by Michael Nazarek - 7/20/2017
As we march towards the release of Version II of our Pre-Season Draft Guide next week, I look to the teams out west to finish my sweep…
Denver Broncos: The Broncos missed the playoffs last year, mostly due to inconsistent QB play. With QB Peyton Manning retired, the team did little to boost the position with a veteran signing, instead choosing to go with QB Trevor Siemian and draft QB Paxton Lynch last off-season. That led to mediocre play from their starting QB, and the eventual downfall from the promised land. In 2017, nothing has changed. Both Siemian and Lynch will battle this summer to determine whom starts. I'm not thrilled with either choice for this season. In the running game, RB C.J. Anderson disappointed again last year, suffering a knee injury after getting off to a decent start. Anderson returns, but the team signed veteran RB Jamaal Charles, whom himself has had knee issues in recent years (two years removed from a torn ACL). These two backs will battle for the starting job in camp this summer. If Charles is truly healthy, as he says he is, he should beat out Anderson to start. In fantasy leagues, Charles' ADP is much lower than Anderson's, making him the better option to take a chance on. RB Devontae Booker returns as the #3 RB (if Charles stays healthy). In the passing game, WR Demaryius Thomas and WR Emmanuel Sanders remain one of the better tandem WRs in the league, but the inconsistent QB play will hurt their fantasy production. That said, they are still both top 30 fantasy WRs. WR Bennie Fowler, WR Jordan Taylor, and WR Cody Latimer return for depth, but provide little fantasy value. At tight end, veteran TE Virgil Green returns, but remains primarily a blocker, not a pass- catcher. TE A.J. Derby, TE Jeff Heuerman, and rookie TE Jake Butt will battle for playing time as the pass-catcher. My money is on Derby, but I'm not thrilled with his fantasy prospects due to the QB situation. PK Brandon McManus returns as the kicker, but due to an inconsistent offense, is no more than a middle-of-the-road fantasy prospect.
Kansas City Chiefs:The Chiefs made the playoffs in 2016, but failed to make the big game. Veteran QB Alex Smith returns to lead the team, but he remains primarily a game manager, and not a big statistical producer. In other words, Smith still doesn't rate as a top 20 fantasy QB. The Chiefs drafted QB Pat Mahomes in April, as their QB of the future. If Smith fails to lead the team to victories, we could see Mahome sooner than later in 2017. In the running game, RB Jamaal Charles is gone, as RB Spencer Ware carried the team last season, earning his spot as the starter. The team drafted RB Kareem Hunt in April, and some believe he will push Ware out of the starting job before the season even begins. Don't count on it. Hunt is talented, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. He has a lot to learn and was only a third round draft pick. That said, Hunt could eventually push Ware out of a job, but I think that time will come late than sooner. RB Charcandrick West returns for depth. In the passing game, veteran WR Jeremy Maclin was recently cut, mostly for salary cap reasons. That leaves dynamic second-year WR Tyreek Hill as the favorite to take over as the new #1 WR. I like his potential in that role, but his ADP is sky-rocketing, so be expected to take him early in your draft if you want him. Veteran WR Albert Wilson and third-year WR Chris Conley return to battled for that other starting job this summer. WR Demarcus Robinson returns for depth. At tight end, fourth-year TE Travis Kelce returns as the true #1 scoring threat in the passing game. He has also emerged as an elite fantasy producing TE. TE Demetrius Harris returns to back up Kelce, while the team also added free-agent TE Gavin Escobar for depth. Fourth-year PK Cairo Santos returns as the kicker, and should see enough scoring chances to be a top 10 fantasy kicker.
Oakland Raiders:The Raiders finally made the playoffs in 2016, but QB Derek Carr broke his fibula late in the season, and the team immediately lost in the playoffs. Carr returns with his health and a new long-term contract as the clear leader of this team. He is a rising young star and sleeper fantasy prospect, one with top 10 QB potential. QB E.J. Manuel has been signed to back up Carr. In the running game, RB Latavius Murray is gone, as the team traded for retired RB Marshawn Lynch, and signed him to a new deal. Make no mistake about it. Lynch will start and carry most of the load, especially near the goal line. That makes him a top 15 fantasy RB. RB DeAndre Washington and RB Jalen Richard return to back up and spell Lynch when needed. In the passing game, third-year WR Amari Cooper and veteran WR Michael Crabtree return as one of the better wideout tandems in the league. That said, Cooper needs to play with more consistency if he's ever to become an elite fantasy STUD. As for Crabtree, he has a knack for making big catches in the red zone for scores. What's not to like? WR Seth Roberts fills the #3 WR role, while the team added WR Cordarrelle Patterson via free agency to help the return game, as well as provide depth in the passing game. WR Andre Holmes is gone. At tight end, TE Clive Walford returns, but TE Jared Cook was signed to start, as TE Mychal Rivera is gone. Cook has so much talent, but is a very inconsistent and frustrating producer. That makes him a risky fantasy pick in my book. PK Sebastian Janikowski returns as a great kicker, and cracks my top 10 kickers for fantasy for the first time ever due to the increased scoring chances he will see in 2017.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers missed the playoffs in 2016, but veteran QB Philip Rivers, once again, did all he could to get the team to the promised land. Rivers returns in 2017, and although he's getting older, still maintains his status as a solid fantasy starter. Veteran QB Kellen Clemens returns as the backup to Rivers. In the running game, third-year RB Melvin Gordon emerged after a terrible rookie season to produce top 5 fantasy RB numbers until he got hurt in the final two months of the season. Gordon is healthy, and returns as an elite fantasy STUD RB. Why? The kid has developed a nose for the goal and runs hard. Veteran RB Danny Woodhead (torn ACL) is gone, leaving RB Brandon Oliver (Achilles) and RB Kenneth Farrow to battle for the primary backup job behind Gordon. Oliver has more talent, but must show he's healthy. In the passing game, veteran WR Keenan Allen returns after missing nearly all of 2016 with a torn ACL. If he can manage to stay healthy, he's likely a top 10 fantasy WR, but injury is a huge concern here. WR Tyrell Williams emerged last season, and should fill the #2 WR role, although rookie WR Mike Williams (back), if healthy, should eventually push for that job. WR Travis Benjamin is the deep threat, while WR Dontrelle Inman returns for depth. At tight end, TE Antonio Gates returns for what could be his final season on the team, but second-year TE Hunter Henry is the new likely starter. Both players could be top 20 fantasy TEs, but cancel each other out in terms of being a top 10 TE. Third-year PK Josh Lambo returns as the kicker, and should be a top 10 fantasy kicker as long as the health of the star players offensively hold up.
Arizona Cardinals:The Cardinals slumped to a losing record in 2016, but veteran QB Carson Palmer returns once again to lead the team this season. Palmer slumped himself last year, failing to even come sloe to a top 10 fantasy QB season. He should rebound a bit, but makes a better fantasy backup QB than a starter this year. Veteran QB Drew Stanton returns as the back up to Palmer. In the running game, third-year RB David Johnson emerged as the clear #1 elite STUD RB in 2016, at least when RB LeVeon Bell wasn't playing. If you draft first or second in your league, you best draft Johnson if he's available. Veteran RB Chris Johnson was just re-signed today as the likely backup, while RB Kerwynn Williams returns for depth. RB Andre Ellington also returns, but the team doesn't know what to do with him, as they moved him to wideout this off-season, only to move him back to tailback. Let's just call him a depth player. In the passing game, WR Larry Fitzgerald returns as the star receiver he's been in year's past, although he is getting older. That said, he's still a solid top 30 fantasy WR. WR Michael Floyd is long gone, as WR John Brown and WR J.J. Nelson will battle for the #2 WR starting position. WR Jaron Brown (knee) returns for depth, but is coming off a torn ACL. At tight end, veteran TE Jermaine Gresham returns, but is far from a solid fantasy producer since the team doesn't target the tight end in the passing game consistently enough. Veteran TE Darren Fells is gone, as TE Troy Niklas will be the new backup. PK Chandler Catanzaro is gone, as the team chose to sign veteran PK Phil Dawson to be the kicker in 2017. He is very accurate, but the Cardinals tend to not give their kicker enough FGAs to make him a good fantasy option.
Los Angeles Rams:The Rams failed to make the playoffs again in 2016. As a result, HC Jeff Fisher and his staff were fired. Second-year QB Jared Goff returns coming off a very inconsistent rookie season to start. He must prove himself consistently before I would even consider drafting him as anything more than a #3 fantasy QB. QB Case Keenum is gone, as QB Sean Mannion returns as the backup to Goff. In the running game, RB Todd Gurley suffered through a terrible second season, as the OL didn't block well and the lack of a solid passing game allowed opponents to key on Gurley. He should rebound a bit in 2017 (nowhere to go but up), but it's probably best not to draft him as your #1 fantasy RB. RB Tre Mason and RB Benny Cunningham are gone, leaving the team to sign veteran RB Lance Dunbar as the new backup to Gurley. Rookie RB Justin Davis was drafted for depth. In the passing game, veteran WR Tavon Austin struggled with inconsistency last year, but returns as the new #1 WR, since the coaches want to use him in that role. I have my doubts as to whether he can step up his play to become THE MAN in that passing game on a consistent basis. Veteran WR Kenny Britt and WR Brian Quick are gone, leaving the Rams to sign veteran WR Robert Woods to fill the #2 starting WR job. Rookie WR Cooper Kupp was drafted to fill the #3 WR role, while WR Pharoh Cooper and WR Nelson Spruce return for depth. WR Mike Thomas has been suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL policy on PEDs, putting his future in doubt. At tight end, TE Lance Kendricks is gone, leaving second-year TE Tyler Higbee to grow into the starting role. PK Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein returns as the kicker, but unless the Rams significantly increase their scoring, he's only a fantasy backup at best once again this year.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers disappointed again in 2016, and cleaned house with a new coaching staff, replacing Chip Kelly with Kyle Shanahan at head coach. Meanwhile, both QB Colin Kaepernick and QB Blaine Gabbert are gone, as the team signed QB Brian Hoyer to start. Hoyer is just a placeholder until the team can get a hold of a real quarterback, like perhaps QB Kirk Cousins next off-season. As for Hoyer this year, you can do much better when searching for a fantasy starter. QB Matt Barkley was signed to back up Hoyer. In the running game, RB Carlos Hyde returns as the lead back, but injuries continues to hurt his value in fantasy terms. Veteran RB Tim Hightower was signed to back up Hyde (and start when he goes down). The team also drafted RB Joe Williams to possibly take over as the starter down the road. RB DuJuan Harris was released back in May. In the passing game, veteran WR Torrey Smith is gone, leaving veteran WR Jeremy Kerley and newly signed WR Pierre Garcon as the only real experienced wideouts on the roster. WR Marquis Goodwin and WR Aldrick Robinson were signed to battle for the #3 WR job. WR Quinton Patten and WR Bruce Ellington are gone. At tight end, TE Vance McDonald returns, but there is talk that he doesn't fit the team's new offensive scheme and will likely be released or traded at some point before the season begins. That would likely leave TE Garrett Celek as the starter, far from a thrilling option. Rookie TE George Kittle was drafted in April, so he could eventually take over. Veteran PK Phil Dawson is gone, as the team signed PK Robbie Gould to be the kicker. It's too bad that a struggling 49ers offense won't give him enough scoring chances for real fantasy consideration in 2017.
Seattle Seahawks:The Seahawks made the playoffs once again, but failed to make the big game in 2016. Veteran QB Russell Wilson had a bit of a down season due to a knee injury he played through. He's healthy now, so he should produce top 10 fantasy QB numbers this season. QB Trevone Boykin is slotted as the primary backup to Wilson. In the running game, RB Thomas Rawls struggled with more injuries last year, giving rookie RB C.J. Prosise a chance to take over, but he suffered an injury that cost him much of the last part of the season as well. As a result, veteran RB Eddie Lacy was signed to likely become the new starter. That said, he must earn the job this summer. RB Alex Collins returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Doug Baldwin remains the #1 WR, coming off another solid, if not spectacular, season. Third-year WR Tyler Lockett broke his leg late last year, but returns as the #2 WR, if healthy. WR Jermaine Kearse would likely start if Lockett is not healthy. WR Paul Richardson made some noise late last year after Lockett went down. He returns as an interesting late-round fantasy sleeper pick. At tight end, TE Jimmy Graham rebounded nicely in 2016 coming off a serious knee injury to regain most of his elite fantasy TE status. He returns as the starter and remains a top 5 fantasy TE. TE Luke Willson returns as the backup to Graham. PK Steven Hauschka is gone after an inconsistent season, as the team signed veteran PK Blair Walsh to kick. Walsh is far from consistent himself, so he brings an uncertainty to the kicking position in Seattle. It may be best to look elsewhere in 2017 for your fantasy kicker.
That's a wrap on my "First Thoughts" for 2017! Be sure to keep an eye on FFMastermind.com in the coming weeks as we'll continue to bring you the very latest NFL news and informative "Eye in the Sky" training camp reports from our NFL team correspondents, as well as continue to release new updates to our Pre-Season Draft Guide. All comments, complimentary or otherwise, are always welcome via the contact page. Let's talk fantasy football!
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