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The West is best? Not in the NFL they aren’t.
Today’s divisional fantasy preview takes us to the AFC West, where the Chargers reign supreme. And then there’s everyone else. You’re not going to find much elite talent in this division, but I’m here to point you in the direction of some solid middle round options that could make or break your season. You’re not going to go overloading your roster with Chiefs and Raiders, but selecting the right third WR or bye-week replacement player could mean the difference between fantasy playoff glory and sitting on the sidelines come late December.
It wasn’t long ago that talents like Jay Cutler, Tony Sheffler, and Brandon Marshall were leading the high-flying Broncos. Nowadays, head coach Josh McDaniels instead has to turn to the likes of Kyle Orton, Jabar Gaffney, and Daniel Graham… not exactly a trio of fantasy world beaters.
Orton in my mind is on the fringe of fantasy relevance, maybe worth a look as a backup QB in 12- or 14-team leagues. Efficient? Yes. But a fantasy stat producer? Not so much. And who is Orton going to throw to? He’s got a crap load of crap for weapons, led by former Patriots Jabar Gaffney and TE Daniel Graham, along with disappointment Eddie Royal. I’m very low on Royal these days, but Gaffney could act as a decent late-round sleeper pick.
On the ground, Denver may finally have their first feature running back since the days of Terrell Davis. As long as Knowshon Moreno doesn’t get hit with a Matt Forte-esque sophomore slump, Moreno is really the only Bronco I’m targeting in my drafts this year. He didn’t have a 100-yard game last season, but with only Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington as his backfield competition, I see Moreno’s workload increasing, and improving, in this, his second NFL season.
The Chiefs have a lot of nice pieces on their offense heading into the 2010 season, headlined by new offensive coordinator, former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. Weis will mentor QB Matt Cassel through his second season with Kansas City, which should help Cassel along in his development. Cassel isn’t quite at “fantasy starter” status just yet, but he could definitely act as a good bye-week replacement option, especially if your starter has a bye on Weeks 7 or 8, when the Chiefs host Jacksonville and Buffalo, respectively.
Dwayne Bowe leads the receiving corps for Kansas City, as he looks to bounce back from a lousy 2009 that saw him haul in just 47 catches and only 4 TDs. On the other side of the field will be the veteran Chris Chambers, and in the slot, the Chiefs will likely feature rookie playmaker Dexter McCluster. Bowe can be considered starter worthy at the WR spot, with Chambers and McCluster drafted as late-round sleeper picks. I really like McCluster’s big play potential… he’s got a bit of Devin Hester in him, with a splash of Wes Welker’s evasiveness.
Looking at the upcoming schedule for Kansas City, targeting RBs Jamaal Charles and the newly acquired Thomas Jones should be a no-brainer. The Chiefs don’t go up against any of the top rushing defenses, meaning Charles and Jones should run wild for their fantasy owners this season. Which back to own will be the burning question. The gurus around the web figure Charles, the team’s incumbent rusher, will get every opportunity to hold onto his starting role, but if he falters or gets injured, Jones will be there to act as a very viable replacement. Both backs belong on fantasy rosters this year, with Charles going off the board as early as the second round. If you can get both guys to handcuff together, all the better.
For the first time in a long time, Raider Nation has a reason to be hopeful. I’m not saying they’re a playoff team quite yet, but Oakland fans are finally rid of their disastrous QB mistake, JaMarcus Russell. With Russell shipped out of town, the Silver & Black brought in former Redskin Jason Campbell to call the shots on offense. Campbell, like Denver’s Orton and Kansas City’s Cassel, isn’t worth fantasy starter consideration, but find the right match with a legitimate starting QB, and Campbell could do the job for you in the backup role.
Campbell doesn’t have a lot to play with as far as aerial attack options, as the WR group leaves a lot to be desired. A pair of sophomore receivers are featured in the Oakland offense, with first rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey looking to rebound from a horrendous rookie year, and fourth rounder Louis Murphy looking to stay ahead of DH-B on the depth chart. Chaz Schilens is also in the mix, but his endless injury woes may keep a cap on his fantasy potential. TE Zach Miller is where you want to focus in on for the Raider passing game. Miller finished up ’09 ranked 9th among tight ends in receptions and 8th in receiving yards, and those numbers should be helped even more with the addition of Campbell. After the elite tight ends are off the board, don’t be scared to turn to a Raider… it sounds so dirty, doesn’t it?
The Raiders do have a tandem of reasonably valued backs to consider, with Michael Bush and Darren McFadden poised to share the workload this coming season. Bush seems to have more hype around him in fantasy land than McFadden does, but neither back is worthy of anything more than a mid-to-late round flier pick.
Charger stalwart LaDanian Tomlinson has changed coasts, but that doesn’t leave the Chargers hungry for fantasy talent.
San Diego’s offense starts and ends with quarterback Phillip Rivers, who has himself perched near the top of most fantasy QB ranks. After the fearsome foursome of Rodgers, Brees, P. Manning, and Brady are off the board, Rivers is your man, in that second tier with Matt Schaub and Tony Romo.
The only thing that might scare Rivers’ potential suitors away would be the Vincent Jackson situation. Jackson, the team’s most talented receiver, is ready and willing to sit out the entire season, as he pleads with the team for a new contract. He’ll at least miss the team’s first three games, as he serves a suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy. Without Jackson, it’s unclear what other weapons will emerge for Rivers, beyond the always reliable Antonio Gates at tight end. Malcolm Floyd is the most likely candidate at the WR spot, with the team hoping he can build off the late season momentum he garnered after the team traded away Chris Chambers midway through last season. Floyd should see a bump in production whether V-Jack returns or not, as I’m not banking on him being held to just one TD like last year. Legedu Naanee is your other WR option from this roster, and he may not be a bad one, as a late-round flier pick.
San Diego’s ground game will mix a bit of the somewhat old with a bit of the very, very new. Darren Sproles, whose 138 touches last year were second only to L.T., may have thought he was line for the starting role. That was until the team drafted rookie phenom Ryan Matthews in the first round of the draft. The Fresno State alum will get the majority of the workload right out of the gate, making Mathews a first round fantasy back for potentially years to come. You keeper leaguers out there, target this youngster super early if you have high hopes of landing him.
Tags: afc west, Antonio Gates, Chaz Schilens, Chris Chambers, Darren McFadden, Darren Sproles, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denver Broncos, Dwayne Bowe, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Jamaal Charles, Jason Campbell, Kansas City Chiefs, Knowshon Moreno, Kyle Orton, Legedu Naanee, Louis Murphy, Malcolm Floyd, Matt Cassel, Michael Bush, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Phillip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, Thomas Jones, Vincent Jackson, Zach Miller