Four Burning Fantasy Football Questions: AFC West
I'm going to be completely honest with you up front. I got a little long-winded in this article. I didn't plan on it. It just kinda happened. I wanted to to give you reasons why my opinions are what they are, and I got a little carried away. Don't hate me for it.
Anyways, this will be the first of our series where we bring you the top questions that each NFL team is faced with in regards to fantasy football. Today we take a look at the AFC West which in my opinion, has almost more questions than any other division. If you agree/disagree strongly, feel free to comment below or shoot me a tweet (@fantasygeek37). I would love to have a good football discussion to get the fantasy juices flowing!
Denver Broncos: What role will Jamaal Charles have in Denver this season?
Out of all the running back situations in the NFL, the Broncos may be the one that is the most confusing to figure out. Not only have they have added Jamaal Charles to the mix, but they have a new offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, as well as CJ Anderson returning from a torn meniscus. Throw sophomore, Devontae Booker into the mix, and we have ourselves a helluva mess. What role will past fantasy stud, Jamaal Charles have in this offense? Let’s break it down together and see if we can figure it out.
First, let’s look at what Mike McCoy brings to the table. Most recently, he spent the past four seasons as head coach of the Chargers. He’s an innovative play caller and should bring a fresh look to Denver. Since we are focusing on the running game, let’s see what he did during his tenure in San Diego and try to predict what he will do in Denver.
Team Rushing Attempts
2013: 486 attempts, 6th in the NFL
2014: 398 attempts, 23rd in the NFL
2015: 393 attempts, 22nd in the NFL
2016: 398 attempts, 22nd in the NFL
If you remove his first year, a Mike McCoy offense was good for roughly 400 rushing attempts per season. However, he had Philip Rivers at the helm in San Diego, compared to Paxton Lynch or Trevor Semien, so I think it’s fair to say, we may see a few more carries from this Denver team. I’m going to give them 430 rushing attempts in 2017. That would have been 12th in the NFL last season and I think it's a fair estimate. Now let’s try to figure out how those 430 will be divvied up.
I want to first get Devontae Booker out of the way. He wasn’t impressive in his rookie season as he only averaged 3.5 yard per carry and had a serious issue with fumbles. He was clearly behind CJ Anderson on the depth chart, so with Charles in town, I expect him to be third in the pecking order. Between Booker, the quarterback, and the other backs not named Anderson and Charles, I’m going to give them 100 rushing attempts. That leaves around 330 carries for Charles and Anderson.
Both Jamaal Charles and CJ Anderson are coming off major injuries, so I honesty, don’t see either of them handling a bulk of those 330 carries. Since Charles is more adept in the passing game, I think we may see roughly a 60-40% split of carries that favor CJ Anderson, with Charles more involved on third/passing downs. That would leave Anderson with around 200 attempts and give Charles approximately 130. If you take out last season where Charles only had 12 rushing attempts, he has never had a season where he has finished with less than five yards per carry. If we give him an even 5.0 ypc in 2017, that would equate to about 650 rushing yards. If Anderson gets the other 200 attempts and averages 4.5 ypc (he’s been in between 4.0 and 4.7 his career), that would give him about 900 rushing yards.
Now on to receptions. In the six seasons where Charles has played at least 15 games, he’s averaged almost 43 receptions per year. While Anderson isn’t bad in this aspect of the game, Charles has the leg up on this work. I’m going to give Charles 35 receptions for 300 yards and Anderson 25 catches for 200 yards.
Finally, both are good at the goal line, but in order to keep Charles healthy, I think Anderson sees more short yardage work. I’m going to give Anderson nine total scores and Charles six.
So here is what I expect from them this season.
Jamaal Charles: 130 rush att, 650 rush yards; 35 rec, 300 yards; 6 TD – 166 PPR fantasy points.
CJ Anderson: 200 rush att, 900 rush yards; 25 rec, 200 yards; 9 TD – 189 PPR fantasy points.
Last season, those fantasy points would have made Anderson the RB21 in PPR leagues and Charles the RB23, so draft accordingly this season. Currently, Anderson has an average draft position of RB18 on Fantasy Pros and RB20 on Fantasy Football Calculator, so others are seeing things similar to what I am. However, Charles is going as the RB39 on Fantasy Pros and RB38 on the calculator, so not everyone agrees with me on him. If you see things as I do, Charles may provide a nice value selection with upside on draft day if his current ADP stays the same over the summer.
Kansas City Chiefs: With Jeremy Maclin gone, what should we expect from the Kansas City wide receivers?
In a surprise move this offseason, the Chiefs released number one wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin. Maclin has signed with the Ravens, and now the Kansas City offense has a void to fill at wide receiver. With no additions to the unit other than fourth round rookie, Jehu Chesson out of the University of Michigan, many are speculating that Tyreek Hill will become a fantasy football stud in 2017. Some think Chris Conley will finally break out and become a fantasy asset. Others see tight end, Travis Kelce taking another step forward and possibly even become the number one fantasy tight end. So what will happen? Let’s break it down!!!
Most of us were very surprised at the emergence of Tyreek Hill last season. The “Jack of all Trades” not only had 61 receptions for almost 600 yards with six touchdowns, but he rushed for 267 yards and three more scores. Throw in three return touchdowns, and he finished as a lower end WR3 in PPR leagues. This season he’s currently being drafted as the WR23 on Fantasy Pros and the WR21 on Fantasy Football Calculator, with a current average draft position in the fourth round. That’s a pretty steep price.
Last year, Maclin missed four games, and in those games, Hill averaged 7 catches for 62 yards per game. In the other 12 games, he only averaged around 2.5 receptions for 36 yards per game. He should definitely see more usage this season. Andy Reid has already stated that Hill will be the Chiefs number one receiver and assume Maclin’s “Z” receiver position. While Maclin battled injury last year, in 2015 he was able to secure 87 balls for almost 1,100 yards. While Hill doesn’t have the prototypical size of a team’s top receiver, his ability to do it all should allow the team to find ways to get the ball in his hands a lot. I think 80 catches for 800-900 yards is attainable, and don’t rule him out for 100-200 rushing yards as well. If I give him eight touchdowns, that would equate to about 244 PPR fantasy points, which would likely land him in the top 20 pass catchers. Yes, there is more risk with a guy like Tyreek Hill, but I think a fourth or fifth round pick in fantasy drafts isn’t unreasonable.
With Tyreek Hill being the Z receiver, Chris Conley will likely take over as the X receiver, which is more of a possession receiver in the Andy Reid offense. Conley hasn’t shown much in his first two seasons, but he is entering his third season, which has historically been a good year for receivers to breakout. He went from 17 receptions his first season to 44 last year, so another step forward could put him on the fantasy radar. While he didn’t show much difference in production whether Maclin was on the field for not, Conley is definitely someone I’m looking at as a late round flier this season.
I’m going to be brief in regards to Travis Kelce…he is my number one fantasy tight end in 2017. When Maclin was on the field last season, Kelce averaged 4.9 receptions for 62 yards per game. In the four games Maclin was injured, he averaged 6.5 receptions for 95 yards per game. He hasn’t been elite as far as touchdown production goes, as he has yet to score more than five times in a season, but if you tell me he can catch 90 balls for 1,200 yards and have a floor of five scores, I can get on board with that. Gronk and Jordan Reed have the potential to score more fantasy points, but they also pose a HUGE injury risk, and that elevates Kelce to the top of my tight end rankings.
LA Chargers: Will Hunter Henry be a TE1 in 2017?
There is much hype around second year Chargers tight end, Hunter Henry heading into the 2017 season. He had a productive rookie season as he caught 36 balls for 478 yards with eight touchdowns, and looks to build on that in year two. He finished the 2016 season as the TE19 in PPR leagues, yet is currently being drafted as the tenth tight end off the board on Fantasy Football Calculator and the 12th tight end on Fantasy Pros. Can he live up to those lofty expectations and finish this year as a top 12 fantasy tight end?
First, let’s take a peek at last year. Rookie tight ends rarely produce at elite levels in the NFL, so while his numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, they are actually fairly impressive…especially the eight scores. He shared time with now 37 year old, Antonio Gates, to the tune of 585 snaps for Gates and 574 snaps for Henry. Not bad for a rookie. ESPN Chargers reporter, Eric Williams has stated that he expects Hunter Henry to take over the role as lead tight end for LA this season. It makes sense with Antonio Gates on the wrong side of 30.
So if Henry assumes the lead role, does that mean we can expect a big increase in production? Well, I’m not quite sure about that. Let’s look at some data. In 13 games last year, Henry had 47 total targets, which was tied for 30th among tight ends with the likes of Garrett Celek. Yuck! Will he see more this year. I would hope so, but with the likes of Keenan Allen returning and the Chargers investing a top ten draft pick on wide receiver, Mike Williams, there are a lot of mouths to feed in Los Angeles. Not to mention Antonio Gates returning and the emergence of Tyrell Williams. To enter TE1 production, at least as far as targets go, CJ Fiedorowicz was 12th in targets among tight ends in 2017 with a total of 82 targets. Barring injuries which is always possible, I’m not sure I see a clear way that Henry enters elite production with a limited target load.
I know one argument will be, “He scored eight times last year, so if he increases that total, he doesn’t need to see a heavy target volume to be a TE1.” Well, yes that true, but I’m not sure he will be able to replicate or build upon the eight scores for two reasons. First, as mentioned, there are a lot of very capable weapons on this Chargers team. In particular, first round pick Mike Williams and his 6’4’, 218 pound frame. He excels at creating space around him when he goes up for a catch and should be a big red zone threat when he gets accustomed to the offense. With Gates still around, who also thrives at the role, I’m not sure eight scores will come easy to Henry this season.
Secondly, according to Pro Football Focus, Henry only had a 58% catch rate last season, which was well below league average for tight ends. As they go on to mention, “Unreliable targets tend to get fewer red zone chances even if they can physically handle the load”. Yes, Henry can improve upon his catch rate this year, but I still see Gates as more of a red zone threat than Henry, as well as Mike Williams (eventually).
To conclude, I don’t want to tell you not to draft Hunter Henry, but I do want to encourage you not to reach on him too high. I think he will be really good, probably even elite someday, but I’m not entirely sure that will come in 2017. I think he has an chance to approach TE1 status, but I would feel much more confident if I drafted him as my second tight end.
Oakland Raiders: Is Marshawn Lynch still a RB1?
In case you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen that the Raiders have lured Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to play for them in 2017. Lynch signed a two-year, $16.5 million deal, but essentially, it’s a one-year, $3 million contract with no guaranteed money after this season. The Raiders are in win-now mode, and they are hoping that Lynch will carry them deep into the playoffs.
Lynch had officially retired after the 2015 season, so he hasn’t played a snap in over a year. He also had an injury plagued, 2015 season where he only played in seven games and averaged a measly 3.8 yards per carry. However, he was a top five, fantasy running back from 2011 through 2014, so the question arises, will we see the production from a few years ago, or at 31 years old, is Lynch too far removed from the game to be a fantasy RB1?
First of all, let’s take a look at the backs on the Raiders roster.
Marshawn Lynch: 31 years old, 5’11’, 215 pounds.
DeAndre Washington: 24 years old, 5’8’, 204 pounds (5th round draft pick)
Jalen Richard: 23 years old, 5’8’, 207 pounds (undrafted free agent rookie)
With Washington and Richard being more of the “scat back” type player, I think it’s fair to assume that Lynch will be heavily used on early downs and goal line situations, whereas Washington and/or Richard may see more work on passing downs, especially Richard. He may not get the volume of an Ezekiel Elliott in order to try and keep him fresh for a late season run, but I think 240-250 rushing attempts is within reason. Oakland has a very good offensive line, so even at an advanced age, I can see him netting at least 4.5 yards per carry. I’m pencilling Lynch in for around 1,100 yards rushing. While not known for his receiving abilities, he really stepped up his game while in Seattle, so I think 25 catches for 200 yards is within range. Finally, he’s been a touchdown machine, scoring double digit touchdowns in four consecutive seasons before 2015. At his age, I am going to be conservative and give him seven scores. Here are my projections for Lynch in 2017.
245 rush attempts, 1,100 rush yards; 25 receptions, 200 yards; 7 touchdowns - 221.5 PPR fantasy points
Those numbers would have made Marshawn Lynch the RB14 in 2016. Personally, with his age, time away from the game, and adjustments to a new system, I think my projections are a bit on the aggressive side. He’s currently be drafted as the RB10 on Fantasy Pros and the RB11 on Fantasy Football Calculator, and I’m not quite sure I would be willing to spend a late second round, or early third round pick on Lynch with as many question marks as he possesses. While I think Lynch could still be a legitimate RB2 in fantasy leagues this season, I fear his days as a top five, or even a RB1 are over.