The last division we have to talk about before the real fun begins is the AFC West. The season is almost upon us, and we’re in the thick of drafting season for your year-long leagues – I wouldn’t be surprised if you are drafting tonight. I can only imagine that all this prep work is also only helping you get excited for the start of daily fantasy football contests too… and $5 million in guaranteed prizes Week 1 doesn’t hurt either.
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You can see our previous entries covering the rest of the league, division by division, right here at The Playbook. But as I said at the beginning, this is not meant to be a discussion of every fantasy relevant player on every team – I am working on the assumption that if you made it here, to this blog, you already know a bit about fantasy football (putting it mildly), so you already have your opinion set on most fantasy-relevant players. And my only advice about that is, be flexible – we are going to start getting a lot more information on these players in the coming weeks, so don’t hold on to your pre-set opinions too long.
What I am here to do is give you as much new information as I can – stuff like signings, coaching changes, defections, trades and draft picks that you might not remember happening over the off-season, or at the very least don’t have a strong opinion on yet, since you haven’t seen it play out on the field. I hope it helps.
San Diego Chargers
You know it was a relatively mild offseason when you’re considering the fantasy ramifications of the addition of Donald Brown. But even then, don’t consider it. Seriously, don’t. Other thank this one (unimportant) change, the Bolts are basically rolling out the same skill position players as last year, so maybe the biggest change is the loss of Ken Whisenhunt as Offensive Coordinator. He was given the Head Coach job in Tennessee because he has proven himself to be an excellent offensive coach, so you have to hope that Phil Rivers’ success last year wasn’t too heavily dependent on the system. And one potential new development at some point in the year is LaDarius Green. He was there last year, so he is not really new, and no matter how talented he is, Antonio Gates still exists. Gates is one of the best TEs in the history of the game, and he has quite the rapport with Rivers, so there just aren’t going to be enough targets week in and week out for Green to be a consistent contributor. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about what round in our draft provides good “value” in terms of risk and reward – we simply need to wait to see it and act fast. If Gates ever goes down and misses a few weeks, you can just pick up Green then and play him until his price tag goes up enough to suck out all the value.
Kansas City Chiefs
You might look at the offseason of the Chiefs and call it uneventful. They did add Anthony Fasano to start at TE, but other than that, their skill position players are largely unchanged and frankly, mostly unappealing. Other than, of course, Jamaal Charles. But here is where the one big set of changes might actually come into play – the Chiefs did lose three starters on the offensive line to free agency this offseason. Hopefully, they will get better play this year out of last year’s first round selection, tackle Eric Fisher, but even still, this looks like a potential downgrade for a line that was only somewhere between “sieve” and “road-grading” last year. Any downtick at all in line play certainly isn’t going to help Alex Smith any, or, by proxy, their receivers, but it also isn’t really a reason to fear Jamaal Charles. Charles is not a guy who relies on wide open holes to create fantasy value, and you know the coaching staff is going to continue to find ways to get him the ball “in space,” and “put him in a position to succeed,” and all the other coaching clichés we’ve come to know and love. The only question is whether they actually manage to do it. Draft him comfortably in your year long leagues, of course, but maybe wait a week or two before you insert him into your daily lineup for top dollar? He’ll still be there when you are finally convinced by his play on the field, and it’s not like you would be passing on an early value if he blows up in week 1 – he’s going to be expensive, no matter what.
The Raiders have Maurice Jones-Drew now. Oh, and Matt Schaub. They still have McFadden, and a bunch of receivers who you think might be good but you’re not sure. The last time we saw Schaub out there, he was terrible. Really, really, terrible. But I would be surprised if, at least in terms of throwing the ball, he wasn’t an upgrade over the collection of talent Oakland had under center last year, so MAYBE he makes one of these receivers fantasy relevant. Maybe. Which one? My guess is James Jones, but he is not even listed as a starter on their depth chart right now, so, honestly, just wait. Don’t start any of these guys week 1, and instead concentrate on their backfield. This team is definitely going to rely heavily on the running game, which has looked pretty good this preseason and until they start producing stats on the regular, you’re not going to have to pay much to get them. Barring injury, MJD is going to get the majority of the carries on the plus side of a platoon situation, and we have seen him do it before. And by “it,” I mean, be GREAT. Not just good. And not that long ago. For what he is going to cost you early on, he could be a major value the first time he runs into a favorable matchup.
Saving the best for last is always dangerous. I hope you didn’t just skip my wonderfully in-depth analysis of the last three teams just to get here… but honestly, I wouldn’t blame you. Not only are the Broncos the ultimate “fantasy relevant” team, but they also have gone through a significant number of changes this offseason, so while you know the production will be there, you don’t know exactly where it is coming from. Well, except for Peyton, and Demaryius. We won’t talk about them.
So, first change: Eric Decker is now a Jet, and he has been “replaced” by Emmanuel Sanders. Replaced is in quotes because the two guys are very different players, and will get very different kinds of opportunities in this offense. Decker was a big, efficient red-zone threat and Sanders is not that. But Sanders has shown this preseason that he is on the same page as his QB, and really, that’s all the matters. If he is running routes where Peyton expects him to be, he will get the ball. Period. And since this AFC West discussion is coming up so late in the game, we can also discuss the latest “change,” which is Welker’s injury status. Another concussion, and all we are really hoping for at this point is that he never does anything to seriously damage his quality of life post-football. But he’ll probably be back on the field at some point, and he and Sanders can certainly co-exist, but while he was out, Sanders actually fills that void better than the one left by Decker. He can run an option route, get open quickly, and make people miss, and those are the kinds of skills that will get you double-digit targets in a Manning-led offense.
Second change: Knowshon Moreno took his talents – and his 1,600 total yards – to South Beach, leaving behind Monte Ball, Ronnie Hillman, and C.J. Anderson. Ball is going to get the lion’s share of the work, as most people are predicting. Last season, Moreno got 300 touches for a reason – he separated himself from people like Anderson and Hillman in terms of blocking and knowing the schemes, and running backs simply don’t leave the field when Manning is hurrying his boys down the field for another score. And Ball is the exact kind of back who can handle that type of work – a true “three down back.” At 5’10’’ and 215 pounds, he can be a wrecking ball going through a hole, and be a stout pass blocker, but he has to do it. If he proves it early in the season, ride him until you can’t afford him anymore, because he will be priced like a top ten back before you know it. Manning’s offenses have produced stud running backs ever since the days of Edgerrin James, and there is no reason not to expect the same from this squad. Manning himself might not repeat last year’s historic season, but this offense will be as prolific as ever. They have a QB second to none, a fantastic line that only got better this off-season with the addition of Ryan Clady back from injury, and skill players who can create yards for themselves at almost every position. So one final piece of sage advice before we get to the real action: when picking defenses, you might want to avoid teams facing these guys.
And with that little nugget, I wish you the best of luck.