2020 Fantasy Football Preview - AFC West
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Things to note for the upcoming 2020 season:
- Due to Covid-19 this much anticipated rookie class could come out of the gates slowly.
- With the possibility of no training camp and fewer practices, veterans will have an edge, especially at wide receiver where typically you see rookie breakouts over the second half of the season (Deebo Samuel/AJ Brown 2019).
- Teams installing new coaching staffs/schemes will be at a disadvantage with less preparation.
- Historical data shows that the average player who misses training camp will miss more regular season games than players who attend camp due to strength and conditioning programs.
Some notes on coaching:
- Historically head coaches have more of an effect on the offensive coordinator than the offensive coordinator does on the actual offense.
- The amount of plays per game correlates more to the head coach’s history than an offensive coordinator, historically these tend to be very consistent from season to season.
- In their first season, head coaches and offensive coordinators tend to be a little more conservative than their later years.
- Coaches with rookie quarterbacks tend to pass less than their historical data shows.
Vic Fangio leads the defensive side of the ball but that “tough guy mentality” of playing solid offense with hard nose defense is sure to bleed over into the offensive philosophy. While Pat Shurmur has typically run faster paced offenses it is unclear if Fangio will allow that or if he will hand over the reins completely and trust that Drew Lock is his quarterback of the future. The Broncos ranked in the bottom ten of all pace statistics and the bottom five in total plays run in 2019.
The Broncos offensive line underperformed last year in pass blocking ranking 25th in adjusted sack rate, however they did rank 11th in adjusted line yards. They have a chance to field a top ten unit in 2020 with the acquisition of Graham Glasglow to play center, returning Ja’Wuan James who played all of 63 snaps in 2019, and what they hope is the continued improvement in rookies Dalton Risner and Austin Schlottmann. If this line lives up to its potential this would go a long way for Drew Lock, Melvin Gordon, and the defense's ability to stay fresh and play at a higher level.
The Broncos gave Melvin Gordon a two-year deal this offseason potentially ruining the fantasy outlook for two running backs, himself and Philip Lindsay. Lindsay started to pull away from Royce Freeman toward the end of last season and maybe that was just a test for them to see if he could be their workhorse running back. While rushing wise, Lindsay may have been equal to or more efficient than Gordon the last two seasons, he is undersized at 5’7" 185 pounds and has not shown particularly strong receiving chops so far in his two seasons.
Gordon has not been very efficient throughout his career and he also has not received particularly good offensive line play with the Chargers. Gordon has not been a picture of health playing just one 16 game season. With those negatives comes the positives that this is a good line and he is a superior talent to Lindsay while being the better passing option out of the back field. In order to regain RB1 status, the Broncos would have to fade Lindsay out of the game plan where it is more likely they hand him 10-12 touches per game limiting Gordon’s ceiling.
Drew Lock started five games and was not very impressive outside of the game versus Houston. The Broncos would do well to use his above average athleticism adding another dimension to their offense. Slow pace and low volume require extreme efficiency that the Broncos offense will not provide.
Courtland Sutton enjoyed a breakout season putting up a 72-1,112-6 line and still has room to grow. Sutton posted a 24.5% target share in 2019 and that bumped up to 26% in the five games with Lock under center. Although he is an ascending player it is hard to see Sutton gaining much higher of a target share with the Broncos’ additions of Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Albert Okweugbunam. Unless Jeudy is a complete bust, the new target competition added to this seam has now projected Sutton to more of a WR2/3 than the possible WR1 we thought could happen.
Jerry Jeudy, the 15th overall pick, was a standout in the luxurious line of Alabama wide receivers. Jeudy is an elite separator and while he does compliment Sutton extremely well, some may have wanted someone opposite him who would not command as many targets. Jeudy projects as a just outside top 50 wide receiver for 2020 but obviously comes with huge upside if the Broncos either decide to run an up-tempo passing offense or if Sutton were to get injured.
KJ Hamler is a speed demon slot wide receiver who will have a hard time commanding enough targets to be a fantasy asset, but could take away just enough to keep Jeudy and Sutton’s ceilings from rising.
Tight End Noah Fant is just the fourth tight end over the last decade to put up over 550 yards in his rookie season. While Fant’s target share dropped with Lock under center, he seems primed to be the number two option right now behind Sutton in this passing game. Fant is a top fifteen tight end, with the total team volume likely holding him back from a higher ceiling. Note Fant is at the highest end of athleticism for tight ends. They did add Albert O in the draft but like we saw with even Fant, rookie tight ends do not come into the NFL and just light it up.
The offensive line gets hurt again.
Melvin Gordon is still inefficient (only has one season over 4.0 YPC) and misses time again.
The Broncos wide receivers just cannibalize each other’s production, and Lock just isn’t good enough.
The Broncos allowed Chris Harris to walk, but then traded away two draft picks this offseason to acquire AJ Bouye and Jurrell Casey in order to beef up Vic Fangio’s defense.
They then spent four of their six picks in the draft to help Drew Lock and their offense. At pick 15 they selected Alabama star Jerry Jeudy and then turned around to select KJ Hamler in the second round. Jeudy is a master of creating separation while Hamler is a speed demon vertical threat out of the slot. The Broncos now could possess one of the best young WR trios in the NFL with these two players added to Courtland Sutton.
They already have tight end Noah Fant on the roster, Elway decided to take Albert O in the fourth round giving them two athletic freaks at the position. While Fant is clearly the tight end to own here and is expected to take that leap into TE1 status, Albert O ran the same 40 time while being two inches taller and weighing twenty pounds heavier.
While they clearly need an upgrade on Garrett Bolles at left tackle, the decision was made to try and improve the offense through skill position players. They also selected LSU C Lloyd Cushenberry in the third round who will receive a shot at securing a starting job on the interior part of the offensive line.
Kansas City Chiefs
While Andy Reid is an offensive wizard they are a top twelve team in terms of pace of play until they get a lead. Since Mahomes became a starter the Chiefs are extremely aggressive in the first half of games and slowdown in the second half. One of the best play callers and offensive minds in the game, Reid consistently churns out productive fantasy seasons for his players.
Kansas City’s offensive line was very good as a pass blocking unit, rating fourth in adjusted sack rate and allowing a pressure rate only faster than the first place Saints. However, run blocking was a completely different story as they were bottom six in adjusted line yards, and three of their starters ranked under 60 in that regard per PFF.
Damien Williams has now gone on tears to end both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. While on that run in 2019 the Chiefs rewarded him with a contract extension. However actions thus far have proven that they do not completely trust him to be their workhorse unless there are no other options available. In 2019 they traded for LeSean McCoy and now in 2020 they signed DeAndre Washington and drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick.
By using first-round draft capital on a running back in CEH, the Chiefs clearly view him as a possible upgrade on Damien Williams. CEH was an elite receiving option in last year’s LSU offense catching a ridiculous 55 passes and fits this offense perfectly. Andy Reid even came out and said he views him as a better Brian Westbrook. It’s said that Mahomes said this was the one player he wanted in this draft no matter what. If CEH clearly pulls away from Damien and is able to command workhorse usage he is a shoe in for a top 10 running back season with top five overall upside.
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL. He was ready to light the NFL on fire again early in 2020, however a nagging sprained ankle and a dislocated kneecap forcing him to miss two games, slowed him down. Lamar Jackson is now the unquestioned overall QB1 due to his rushing, but don’t be surprised when the gap between them two shortens this season, or depending on your scoring format, if Mahomes out performs him.
Tyreek Hill previously had large home/road splits last season in the games he did play (missed five games due to a shoulder injury) he was much more consistent, but again with his own injury and the injury to Mahomes, his upside was capped. One thing to possibly worry about is the Kansas City defense really improved down the stretch last season, lowering both Mahomes and Tyreek’s overall volume limiting him to just two games over 70 yards in his final eight games including the playoffs. All that being said, Tyreek is one of the few receivers who can outscore and finish as the WR1 overall over Michael Thomas.
Travis Kelce finished his season as the overall TE1 for the second consecutive year. He has also been a top 10-15 WR during that span giving people who draft Kelce a distinct advantage, especially as WR1 production has been slipping with the increased use of three wide receiver sets across the NFL. Kelce finished the previous two seasons with eight and ten touchdowns but regressed to just five last season despite putting up his second best yardage and reception totals. Expect Kelce to get closer to that eight to ten mark this season with a fully healthy Mahomes under center.
The restructuring of Sammy Watkins contract and bringing back Demarcus Robinson threw a wrench into the Mecole Hardman breakout. Assuming everyone stays relatively healthy, we should see similar roles for the Chiefs number two to four wide receivers (Chris Conley in 2018) giving them large spike weeks best suited for DFS and best ball, rather than redraft leagues.
The only downside for the passing offense is injuries, drafting Mahomes, Kelce, and Tyreek with the utmost confidence.
Damien Williams either gets hurt or under performs in the early portion of the season leading way to another season of RBBC.
With having the best quarterback in the league, your choices at the ends of each round are not the strongest, but it does give you the ability to focus on filling needs versus looking for overall value.
The Chiefs selected running back CEH with pick 32 who should pay immediate dividends as the best receiving back in this year’s class.
Second round pick linebacker, Willie Gay will inject speed and athleticism to their front seven as he ran under a 4.5 40 yard dash.
In the third round they selected offensive tackle Lucas Niang who could be a steal if he can get past the medical concerns that teams had coming into the draft causing him to slip into the third round.
They also added a pair of corners trying to continue to patch up that secondary.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden’s offenses have skewed towards league average plays per game and pass to run ratios and at a slow pace. It has been pretty hit or miss which way he will favor from season to season, with half of his seasons finishing in the top half of both rushing or passing attempts.
Gruden and Mayock prioritized the offensive line and it has paid off so far as they had one of the best in the NFL last season. They ranked sixth in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate in 2019. Kolton Miller took a major step forward and if he continues to improve and Gabe Jackson gets better from his down season last year, then they have an argument for having a top three overall line in the NFL.
Josh Jacobs was awesome in 2019 as a rookie finishing seventh in the NFL in rushing yards despite playing through a shoulder injury and missing three games from that injury. The efficiency metrics back it up that it was not only his offensive line. Jacobs ranked 11th in breakaway run rate, eighth in evaded tackles, sixth in juke rate, and sixth in yards created per carry.
Holding Jacobs back from top five running back status was his receiving usage. Despite coming out of college known to be a smooth receiver out of the backfield, the Raiders only gave Jacobs 27 targets. Mayock and Gruden decided to resign Jalen Richard and draft jack of all trades Lynn Bowden in the third round of this year’s draft. Concerning for Jacobs’ receiving usage the Raiders drafted and listed Bowden as a running back instead of as a wide receiver.
This offseason there were some early rumblings that that usage will increase in 2020 and was held back to allow Jacobs to learn blocking assignments better. Jacobs is an RB1 with the scale sliding on what receiving usage he gets.
With the offensive line improving, Derek Carr had arguably his most efficient season to date setting career highs in completion % and YPA. The issue is Carr’s conservative game as he's ranked in the middle or more toward the bottom of the league in deep ball attempts per game under Gruden, despite being average and above average in completing those deep passes. A lot of that may be more because of the pieces around him. He has an athletic tight end, a small slot wide receiver, and Tyrell Williams as a stretch receiver, but no true go-to target. According to Josh Hersmeyer, ADOT is more a result on the wide receiver than the quarterback and this seems to line up as Williams’ ADOT was close to the same with Carr in 2019 as it was with Rivers in both 2017 and 2018.
After focusing on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, the Raiders priority early in this draft was on offense.
The Raiders were able to take their guy at the wide receiver position by selecting Henry Ruggs at 12th overall as the first wide receiver off the board. Ruggs has limited college production at Alabama but has elite speed running a 4.27 40 at the NFL combine. It will be interesting to see how Gruden deploys Ruggs, but the early indications are that he is viewed as more of a Tyreek Hill YAC guy than a DeSean Jackson tracking the ball deep guy.
In the third round they selected both Lynn Bowden, who they have decided to declare as a running back, and Bryan Edwards. Edwards is a large possession receive and while he broke out as a true freshman, he never dramatically improved his season totals through his career in college.
Darren Waller is the team's de facto number one pass catcher after leading them in targets, receptions, and yardage, posting a 90-1,145-3 line. However, with all the added target competition, Waller could find it difficult to repeat those totals. In the second half of the season with just Hunter Renfrow inserted into the starting lineup, Waller saw a 5% decrease in target share. With multiple weapons operating in the same shorter areas of the field they saw a near even split in targets. Waller’s best way to offset this production would be in the touchdown department.
Hunter Renfrow according to PFF ranked 10th in yards/route run. In his final seven games he totaled a 35-490-4 line and while unlikely to happen, that would total a 80-1,120-9 line. Tyrell Williams is very good at what he does but trying to make him your #1 wide receiver will not work. A tall explosive field stretcher, Williams has not earned more than 69 targets in a season since his 2016 breakout with the Chargers that lacked true target competition for him.
With all the added talent and possible rotation of these receivers, it is not recommended to draft any of them as more than just a bench stash to see what their upside truly is.
The offensive line takes a step back and the coaching staff still does not trust Jacobs to play on obvious passing downs and gives the work to Bowden and Richard.
The Raiders drafted three players who can eat into this team’s passing production. This helps Carr overall with the influx of talent, but they should keep each other from being truly viable starting players outside of deep leagues.
We will have to wait and see, but the early consensus is that the Raiders botched their first two picks (especially the second first rounder at 19) but finished strong afterwards.
Their first selected was Henry Ruggs who they chose over Ceedee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy, who are believed to be in a tier of their own as far as the wide receiver prospects go in this year’s draft.
Then they shocked everyone by selecting Damon Arnette at number 19 when he was graded as a third-round prospect.
In the third round they found good value in back to picks with the electric Lynn Bowden who played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver in college while also being a standout return specialist, and then Bryan Edwards who slid down draft boards due to injury concerns.
In addition they added offensive guard, John Simpson from Clemson giving them a quality back up option or the flexibility to possibly trade Gabe Jackson.
Los Angeles Chargers
Anthony Lynn’s Chargers have been one of the slowest paced teams in the league since the Chargers hired him as head coach, and run below average plays per game. Based on his first two seasons as head coach, it seems like Lynn prefers a league average to below average pass to run ratio, but last year’s team was so banged up/underperformed that they had no choice but to throw more.
The Chargers offensive line was one of worst in the league last season, especially after Okung’s injury for the final ten games of the season. Only one other tackle duo allowed more pressures than the Chargers, and as a whole they allowed the seventh most quarterback hits and they were also bottom six in rushing yards before contact. The Chargers did well so far this offseason upgrading their offensive line trading Okung for Trai Turner and signing free agent, Bryan Bulaga fortifying the right-hand side of their offensive line.
Austin Ekeler was a revelation last season for the first four weeks scoring six touchdowns before Melvin Gordon came back. The only game Ekeler had over 17 carries was the game where both Gordon and Justin Jackson were out. When Jackson was there the first three weeks, Ekeler averaged 12.7 carries per game, this is the most likely outcome for Ekeler as the starting running back for the Chargers. So much of Ekeler’s value comes from his receiving work, as a receiver he put up a 92-993-8 line. There are a confluence of things that could work against this in 2020; Ekeler scored eight receiving touchdowns, no other back had more than five, so that is likely to come down. He had 108 targets and this should also come down from just team volume plus a running quarterback in Tyrod Taylor (who is to say with Tyord vs Rivers he catches 85%+ of his passes again). While people may have the beginning of last season in mind and drafting Ekeler as a higher end RB1, it would be prudent to have him as more of a mid-range RB1 for 2020.
The Chargers selected Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick, but is initially expected to ride the bench in the early going and if the Chargers have their way, his entire rookie season.
In Tyrod’s three seasons starting for the Bills, he averaged a 94-525-5 line as a RUSHER, put that into perspective Kyler Murray ran for 93-544-4 line and had a top twelve quarterback finish in 2019. Anthony Lynn served as Taylor’s offensive coordinator in 2016 so there is familiarity there, and Taylor finished as a top ten fantasy quarterback that season. If Taylor were to start the entire season, this offense has the look of a slow conservative offense, and Taylor would be hard pressed to pass 500 attempts, something he has never done.
Keenan Allen enters his contract year with a big downgrade at quarterback for 2020. Allen takes what is probably the largest hit to his 2020 value going from a mid-range WR1 to more of a WR3 with lower volume than he has received the last few seasons.
Mike Williams is more of a bench player and DFS play now with Tyrod under center. His projections have him just making the top 50 wide receivers for 2020.
Tight end Hunter Henry moves from a top five or six tight end to a back half TE1. There is a higher ceiling possibly with Henry since Taylor did seem to favor Charles Clay in his Buffalo days, making him possibly the second or third highest targeted player on the team which would further plummet Mike Williams value.
The downside situation for the Chargers is more a ying and yang situation. If the Chargers don’t draft a quarterback, then Tyrod is pretty cemented as the starting quarterback giving you a solid Konami code, If they do draft a quarterback then you're looking at a possible Baker Mayfield situation from 2018 where that player would come in and actually boost the overall offense. As you know, the Chargers ended up taking Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The offensive line experiences more injuries and is worse than last season.
Austin Ekeler cannot hold up with the increased workload over a full season.
Herbert is athletic with a strong arm, but lacks consistent accuracy and never truly blew you away at the college level. For 2020 it does not look like Herbert is going to make a huge fantasy impact either for himself or the weapons around him.
The Chargers then decided to trade up to 23 in order to select linebacker, Kenneth Murray. Murray does project to be a good player but trading pick 71 and 37 for 23 seems like a price not worth paying for a linebacker.
In the fourth round they selected wide receiver, Joe Reed and in the seventh round receiver, KJ Hill. Their current WR3 is Andre Patton. Reed would be the guy to keep an eye on, standing 6’1 and 224lb he ran 4.47 and was an elite returner in college.