It took 365 games, 15 seasons, and 14 devastating playoff losses, but it finally happened. At long last, Andy Reid is a Super Bowl champion. Through the first three-quarters of the showdown against the Niners, San Francisco had the Chiefs up against the ropes. Kansas City’s championship aspirations looked dire until wunderkind quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, stepped up on third and 15 to deliver a 44-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill. The rest is history. Now that Tom Brady has left the AFC, teams are going to have to traverse The Sea of Red in Kansas City if they want to sit atop the conference. Andy Reid’s offensive genius and Patrick Mahomes’ freak-like ability in the pocket give Kansas City a chokehold over the AFC West.
The Chiefs may be out in front, but the other three teams are building rosters that could soon challenge the Chiefs. Most notably, the Denver Broncos went all-in on offense in the draft. In the first two rounds, the Broncos took Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to complement breakout receiver, Courtland Sutton. If second-year quarterback, Drew Lock, is able to make the most of his receiving weapons, look out!
The Chargers are moving toward the future with their first-round selection of Justin Herbert. The rookie quarterback is walking onto a team that already has a litany of talent surrounding him. He’ll have every chance to succeed in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Raiders hope to match the roadrunner-like speed of Kansas City.
This division is going to be among the most fantasy prolific groups in the league. With that said, let’s jump right in with a post-draft fantasy preview of the AFC West!
For the first three post-draft previews of the AFC, click here!
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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: AFC West
John Elway had his finger on the trigger during the draft. After a handful of failed quarterback projects, the former Broncos star is betting the house on Drew Lock. And why not? As a rookie, Lock put up a 4-1 record and posted a 7-3 touchdown to interception ratio. That performance was enough for the team to aggressively expand their offense. After his rookie showing, not only did the team use the draft, but they also went out and grabbed free-agent, Melvin Gordon. While believers in Phillip Lindsay might be somewhat disappointed, Gordon’s arrival is a substantial acquisition for the offense. The mantra of the AFC West seems to be, “If we can’t stop Mahomes, then we better outscore him.” Denver is either going to bring fantasy glory to players who own stock in their offense, or they’re going to serve up misery.
Drew Lock must have been watching the draft floating on a cloud of ecstasy. When your team spends up to put you in a position as Denver did, you had better be ready. Prior to draft night, Lock was nothing more than a weekly streaming option to keep on your radar. Overnight, he leapfrogged a number of guys in front of him and stole the attention of fantasy experts. Currently, Fantasy Pros has him as the No. 23 quarterback according to their expert consensus rankings. This puts him in the QB2 discussion. While his upside is much higher than his ranking, No. 23 feels about right for an unproven guy.
Everywhere you look, Lock has a dangerous option to go to. Not only are his receivers a well of talent, but he’s also got a ridiculous backfield and a supremely gifted second-year tight end in Noah Fant. Last year, according to player profiler, Lock had a supporting cast efficiency ranking of 26th among qualified quarterbacks. This stat aggregates the weighted production premiums of all running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends on the team. A rookie quarterback able to do what Lock did with a mediocre cast of players is nothing to sneeze at. Adding in so many new pieces to an offense makes projecting their success difficult, but given the amount of talent these additions possess, it’s difficult to imagine their efficiency ranking decreasing.
Similarly to the No. 23 ranking on Fantasy Pros, I’ve got lock as a low-end QB2. Don’t let this discourage you from taking him, because his upside is higher than most in his tier of quarterbacks. If you pair him with another quarterback like Matthew Stafford, you’ll likely end up with QB1 production if you play the matchups right.
Accomplishing what Philip Lindsay has under his belt as an undrafted free agent is no small feat. In two seasons, Lindsay has amassed 1,000 yards in each year and has a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Not bad for an underpaid hometown guy. Despite his surprising performance, the Broncos signed former Chargers running back, Melvin Gordon. A player of Gordon’s stature demotes Lindsay to the second running back on the depth chart.
After holding out for four games last season, Gordon didn’t receive the contract he’d been hoping for. Still, he signed for $16 million over a two-year period with the team. Gordon has been a fantasy stalwart throughout his career. He has a nose for the end-zone and he receives a lot of attention in the passing game. What’s bound to surprise fans are his rushing stats. In five seasons, Gordon has only managed to achieve four yards-per-carry once. In the same vein, he’s only rushed for 1,000+ yards once as well. He’s going to produce fantasy numbers, but what percentage of the player he was in Los Angeles will he be in Denver?
Gordon has always managed to find receptions, but Drew Lock won’t lean on his running backs as much as Philip Rivers has notoriously been known to do. His young quarterback has too many mouths to feed, and that’s not even including Gordon’s backup. Both he and Philip Lindsay are going to see their fantasy values slashed in 2020. Gordon is going to split more work than he’s accustomed to with Lindsay, and if he doesn’t score touchdowns, he’s going to disappoint fantasy owners. Gordon is an RB2 in both standard and PPR formats, and Lindsay is an RB3. Unless one of these guys goes down, neither are going to excel in your lineup.
Year two of Courtland Sutton’s career served as his breakout campaign. He became the No. 1 receiver in Denver and posted 72 receptions for over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. Not only was he the 11th-ranked receiver in targets of over 20+ yards, but he also dominated the team’s targets with a 26.8% share. His production slipped a bit when Lock took over for Joe Flacco, but he and Lock showed promise together. Sutton saw his two lowest yards-per-reception performances with Lock, and his reception percentage dipped as well. Throwing out the Week 12 Brandon Allen fiasco, Sutton went from catching 64% of passes to 55%. The good news is that he also saw his two highest target performances with Lock under center. He’s lost top-12 upside, but his talent speaks for itself. He’s a solid WR2 in fantasy.
Where does that leave the rest of the receiving crew? The two incoming rookies, Jeudy and Hamler, will slot in nicely next to Sutton. Hamler will operate out of the slot, and Jeudy is another outside weapon. If you read my AFC South article, there was a stat I provided that stated only 21 rookie receivers since 1950 have put up over 1,000 yards. Based on those odds, it’s hard to rally behind these guys, though Jeudy would be the one to go with if you want to take a shot. He’ll finish behind Sutton in targets, but he has a chance to be the team’s runner-up in that field. Jeudy is a no-brainer first-round pick in dynasty, but he shouldn’t go any sooner than the double-digit rounds in redraft.
Noah Fant put his playmaking ability on display last season. Even as a rookie, he averaged 14.1 yards-per-reception, which was second in the league. That average was partly because of his deep play ability, and partly because of his 300 yards-after-the-catch stat, which was seventh among tight ends. Like Sutton, his production took a slight dip after Lock took over. Out of five games, he had three with 10 yards or less. He still had two 40+ yard plays, but his finish to the season was disappointing. With Lock and Fant both having one year under their belts, their connection can hopefully flourish. He’s far from a sure thing, but he’s a great late-round tight end with enormous upside.
Kansas City Chiefs
Draft as many Kansas City players as possible. I think we’re good here.
Yes, you should buy stock in Kansas City’s offense, but let’s roll it back a bit.
It was a wild year for the Chiefs. The team lost Patrick Mahomes for two games, Tyreek Hill for four, and Damien Williams for five. Still, the Chiefs were able to secure the second spot in the AFC. Once they were in the playoffs, Kansas City did everything they could to convince us they were finished. They climbed out of a 24-point hole against Houston, they rallied against Tennessee, and they stole the Super Bowl right out of San Francisco’s hands after trailing 20-10 in the third quarter. Kansas City isn’t going to miss a beat in 2020. All of their major pieces are back on offense, and for the first time in Reid’s career, he drafted a running back in the first round. So, yeah, draft as many Kansas City players as possible.
Move aside, Lamar Jackson, Mahomes is back as the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy. A healthy Patrick Mahomes with a supporting crew like the one he has in Kansas City is the perfect storm of fantasy dominance. Although his 2019 season wasn’t as stellar as the year before, he still managed to throw 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He missed two games due to injury, and it’s fair to ask how healthy he was after coming back to the field. I’m not calling for another 50 touchdown season, but he’ll throw 35 easily. Mahomes was the third-most accurate quarterback in passes over 20+ yards, and his receivers just so happen to specialize in over-the-top receptions.
There’s not much more I can say about Mahomes than what he’s shown us on the field. If he’s your quarterback, you’re going to have a major positional advantage
On the night of the draft, the Chiefs GM, Brett Veach, sent Patrick Mahomes a text asking who the quarterback wanted the team to spend their first pick on. Mahomes was asked to send three names, and the first he replied back with was LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The rookie running back showed his dynamic ability in the backfield, but his work in the passing game is what makes him unique. Last year at LSU, Edwards-Helaire put up 55 receptions for 453 yards and a touchdown. He’s a three-down back who, if given the chance, could be an elite player.
According to Veach, Andy Reid told him that Edwards-Helaire is a better back than Brian Westbrook. Westbrook was one of the best dual-threats of his time, so that’s a bold statement to make about a player who’s yet to see an NFL field. Hefty proclamations aside, Reid’s proclivity to produce fantasy studs in his backfield can’t be overlooked. If Edwards-Helaire is given the keys to the kingdom, he’s got RB1 upside.
As exciting as it is to speculate on what could be, Damien Williams is still in the backfield and capable of production. Williams has stepped up in the biggest moments possible for the team and arguably should have been the Super Bowl MVP. What Williams lacks in his game is the ability to effectively run between the tackles. At first glance, his 4.5 yards-per-carry stat last season looks pretty impressive. When you take a closer look, however, you’ll notice two big runs for 91 and 84 yards respectively. If you take away those two plays, his yards-per-carry go down to 3.37. For the moment, Williams has been declared the starting running back by Veach, but how long he retains that role is in question.
Edwards-Helaire has an RB2 appeal with a ceiling around the top-15, and Williams is an RB3 option in PPR. Williams will have a stronger start to the season, but be patient, Edwards-Helaire will have the job when it’s all said and done.
There was talk around the watercooler about the possibility of the Chiefs trading up for Henry Ruggs III. Secondaries can rejoice that Ruggs III won’t be targeted by Patrick Mahomes anytime soon. The Chiefs already boast immense talent at the position. Superstar, Tyreek Hill, is accompanied by the veteran, Sammy Watkins, and the youngster, Mecole Hardman. Hill and Hardman are the field-stretching duo and Watkins is a quality possession receiver.
Last season, Hardman led the league in yards-per-reception, and despite missing four games, Hill was ranked 28th in deep targets. Watkins had the fantasy world up on their feet after Week 1 but didn’t live up to the hype following his opening game blowup. Hill is the obvious WR1 in the group, and he’s a borderline first-round pick, but where do the other two fit in the fantasy picture?
In the four games without Hill, weeks 2-5, Hardman saw a sizeable spike in his targets. The ball was thrown in his direction 22 times, but once Hill came back, he only saw 18 more targets for the rest of the season. Hardman caught 12 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns with Hill on the sidelines. In that small stretch, Hardman was the WR22 in standard-scoring formats. What makes Hardman appealing in fantasy is his big-play receptions. Hardman managed to catch a touchdown every 4.3 receptions. That’s a staggering number. With more targets, that number will go down, but it doesn’t negate the fact that all he needs is one play to make his fantasy week. Hardman is a fringe WR3, but he has weekly WR1 upside.
Sammy Watkins all but vanished after Week 1. He failed to see the endzone even once after his three-touchdown performance. If not for his playoff outings against Tennessee and San Francisco, he would have been written off entirely as a fantasy option. Following Week 1, Watkins was the WR74 in half-point PPR from Weeks 2-17. He’s going to be drafted as a WR3, but you’d be better off looking in another direction when that time comes.
Travis Kelce has finished as the TE1 in half-point PPR leagues three times in the last four years. In those four years, he’s put up no less than 83 receptions for over 1,000 yards. He’s only reached double-digit touchdowns once in his career, but his production in overall receptions and yards has been more than enough to crown him as the best tight end in fantasy. Last season, he and George Kittle were tied in points-per-game, but given his history, it’s hard to pass on him as the TE1. He’s a great mid-second round pick, and if he somehow falls to the third, count your lucky stars.
Las Vegas Raiders
It’s a new era of Raiders football. After moving on from Oakland, the team found a new home in Sin City. Last season, the Raiders outperformed the expectations of most fans and experts. They were in the running for the wildcard despite the Antonio Brown debacle. Looking ahead, the Raiders find themselves with an identity crisis on offense. There’s been rumored friction between Derek Carr and Jon Gruden behind the scenes, and the team’s signing of Marcus Mariota seems to echo that. The Raiders have a decent team, and if they aren’t competing with the rest of the division, don’t be surprised to see Mariota calling the shots.
For all of Derek Carr’s shortcomings, last season, he still threw for just over 4,000 yards, completed 70% of his passes, and posted a 100.8 quarterback rating. His biggest problem, and Gruden’s largest gripe, is that he doesn’t push the ball down the field. He’s far too conservative, and when the play breaks down he’s averse to risk to a fault. To be fair, he lacked a true WR1 to throw the ball to. The problem moving forward is that the Raiders still don’t have that option Carr desperately needs. They drafted Henry Ruggs III in the first round, but he’s more of a speedster than a true No. 1. Carr might have been in play in 2QB leagues, but with the uncertainty of his job security, his status reads as “do not draft.”
Josh Jacobs had a hell of a rookie season last year in Oakland. He ran for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in only 13 games. The one area of his game that could be improved is his passing down involvement. Jacobs is perfectly capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, but he only saw 27 targets. Instead, the team preferred rolling with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington on third downs. The team has consistently expressed its desire to up his role in the passing game, but after re-signing Richard and drafting Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr., it seems unlikely that he’ll see an uptick in receptions. If Jacobs can play all 16 games, it’s not a stretch to consider him as a candidate for the 2020 rushing leader. Barring injury, he’s a safe RB1 with top-five upside.
Richard figures to be the backup, but Lynn Bowden Jr. will likely be involved in the passing game to some capacity. If Jacobs were to go down, it’s unlikely that the team would simply hand the reins over to Richard. As far as running back handcuffs go, I wouldn’t bother drafting Richard.
Last season, Tyrell Williams started off the year hot with five touchdowns in his first five games. He only hauled in more than 50 yards twice in that stretch, but the touchdowns were there. Once the touchdowns evaporated, his fantasy value went with them. Starting from his sixth game, or his first without a touchdown, he was the WR60 in half-point PPR to finish out the season. Williams won’t find himself in starting lineups very often, but he’s a good late-round depth piece.
Performing out of the slot, Hunter Renfrow ended the season nicely, putting up two back-t0-back 100-yard receiving games and a pair of touchdowns. While Williams failed to nab five targets in his last five games, Renfrow never received less than that total in his final five outings. By the end of the year, Renfrow and Darren Waller were the premier options in the passing game. With added competition for targets and Nelson Agholor in his rearview mirror, unfortunately, Renfrow isn’t more than a late-round flier.
Las Vegas has two rookies joining the fold this season in Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. If Ruggs III had a quarterback who was willing to take more chances, he would be of interest in redraft. Projecting his deep ball opportunities with Derek Carr feels like an exercise in futility. Ruggs III can still break a slant off for a big play, but that’s not something you can bank on. He’s still a first-round dynasty grab, but he’ll go in the last few rounds of redraft leagues. The Raiders didn’t address their need for a WR1 with their first pick, but keep an eye on their third-round selection, Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina. Edwards is a big-bodied outside receiver who’s not afraid to use his physicality to punish defenders. Keep him on your dynasty radar.
It’s always refreshing when a new face is added to the shallow pool of fantasy tight ends. Darren Waller emerged last season as the TE3 on the year. Waller’s big stature and physical dominance speak to what the Raiders need in a receiver. He was Carr’s leading target on the year and could very easily find himself in that position again. The big knock on Waller is his lack of touchdown production. Waller finished among tight ends in total receptions, but he was 11th in red-zone catches. Unless Carr targets him more frequently near the goal-line, he’s going to be among the good, not great tight end options.
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles is another AFC West team staring down a lack of identity on offense this season. After 14 years as the starting quarterback for the Chargers, Philip Rivers now finds himself playing for the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers knew what they wanted to do the moment the season ended. Either Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert was destined to find a new home in Los Angeles. They selected Justin Herbert with the sixth pick in the draft, but for now, Tyrod Taylor has the starting job.
It was a disappointing season for the Chargers, but there’s still a large amount of talent on the roster. Having Tyrod at the helm keeps them out of contention, but the Chargers have a chance to compete for the wildcard this season.
In his three years as the starting quarterback in Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor finished as the QB16 twice and had a top-eight season in 2016. Those are strong finishes considering the lack of talent Taylor dealt with in Buffalo’s offense. Taylor and Rivers have distinctly different styles of playing quarterback. Rivers lacked mobility and rarely if ever, created plays with his legs. While Rivers relied on his running backs to bail him out of pressure situations, Taylor uses his speed and elusiveness to break free of the pocket. In three seasons, Taylor averaged 525 rushing yards as Buffalo’s starter. Another aspect of their game that differed was Rivers’ tendency to go for the home run throws. Rivers has a 7.8 yards-per-attempt average over his career, and Tyrod has only eclipsed that number once.
The Chargers have insisted they have the utmost confidence in Taylor, and there’s a possibility that he keeps the starting gig. If he manages to do so, he’ll finish in the top-15. The fear of him losing the role to Herbert should be enough to keep him undrafted, but he’s a great streaming candidate to start the year with.
Melvin Gordon is going to be used as a cautionary tale for running backs who are prepared to holdout. By the time Gordon rejoined the team, Austin Ekeler had already proven to be capable of running the backfield himself. Justin Jackson saw some limited carries, but Ekeler was the man in charge.
It’s difficult to anoint Ekeler as a top-12 running back to start the season, but his time without Gordon suggests that he is. In the four weeks that Gordon held out, Ekeler was the RB2 in half-point PPR. His running ability isn’t anything to write home about, but mixed with his receiving contributions, it gets the job done in fantasy. In the passing game, Ekeler saw 108 targets and snagged 92 receptions. Last season was an outlier year for Ekeler, to begin with, but more uncertainty creeps in with Taylors’ replacement of Rivers. In Buffalo, Taylor had LeSean McCoy to throw to out of the backfield. Yet, despite McCoy’s receiving prowess, he never saw more than 77 targets in Taylor’s time with the Bills.
Although the worries of a reduced workload in the passing game are there, the Chargers did just sign Ekeler to a four-year, $24.5 million deal. That kind of money suggests the team plans on using him plenty. Don’t expect a repeat of his first four games last season, but a finish in the RB9-12 range feels appropriate.
The Chargers have said they’re still high on Jackson, but they also used a fourth-round pick to draft UCLA’s Joshua Kelley. It seems more likely that Jackson retains his backup role, but Kelley still has the opportunity to take the job for himself. Neither player will be someone you routinely start, but Ekeler’s backup could be used as a late-round bye week replacement, as well as a great handcuff option if Ekeler goes down to injury.
Taylor’s presence on the team serves as a dramatic downgrade to the Chargers’ receivers. Rivers threw the ball nearly 600 times last year, but that won’t happen again with Tyrod in control. The biggest hit goes to Mike Williams, given his role as the downfield threat. Keenan Allen will feel it too, but he does most of his damage underneath, which is more in line with what Tyrod is bound to do. Allen is going to be a player whose ADP will be fun to watch as the season nears. He’s got the name recognition to keep him going early in drafts, but he’s got mid-tier WR2 value at best.
There’s no option here to be particularly excited about. It all comes down to where in the draft you can get these guys. Williams looks pretty unappealing, but in the right spot, Allen could still be a useful asset to your team.
Tyrod doesn’t have a strong history with tight ends, but the closest to Hunter Henry he’s ever had was Charles Clay. The tight end position is another area of the passing game that takes a hit with Rivers’ departure. Like he did with running backs, Rivers targeted his tight ends more than the average quarterback. Henry’s best chance of being a stud for fantasy is in the red-zone. Even after missing four games last season, Henry managed to catch eight red-zone passes, which put him sixth at the position. For years, the fantasy community has been calling for Henry’s spectacular breakout, and while he’s been solid when he’s on the field, he’s never felt further from his potential. Henry is a mid to low-end TE1 going into 2020.
Thanks for hanging out with me through my deep-dive of the AFC West. For a look at the post-draft fantasy previews of the NFC, our own Mick Ciallela has you covered!
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