The Fantasy Breakdown – AFC West Edition

Welcome back to the Fantasy Breakdown! This week, we will take a look at the AFC West.

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are a prime candidate for a bounce-back season. Last year’s disappointing 6-10 record forced John Elway to make a change at Head Coach, and I believe he has landed the perfect coach. I am a big fan and believer in Vic Fangio, who has been a star defensive coordinator in this league, having coached the 49ers (the last time they were good), and more recently the Chicago Bears. Fangio will look to turn around an aging defense led by Von Miller that still has plenty of talent. If Joe Flacco can stay healthy, I believe this team could upset some predictions and make a run at the playoffs.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Joe Flacco – Flacco’s biggest issue over the last few years has been health. If he is able to play a full season, I expect the Denver Broncos to be much better than they were a season ago. A healthy Joe Flacco is a pretty serious upgrade over Case Keenum, and he won’t be hampered by Vance McDonald’s ineptitude when it comes to game management, which led to his exodus. Rather, Flacco will have the benefit of playing with an up and coming group of young skill players and a defense that will look to return to dominant form. Joe is a better real life quarterback than a fantasy quarterback, but he could still have some useful streaming games if the receivers can develop.

Phillip Lindsay – The hottest player on the Broncos’ roster last year, Lindsay will look to rebound from a season-ending wrist injury that put an end to his spectacular rookie season. Lindsay averaged over 5 yards per carry and gained a little over 1, 000 yards on just under 200 carries. Surprisingly, his receiving totals leave a lot of room for improvement, so even if Lindsay regresses as a pure rusher, if he can get a solid uptick in receiving work, he will remain a valuable RB2 in fantasy football.

Royce Freeman – Royce Freeman is an interesting case. If not for a shared backfield with rookie breakout Patrick Lindsay, Freeman would be of a much higher value in fantasy football. Unfortunately, I do see Patrick Lindsay eating into his volume enough to bump him down from a solid RB2 to a flex starter in positive matchups and game scripts. If ever Lindsay were to become injured again, Freeman is the likeliest to inherit a good portion of the early-down work, with new addition Theo Riddick making some hay in the passing game when he returns from injury.

Courtland Sutton – Perhaps the biggest breakout candidate, Courtland Sutton has a lot of expectations heading into his sophomore season. I’m a believer in Sutton now that his team has upgraded his quarterback and his head coach. Considering his ADP, Sutton could turn out to be an absolute bargain, as he has a ceiling of a WR2 in fantasy football heading into the 2019 season.

Emmanuel Sanders – The forgotten man in the Broncos receiving room, Emmanuel Sanders is still working his way back from an Achilles tear that ended his season in 2018. At the time of the injury, Sanders was the leading receiver on the team. If he is fully recovered from his injury, he should quickly reclaim his value as a high-end WR3.

Daesean Hamilton – Unfortunately for Hamilton, I do not see much value unless Emmanuel Sanders is not able to bounce back to old form. He’s the type of receiver you might take a dart throw on in the last rounds of your drafts, but he isn’t someone you should be actively targeting in re-drafts at this time.

Noah Fant – The rookie tight end will have a lot of hype surrounding him this off-season due to Joe Flacco’s penchant for throwing to tight ends. However, I could see Noah Fant being a disappointment in fantasy football as his stock continues to rise, pushing his ADP higher and higher. If you’re still able to get him in double-digit rounds, he’s definitely worth the shot, but if he becomes a single-digit round type player, I’d feel more comfortable taking some of the wide receivers or running backs still on the board in those rounds.

Denver DST – I really believe the Broncos will have the number one defense in fantasy football this year. First off, they weren’t really that bad last year. The defense often suffered from playing on shortened fields due to the mediocrity displayed by the offensive unit last year. This year, not only has the offense seemingly improved, but head coach Vic Fangio is one of the most respected defensive minds in the game, and rightfully so. Fangio’s fingerprints were all over the Chicago Bears vaunted defense last year and was the leader for the San Francisco 49ers great defenses when they were regularly competing with Seattle for NFC supremacy.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are still the favorite to be the division winner in 2019, with most only surveying the Chargers as a true threat to the division title. The Chiefs were expected by most to be without star receiver Tyreek Hill due to the off-field issues he’s had this summer, however, the NFL opted not to suspend Hill, meaning this team will be returning at mostly full strength on offense. The defense meanwhile still looks mediocre at best, after turning in a dismal campaign last year which saw them rank second to last in total yards allowed and average yards allowed per game, and in the bottom half of the league in both total points scored and points allowed per game.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Patrick Mahomes – The number one quarterback in all of fantasy football last year, putting out one of the greatest seasons ever produced by any quarterback, let alone a second year player playing for the first time. It will be extremely difficult for Mahomes to replicate his numbers from last year, having tossed just under 5100 yards and 50 touchdowns. Even if he passes for 4500 yards and 40 touchdowns, that would still be enough to make me wary of drafting Mahomes as high as he is currently being drafted.

Damien Williams – Andy Reid has already waffled on Damien Williams, having initially named Williams the lead back, but recently reverting to talk of a running back by committee. In either case, I am confident that if Williams is the starter, he is a weekly RB2 with RB1 upside. Though he’s considered an average starter, Williams has enough skills in the passing game to maintain a primary role in the backfield.

Carlos Hyde – Officially on his way to becoming a journeyman, Carlos Hyde finds himself on his third team in as many years. Once considered a potential leading back in San Francisco, Hyde struggled during his stops in Cleveland and Jacksonville. Hyde is already 28 years old, and isn’t much more than a floor level flex play with minimal upside, as he’s never been a major component of the receiving game, having amassed 105 catches during his entire career.

Darwin Thompson – Darwin Thompson is one of my favorite rookie running backs to draft in fantasy football for two reasons, potential and price. Easily the most explosive and electric running back on the Chiefs roster, if Thompson can overcome Carlos Hyde or Damien Williams on the depth chart, he will be a flex starter with a ton of upside. The fact that he’s still a virtual unknown and is going in the double-digit rounds is just an added bonus. You will require some patience if you draft Thompson, but the payoff could be massive.

Tyreek Hill – Hill’s offseason has been marred by a slew of reports surrounding the child abuse allegations brought forth against him. Unless he is ultimately suspended later in the season, Tyreek Hill is locked in as a weekly WR1. His game-breaking ability and penchant for big plays can be the difference between winning and losing week to week.

Sammy Watkins – Potentially a true bust as a top five pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Sammy Watkins will look to massively improve his output from last year. Now in his second year with the Chiefs, Watkins will now have a built-in rapport with superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. If he is able to stay healthy, which is a massive if, then Watkins could prove valuable as a WR3. However, due to the Chief’s offensive firepower, Watkins is generally being over drafted and is a player I’d rather avoid.

Mecole Hardman – Despite an impressive showing in week one of the pre-season alongside rookie running back Darwin Thompson, Hardman is currently stuck as third on the depth chart. However, his speed could help him leap over Sammy Watkins on the depth chart, and if he can become the true number two on this team, he could become a valuable asset in fantasy football.

Travis Kelce – Not much to say here, Travis Kelce is the best tight end in football, and he’s playing with one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. It’s not often that I would recommend taking any TE in the first round, but if you’re drafting last in a deeper league, I like taking the leap and gaining an immediate advantage at the position.

Chiefs DST – The Chiefs defense is virtually undraftable. Not only do they have a high powered offense in the same division, they routinely give up a lot of yardage and points against even mediocre opponents. They ranked 31st in defense last year, and you would think there’s nowhere to go but up, but I would be extremely shocked if the Chiefs finished as even a top 20 defense this year.

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders will spend the year trying to emerge from the basement of the AFC West, but will likely find themselves being forcibly shoved back down to the cellar. Despite all the roster moves Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have made, despite all the draft capital invested, the bottom line is I just don’t see a very good team at the end of it. The offensive line is still full of question marks, and the early histrionics of star receiver Antonio Brown have already thrown into question how well this team will play as a unit.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Derek Carr – I genuinely feel bad for Derek Carr, because I think he’s an above-average quarterback. It’s easy to forget the two solid years Carr produced in 2015 and 2016 when he threw for a shade under 4000 yards in each year, and also tossed 32 and 28 touchdowns respectively. Since then, he’s dealt with injuries, coaching changes and the exodus of his star receiver Amari Cooper. I wish the additions of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams gave me more confidence in Carr, but the truth is, I just don’t see him getting back to true form under Gruden’s stifling coaching style.

Josh Jacobs – Jacobs is a true enigma in my eyes. Rookie running backs have the easiest transition from college to the pros, so I’m not particularly worried about how his skill set will translate to the NFL. Rather, I’m worried about a porous offensive line, and a diva wide receiver who may not see the field at the start of the season. If Antonio Brown isn’t on the field, teams will be able to stack the box against Jacobs. Even if he ends up with 300 carries, the inefficiency will make him a modest RB2 at best. Considering he’s being drafted in the 4th or 5th rounds of most drafts, he could be a bust candidate, like Derrick Henry during the first half of last season.

Jalen Richard – Richard is exclusively a PPR option as a potential flex starter unless Josh Jacobs gets injured. Richard is coming off a career-best season in terms of receptions and receiving yards, but there simply isn’t enough volume to for him to eat consistently in standard fantasy football leagues.

Antonio Brown – As I mentioned earlier, Antonio Brown’s histrionics this off-season have swallowed up most of the attention the Raiders have received this summer, and we’re talking about a team that is currently being featured on Hard Knocks. We’ve heard about Antonio Brown’s frostbitten feet and his helmet, but we have not heard about him building rapport with his new quarterback. If Antonio Brown continues to be this much of a headache and does not produce similar to his output in Pittsburgh, I could see the relationship between Brown and the Raiders, and especially the relationship between Brown and Gruden, crashing and burning before season’s end.

Tyrell Williams – Williams is an interesting case. If he is able to capitalize on Antonio Brown’s current and possible future absences, he could greatly outproduce his current ADP. However, Williams has often relied on big plays during his days with the Chargers, and those big plays might be harder to come by if Derek Carr is getting pummeled behind the Raiders porous offensive line. He’s a relatively low risk, high reward player, so he’s definitely a player I’m keeping an eye on.

Hunter Renfrow – Renfrow is, at best, a dart throw in dynasty fantasy football drafts. With that said, if he can take over the slot position on this team, he might have some low-end flex appeal. If anything happens to Antonio Brown, I expect to hear analysts start pumping up Renfrow.

Foster Moreau – Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson are the most talked-about rookie tight ends coming out of this year’s draft, but Foster Moreau has a chance to outplay both of them. Derek Carr is the type of quarterback who likes to lean on his tight end, as displayed by often targeted Jared Cook. Cook has moved on to greener pastures, leaving the tight end position for the Raiders wide open. If Moreau can lock that down, he could be moderately valuable for a guy who is essentially free right now.

Raiders DST – The running joke on the Raiders has been the Khalil Mack trade, which essentially tanked the defense last year. Jon Gruden telling everyone that “It’s hard to find a great [pass rusher]. It’s hard to find a good one,” has only drawn the ire of fans shouting that he had an all-time great pass rusher in Mack. With the host of picks that the Raiders had, they ultimately still haven’t replaced Mack and I don’t see this team being able to hold up to even their divisional opponents.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers need to admit they were wrong and move back to San Diego. I’m sort of kidding as this isn’t feasible, but it’s sad to see a team this good have to play what amounts to 16 road games, as the StubHub Center (since renamed) is constantly filled with waves of the opposing team’s colors. In spite of this, the Chargers were able to tie for the division lead with a 12-4 record. Even if the team is unable to re-sign Melvin Gordon, they are still well-positioned to compete for the division crown and a playoff bye.

Here is a player by player breakdown:

Philip Rivers – A model of consistency, Rivers has averaged approximately 4400 yards and 30 touchdowns every year for the past six seasons. That kind of production being available as late as the double-digit rounds in fantasy football drafts is hard to ignore. Rivers is my go-to value quarterback that can produce as a QB1 on any given week. If you have Rivers and some streaming options for tough road games and his bye, you should be solid all year long barring injury.

Melvin Gordon – The second biggest running back name holding out this off-season, Melvin Gordon could potentially be at risk to miss games. I think he ultimately settles before the regular season, as Gordon and his agent must realize they do not have any leverage in negotiations with the Chargers, who have a deep running back room. If Gordon plays, he’s an RB1 and a locked-in starter, but the looming threat of a holdout has already affected his ADP. I’m looking to grab Gordon in any leagues where he drops because I just don’t think

Austin Ekeler – I was avoiding Austin Ekeler in most of my drafts, as his ADP is a little rich for my taste, often going as high as the 6th round in deeper fantasy football drafts. If Melvin Gordon were to actually miss games, Ekeler becomes an instant RB1 in PPR leagues and an RB2 in standard leagues, as he boasts impressive career averages of 5.3 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per reception.

Justin Jackson – If Melvin Gordon’s holdout does not continue into the regular season, Jackson loses almost all of his value outside of handcuff status. If Gordon’s not playing, Jackson is the thunder to Austin Ekeler’s lightning in a balanced backfield, which is the biggest reason Gordon hasn’t had a leg to stand on in contract negotiations. Jackson is worth a flier at the end of your draft pending the results of Melvin Gordon’s status.

Keenan Allen – Drafting Keenan Allen is an exercise in patience, as he is often slow to start the season, but tends to dominate in November and December. This makes drafting him that much better, as he shows up when you need it the most; weeks 14 through 16, when most leagues have their fantasy playoffs.

Mike Williams – Now that Mike is the only Williams in town following the departure of former teammate Tyrell Williams, he is expected to progress. Though it may be challenging for him to repeat the 10 touchdowns he scored last year, he can easily surpass 43 receptions for 664 yards. If Williams can absorb some extra targets and find himself closer to 70-80 receptions, he will be a solid WR2 for most of the year.

Hunter Henry – I really wish I could buy a ticket to get on the Hunter Henry hype train, but I keep getting Final Destination vibes when trying to project his season. Until I see him play a full season, I’m not trying to sink what is still a relatively high pick, as Henry is being drafted between the 7th and 10th rounds in most leagues. Guys like Vance McDonald and Jared Cook are often drafted after him, and I would personally much rather have those guys on my fantasy football team over Henry.

Chargers DST – Except for when they play the Chiefs, the Chargers are an excellent streaming option against weaker opponents. They have a loaded defense, and they could easily finish as a top 10 defense if everything breaks right for them. Last year, they finished 9th overall, and mostly went undrafted. They could definitely repeat and even improve upon this, as they have only gotten better this off-season.

NEXT TIME: The AFC East

Jack Lucenay

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