To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league before the start of the season. 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 start with the NFC West. None of these teams were ranked in the top half of the league in overall offensive DVOA last year and while there is optimism that these units will improve, the strength of this division are the three excellent defenses (Cardinals, Seahawks, and Rams). The NFC West takes on the AFC South and the NFC East this year, so there are some bad defenses to take advantage of on the schedule.
Los Angeles Rams
32nd Passing DVOA, 32nd Rushing DVOA
QB: Jared Goff
RB: Todd Gurley
WR: Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
TE: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
The Rams are an excellent place to start because they were so bad last year that they got everyone in the building fired. If you don’t believe me, make sure you watch this year’s All or Nothing series on Amazon. (Spoiler Alert: the answer is Nothing). I do think Todd Gurley is a talented back and with new Head Coach Sean McVay taking over the offense, I’m holding out hope that Gurley can regain RB1 status. Gurley is more talented than any of the backs McVay had to work with in Washington and they were generally useful to our fake teams.
The big question is what will Jared Goff look like in his first full season as a starter? McVay helped Jay Gruden turn Kirk Cousins into an effective quarterback and by all accounts Goff is the more talented player. I would imagine Goff goes undrafted in most leagues but he’ll find his way into lineups during the bye weeks this year. Keep your eye on the rookie Gerald Everett at Tight End. He projects to be in the mold of Jordan Reed in McVay’s offense and was actually the first pick of the McVay era. He’ll get every opportunity to succeed and may be worth snaring as a late round pick. I can’t imagine that any of these wide receivers will make any of my rosters but there’s enough interest in Cooper Kupp to make me at least put him on the radar for PPR leagues.
San Francisco 49ers
28th Passing DVOA, 11th Rushing DVOA
QB: Brian Hoyer
RB: Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower
WR: Pierre Garcon…Marquise Goodwin, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington
TE: Vance McDonald
I had to remind myself that Brian Hoyer is the starter on this team with Matt Barkley backing him up. If that seems familiar, it’s because San Francisco’s brass must’ve watched some Chicago tape and said “yep, they’ve got a great QB situation – let’s do that.” I like Brian Hoyer but there’s no chance you should let him anywhere near your fake team. He’s keeping the seat warm for Kirk Cousins or a rookie in 2018. The only real pass catcher of interest is Vance McDonald as I think Hoyer could keep him relevant as a fringe starter.
The one player on this offense that is of major interest is Carlos Hyde. The running offense wasn’t bad last season under Chip Kelley and Hyde has been a solid contributor when healthy. Hyde’s stock may be the lowest it’s ever been and with a new regime there is plenty of doubt to his future. If you can get him late, he could provide value in a game that you really can’t have enough running backs.
27th Passing DVOA, 14th Rushing DVOA
QB: Carson Palmer
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, JJ Nelson, Jaron Brown
TE: Jermaine Gresham
Last year was U-G-L-Y, you ‘aint got no alibi, you ugly, hey hey, you ugly. The passing attack fell from 3rd to 27th and it’s almost all on the arm of Carson Palmer. There had to be some kind of injury issue with Palmer last season but it’s fair to wonder if the 37 year old has fallen off the cliff. This year likely represents the last shot that Bruce Arians, Palmer, and Hall of Fame wideout Larry Fitzgerald have at a Super Bowl. If Palmer can regain the form and Fitz can hold on for one more year of relevance, this offense can jump back up. Arians will not shy away from his downfield, go for the jugular approach, so this offense could produce those crooked numbers that are fun to take advantage of in fantasy. Fitz will likely remain effective in the red zone but watch close for the early target share between John Brown, JJ Nelson, and Jaron Brown. All have flashed at different points and one could emerge as a consistent weapon.
Despite the lack of a passing game, David Johnson broke out as a star last year. DJ has established himself as an all-around threat and will be a top 3 pick in just about every league this year. I’m biased as he graduated from my alma mater, but he’s my #1 overall player.
16th Passing DVOA, 23rd Rushing DVOA
QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise, *Eddie Lacy
WR: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson
TE: Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks offense also dropped off significantly last year from 2015 levels and a lot of it has to do with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Seattle used a second round pick on a right tackle and signed Luke Joeckel of Jaguars infamy to play one of the guard spots. Maybe this unit can improve but it doesn’t seem like enough resources were invested relative to the weakness of the unit. I’d still be happy with Wilson as my QB, but at some point Seattle needs to realize that he’s not a pocket passer but a creator who thrives off of a strong run game and play action and boot legs. The evolution of the offense is fascinating but it may be enough to turn many off of Wilson as their fake team signal caller. Doug Baldwin is certainly worth a roster spot as a solid WR2 and Tyler Lockett shows enough flash to justify WR4 status. Jimmy Graham is less interesting than he was in New Orleans, obviously, but he’s a big name and will likely be overdrafted.
The run game is still suspect and missing the formerly retired Marshawn Lynch. Rawls burst on the scene in 2015 as a college free agent and had some good moments but failed in the full time role in 2016. CJ Prosise was drafted in the 3rd last year and still interests me as a late round flier, someone who the organization sunk significant draft capital in and could emerge as a dual threat in year 2. Those are the types of picks that can ultimately turn your league. *Originally left out Eddie Lacy. Keep an eye on his weight and if he makes the roster, he could certainly be a factor.
NFC West Review
Two new offensive schemes will be employed in this division with the Rams Sean McVay and the 49ers Kyle Shanahan. The other two teams will try to get back to what worked in 2015 with largely the same personnel. The strength of this division are the strong defenses, which can dull the edge of some of these weapons on offense.
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: Doug Baldwin
WR: Pierre Garcon
TE: Jimmy Graham
What say you? Any interest in the NFC West teams this year?