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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: NFC West
DeAndre Hopkins has averaged over 1,200 receiving yards per year in his seven NFL seasons. He is a perennial WR1 and that is not expected to change in Arizona. The addition of Hopkins will have a bigger impact on his new teammates than on Hopkins himself. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk each had over 100 targets last year. I doubt that is the case in 2020. I think that youth will win out, and Fitzgerald’s role in the offense will be a bit diminished. Fantasy owners should roster the future Hall of Famer in redraft leagues, but I think expectations need to be adjusted. He has averaged just 48 yards per game for the last two seasons. The soon-to-be 37-year old Fitzgerald is simply bench depth for fantasy purposes at this stage of his career.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams parted ways with former Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley back in March. The team then used its first draft pick this year to select Florida State running back Cam Akers. Akers did not put together the type of collegiate career that many expected after being a five-star recruit out of high school. However, Akers was saddled with one of the worst offensive lines in the country. That should improve at least a little at the beginning of his NFL tenure. After featuring perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL in 2018, fortunes turned quickly for the unit as a whole last season. They were a below-average offensive line in 2019 by most metrics. I feel the same way about the Rams’ offensive line as I do about Goff. I think their 2020 production will be somewhere in between their 2018 and 2019 levels.
Akers has a fair chance to be a three-down back in a potent offense. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield and is proficient in pass protection. Those skills should give him a bit of an edge over the returning Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. Between Henderson’s lack of involvement last year (just 43 touches in 13 games) and the selection of Akers in the draft, it seems the club has soured somewhat on last year’s third-round pick. Brown could be the short-yardage and goal-line back, which could hinder Akers to some degree. Ultimately, though, I do not expect Brown to have much standalone value. I would prefer Akers as a Flex as opposed to an RB2, but there is upside here. He also makes for a great dynasty pick considering how much the Rams fed Gurley in McVay’s first three years in L.A.
Do not tell Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp that the Rams offense had a down year. Each finished 2019 as top-14 PPR wideouts. Now, with Brandin Cooks gone, the duo should get the bulk of targets again this season. Kupp seems to be the preferred option among most fantasy owners. However, I prefer the man they call Bobby Trees. I anticipate some positive touchdown regression heading Woods’ way this year. Since 2018, 16 wide receivers have amassed at least 2,000 receiving yards. 15 have had at least 150 total receptions. Woods is the only player in either group to have fewer than 10 touchdown grabs over that span. He has finished as a top-16 fantasy wideout in each of those seasons despite the lack of touchdown catches, so I think a WR1 finish is within his reach. Kupp should also be considered a solid WR2.
Josh Reynolds has filled in well when called upon over the last couple of seasons. He would seem to have the inside track on the team’s third receiver spot, but the Rams did draft Van Jefferson in the second round. Reynolds has 48 NFL games under his belt yet will be just a year older than Jefferson once the season begins. I would look for Reynolds to stave off the rookie and maintain his role in the pecking order. However, the emergence of tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett make the third wideout in Los Angeles a less desirable position to be in than in previous years. Rams tight ends caught over 100 passes last year. That should not leave much meat left on the bone for Reynolds to pick at. I view Reynolds as a late-round dart throw, while Jefferson can be left on waivers.
Starting in Week 13 of the 2019 season, Tyler Higbee went on a run that was nearly unprecedented in NFL history. Higbee became of one just four tight ends to post four consecutive 100-plus receiving yard performances. Now, heading into 2020, Higbee is a consensus TE1 on the strength of his late-season run. I must note, however, that Gerald Everett played a combined six snaps during Higbee’s heater. Everett missed Weeks 13-15 with a knee injury before making cameo appearances in Weeks 16 and 17. Through Week 10 (Everett sustained the injury in Week 11), Everett was the overall TE11 in PPR leagues while Higbee sat as TE34. It is also worth mentioning that before recording 522 receiving yards in his last five outings, Higbee had recorded a total of 884 yards over his first 58 NFL contests.
I point these things out not because I hate Higbee. He proved himself more than capable down the stretch last year. I just do not what happened late last year as Higbee “Pipping” Everett, and do not view the Rams’ tight end production as a one-man show. McVay made mention recently of getting Everett more involved, and I believe Everett will be up to the task. The situation presents a potential problem for fantasy owners. It would not surprise me to see both Higbee and Everett finish the year as top-20 fantasy tight ends, with neither finishing in the top 12. I love the idea of drafting either or both in Best Ball formats. But I am not fond of the notion of relying on Higbee as my every-week TE1. I would rather have Everett at his current price than Higbee at his.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers went 4-12 in 2018 and were three minutes away from a Super Bowl victory last season. They made plenty of moves this offseason, as they look to maintain their perch on top of the NFC West. Gone are the team’s second-leading rusher and receiver from a year ago, while the Niners selected two wide receivers among their five picks in this year’s draft. They also signed a pair of running backs after the draft to bolster their depth at the position. GM John Lynch has given head coach Kyle Shanahan a roster that figures to be right in the thick of things come playoff time.
Jimmy Garoppolo finished 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points in his first season as a starter, though his ranking dipped to 22nd in terms of points per game. Garoppolo was rarely asked to do much, as San Francisco relied on its rushing attack and defense to win games. In 19 games including the playoffs, Garoppolo threw more than 35 passes just three times. Two of those games were against Arizona, who had a notoriously bad pass defense. In his first 11 quarters of postseason action, Garoppolo threw the ball just 47 times. The team simply did not rely on him to win ballgames. Garoppolo has some upside with the playmakers around him and Shanahan calling the shots. But until they trust him to let it fly more often, it is hard to consider Garoppolo more than a streamer at this juncture.
When training camp began last season, Raheem Mostert was no higher than fifth on the team’s depth chart at running back. Fast forward six months and there was Mostert, rushing for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game. That followed a stretch of eight touchdowns in the final six regular-season games for the former undrafted free agent. The long and winding road was a microcosm of Mostert’s career. By the time Mostert earned his first NFL carry on san Francisco’s final drive of the 2016 campaign, he was already on his seventh NFL team. Mostert’s high-profile roller coaster ride is likely going to result in him being a bit overvalued this offseason. Even with Matt Breida traded to Miami, I envision a committee of sorts in San Francisco. Mostert is a volatile Flex for me depending on how the next few months shake out.
Chief among Mostert’s competition is Tevin Coleman. Coleman himself ran for 105 yards and two scores in the 49ers’ Divisional win over Minnesota in January. It is not as if he will waste away on the sidelines. Raheem should get Mostert the reps (see what I did there?), but I imagine a 60-40 split between him and Coleman. Coleman is an RB4 whose involvement will frustrate Mostert owners. Jerick McKinnon is also supposed to be back in time for the 2020 season. Cue the collective eye-roll from the fantasy community. I hear you, except McKinnon has a much longer track record of being able to catch passes out of the backfield. That is a skill set that is valuable in both Shanahan’s offense and fantasy football. Owners who pick McKinnon at the end of a deep Best Ball or Draft and Hold league are doing so with minimal risk involved.
Finally, the 49ers signed two undrafted free agents. Throughout this divisional preview series, I have rarely touched on UFDAs, primarily because they are longshots to make it past preseason in most instances. In this case, however, I will make an exception. I already mentioned that Mostert himself was undrafted out of college, then cut by six teams over the next 18 months. San Francisco has shown a willingness to eschew draft capital and simply pull running backs off the assembly line. Enter Salvon Ahmed and JaMycal Hasty. The 49ers signed both backs following this year’s draft. Both can catch balls out of the backfield. If McKinnon’s health does not cooperate in time for the season (not exactly the craziest scenario), one of these players could be thrust into action. I prefer Hasty but “Running Backs Don’t Matter” and “In Shanny I Trust”, so follow the breadcrumbs.
It took a while for Deebo Samuel to get going in his rookie season. After eight games, Samuel was outside the top 70 wide receivers in PPR scoring. He finished the year 31st. Last year’s second-round pick ascended rapidly into the upper echelon of fantasy wide receivers. His strong second half was due in large part to his ability to make plays in space, a hallmark of Shanahan’s offense. Samuel now stands to lead the receiving corps following the departure of Emmanuel Sanders via free agency. I expect Samuel to be able to shoulder the load. He proved late in the year that he can be the man and can even handle double coverage at times. Samuel is currently being drafted as a WR3, and I think that is a bit too low. I see him as a WR2 with legitimate WR1 upside.
San Francisco chose to forgo one of the “big three” wide receivers with their initial first-round pick in this year’s draft. Later in the night, however, they made a bold move. They traded their second first-round pick, in addition to two more picks, to move up and draft Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State. Aiyuk’s explosiveness figures to be exploited in San Francisco’s passing attack. He will likely be a mid-round fantasy pick by the time the season begins. He may struggle out of the gate as Samuel did initially, so prepare to pounce if he gets off to a slow start. Aiyuk could be a Best Ball darling with his big-play upside. The 49ers also drafted Jauan Jennings in the seventh round, but there is no fantasy impact here. Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, and Jalen Hurd are all ahead of Jennings on the depth chart.
Chris Carson suffered a fractured hip in December and was lost for the remainder of the year. He should be back in time for Week 1, but it would take a lot for me to draft him in the third round given the injury. I suspect Seattle will play it close to the vest with Carson as the season approaches. He may not even play during whatever preseason occurs this year. I would be looking elsewhere that early in drafts. Penny’s injury was even worse, as he suffered a torn ACL just two weeks before Carson went down. Seattle is expected to place Penny on the PUP list after head coach Pete Carroll described the condition after the surgery as “more than just a normal ACL”. Penny is a hard pass for me in 2020 redraft leagues, and I am nervous about his Dynasty prospects as well.
Seattle drafted Deejay Dallas in the fourth round. No, not to spin at Trinity on Saturday night, but presumably to carry the ball on Sundays. Dallas did not do much of the latter at the University of Miami. He had just 265 carries over three seasons at the U. Despite originally being recruited as a receiver, he was only targeted 31 times in college. There would not seem to be a lot for owners to hang their hats on here under normal circumstances. However, if Carson and Penny cannot get healthy by the time the season begins, Dallas should benefit. Carson himself was fifth or six on the team’s depth chart back in 2017 when his rookie season started. Sometimes all it takes is an opportunity, and Dallas may have one come September. If pressed, I would rather invest in the rookie than in Travis Homer or Marshawn Lynch.
Fantasy football is funny sometimes. If you looked solely at Tyler Lockett’s WR13 2019 finish, you would praise all the talking heads who were boosting his ADP over the offseason. And I guess technically you would be right. But ask just about any Lockett owner if they were happy with him by the end of the year, and I would imagine the feedback would be less glowing. After roasting Tampa Bay to the tune of 40.2 PPR points in Week 9, Lockett went on to score a combined 47.2 points over his next six. That number looks even worse considering his 26 point Week 15 effort. Fantasy owners should continue to treat Lockett as a WR2 this season. Let’s just hope that his path to that destination is a little less rocky.
D.K. Metcalf had a solid rookie campaign in 2019. He had 900 receiving yards, and his 160-yard effort in Seattle’s playoff victory set a new league record for receiving yards by a rookie in the playoffs. On a per-game basis, though, Metcalf finished outside the top 40 receivers in PPR scoring. That is part of the problem when playing for such a conservative offense. It is unlikely that Seattle can support both Lockett and Metcalf as top-25 receivers going forward. I like Metcalf as a WR3, but I anticipate his draft price being a bit higher than I will be willing to pay. The Seahawks drafted Freddie Swain in the sixth round, but he should not be considered for fantasy purposes. David Moore and Phillip Dorsett will receive any runoff after Lockett and Metcalf, and even that will not be enough for either to remain relevant.
I trust that the Seattle brass knows a lot more about football than I do. However, I am a bit perplexed as to how the team addressed the tight end position this offseason. They signed Greg Olsen, who has one foot in the broadcast booth, back in February. That move in and of itself seemed odd considering they already had Will Dissly, Luke Willson, and Jacob Hollister on the roster. Perhaps one of them would be let go, I thought. Nope. Seattle extended a second-round tender on Hollister and re-signed Willson in March. Then the Seahawks re-signed Hollister in April. Still not satisfied, Seattle then drafted two more tight ends in this year’s draft. Has anyone seen John Schneider in the last three months? Maybe there is a Wizard of Oz scenario going on and Ryan Pace is secretly calling the shots in the Emerald City.
Whatever the motivation for accumulating the largest conglomerate of tight ends west of Chicago, it is hard to get too excited about any of them in any fantasy format. Olsen stands to be the most logical candidate for targets. After all, he has over 700 catches in his 13-year NFL career. But given his recent injury history and advanced age, the veteran does not have much upside in redraft leagues. I would not mind streaming him, but there are so many other moving parts here that the process would be maddening. Would you want to stream Olsen against the Cardinals and then watch Dissly or Hollister score two short touchdowns? Me neither. I just do not think the juice is worth the squeeze for any tight end in this offense.
Check out Tayler Lambert’s take on the state of the AFC.
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