2018 First Fantasy Football Thoughts: AFC/NFC West

by Michael Nazarek - 7/21/2018

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…


AFC WEST


Denver Broncos:
The Broncos missed the playoffs last year again, mostly due to more poor QB play. QB Trevor Siemian is gone, and while QB Paxton Lynch returns, the team signed veteran QB Case Keenum to start in 2018. I'm skeptical that Keenum can recreate what he did in Minnesota with a new team, new coaches, and a new system. As a result, I won't be surprised if he struggles and the Broncos continue their search for a better QB next offseason. Oh, Lynch is the backup, so if Keenum struggles, we'll likely get a heavy dose of him. In the running game, RB C.J. Anderson and RB Jamaal Charles are gone, leaving RB Devontae Booker to battle rookie RB Royce Freeman and RB DeAngelo Henderson for the starting job. Freeman should eventually start, but who knows when that happens. In the passing game, WR Demaryius Thomas and WR Emmanuel Sanders remain a solid starting tandem of WRs, but inconsistent QB play will once again hurt their fantasy production. Sanders is getting older, so a possible fall off a cliff is a possibility. Bottom Line: Keenum must develop chemistry quickly with these two to make a real impact in 2018. Rookie WR Courtland Sutton seems likely to fill the #3 WR role, but must beat out WR Jordan Taylor for that job. WR Bennie Fowler and WR Cody Latimer are gone. At tight end, veteran TE Virgil Green is gone, leaving TE Jake Butt to battle TE Jeff Heuerman for the starting job. This is far from an impressive situation for fantasy. Can you say AVOID? PK Brandon McManus returns as the kicker, but the likelihood of an inconsistent offense, is no better than a middle-of-the-road fantasy prospect.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs once again made the playoffs, but lost to a team they were expected to beat. As a result, veteran QB Alex Smith was traded to the Redskins in the off-season, and the team has turned over the reigns to second-year QB Pat Mahomes, Mahomes is talented, but raw, starting only one game in 2017. He is a wildcard. He could be good, or bad. That makes him a risky fantasy backup QB with upside. In the running game, RB Spencer Ware (knee) missed all of 2017, leaving rookie RB Kareem Hunt to seize the starting job and blow up for fantasy owners who risked a draft pick on him. Both return, but it's clear that Hunt will start, while Ware continues to rehab and possibly earn a backup job. RB Charcandrick West also returns for depth. I like Hunt as a solid top 10 fantasy RB. In the passing game, WR Tyreek Hill produced a very nice year in his first season as a full-time #1 WR. He returns, along with WR Chris Conley, but the big addition is veteran WR Sammy Watkins. There is no doubt that Mahomes has a good chance of producing nicely for his fantasy owners if he develops quick chemistry with this wideout corps. WR Demarcus Robinson returns for depth, while WR Albert Wilson is gone. At tight end, TE Travis Kelce returns as an elite fantasy TE, but can he keep up his production with Smith gone? Something tells me if Mahomes struggles, Kelce could see even more targets his way, meaning heck yes! TE Demetrius Harris returns to back up Kelce. Second-year PK Harrison Butker returns as the kicker, and should see enough scoring chances to be a top 10 fantasy kicker.

 

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders struggled last year and failed to make the playoffs. QB Derek Carr regressed a bit, but new HC Jon Gruden has faith he can right the ship along with Carr. That said, Carr is currently only a decent fantasy backup this summer. Until he begins to show more consistent production, drafting him as anything more is a risk. QB E.J. Manuel and QB Connor Cook will battle to back up Carr. In the running game, veteran RB Marshawn Lynch returns after having a slow start in 2017, although he did come on late in the year. That said, he's not a lock to start, as the team signed RB Doug Martin this off- season to compete with Lynch. Chuckie loves Martin, so all bets are off at this time. That said, most believe Lynch will start when September arrives. RB DeAndre Washington and RB Jalen Richard return to back up and spell Lynch/Martin when needed, although one could be traded or cut before September. In the passing game, WR Amari Cooper struggled in a big way in 2017, but returns as the new "focal point" of the passing game. As such, veteran WR Michael Crabtree was let go, as the team signed cast-off WR Jordy Nelson from the Packers to start opposite Cooper. WR Seth Roberts returns to fill the #3 WR role, while WR Cordarrelle Patterson flew the coop via free agency. WR Johnny Holton returns for depth. At tight end, TE Jared Cook returns to start, but remains an inconsistent fantasy producer. He can look all-world one week, then disappear the next. TE Clive Walford is gone, as TE Derek Carrier and TE Lee Smith back up Cook. PK Sebastian Janikowski is gone, as the team is going with PK Giorgio Tavecchio, the kicker whom replaced an injured Seabass last year. With so much turnover and new coaches, Tavecchio rates as a middling fantasy kicker in 2018, probably not worthy of drafting.


Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers missed the playoffs in 2017, but veteran QB Philip Rivers, once again, did all he could to get the team to the promised land. Rivers returns in 2018, and although he's getting older, still maintains his status as a solid fantasy starter. QB Geno Smith is the new backup to Rivers. In the running game, third-year RB Melvin Gordon returns as the starter and a solid fantasy #1 RB for 2018. RB Brandon Oliver is gone, while RB Austin Ekeler returns as the change-of-pace backup. The team also drafted rookie RB Justin Jackson for depth. In the passing game, veteran WR Keenan Allen returns after rebounding with a big season after missing most of the previous two seasons due to injury. He is a top 5 WR for fantasy, while others returning include WR Tyrell Williams, WR Mike Williams, and WR Travis Benjamin. The guy to watch here is Mike Williams, a talented player whom could break out due to increased targets because of the off-season loss of TE Hunter Henry to a torn ACL. As for the tight end position, TE Braedon Bowman (who?) tops the depth chart with Henry injured. That said, free-agent veteran TE Antonio Gates has had talks about returning to the team. It may be a matter of time and money before that happens, but don't be shocked if it does or doesn't. You can expect Gates to squeeze as much as possible from the Chargers due to the situation. Even if he re-signs, Gates makes for only a decent fantasy backup TE due to his advanced age and slow mobility. PK Caleb Sturgis is the kicker, a middling option for fantasy owners in 2018.

 

NFC WEST


Arizona Cardinals:
The Cardinals slumped again in 2017 and missed the playoffs. A lot of the reason why they struggled was the mid- season injury to veteran QB Carson Palmer. Then, Palmer decides to retire, so the Cardinals will have a battle for the starting job this summer between veteran QB Sam Bradford and rookie QB Josh Rosen. Expect Bradford to start week #1 if healthy, but I have no confidence that he can keep that job even if healthy. Rosen should get a chance at some point, making him an interesting #3 fantasy QB. Veteran QB Mike Glennnon was signed just in case Bradford goes down to injury before Rosen is ready to start. In the running game, RB David Johnson returns after missing all but one game in 2017 due to a broken wrist. A healthy Johnson remains an elite fantasy producer. RB Elijhaa Penny will battle rookie RB Chase Edmonds for the backup job to Johnson. Veteran RB Chris Johnson, RB Kerwynn Williams, and RB Andre Ellington are all gone. In the passing game, WR Larry Fitzgerald returns as the star receiver he's been in year's past, although he is getting close to retirement. That said, he's still a solid top 25 fantasy WR. WR John Brown and WR Jaron Brown are gone, leaving WR J.J. Nelson, WR Brice Butler, and second-year WR Chad Williams to battle for the #2 starting WR job. Rookie WR Christian Kirk could earn that job too if he impresses in a big way this summer, while the others struggle. Bottom Line: Due to the uncertainty at QB, only Fitzgerald is a solid fantasy pick in 2018. At tight end, veteran TE Jermaine Gresham returns, but is coming off a torn Achilles. Youngster TE Ricky Seals-Jones will likely get a chance to win the starting job, but recent troubles with the law could sidetrack that effort. This may be one position on this team you may want to avoid in your draft this summer. Veteran PK Phil Dawson returns, but an inconsistent offense may not give him enough FGAs to make him a good fantasy option.

 

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams surprised if a big way by making the playoffs in 2017. Third-year QB Jared Goff took a big step forward in his sophomore season, but remains only a quality fantasy backup. He still needs to work on his consistency. QB Sean Mannion returns as the backup to Goff. In the running game, RB Todd Gurley blew up in his third season, becoming THE RB to own in 2017, and nothing has changed as we enter 2018. He can (and often does) do it all. RB Malcolm Brown returns to back up Gurley. In the passing game, WR Sammy Watkins is gone, as the team traded for WR Brandin Cooks, and gave him a long- term deal. Cooks is a top 20 fantasy WR, but he must develop quick chemistry with Goff to make an immediate impact. Veteran WR Robert Woods surprised with several big plays in 2017. He returns to start opposite Cooks. Second-year WR Cooper Kupp returns to fill the #3 WR role, a job he thrived in as a rookie. WR Josh Reynolds, WR Pharoh Cooper, and WR Mike Thomas return for depth. At tight end, TE Tyler Higbee and TE Gerald Everett shared duties last year, making neither good fantasy choices. There is nothing to say this won't happen again in 2018. PK Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein returns as the kicker, after a big season. He's accurate, and the team should continue to give him plenty of scoring chances, making him an elite fantasy producer.


San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers failed to make the playoffs in 2017, but may have found their QB of the present and future in QB Jimmy Garoppolo. He ran off five straight wins to end the season after being acquired from the Patriots. As a result, the 49ers are looking much better in 2018, and that makes Garoppolo a very well known fantasy sleeper. QB C.J. Beathard is the backup to Garoppolo. In the running game, RB Carlos Hyde is gone, as the team signed RB Jerick McKinnon as their new starter. McKinnon will start, but is unlikely to be a workhorse back, since he produces better with less touches. That means backup RB Matt Breida will likely see more touches than a normal backup would see, but is unlikely to be worthy of drafting as anything more than a handcuff for McKinnon. RB Joseph Williams returns for depth. In the passing game, veteran WR Pierre Garcon returns, coming off a serious neck injury. He will likely start alongside WR Marquis Goodwin, while second-year WR Trent Taylor mans the slot. WR Aldrick Robinson returns for depth. Rookie WR Dante Pettis may be a player to watch later this summer. At tight end, second-year TE George Kittle returns as the starter and solid fantasy sleeper. Veteran TE Garrett Celek returns as the backup. Veteran PK Robbie Gould surprised last year, and should see enough scoring chances in 2018 to be a top 10 fantasy kicker.

 

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks struggled and failed to make the playoffs in 2017. That said, veteran QB Russell Wilson did all he could, producing a very nice fantasy season for his owners. He returns as the starter once again, and remains a top 5 fantasy QB. QB Austin Davis is slotted as the primary backup to Wilson. In the running game, veterans RB Thomas Rawls and RB Eddie Lacy are gone, as the team drafted RB Rashaad Penny to battle RB Chris Carson for the starting job. RB Mike Davis returns for depth, while RB C.J. Prosise returns to fill the change-of-pass pass-catching role on the team. RB J.D. McKissic returns to back up Prosise. In the passing game, WR Doug Baldwin remains the #1 WR, coming off another solid, if not spectacular, season. WR Tyler Lockett returns as the #2 WR, while the team signed veteran WR Brandon Marshall to fill the #3 WR role and see red zone targets. That said, Marshall will have to earn his roster spot. The team also signed WR Jaron Brown, a player whom could push Marshall off the roster if he impresses and Marshall struggles in preseason. WR Paul Richardson left in free agency for Washington. At tight end, TE Jimmy Graham and TE Luke Willson are gone, leaving TE Nick Vannett and newly signed TE Ed Dickson to battle to start. Dickson should win that job, but makes for a longshot fantasy sleeper pick at best. Veteran PK Sebastian Janikowski was signed this off-season, making him a middling fantasy kicker in 2018.


That's a wrap on my "First Thoughts" for 2018! 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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