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Fantasy Files: Divisional Previews – AFC West

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Derek Carr and the Raiders lead the way, but there are plenty of names to mine in this division

Oakland Raiders v San Diego Chargers
Not a believer in Derek Carr? Take it up with this guy...
Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

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 cover the AFC West. A division with plenty of offensive fireworks, some potential changes at signal caller, and some pretty darn good football teams.

Houston Texans v Denver Broncos
The returning pieces of the running game, Devontae Booker and CJ Anderson, will welcome Jamaal Charles to the mix
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Denver Broncos

23rd Passing DVOA, 30th Rushing DVOA

QB: Paxton Lynch / Trevor Siemian???

RB: CJ Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker

WR: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Carlos Henderson

TE: Virgil Green

As expected, the Broncos offense was limited last season under first year starter Trevor Siemian. Interestingly enough, the Broncos passing attack was slightly better than the run game, which never could quite get it going. I’m not sure if Siemian or Lynch will be the starter in week 1 but neither should be in your plans. That also limits the upside on Demaryius and Emmanuel. I would expect the inconsistency to continue for both of those guys to no fault of their own. Cody Latimer should be on the radar. He’s shown some flashes. Carlos Henderson is a third round rookie, not likely to start this year but to keep an eye on down the road.

The running game will have some people tempted. CJ Anderson is a former fantasy hero who was a big bust at the draft table last year. Jamaal Charles is a former stud from Kansas City who has dealt with some devastating injuries. If he’s at all healthy, he’s the most talented back by a country mile (a big if). Devontae Booker is the second year man out of Utah. He struggled last year when given the opportunity so he needs that big sophomore bump. Word out of Bronco-land is that they’re planning on using a committee – typical July football talk, so it all comes down to how confident you are in Anderson’s ability to hold onto the starting gig. He’s a guy I’ve never been a big fan of so I’ll likely steer away from CJ and take a flier on Charles or Booker.

Tennessee Titans v San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon is set up for a monster season
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Los Angeles Chargers

14th Passing DVOA, 24th Rushing DVOA

QB: Philip Rivers

RB: Melvin Gordon

WR: Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams

TE: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates

Philip Rivers is one of my favorite fantasy quarterbacks. Maybe it’s because he plays out west or maybe he doesn’t boast the most exciting receiving options but Rivers is usually a draft day bargain and puts up solid QB1 numbers year in, year out. Sure, he’ll have a bad day from time to time, but they all do. He doesn’t run, so no extra perks there, and he turns the ball over frequently, so check your interception tax, but he’s a good bet for 4,000+ yards and 25-30 TDs. Those numbers might look conservative if Keenan Allen can regain and maintain good health and Mike Williams can contribute as a rookie. Allen is one of my favorite players and one to target if you have any sort of PPR element. Williams is an intriguing talent and offers a different skill set than Allen. It’s always tough to project rookies, but if he’s up to the challenge, Rivers will put the ball on him. It’s worth noting that Hunter Henry is expected to be the primary TE this year with Gates playing the red zone / third down / specialist role. In other words, Henry is the better bet for your weekly TE needs and Gates should be filed as an emergency fill-in.

Melvin Gordon. I was all in on him in his rookie year, which was a total disaster from a fantasy standpoint. I stayed away last year and he had an excellent campaign going until he suffered a late season injury. With two draft picks in the first three rounds on the offensive line (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney) and signing Russell Okung to play Left Tackle, I would expect the blocking to take a step forward. With little in the way of competition, Gordon is set up for a big year.

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce has taken his game to the elite TE level
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs

10th Passing DVOA, 20th Rushing DVOA

QB: Alex Smith (Patrick Mahomes)

RB: Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, CJ Spiller, Kareem Hunt

WR: Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley

TE: Travis Kelce

The Chiefs took a big nose dive in their running efficiency last year. Spencer Ware was a gift at the draft table as he was supposed to just fill in for a week or two and then had a good year both on the ground and through the air. Ware will likely be the Chiefs starter but I would want to hedge my bets and take the rookie Kareem Hunt as a handcuff or speculate that he might emerge as the top back. West was a disappointment last year and should be considered a waiver priority add if the other two go down but not worth a roster spot at this time.

The exciting solid Alex Smith is penciled in once again as the signal caller for the Chiefs but Patrick Mahomes will eventually be the starter for this franchise. This is a fascinating development for the Chiefs as they’re basically admitting that they will not be able to win a championship with Smith. I have no clue if Mahomes will take a snap this year or what that does to someone like Tyreek Hill’s value. My inclination is that Hill is the one receiver worth owning in this offense right now. Travis Kelce is a personal favorite at the tight end spot. Smith tends to lean on Kelce and young QBs generally like throwing to their TEs so I wouldn’t expect any value loss if a change is made. Either way, Kelce is a top 5 tight end but expect some frustrating stretches out of the quarterback regardless of who is under center in 2017.

San Diego Chargers v Oakland Raiders
Carr & Cooper look to take their game to new heights in 2017
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Oakland / Las Vegas Raiders

4th Passing DVOA, 15th Rushing DVOA

QB: Derek Carr

RB: Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard

WR: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson

TE: Jared Cook, Clive Walford

Last year I recommended taking Carr and pairing him with Kirk Cousins as both were in the 12-15 QB range at the draft table. No such luck this year. Carr is on the cusp of elite and with the expectations high, he’ll cost you a pretty penny on draft day. If you like to wait on QBs, you will not enjoy Carr’s services this year. If you want his #1 receiver, you’ll need to draft Amari Cooper early as well. Cooper is a star in the making, if he’s not there already. He needs to increase his TDs to jump into that elite tier, but we’re still talking about a guy you can safely project 1,100+ yards and a half dozen TDs. Michael Crabtree has been just as valuable as he’s found paydirt more often in recent history. Crabtree has traditionally been a draft day bargain and I’d expect that to continue this year. He’s not the most exciting name, but we’re chasing points, not collecting names. Cordarrelle Patterson, newly signed from the Vikings, represents that tantalizing talent that never quite translates on the field. If he somehow carves out a role as the 3rd WR on this team, there is enough talent in Cooper and Crabtree to free him up to make plays. If that happens, he’ll be a fun WR3 to gamble on from time to time.

I’m having a hard time projecting how the Raiders will use Marshawn. Will they employ him as a bell cow throughout the year? Or are the hoping to keep him on a “pitch-count” and save his impact for a late season push and into the playoffs? Lynch had last year off, so maybe he’s fresh as a daisy, but running backs his age have a tendency to fall off the cliff. Because of that, I’d be worried about investing a high pick in Lynch. He’s currently the 10th back off the boards in the early drafts around the Jordan Howard / Todd Gurley range.

AFC West Review

The AFC West will again be a fun division to follow from a football standpoint and has plenty of interesting fantasy options for us to enjoy. If a few situations break right, this division will offer two top 10 QBs, as many as 4 RB1’s, and many usable wide receivers. As a bonus, the AFC West draws the NFC East and their relatively weak defenses.

All AFC West Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only AFC West squads:

QB: Derek Carr

RB: Melvin Gordon

RB: Marshawn Lynch

WR: Amari Cooper

WR: Tyreek Hill

WR: Keenan Allen

TE: Travis Kelce

D: Denver

Your turn. Who am I sleeping on in this division? Are you buying into the Beast Mode renaissance?