To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league in the month of July. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
Today we stay out west and switch conference for the NFC West. This is a division of haves and have nots with two teams you’re mostly steering clear of and two that you’re loading up on. Three excellent defenses lurk in this division so remember that when you’re trying to talk yourself into Torrey Smith. This division was a laughingstock as recent as 2010 but has since sent 3 different teams to the NFC Championship game and earned two Halas trophies and one Lombardi.
29th Passing DVOA, 22nd Rushing DVOA
QB: Colin Kaepernick / Blaine Gabbert
RB: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn
WR: Torrey Smith, DeAndre Smelter, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington
TE: Vance McDonald
Let’s start with the dumpster fire in San Francisco. After parting ways with the successful but ultimately recalcitrant John Harbaugh, the 49ers spent 2015 benching Colin Kaepernick for Blaine Gabbert, watching player after player leave via free agency or retirement, and ultimately firing Head Coach Jim Tomsula. If you thought things couldn’t get more interesting, they hired Chip Kelly, whose departure in Philadelphia has created one of the more bizarre off-seasons in recent memory. For our purposes, all we care about is the Chip Kelly system and who can benefit from it. Colin Kaepernick strikes me as a flame-throwing closer in baseball – he’s got one pitch and can be successful in the short run but if he doesn’t have his stuff working, he’s brutally bad. Maybe Gabbert wins the job even though a lot of people want to see Kaepernick run the Kelly offense. Either way, it’s a scary proposition to invest in this passing offense. I have no idea who will start opposite Torrey Smith and Smith is one of those guys who runs 3 routes. He’s a home run hitter who will give you a lot of strikeouts.
The one player on this offense that is of interest is Carlos Hyde. While he battled injuries last season, reports have him in peak physical condition (isn’t everyone this time of year?) and ready to run the high tempo offense. Hyde has all the talent you could want in a bell cow back and he has the opportunity in carries. The problem is that the offense simply might have to throw a lot to stay in games. To paraphrase the Gin Blossoms, if you don’t expect too much from Hyde, you might not be let down. He should look good as your RB2.
31st Passing DVOA, 14th Rushing DVOA
QB: Jared Goff
RB: Todd Gurley
WR: Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Pharoh Cooper
TE: Lance Kendricks, Tyler Higbee
The Rams moved to LA, traded up for Jared Goff, and will trot him out to throw to Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, and Pharoh Cooper. Yeah. The Rams almost certainly felt like they needed to make a splashy move with the relocation in a new town, but Goff and his assembled group of "weapons" provide no joy for our fake game.
The only real draftable asset on this team is the one that’s going in the first round – Todd Gurley. The former Georgia Bulldog lit the league on fire last year and is coming into this season fully healthy. Make no mistake, he’s the first, second, and third best option in this offense and Jeff Fisher knows it. I had Gurley in one league last year and he was a joy to own. He gets a fully-endorsed stamp of approval despite 6 games against elite run defenses.
3rd Passing DVOA, 16th Rushing DVOA
QB: Carson Palmer
RB: David Johnson, Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd, JJ Nelson, Jaron Brown
TE: Darren Fells, Jermaine Gresham
This is a fun team. With Arizona’s rise to prominence last year, NFL fans are the real winners as we’ll see more Cardinals games in prime time. As long as Palmer stays healthy, this vertical passing attack is as fun as any show out there. The Cards literally have 5 WRs worth mentioning with the great Larry Fitzgerald rejuvenating his Hall of Fame career in the slot, the speedy John Brown burning down defenses on the outside, and Michael Floyd filling in the intermediary routes. Both JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown flashed last season in support roles and are interesting names in case of injury. The problem with 3 WRs who are about equal on the hierarchy is that one or two can disappear if the third is going off. They’re all drafted around the same area in the 25-35 WR range. No idea who the best bet is to finish the year on top but I’d like a share somewhere on this offense. Palmer is an affordable option at the draft table with a ceiling as high as anyone. I’d consider backing him up with a caddy that can protect for injury / difficult matchups like a Marcus Mariota.
The running game returns the same players from last season but flips the Johnsons. David Johnson, the former University of Northern Iowa Panther (UNI Fight! UNI Fight!), looks to follow up his rather remarkable rookie campaign with significantly higher expectations. If you were lucky enough to roster him last year, he may have saved your season and won you a championship. Johnson is a threat to score from anywhere on the field and is valuable in PPR and standard leagues. If you took him #1 overall, I wouldn’t quibble. However, he’ll likely come off the board in the middle of the first round.
2nd Passing DVOA, 3rd Rushing DVOA
QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise
WR: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson
TE: Jimmy Graham
This is a fascinating offense from a real life and fantasy perspective. Russell Wilson seemed to take off coincident with Jimmy Graham’s injury last season and started to find a real rhythm with Angry Doug Balwin, Jermaine Kearse, and the dynamic rookie Tyler Lockett. Wilson is the #4 QB off the board right now, behind Luck, in front of Big Ben. You can sort those guys any way you’d like but if you’re a take a QB early kind of owner, you could do worse than grabbing one of those 3. If you were around last year, you know I was standing on a table for Doug Baldwin to take over and many of us benefitted from his ridiculous explosion. Baldwin is getting drafted as the #23 WR overall, a low-end WR2, and that’s a spot where we can make some profit. I’m not likely to invest in Jimmy Graham give how dreadful he looked pre-injury. Tyler Lockett is dynamic and an interesting WR3/4 investment.
The running game is incredibly interesting. With the retirement of Beast Mode, we’re left with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. Rawls was phenomenal in relieve last year, subbing for the injured Marshawn Lynch, to the point of suggesting Rawls could be in contention for the #1 overall pick. All that changed when the Seahawks chose Prosise in this year’s draft, opening up plenty of question marks on who will emerge as the workhorse or if this is a full blown committee. This has dropped Rawls’ stock to a late 2nd, but Prosise is going in the 12th. This will definitely be a camp / preseason battle to watch as this has a chance to be a volatile market. If you’re drafting early, I’d target Prosise.
NFC West Review
A division of haves and have nots, the NFC West really showcases two great offenses and two potentially terrible ones. This division is helped out by drawing the AFC East and the NFC South defenses. Expect a lot of points from the Cardinals and Seahawks this season, who also boast two of the best fantasy defenses to own. There are some discounts at the draft table on these squads like Doug Baldwin and the Cardinals receivers and keep an eye on the Seahawks backfield.
All NFC West Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only NFC West squads:
QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Todd Gurley
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: John Brown
WR: Doug Baldwin
TE: Jimmy Graham