The stunned silence in Foxborough spoke volumes as Eric Berry was loaded onto a cart with an apparent Achilles injury Thursday night in the 2017 Regular Season Kickoff. The Kansas City Chiefs’ star safety wasn’t playing in front of a home crowd, but even the New England Patriots’ fans were heartbroken by the scene. Head Coach Andy Reid confirmed on Friday that Berry would miss the 2017 season with a ruptured Achilles, but somehow the NFL universe was well aware from the moment the injury occurred. When one of the best defenses in the league loses its best player, there is bound to be fantasy impact, and this is no exception.
History of Misfortune
There’s a more profound personal side to this particular injury, however, and the conversation begs to start there. Since being drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2010, Berry has been one of the best defensive backs in the game. He’s also missed a significant amount of time with the most tragic injury history in recent memory. Berry lost his second pro season – 2011 – to a torn ACL in Week 2 and missed half of the 2014 season after an early season-high ankle sprain.
Then came the darkest of days: after experiencing chest pains on the sidelines in November 2014, Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in December of 2014 and missed the rest of the season. He overcame cancer and returned in 2015, and played better than ever, earning the 55th overall ranking in the NFL’s Top 100. A distinction bestowed upon him by his peers.
The good news is that Berry has overcome far greater challenges than this Achilles injury, and returned better than ever. The bad news is the catastrophic injury has become far too routine for Berry. The sad news is few players in the NFL deserve a break more than Eric Berry. He’s endured more than any player (or person) ever should – and yet, his season ends before it truly begins yet again. Heartbreaking.
The Chiefs boasted the 7th best defense in the league in 2016, allowing just 311 points and an average of just 1.68 points per drive to opposing offenses. Berry’s five turnovers created (four interceptions and one forced fumble) and 77 total tackles earned him the sixth overall ranking at the safety position by Pro Football Focus. Berry was a major factor in the Chiefs’ defensive excellence. His biggest contribution, however, doesn’t exactly show up on a stat sheet. Berry is arguably the best defensive back in the league at covering tight ends. In 2016, Berry was the fifth least-targeted safety in the NFL, with the players he covered only getting 18 targets.
Even more stunning is the fact that he only allowed eight receptions of those 18 targets, a 44.7 completion percentage and a 28.7 QB rating. He was on pace for the same type of season when the injury occurred Thursday night; Berry had held all-world New England tight end Rob Gronkowski to just four targets, two catches and 33 receiving yards.
In other words, Kansas City’s secondary just got a lot more tight end-friendly. No need to think twice about starting a mid-to-low-end TE1 against Kansas City in 2017, which is great news for owners who otherwise would’ve found themselves scouring the waiver wire. First up is Zach Ertzand the Philadelphia Eagles, visiting Arrowhead on Sunday, Sept. 24, followed by the always-formidable L.A. Chargers duo of Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry.
Gates has always been a tough matchup, even for Berry, so a Chiefs secondary without Berry could mean a monster game for Gates, with enough fantasy production left over for Henry, too. Even streaming options like C.J. Fiedorowicz (K.C. at Houston in Week 5), Jason Witten (at Dallas, Week 10), Evan Engram (at the Giants, Week 11) and Charles Clay (vs. Buffalo, Week 12) are startable against the Chiefs in Berry’s absence.
The Chiefs’ DST remains a top-5 unit for fantasy purposes, despite the glaring hole in the secondary. Tight ends will find a little more room to work in the middle of the field, but the Chiefs still have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, led by edge rushers Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford. Cornerback Marcus Peters is among the best in coverage in the league, and free safety Ron Parker can create turnovers as well. So no need to shy away from the Chiefs’ DST, but the loss of Berry’s coverage ability does create the opportunity for more tight end fantasy points against the Chiefs in 2017.