the opponent’s goal line. While Smith has aimed more passes inside the red zone to Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles (eight each), three of his four passes to Fasano in the red zone have gone for a touchdown.

Fasano's other touchdown this season was from 20 yards, or three feet outside the red zone. Fasano caught three red-zone touchdowns from Smith last year despite missing seven games with various injuries.

The point is that Smith didn’t say these things about Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery or any of the Chiefs' wide receivers. Judging from where he goes with the ball in red zone, it doesn’t appear he has that level of trust with any of the wide receivers.

“He’s always been a good player and somebody that the quarterback trusts," coach Andy Reid said of Fasano. “That part is an important thing."

It is an important thing. That Smith feels that way about Fasano can explain a lot.

“Tight end is important in this offense, not only to move the chains but to be a safety valve for him," Fasano said. “I think he takes advantage of that."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some observations from today's Kansas City Chiefs minicamp practice:
  • Rookie Zach Fulton, a sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee, continued his bid for a starting spot at right guard. Fulton split the starter's snaps with Rishaw Johnson. The Chiefs will get a better gauge on how advanced Fulton is at training camp, where they can wear full pads. But for now at least they are pleased with what they have seen from Fulton.
  • The Chiefs again practiced without linebacker Justin Houston, who is holding out, and cornerback Sean Smith, who is ill. Offensive tackle Donald Stephenson (calf), tight end Sean McGrath (knee) and cornerback Phillip Gaines (ankle) left practice early. Tackle Eric Fisher (shoulder), wide receivers Weston Dressler (hamstring) and Kyle Williams (knee) and tight end Travis Kelce (knee) participated only in individual and position drills. Left guard Jeff Allen moved to left tackle after Stephenson left practice.
  • Poe
    Nose tackle Dontari Poe made an impressive play for a big man. He began a pass rush but quickly sniffed out a screen pass. He hustled over to the receiver, Jamaal Charles, and trapped him in the backfield.
  • Tight end Anthony Fasano had a big day, making several catches.
  • Aaron Murray didn't get a lot of snaps at quarterback, but he made the throw of the day when he zipped a sideline throw to Deon Anthony that drew raves from his teammates.
  • Running back Knile Davis struggled to learn to catch kickoffs last season, but improved as the season progressed. But his old habit returned when he dropped one during a special teams drill.
  • Defensive back Sanders Commings got an interception when either quarterback Alex Smith threw a bad pass or wide receiver Donnie Avery ran the wrong route.
Bigger is better when it comes to wide receivers. That’s not a secret around the NFL, and it’s not a notion that’s particularly new. Speed matters, but size is generally what wins out.

That’s something all teams, the Kansas City Chiefs included, believe. Bigger, stronger receivers are more capable of shucking physical coverage and making catches in a larger radius, thus giving the quarterback more room for error. That’s accepted fact in the NFL, not opinion.

Now comes my ESPN colleague, Mike Rodak, who covers the Buffalo Bills, with an interesting story. Rodak went through NFL rosters and figured an average height for the wide receivers for each team.

The Bills led the league with an average height of 6-2. Of more interest to you, the Chiefs came in next to last at slightly less than 5-11 1/2. And that doesn’t even count rookie De'Anthony Thomas, who should be playing at least some as a slot receiver but is being listed for the time being as a running back.

Thomas is 5-9.

A height of 6-2 is generally considered the dividing line for a receiver between having the right size and not. Dwayne Bowe at 6-2 is the only Chiefs' receiver who passes the test. Among the others who could or might play a significant amount next season, Donnie Avery is 5-11, A.J. Jenkins 6-0, Junior Hemingway 6-1 and Weston Dressler 5-7.

The Bills, as a comparison, have seven wide receivers who stand at least 6-2.

The Chiefs have some tall tight ends who can help compensate. Travis Kelce, who showed some impressive receiving skills last year before a knee ailment ruined his rookie season, is 6-5, as is Sean McGrath. Anthony Fasano, who caught three touchdown passes last year despite missing seven games with injuries, is 6-4.

But this is an issue for the Chiefs. Their receivers were at or near the bottom of the league in production last year and a lack of size is one reason why.

It’s not just my opinion here. Read what Bills general manager Doug Whaley had to say. The Chiefs may not go on the record as saying so, but they agree, too.
Here is another installment of our detailed look at the Kansas City Chiefs, roster by position with a determination whether they improved or not since the end of last season. Keep in mind that the Chiefs can continue to make roster moves and could make significant additions or subtractions before they arrive at training camp. But the bulk of the roster they will take to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph is intact.

We’ll continue here with the tight ends.

Kelce
End of 2013: Anthony Fasano, Sean McGrath, Richard Gordon.

Serious 2014 roster candidates: Fasano, McGrath, Demetrius Harris, Travis Kelce.

Analysis: The Chiefs, after losing Kelce and Tony Moeaki for the season and Fasano for seven games last year because of injuries, pieced together a decent season from their tight ends with the help of McGrath. They caught 53 passes last season, but look for that number to jump significantly if Kelce is healthy. He adds a nice dimension to their passing game because of his size (260 pounds) and his ability to catch passes down the field. Harris, a basketball player in college, has the potential to help in the passing game. Fasano was a durable player his first seven NFL seasons, but is now 30 and it’s natural to wonder after his injury troubles last season how much he has left. If healthy he can help the Chiefs as a receiving threat in the red zone.

Better or worse: Better unless multiple injuries strike the tight ends, as they did last season.
Let's take a closer look at the salary-cap situation for the Kansas City Chiefs. As of last week, and this information should still be up to date, the Chiefs had $4,379,280 of remaining salary-cap space. That ranked 25th among the NFL's 32 teams.

Here, we'll look at how the Chiefs' cap situation breaks down with regard to offensive positions. Later, we'll look at defense and special teams.

Quarterbacks

Salary-cap commitments: $11,898,333

Percent of Chiefs' total cap: 9.2

NFL average: $11,667,289

Chiefs rank on QB spending: 15th among 32 teams

Analysis: The Chiefs are spending about 2 percent more than the league average on their quarterbacks. This will change when they extend the contract of starter Alex Smith, who currently counts $8 million against their cap. That's tied for the 15th-highest QB cap number with Oakland's Matt Schaub. Chase Daniel's salary-cap number of $3.4 million is fifth among players listed as backups on their team's depth chart, but Daniel is the only one of those five who has never been a starter.

Running backs

Salary-cap commitments: $7,775,255

Percent of Chiefs' total cap: 6

NFL average: $7,750,422

Chiefs rank on RB spending: 13th among 32 teams

Analysis: Again, the Chiefs are very close to the league average in spending at this position. Most of their cap allotment at this position goes, of course, to Jamaal Charles. His cap number is $5,233,333. Charles is still a bargain at that price. His cap number is just 10th among NFL running backs this year. Knile Davis has the Chiefs' next highest cap number for a running back at $646,504 but that puts him far down the league's list of runners.

Wide receivers

Salary-cap commitments: $16,366,594

Percent of Chiefs' total cap: 12.7

NFL average: $13,534,504

Chiefs rank on WR spending: ninth among 32 teams

Analysis: Here's where the Chiefs' spending gets out of line, both for the league average and what they're getting for the money. The Chiefs are spending 21.75 percent more than the league average on wide receivers but last season that group was last in the league in pass receptions and yardage. Dwayne Bowe leads the way with a $12 million cap charge. That's the sixth-highest cap number in the NFL for a player who caught 57 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season last year.

Tight ends

Salary-cap commitments: $6,122,076

Percent of Chiefs' total cap: 4.7

NFL average: $6,137,131

Chiefs rank on TE spending: 15th among 32 teams

Analysis: The Chiefs are spending very close to the league average at this position. Most of their spending here goes to the starter, Anthony Fasano. His cap number is $4,281,250, giving him the 11th highest figure at his position. Travis Kelce has the next highest cap number for a tight end at $700,826 but he's well down the league list for this position.

Offensive linemen

Salary-cap commitments: $12,314,356

Percent of Chiefs' total cap: 9.5

NFL average: $21,449,958

Chiefs rank on OL spending: 31st among 32 teams

Analysis: Here the Chiefs drop well below the league average in positional spending. Only the Detroit Lions are spending less in salary cap on their offensive line. This is the byproduct of allowing three regulars from last season to leave as free agents. Meanwhile, the linemen who have the top three salary-cap figures are working under the contracts they signed as rookies. Left tackle Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in last year's draft, has far and away the highest salary-cap number for a lineman at $5,043,295. Even at that, Fisher has the 43rd highest cap number for an offensive lineman. Left guard Jeff Allen ($1,266,497) and center Rodney Hudson ($1,115,577) are next.
Here’s this week’s Kansas City Chiefs mailbag based off questions taken from Twitter. To ask a question for a future edition, tweet questions to me (@adamteicher) and use the hashtag #ChiefsMail.

 

No room for their own free agents?

February, 11, 2014
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The Kansas City Chiefs were over the NFL’s estimated 2014 salary limit by about $2 million last week, before they released veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson. Now that Robinson’s gone, the Chiefs are under the estimated cap of about $126 million, but not by much.

They will find enough wiggle room as they move along to sign their draft picks and dabble in free agency as well. But this will be a different year for the Chiefs than they’ve had for some time as far as offseason spending. Last year, for example, they re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a lucrative, long-term contract, made left tackle Branden Albert their franchise player at a hefty price tag, picked up a big salary when they traded for quarterback Alex Smith and then forked over significant cash in signing free agents like cornerback Sean Smith, defensive lineman Mike DeVito, tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Donnie Avery and backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

So, yes, things will be different for the Chiefs this year. There may be no room for some of their own free agents. The Chiefs appear to be grooming Sanders Commings, a rookie last season who will make the minimum salary in 2014, to replace Kendrick Lewis at free safety. The Chiefs signed CFL veteran wide receiver/kick returner Weston Dressler, also at the minimum, perhaps to replace Dexter McCluster. The Chiefs might make an effort to re-sign defensive end Tyson Jackson, but if he’s too expensive the Chiefs have Allen Bailey ready to step in.

Albert is perhaps the most productive player of the bunch. He was a Pro Bowler last season, a more than capable left tackle.

But the Chiefs drafted tackle Eric Fisher last year with the first overall pick anticipating this scenario. Fisher can move to the left side and the Chiefs have Donald Stephenson, who they believe is a capable starter, to play right tackle.

Albert wants to be paid a premium salary and there’s no shame in that. If he’s ever going to get a huge long-term contract, it’s going to be at this time of his career.

He’s just not going to get it from the Chiefs. In that respect, he could be like a lot of his teammates who are prospective free agents. He could be playing for another team next season, perhaps even against the Chiefs.

Rookie report: TE Travis Kelce

February, 7, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs got nothing from their rookie tight end last year, but that could change next season.

Kelce
TE Travis Kelce

How acquired: 2013 third-round draft pick.

2013 season: Kelce never played a snap last season and that was a huge letdown for the Chiefs. He dressed for the season-opening game in Jacksonville but didn’t play. Then a sore knee kept him from practicing and he finally had surgery, ending his season. The loss of Kelce had to hurt the Chiefs' passing game. He was their move tight end, the one they would send in motion or line up in a variety of spots. Kelce, in offseason practice and training camp, showed he could get down the field to make catches more like a wide receiver than a tight end. With Kelce at 260 pounds, they hoped they could find favorable matchups against linebackers who would have trouble staying with Kelce down the field. The Chiefs never identified a player with that kind of ability on their roster after he was gone.

Looking ahead: If he’s healthy, Kelce should get plenty of playing time in 2014. The Chiefs also have veteran Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath at tight end, but neither is the versatile receiving threat Kelce could be. The Chiefs also have a developmental prospect in Demetrius Harris, who if he shows tremendous progress could steal some of Kelce's playing time. But Harris' skills were raw and he is less reliable at this point. Kelce will need to improve as a blocker in order to remain in the lineup in all situations, regardless of down and distance.

Chiefs position analysis: tight end

January, 22, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Today begins a nine-part series looking at the roster for the Kansas City Chiefs. I’ll look at one position each day, offering suggestions for what the Chiefs might want to do at each spot.

We’ll begin at tight end, where the season began with such promise before injuries often forced the Chiefs to go with players who joined them after training camp had ended.

Roster (6): Anthony Fasano, Richard Gordon, Demetrius Harris, Dominique Jones, Travis Kelce, Sean McGrath.

Potential 2014 free agent: Gordon.

The position: The Chiefs went into camp with Fasano, Tony Moeaki and Kelce as their top three tight ends, but Moeaki (since released) and Kelce never played an offensive snap all season because of injuries and Fasano was limited to nine games. As a result, the Chiefs had to scramble at tight end most of the season. They plucked McGrath off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks at the start of the regular season and he was a find. Mostly because he played in all 16 games, McGrath led Chiefs tight ends with 26 receptions. Still, the Chiefs initially believed they would get as many as 100 catches from their tight ends, but instead they got just 55 catches at this spot. That number has to increase next season. Fasano if healthy should catch more than the 23 he grabbed this season. Kelce will be a factor in their passing game if he also can stay healthy. He showed during offseason practice and training camp the ability to beat coverage down the field to make catches. Another player to watch is Harris. A standout high school football player in Arkansas, he didn’t play the sport in college. He instead was a basketball player at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But after spending all season on Kansas City’s practice squad, Harris has a chance to become one of those former basketball players who becomes an accomplished pass-catching tight end.

The Chiefs should keep: Fasano, Harris, Kelce and McGrath. They won’t need four tight ends going into the regular season so they should let Harris and McGrath battle for the final roster spot. Besides, with the injury problems they had this season, it doesn’t hurt to have numbers here.

The Chiefs should dump: Gordon and Jones.

Free agency/draft priority: The Chiefs certainly don’t need to force anything. They have the bodies to make the position work. But as they learned this season, they can never have too much depth, so if a bargain comes along in free agency or they find good value at a particular point in the draft, they should move on it.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

McCluster likely to play; Houston 50-50

December, 20, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Two of the four injured Kansas City Chiefs players who sat out last week are likely to return for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. Wide receiver Dexter McCluster (ankle) and tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) are listed as likely to play when the Chiefs issue their injury report.

Things are less certain for two other injured starters, linebacker Justin Houston (elbow) and left tackle Branden Albert. Both are listed as having a 50-50 chance to play.

"It would be a stretch for them to make it," coach Andy Reid said.

Houston appears to have the best chance of being available against the Colts. Wearing a brace on the right elbow that was dislocated on Nov. 24, Houston received some work with the starters and hit a blocking sled in practice.

"He did some good things," Reid said. "He moved around well. He looked better than he did last week. We'll make a decision later on it."

Chiefs returning to full health

December, 18, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The four regulars who missed last week's game for the Kansas City Chiefs because of injuries returned to practice in some form Wednesday. At least one of them appears to have a good chance of playing Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium.

Tight end Anthony Fasano, who missed the last two games because of a concussion, was listed as a full practice participant on the Chiefs' injury report. Also listed as a full participant was right tackle Eric Fisher, who left last week's game in Oakland early because of a shoulder injury.

Three players were listed as limited participants: wide receiver Dexter McCluster (ankle), linebacker Justin Houston (elbow) and left tackle Branden Albert (knee). None of the three played against the Raiders. Albert's participation was limited to working on the scout team.

Four other players were listed as full practice participants: tight end Sean McGrath (knee), linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Nico Johnson (ankle) and defensive back Ron Parker (shoulder).

TE move could mean Fasano won't play

December, 18, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs wouldn't need another tight end for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium if they believed their starter, Anthony Fasano, would be available to play.

But the Chiefs signed tight end Richard Gordon, who will join them for practice for the first time Wednesday. Fasano has missed the last two games because of a concussion.

The Chiefs have Fasano, Gordon and Sean McGrath at tight end. McGrath caught a touchdown pass Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Dominique Jones had been their second tight end during Fasano's absence but he was placed on the non-football injury list.

Gordon, at 268 pounds, is more of a blocker than receiver. He played for the Raiders the past two seasons, catching three passes.

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Redskins 20

December, 8, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. – The toughest three-game stretch of schedule for the Kansas City Chiefs is over, and for the next couple of weeks they get back to facing sub-.500 opponents. The 9-3 Chiefs, who can clinch a postseason berth today with a victory and either a Miami Dolphins' or Baltimore Ravens' loss, need to get back to the type of team they were earlier in the season if they intend to win their first playoff game in 20 years.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsWashington's pass defense has been a mess, which means Alex Smith should have a big day.
Although their realistic chances of winning the AFC West championship are gone and the Chiefs appear locked in to a wild card spot, these final four games are anything but meaningless. They have more than a few things to clean up before they’re ready to beat a playoff opponent.

Today’s opponents, the Washington Redskins, aren’t that. They’re 3-9 and have lost four straight games, so they provide the perfect excuse for the Chiefs to get back to their former selves. Washington has displayed plenty of problems on offense, defense and special teams. If the Chiefs can’t take advantage, it’s an ominous sign.

Washington is second in the NFL in points allowed. The Chiefs having averaged 33 points over their last two games, so they’re in position to put up another big number today. The Redskins have played well against the run, but their pass defense has been a mess. If Alex Smith plays the way he has the past couple of weeks, the Chiefs should get there.

Injuries to left tackle Branden Albert (knee) and tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) won’t make the job easier. Albert has quietly had a solid season, and protection against Washington pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan is more a concern without him in the lineup. Fasano has a touchdown catch in each of the past three games, so his presence in the red zone will be missed.

The Chiefs suddenly have more concerns on defense. Dismiss their recent problems as the product of playing against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, but the Chiefs allowed 41 points two weeks ago to the San Diego Chargers, who at the time had a three-game losing streak.

The Chiefs are wise to take nothing for granted there. Washington leads the league in rushing and although quarterback Robert Griffin III isn’t playing as well as he did a year ago, he’s still had some big games and made some big plays.

The Redskins are also woeful on special teams, so that’s another area where the Chiefs should win today.

While the Redskins will present some problems, they’re the kind of December opponent that teams preparing to make a postseason run handle with ease. It’s getting to be time for the Chiefs to show they’re one of those teams.

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Redskins 20

Chiefs again make TE contingency plans

December, 5, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Few endeavors have been more hazardous this season than playing tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. They're planning on playing Sunday against the Redskins in Washington without starter Anthony Fasano, who has a concussion.

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Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said the Chiefs would activate 270-pound Dominique Jones off their practice squad in time for Sunday's game to take Fasano's place. Jones played last season and early this year with the Indianapolis Colts.

"He's a guy who's been here," Pederson said. "He's got some experience. He's going to have some opportunity to play this weekend and we're looking forward to getting him out there and still using our two tight-end sets."

The Chiefs went to training camp with Fasano, Tony Moeaki and rookie Travis Kelce as their tight ends. Fasano missed four games earlier in the season with knee and ankle injuries. Moeaki injured his shoulder during the preseason, was waived and only this week was healthy enough to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

Kelce injured his knee during the preseason and is out for the season.

The Chiefs added Sean McGrath at tight end at the start of the regular season. He has played in all 12 games.

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