The AFC West division was fairly successful in 2014, and has been topped by the Denver Broncos for the past four seasons. Will the Broncos again come out on top in the West? How will the changes in the off-season this year affect the major fantasy players from each team? Read on to find out, and click on the podcast for more insights that didn't make it to the article. Cheers!
Gary Kubiak (Coach)
Wade Phillips (Defensive Coordinator)
Owen Daniels (TE, from BAL)
John Fox (Coach)
Julius Thomas (TE, JAX)
Jacob Tamme (TE, ATL)
What’s it all mean?
Well, the Broncos have been throwing in all their chips to try and win themselves a Super Bowl (or, “World Championship” as Elway calls it) for the past 3 years. They are led by a 39-year-old quarterback in Peyton Manning (albeit one who threw for a combined 10k yards and 94 TDs over the past 2 seasons) and are going to give the damn thing one more try, it seems. I’ve learned not to count Manning out, but he does seem to be slowing down toward the end of the season in his old age – if you’re interested in grabbing him for a fantasy league it may be best to capitalize on production early and sell him high after the halfway point in the season. Regardless, he should still end up in the top tier of QBs when the dust clears from the 2015 season, barring injury.
(Listen to the Fantasy Football Podcast, 6/23/15: AFC West Spotlight!)
Running Back is an interesting position to discuss here as some still believe that 3rd year player Montee Ball could end up back on top of the depth chart. Personally, I would not count on that as C.J. Anderson seems to have impressed enough in the 2nd half of the 2014 season that he should monopolize the touches in the backfield. Anderson’s ADP is currently about 15 in a standard league. That’s the middle of the 2nd round. Let’s look at two players currently going after him: Jeremy Hill, and Alfred Morris. Would you want either of those over Anderson? I wouldn’t. It looks like there is a steep drop-off right around there as well. Ronnie Hillman may get some scattered work throughout the season but will not be fantasy relevant unless there is a major injury or production problem with Anderson.
Demariyus Thomas is easily the #1 go-to WR target for Manning this year and his numbers should reflect that. He has been very consistent over the past few years and we should expect over 1400 yards and at least 10 TDs as a floor. His ADP is currently holding around 13, which means that he is being drafted right below Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Personally, I would rank him higher than Beckham simply based on the years of production consistency that we have been able to see from Thomas. Emmanuel Sanders had a career year in 2014, effectively almost doubling his receiving yards and TDs from his previous high in 2013 while playing for the Steelers. Obviously he’ll still be used a great deal in the passing game, but these seem like unsustainable numbers to me in this new offense and even Sanders recognizes that, saying “You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that is predicated off running a football then throwing it. It’s different.”
We’ve heard some good things about Cody Latimer (lining up as the 3rd wide receiver currently), but he still hasn’t really shown us the money. We could chalk some of that up to rookie jitters but he’ll likely only get one more shot to prove himself here before someone else steps up to the plate. Veteran Andre Caldwell is hanging around as well but likely won’t get much playing time unless Sanders or Thomas are out for an extended period. The situation at tight end looks pretty clear to me: newly acquired Own Daniels should immediately play a large role in the passing game and nab a few TDs in the red zone, probably showing up his 2014 stats of 527 yards and 4 TDs. I’ll conservatively estimate his production on a Peyton Manning team at 850 yards and 7 TDs, which would be career highs at both stats. Daniels is an interesting player to keep in mind since his ADP is currently around 107 – here is someone you can grab in the 10th or 11th rounds that could perform within the top 10 at his position.
San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon (rookie, RB)
Stevie Johnson (WR, SF)
Eddie Royal (WR, CHI)
Ryan Mathews (RB, PHI)
Outlook hazy. That’s what the magic 8-ball says when I ask it about the San Diego Chargers, anyway. Philip Rivers will probably throw for his usual 4k yards and 30 TDs, putting his value this year squarely above the Andy Dalton line as a startable QB2 that you can pick up in the 10th or 11th round of most drafts.
Keenan Allen, who had a dip in production last year, looks to bounce back this year in his 3rd NFL season. I don’t see why this couldn’t be a possibility, especially since the other targets on the team are aging veterans Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates. The Chargers did sign former Bills and 49ers receiver Stevie Johnson to a three-year, 10 million dollar contract and will likely use him in place of Eddie Royal in the slot and to create mismatches where possible. People may have forgotten about Johnson’s successes in 2010-2012 with Buffalo, where he was averaging over 1000 yards and 8 TDs per season over three years. Only 28-years-old, I think that Johnson could have a bounce back year here and will certainly improve over last year’s dismal performance on the 49ers (435 yards and 3 TDs).
What am I saying here? Ok.. so I think that Allen is being undervalued and should prove a valuable part of someone’s team this year – you can currently find him going in the 6th round and I would have no problem picking him up there. Stevie Johnson is going undrafted in most leagues and could very well become someone to pick up and play mid-year in PPR leagues, but since he is sitting at the WR3 position for the Chargers I wouldn’t suggest drafting him on your team – rather just keeping an eye out in case he surprises early.
Melvin Gordon is the brand new bread & butter back for the Chargers who should immediately take the reins of the running game. He is not known as a passing-down back, though, and so the newly healthy Danny Woodhead should resume his role from 2013 as the pass catcher in the backfield. I don’t expect 76 receptions again, especially since Branden Oliver was able to showcase some ability in 2014 so he may spell Woodhead slightly, but I do expect fantasy relevant production from Woodhead as a RB3 in PPR leagues.
Gates is a gamble. He just turned 35. Not a good thing for an NFL tight end. Besides that, Ladarius Green is right behind him, waiting to cut into his playing time. Gates may have some good games this year, but I’m not drafting either Gates or Green for my squads.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremy Maclin (WR, PHI)
Dwayne Bowe (WR, CLE)
All aboard the Alex Smith traaaaiiinnnn…. Yeah. That’s a train that I’m not too excited to take. He’s a consistent quarterback though, consistently mediocre. Consistently hands the football off to Jamaal Charles. Remember, in 2014 there were no wide receivers that caught a touchdown. None! And as much as we may think Dwayne Bowe has been criminally overrated for years now, Alex Smith is the reason.
Moving right along, Jeremy Maclin was acquired by the Chiefs in the off-season from the Eagles. To most, it was quite a surprise that Maclin was made available by Philadelphia but he should definitely help out the ailing Chiefs’ receiving core and maybe event tempt Alex Smith into throwing a few touchdowns, who knows? Expect statistical regression for Maclin but this may end up being a surprise for everyone involved here one way or the other. Let’s be honest, it’s more likely that Maclin ends up underperforming here with Smith under center. Too bad.
The real breakout here could be Travis Kelce. A rookie last year, Kelce built up a great rapport with Smith and ended up with over 800 yards and 5 TDs. This year should see even better stats, especially with Charles and Maclin stretching the field in several directions to pull defenders from Kelce’s routes. Kelce currently has an ADP of 53, going in the 6th round (based on all of the 6th round ADPs that we have mentioned so far, it looks like it’s filled with value at the moment) but could end up being a top 5 TE this year, easy.
Jamaal Charles has been carrying the offense of the Chiefs for a few years now, and that doesn’t look to slow down any in 2015. Not a bruising running back, Charles loves to find himself with the football in space, excelling in making the most of the yards after the catch. Because of this playing style, he may enjoy a few more years at the position than others. Nipping at his heels, though, is Knile Davis. Playing a very similar style to Charles, the Chiefs have had a lot of success with Davis when Charles was injured in 2014. They also use him to spell Charles during games. It’s clear, though, that when Charles is healthy and out on the field, Davis is relegated to backup duties exclusively. That said, Charles owners would be wise to think about scooping up Davis later in the draft if possible – I rarely ever advise going for a handcuff option during a draft but here is one that would immediately be a RB1.
Amari Cooper (WR, Rookie)
Roy Helu (RB, WAS)
Trent Richardson (RB, IND)
Michael Crabtree (WR, SF)
Clive Walford (TE, Rookie)
Darren McFadden (RB, DAL)
Denarius Moore (WR, CIN)
Where is Oakland headed?
Thankfully, the answer is "in the right direction". Derek Carr performed fairly well as a rookie (3270 yards, 21 TDs, 12 INTs) and the Raiders' management has continued to rebuild the team with solid components. Most notably, Amari Cooper was drafted to be the WR of the future for the Raiders and he has been widely recognized as one of the better receiver prospects to come out of college in the past several years. We are expecting Carr to slowly improve his performance and he may end up being a franchise quarterback for the Raiders that we are talking about for the next 5-10 years.
Denarius Moore looked like he could be a breakout receiver for the team after his production increased in 2012 (posting 700+ yards and 7 TDs) from his rookie year, but after a steady decline since then and some injury concerns, he departs for Cincy. Amari Cooper was drafted to be the #1 WR here and he should step into the role without missing a beat. Most are predicting 80+ catches in his first year and we don't disagree with that assessment. Cooper should be the best receiving talent that Oakland has rostered in years. Slotting into the #2 spot is ex-49'er Michael Crabtree. Coming out of college, Crabtree was heralded as possible star but hasn't shown many glimpses of that outside of his 2012 season (1105 yards, 9 TDs). Don't expect any other receivers (Rod Streater, Andre Holmes) to produce much fantasy value outside of Cooper in 2015.
The RB situation looks promising for the first time in a few years - with the exit of aging backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, a new era begins in Oakland with athletic freak Latavius Murray and complementary passing down back Roy Helu. If Murray is able to handle the load (he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the last 4 games of the season - his 5.2 average was due to some breakout runs in the games prior) he could easily be a top 10 running back going forward in the NFL. Helu is only relevant in deeper PPR leagues unless Murray washes out. The Raiders also picked up Trent Richardson, though likely only for depth and because he was an inexpensive commodity on the market after poor performances in the past few seasons.
Incumbent tight end Mychal Rivera and new rookie pick Clive Walford will compete for touches in this offense, but neither will be fantasy relevant outside of deep PPR leagues. In fact, these tight ends could cannibalize each other's value here because there won't be enough touches to go around after Cooper and Crabtree get theirs. We would stay away from this situation for the time being.