In recent years, the Super Bowl hasn’t been a kind destination for teams traveling from the NFC West. Two seasons ago, the Rams lost what was perhaps the most anticlimactic Super Bowl we’ve ever seen. Subsequently, their offense fell off the rails last season and the team found themselves on the outside of the Wild Card weekend looking in. Their division rivals out of San Francisco didn’t fare any better in their matchup against Kansas City this past February. The Lombardi was so close that the 49ers could almost taste it. Their fortunes took a turn for the worst when Patrick Mahomes dropped a 44-yard dime into the hands of Tyreek Hill and regained momentum. It’s okay Niner fans, your team wasn’t alone. Mahomes also killed the championship dreams of fantasy players around the country. Don’t draft an early quarterback, folks.
Thankfully, for those of us who fell just short of fantasy supremity, we’ve got a new season ahead of us! With that said, what better way to end the Fantrax division breakdown series than with the wild NFC West?
Say what?! Your fantasy football league didn’t use Fantrax last year? Unthinkable! Check out all the features Fantrax has to offer, and we think you’ll be singing a different tune for the coming season.
2020 Fantasy Football Team Previews: NFC West
Inefficiencies be damned, Kyler Murray had an impressive fantasy debut season. Putting up a combined 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns, the rookie quarterback finished the year as the QB7. His accuracy was a problem at times though, and his passing production tapered off dramatically in his final six games. In that timeframe, he failed to throw for over 200 yards-per-game with the exceptions of Weeks 15 and 17. This isn’t entirely uncommon for a young player. It would seem that he hit the dreaded “rookie wall.” Not to worry, a year of experience under his belt and the addition of superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins should both help him take a step forward as a player.
The supporting cast in Arizona makes for a dream scenario for the sophomore quarterback. The Cardinals offensive line did a solid job of protecting Murray, despite what his sack column says. Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury has some work to do in mentoring Murray to get the ball out of his hands before he gets pummeled. Murray’s habit of doing too much with his legs comes at a cost, but for fantasy, it’s not entirely a bad thing. Nothing is more enticing in a quarterback than the ability to break off a couple of big runs on a weekly basis. Finishing second at the position, Murray rushed for 544 yards in 2019. While you’d like to see him exercise better judgment, you can count on a solid floor due to this aspect of his game.
The team’s acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins can’t be understated. We’re talking about a player who hasn’t put up less than 1,000 yards more than twice in his seven-year career. To be fair, he played with Brock Osweiler in one of those seasons. Who are we to blame the man for that? Arizona’s offense won’t hone in on Hopkins as much as the Texans did, but his presence on the field creates a problematic dynamic for defenses. Given an expected increase in passing efficiency and a reliable rushing floor, Murray will likely expand on his rookie season and crack the top-five in fantasy.
Midway through the season, the Cardinals backfield received a surge of electricity following Kenyan Drake’s arrival. Inconsistent as he was, Drake ran for 643 yards in his eight games with the team. In that window, he also came down with 28 receptions. You tell me, where would you draft a player whose stat line reads 1,286 rushing yards, 56 receptions for 342 yards, and 16 touchdowns? Those were Drake’s projected numbers over 16 games last year. His production came in sporadic spurts, but acclimating to a new system midseason isn’t an easy feat to overcome. It also didn’t help that the passing game came to a screeching stop starting in Week 12. An improved air attack is going to open things up for Drake and help prevent him from becoming the Amari Cooper of running backs.
At this point in time, Drake is going in the second round of PPR drafts as the RB8. For a player who’s likely to see over 250 touches and has a top-three ceiling at his position, that’s not a bad price.
The backup in town Chase Edmonds showed his potential to be a stud if he’s handed the keys to the backfield. Unfortunately, the only game he received more than 10 carries came against the Giants. Playing a defense that awful is going to skew things a bit. Still, he fits the offense like a glove, and he’s worth a late-round flier should anything happen to Drake.
Christian Kirk dynasty owners were none too pleased when they got the notification announcing Hopkins’ arrival in Arizona. The second-year receiver saw 108 targets go his way in just 13 games, and his role was expected to increase. Don’t worry, all is not lost, guys. Arizona is going to throw the ball plenty, and their offensive scheme calls for the distribution of targets. Adding to that, Kirk won’t repeat his low reception rate of 62%. Improvements to Murray’s game should help clear that up. If he can manage the same amount of targets over 16 games, and those targets increase in quality, a high-end WR3 performance isn’t out of the question.
In case you forgot, Larry Fitzgerald is still hanging around the Arizona locker room. The 36-year old receiver brought in 75 receptions on 109 targets last season. Sadly, the future hall-of-famer is going to be relegated to the third option in the passing game this season. His target total is going to drop, and where he’s going in drafts you’re better off taking a shot on a young guy with breakout potential.
Now, onto the main event. DeAndre Hopkins has been a fantasy staple for over half a decade. His time in Houston was prodigious, and he established himself as one of the best in the league. Here’s the deal though, he had the second-largest target share in 2019 with 30.9%. His only competition was the oft-injured duo of Will Fuller and KeKe Coutee, as well as Kenny Stills. Coming to a team that already had Kirk and Fitzgerald presents a new challenge to his fantasy output. Expect Hopkins to see his targets fall to about 135. While I’ve been an advocate for Murray, he’s no Deshaun Watson. Hopkins’ fantasy value is going to take a hit, and with current cost as the 10th pick in the draft, you can count me out.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. There’s absolutely no reason for you to draft a Cardinals tight end. Between Dan Arnold and Maxx Williams, neither guy has caught more than 32 receptions in a season. Spoiler alert, not much is going to change this year.
San Francisco 49ers
What a difference one receiver can make. Prior to acquiring Emmanuel Sanders in Week 8, Jimmy Garoppolo was the QB23 to start the season. The tide turned once Sanders arrived on the scene. Garoppolo took flight and was the QB8 from Weeks 8-17. Not to reopen old wounds for you Garoppolo dynasty owners, but Sanders is no longer on the team, and Deebo Samuel…well, you know what’s happening there. There’s plenty of young talent in San Francisco’s group of receivers, but there isn’t a clear WR1. Luckily for Garoppolo, he’ll have George Kittle to lean on as his crutch. Having seen what Garoppolo was without a top dog at receiver, it’s difficult to get excited about him for 2020. In 1QB leagues, I’d avoid drafting him altogether.
Not even the running backs in San Francisco could tell you what’s going to happen this season, but I’m going to try. The mind of Kyle Shanahan is an interesting one. His ever-rotating carousel of running backs is difficult to keep up with, and for fantasy purposes, it can be maddening at times.
Raheem Mostert enjoyed himself a late-season breakout to finish the year. From Week 13 and on, Mostert was the RB10. He enjoyed this run on the back of both hyperefficient runs and touchdown rates. He ran for an incredible yards-per-carry average of over 5.7, and despite only carrying the ball 137 times, he found himself in the end zone on eight different occasions. Not to be a wet blanket, but there are a couple of causes for concern here.
In his prolific late-season stretch, he tallied 15 carries or more only once, and he scared in each outing. What’s worse is that Shanahan demonstrated his inclination to feature multiple backs at once during this period of time. Once the playoffs began, Tevin Coleman came roaring back with 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown in the division matchup against Minnesota. It wasn’t until after Coleman was injured against Gree Bay that Mostert took control of the backfield again.
Don’t forget about Shanahan’s connection with Coleman in Atlanta. As long as he’s is in the backfield, he’s going to continue being involved. Perhaps in a way that significantly dampens Mostert’s fantasy value. Oh, and do you remember who Shanahan’s first running back signing was? In case you had forgotten, the 49ers went out and paid Jerick McKinnon before losing him for an extended period of time to injury. They’ve elected to keep him around, which should show you Shanahan’s intentions to keep the committee intact.
If Mostert continues to produce, he’ll be the lead back of this committee throughout the season. His rate of production, however, is bound to slow down. He’s only being drafted as the RB26 at the moment, and at that price, although I won’t personally take him, I wouldn’t fault someone for taking the plunge.
You never want to see a player suffer an injury before the season starts. Injuries are always tough to see, but there’s a special sting for both the players and fans when it comes outside of game time action. Deebo Samuel was being talked about prior to sustaining a Jones fracture in his left foot. He’ll still hit the field sooner than later, but you have to wonder how much his game is going to be impacted by the injury. Now that his short-term future is in jeopardy, where do the Niners go from here?
It appears that San Francisco’s drafting of Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of this year’s draft would hold more weight than they had initially anticipated. Aiyuk offers a similar skillset to Samuel’s, but in a shortened offseason, doubts about the class of rookie receivers have never been so high. Offseason programs are crucial for developing young route-runners, and this year’s alterations due to COVID-19 are more than problematic. The saving grace here is that he’s being taken as the 75th receiver in drafts. What do you have to lose at that price? He offers low-end WR2-WR3 upside and has an opportunity to be a steal relative to his cost.
Last year’s injured rookie Jalen Hurd is back in the mix this season as well. The team spent a third-round pick on him the year before, and that kind of capital suggests he’ll get his chance to play a role in the offense. While peripheral players like Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor are also in the background, it’s difficult to imagine either guy providing fantasy value. Bourne had a small handful of good moments last season, but his drops, especially in limited work, are a major concern.
The tight end position begins and ends with George Kittle in San Francisco. Kittle is in contention for the league’s best player at the position along with Travis Kelce. The fact that he averaged the same amount of fantasy points-per-game seems to get lost. The lack of a WR1 in San Francisco suggests that Kittle’s role in the passing game has never been more crucial. I’m not saying that Kittle should be drafted ahead of Kelce, but considering that’s going one round later, he may well be the better bargain.
Los Angeles Rams
Fresh off of being handed a mouthwatering contract, Jared Goff had his worst season in the last few years. The good news is that we saw what rock bottom looks like in a Sean McVay led offense. All things considered, it wasn’t that bad. Goff put up a couple of stinkers that severely hurt players who started him, but he surprisingly finished the season as the QB13. Once Tyler Higbee got more involved in Week 13, Goff closed out the season as the QB6. Like the clever man he is, McVay found a way to counteract the deficiencies on the offensive line. The team began running more 2TE sets, which opened things up for Goff. The 25-year old quarterback doesn’t hold up well in the face of pressure in the pocket. By buying him more time, McVay was able to ease Goff back into a stable rhythm of production.
McVay is too intelligent to go back to his old style of playcalling with the personnel he has on offense. With time to scheme out ways to keep Goff out of duress, there’s a reason for optimism in Los Angeles. Goff is the 17th quarterback going off the board in drafts. With his upside, he’s a slam dunk late-round stash.
We’re about to get our first look at a Rams backfield without Todd Gurley for the first time since 2015. After having massive success in Los Angeles, Gurley cooled down a bit last season among injury concerns. His 3.8 yards-per-carry average combined with his lofty price tag and injury history ultimately led to his release this offseason. Rather than leaving lead-back duties to second-year player Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles went out and drafted Cam Akers in the second round. Ask yourself, if the team trusted Henderson to be Gurley’s successor, would they have paid the price they did to get Akers? I’ve been hesitant to embrace Akers, but the amount of work he’s going to get deservingly imbues him with fantasy relevance.
In light of Gurley’s departure, McVay has insisted that there will be a committee in the backfield this season. There’s little reason to think otherwise given Henderson’s ability as a pass-catcher. Still, I have a hard time believing that Akers can replicate Gurley’s uncanny knack for finding the end zone inside the red zone. If he doesn’t offer the same kind of touchdown uspide, what’s his upside? As I mentioned, Henderson is going to siphon away a healthy chunk of receptions away from Akers. Red zone carries and receptions are the two most valuable kinds of touches that a running back can get.
When a running back is in line for the kind of carries that Akers is going to get, they’re going to earn a spot on fantasy rosters. Until he shows us something special though, I won’t buy-in to a top-15 ceiling.
Listen to me. Please, I repeat, listen to me. Robert Woods is going to outproduce his WR20 draft cost in a meaningful way. Not all of 2019 was smooth sailing for the Rams wide receiver. Woods had himself a couple of duds in the first half of the season. It wasn’t until Week 10 that his consistency leveled out. It’s worth noting that starting in Week 10, Woods was the WR6 to close out the season.
After Brandin Cooks went AWOL and the 2TE set became a mainstay of the offense, Woods’ utilization soared. Even in the face of inconsistent play, Woods put up 90 receptions for 1,134 yards. Did you catch the omission of touchdowns from that stat-line? That was intentional. In miraculous fashion, Woods only scored twice last season. Can I call upon your ears once more? Two touchdowns is an unreasonable total for a player who sees 90 receptions. Load up on your shares of Robert Woods. Just do me a favor, should we by fate find ourselves in the same league, leave him on the board for me, please.
You may be asking how Kupp managed during Woods’ late-season tear. It’s a good question. Kupp was the WR21 in PPR in the midst of Woods’ spotlight. The biggest obstacle Kupp faces is the inclusion of Tyler Higbee. My how things changed after Higbee took the league by storm. If not for Kupp’s nose for the end zone, his WR21 stretch would have been much worse. Goff’s connection with Kupp in the red zone isn’t going away, but there are serious doubts about Kupp’s future in fantasy. He’s going to find himself playing outside more now that the team relies on its 2Te formations. He handles himself just fine when targeted, but his dip in production near the backend of the season offers a grim look at the road ahead.
Josh Reynolds has become a person of interest in late-round sleeper discussions. Consider how late he’s going, I’m fine with that. With the Rams’ new offensive philosophy, I’m not as optimistic as some. At his draft price though, take your shot if you believe in him.
The conversation involving Higbee’s impact on Gerald Everett, and vice versa, has become a hot topic this offseason. After all, Everett’s injuries are what cleared the way for Higbee’s breakout. Before Higbee’s big moment, Everett flashed every now and then. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, Everett was the TE11 in PPR leagues. McVay has talked Everett up to the press throughout the season, but how much of the hype is coach-speak? As I said, Everett had his moments. His moments, however, were few and far between compared to what Higbee pulled off in his time as the starter. Will Higbee replicate his outrageous numbers down the stretch? Probably not. That said, I find it hard to believe that McVay is going to significantly limit his involvement in the passing game after what we saw.
Higbee’s price as the 12th tight end being taken off the board is more than justified if not slightly discounted. If his ADP remains consistent, alongside Hayden Hurst and Jonnu Smith, Higbee is going to be a candidate for the best tight end value of the year.
Russell Wilson might be the most frustrating player in fantasy football. Can you imagine what would happen if Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer joined the modern era of football? Less than eloquently put, Wilson would go berserk. Much to Seattle’s dismay, their defense doesn’t match their offense’s desire to run the ball. Wilson threw the third-highest attempts in a season of his career. Guess what? Their defense only got worse. Unless Jadeveon Clowney re-signs with the team, Wilson has a chance to flirt with a new career passing attempts record. If you’ve watched football at all in the last decade, you know what Wilson can do with the ball in his capable hands.
Just for frame of reference, take a wild guess where Wilson finished the year he threw his career recond in passing attempts. You probably guessed it. He was the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy on the back of 553 attempts. With a healthy Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, Wilson has one of, if not the best receiving corps in his career. That’s excluding Greg Olsen and Will Dissly from the equation too. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jacksons’ presence makes a No. 1 season difficult to attain, but Wilson has top-three upside if Seattle is forced to throw just a bit more than last year.
Keep the ball in your hands, Chris. Do you have any idea how much you’re toying with the hearts of fantasy players everywhere?
The fear with Chris Carson is that he’s going to lose out on work if he continues to put the ball on the ground. Carroll showed a willingness to bench his running back when he let Rashaad Penny take a bigger slice of the pie starting in Week 12 against the Eagles. Had he not gotten injured, who knows what Carson’s end-of-year performance would’ve looked like. Carson still returned value to players who drafted him last year with an RB10 performance, but his situation could change quickly if his fumbling problems persist. Penny’s injury changes things for the better when it comes to Carson’s value this season, but don’t forget about what Carlos Hyde did last year in season. Carson doesn’t have a scrub backing him up, and he’s liable to lose some of his market share in carries if he doesn’t correct his issue with fumbling.
If Carson is able to get his aforementioned troubles in check, a top-1o season is in his reach. Should he slip a little further than his RB14 ADP, don’t hesitate to aggressively target him in drafts. Even at his current price, he’s still worth the risk.
D.K. Metcalf may be the flavor of the month right, but does anyone remember how Tyler Lockett performed before struggling with a nagging injury in Week 10? Get ready. He was the WR3 through the first nine weeks of the season. His rapport with Wilson is one of the strongest connections between a receiver and quarterback in the league. Wilson continues to have a high success rate when throwing Lockett’s way, and we shouldn’t expect that to change if Lockett is healthy.
Of course, Metcalf’s rookie showing shouldn’t be discounted. My advocacy of Lockett isn’t an indictment on Metcalf’s talent. When Lockett’s play was affected, Seattle’s passing game in turn took a dip. They rely on Lockett’s playmaking ability, and the shift in production won’t go unnoticed. In addition to Lockett’s proven role, he lines up in the slot far more than Metcalf. This season, Seattle faces a vicious slate of tough cornerback matchups, and Metcalf is going to receive the brunt of that coverage lining up on the outside. Seattle claims they’re going to move him around the field, but he clearly fits the typical WR1 build more than Lockett.
Metcalf is currently the WR13 in drafts, compared to Lockett’s status as the WR17. Not only do I believe that Lockett is going to retain his role, but if he’s going for a cheaper price than his young counterpart, I’ll take him over Metcalf 10/10 times.
Greg Olsen is a shadow of his former self at this juncture of his long career. His days of being a top-tier stalwart are behind him. He hasn’t caught more than 52 passes in his last three seasons of play, nor has he eclipsed the 600-yard mark. He can still serve as a decent safety net in the middle of the field, but he’s the No. 3 option at best in Seattle’s offense. If you’re in a tight spot, there are going to be worse options than Olsen as a weekly waiver wire stream, but his value is null in a standard 12-team draft.
Lining up behind him on the depth chart is the resilient Will Dissly. Prior to suffering his season-ending injury in Week 6, he was the TE5 in PPR through the first five weeks. Nothing would be more gratifying than a Dissly comeback story, but the truth of the matter is that he’s already suffered what could have been two career-ending injuries. Sadly, his health is likely going to stand in the way of a productive career. Even more than Olsen, you can fade Dissly from fantasy discussions.
Fantrax was one of the fastest-growing fantasy sites of 2019, and we’re not letting our foot off the pedal now! With multi-team trades, designated commissioner/league managers, and drag/drop easy click methods, Fantrax is sure to excite the serious fantasy sports fan – sign up now for a free year at Fantrax.com.