So wait… You mean to tell me that we’re only a few weeks away from real, live concussion filled NFL action? Where did the time go? Anyway, for those of you not familiar with my work, which would include everyone not in my immediate family, I’m Mike Honcho and I’m usually pontificating on baseball this time of the year. However, it’s hard to say no to the persuasive ways of Unbreakable MB and Jay Wrong. They’re like the Razzball version of “Brazilian security guards” at a gas station at 6 A.M. – You just can’t say no! So here I am, ready to tell you how the AFC West will unfold in 2016. How will Denver cope without America’s favorite “Non-PED using” quarterback? Can Derek Carr take the next step and lead the Raiders to the postseason? Did Andy Reid serve his 15 hours of community service for habitual clock-management violations? Finally, can Phillip Rivers generate enough excitement for the dozens of Chargers fans in San Diego? Theses questions and more (well, not much more) will be answered below. I’ll list the teams in order of predicted finish and give you a few helpful nuggets to help you navigate the choppy waters of fantasy draft season. Join me, won’t you?
Note: For the following tables, Rank = Overall Fantasy Points Ranking for All Players (including IDP Players). GP = Games Played. FP = Total Fantasy Points. FPPG = Fantasy Points Per Game Averaged. All values were from the 2015 Season.
Here’s what we know about the Chiefs: The defense is absolutely legit. It’s good enough to win close, low scoring games, which they’ll need to do often with Alex Smith as their QB. As I mentioned in the introduction, Peyton Manning is gone. This division is wide open and the Chiefs are ready to pounce or bounce in the case of Andy Reid. Last season they managed to go 11-5 and that was with Jamaal Charles suiting up for just five games. Kansas City hasn’t finished first in the West since 2010, but they’ve been to the playoffs twice (2013 & 2015) since then.
Alex Smith will never be the first QB off the draft board, but he manages to do just enough to hold value in most formats. In 2015, he threw for 20 touchdowns, just the second time he’s accomplished that in eight seasons, but he rushed for a career high 498 yards. Smith has topped 400 yards on the ground in two of his last three seasons and he threw seven or fewer interceptions for the fifth straight year. So, basically he’s a safe choice late in the draft. There’s not much of a ceiling, but if you draft right he could be a nice complement to a very solid team.
He’s 29 and coming off the second torn ACL of his career, but Jamaal Charles is still the straw stirring the drink in Kansas City. I’m honestly not worried about a drop off in production. Charles’ played at an elite level least year before the injury – averaging more than five yards per carry for the eighth straight season. That’s pretty incredible, for those of you scoring at home. For 2016 Charles is sporting an ADP of 28, so for 12 standard league purposes, he’s going in the 3rd round. If he’s not ready to go in Week 1, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West should be considered capable replacements.
When Andy Reid gets agitated – usually when he runs out of Charleston Chew’s and Yoohoo, he likes to air the ball out. That’s where Jeremy Maclin earns his pesos. Last season Maclin averaged a healthy 8.8 yards per target and hauled in 14 catches of at least 20 yards. He should be considered a low-end WR2 and targeted in the mid 5th round range. So, what do we do with Travis Kelce? He’s still considered a TE1, but beware of the helium. Last year Kelce found the end zone just five times and recorded just four games of 80 or more receiving yards. A bit disappointing, but 2016 should bring an uptick in production as the offense becomes easier for Kelce to digest. He’s my No. 5 TE and currently going in the late 5th to early 6th rounds of drafts.
Peyton Manning walks into a bar and the bartender asks, “Why the long face?” Zing! Oh baby I’m on fire…..What’s not on fire is the Denver QB situation. Is it Mark Sanchez? Trevor Siemian? Who knows…Maybe they’ll bake a cake with a file in it, bust Montee Ball out of jail and he can run the wildcat. Either way, things look way different in 2016. Denver could find itself challenging for a wild card spot, but the odds are stacked against them as they battle back from a brutal offseason. Let’s see: Manning retired, Osweiler left and oh yeah…..Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan will be wreaking havoc for different teams as well. Other than that things should be just fine in the Mile High City.
There’s not much to break down QB wise, we know what Sanchez is all about and it’s not good. Siemian is a complete mystery. The staff loves his big arm, which happens to be the same arm that totaled an 18:20 TD:INT ratio in his final two years at Northwestern. So there’s that. They did draft Paxton Lynch and he projects as a serviceable QB in due time, but he’ll almost assuredly need some time to acclimate himself.. However…….Reports out of camp suggest that Gary Kubiak is leaning towards starting Siemian in Week 1. Fun.
Now, if you’re scared about drafting C.J. Anderson that’s understandable, but I’m banking on Gary Kubiak working his running back magic and turning him into a lesser version of Arian Foster. At least as far as usage rate is concerned – which could be a very good thing for those willing to take the risk. There was a little concern that Devontae Booker might leapfrog Anderson early in camp, but he looks locked in as the handcuff to Anderson for Week 1. Anderson is tagged with a late 4th round ADP and he’s a fringey top 10 RB depending on the format. Ronnie Hillman needs to step up his production if he intends to be a part of this offense. He seems to be third on the RB depth chart as we speak.
What might keep the Denver offense treading water this year is their wealth of talent in the wide receiver department. Mark Sanchez has never had this kind of talent to throw to, so there’s a chance both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders could exceed expectations. Thomas has logged four straight seasons of at least 1,300 yards receiving and he’s put together 14 games of at least 100 yards receiving over that same period. Even in an offense that wants to lean heavy on the run, there’s still potential for Thomas to put up another 1,300 + yard season. He’s still a top 15 WR and should be considered somewhere in the 3rd round. Sanders is an entirely different situation and while some in the industry are dinging him for the QB downgrade, I see it as a chance to shine. Sanders might see a heavy dose of inside work and hot routes, which could lead to a better overall season that he had in 2015 with Peyton Manning and his noodle arm. Even with a severely limited Manning, Sanders managed 14.9 yards per catch and 8.3 yards per target. What’s interesting here is the manifestation of Virgil Green as a true weapon in the Denver attack. He needs to be taken seriously as a low-end TE1 as he’s become a safety valve for the trio of struggling quarterbacks.
The Raiders are much improved from years past. This we know. Get. Excited. They finished 7-9 last year and they have probably the dreamiest coach in all of football: Jack Del Rio. I mean, this cat used to coach in a leather bomber jacket when he was in Jacksonville. Bay area ladies should be warned. Fast Jack is coming for you…..Even the ones with extra-large Adam’s apples. Unfortunately, for Oakland fans, Mark Davis is trying extremely hard to move his team to Las Vegas – or anywhere but Oakland for that matter. Basically whoever steps up and builds him a stadium wins a habitually under-performing football team. So, in the name of JaMarcus Russell….Let’s talk some Raider football!
Derek Carr took a huge step in the right direction in 2015 and the additions of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree pushed the Raiders passing game to the next level. While his arm strength is questioned frequently, his above average athleticism allows him time to make adjustments and limit potential mistakes. The one area where he improved the most was, oddly enough, his deep ball. His QB Rating rose from 59.3 to 107.9 on passes of 15 yards or more which was good enough for third in the league behind Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton. Carr is primed for a 4,000 yard season and can easily top 30 TD’s for the second straight year. He’s my QB 20 this year and his ADP of 94 has him falling off the board around the late 8th round.
What do we make of Latavius Murray? In limited action two years ago he averaged 5.2 YPC on just 82 carries. Last season when he was given a feature role his average sunk to 4.0 YPC and he only found the end zone 6 times in 16 games. He’ll handle the bulk of the work in the Oakland backfield this year and should be a 1,000 yard rusher. He’s currently tagged with an ADP of 50 and that seems about right for his projected production. Keep an eye on DeAndre Washington in the late rounds of your drafts. The staff loves his footwork and he could easily jump Taiwan Jones for the No.2 RB job for Week 1.
We won’t spend much time on the receivers – Amari Cooper is headed for a huge year, even though he was out-targeted by Michael Crabtree last season. That won’t be the case this year. Crabtree will assume his natural No.2 role and should not disappoint in the pass happy Oakland offense. There is one stat to be wary of when considering Crabtree: Despite receiving the 10th most targets in the league last year, Crabtree had zero receptions of 40 yards or more. Oh….he was also targeted just 13 times in the red zone the entire year. Just something to think about. If you’re looking for a tight end (insert joke here) Clive Walford has some sleeper appeal. I’m not going to get overly excited about Walford until Mychal Rivera is out of the picture so this might be a time share.
Another “down on their luck” franchise that wants a new stadium. Weird. But anyway, there is something to like about the Chargers fantasy wise… They’re going to put up a lot of points this year. Several San Diego players will make sizable contributions to fantasy titles this season so allow me to introduce you to a few of my favorites. But first an update: Joey Bosa is still unsigned and when he does put pen to paper, you can count on a season ending injury to happen almost immediately. That’s how we roll here at Prognosticator Headquarters.
Phillip Rivers was second in the league in passing yards and first in attempts and completions in 2015. That’s more than a miracle when you consider the offensive line was an absolute mess. Despite losing key skill players at a rapid rate, Rivers’ was the most productive QB in the NFL between Weeks 4 and 8, throwing for at least 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in five straight games. There’s no reason to believe the production will slip this year as it’s safe to pencil him in for 4,500 yards and 30 TDs. Consider Rivers a top 15 QB.
Here’s where things get interesting. Melvin Gordon didn’t score a single touchdown last season, yet I believe that with more emphasis on the running game, he’ll find the painted grass at least 5 or 6 times on the ground. He’ll see all the work he can handle since the Chargers lack quality depth at the running back position. The good news is that he’ll come at a deep discount after last seasons disappointment. Gordon is currently being drafted at the end of the 7th round.
Before suffering a season ending injury in Week 8, Keenan Allen was on his way to establishing himself as a true No.1 receiver. He was on pace for a 140 catch, 1,500 yard campaign if you prorate his numbers from 7 full games to a full 16 game season. Travis Benjamin was brought in to replace Malcom Floyd and he’ll see a lot of action as his 4.31 speed will stretch the field, something San Diego was lacking last year. Benjamin saw 125 targets last year for Cleveland and he hauled in 6 catches of 40 or more yards. Another name to keep stashed for late in the draft is Dontrelle Inman. With Stevie Johnson out for the year, Inman has the inside track to the 8o or so targets Johnson would have had thrown his way. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Antonio Gates and his top 10 upside at a thin TE position. He had a dismal season in 2015, dealing with a PED suspension and injuries, but remember he’s just two seasons removed from scoring a career high 12 TDs. You can currently grab Gates in the mid to late 10th round.
That’s how I see the AFC West shaping up this season. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!
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