24 August 2010

West Side Story: An AFC & NFC West Preview

To kick start the blog in it's new direction, I plan on previewing all 4 divisions in both conferences over the next four days. I've got a list of sleepers, busts, rookies to watch for and, well, guys you already know about to explore.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers - 1st in Division - 10-6 (2010 Expected finish)
Sleeper - Alex Smith, QB - With a top flight TE in Vernon Davis and a full season of Michael Crabtree, Smith can only improve on his numbers from last season. Add to that a versatile weapon in Brian Westbrook and Smith has the chance to jump into the top 12 fantasy QB's, interceptions willing. This may be Frank Gore's team, but they will want to keep him healthy for the entire season if they want to make a spirited run for the division crown and a playoff push.

Bust -Ted Ginn, Jr., WR - Unless your league counts kick return and punt return yardage, Ginn is not worth a draft pick. Known for his propensity to drop passes in Miami, I see no reason this changes as the slot receiver in San Fransisco. Stay. Away.

Rookie to watch - Nate Davis, QB - Big, talented QB, with a booming arm. If Smith falters, do not be surprised to see Davis get a chance to show the brass what he can do with the first team offense. I can see him leap frogging perennial project David Carr and being the #2 QB a few weeks into the season.

You already know - Frank Gore, RB - First round pick, regardless of settings. When healthy, a top 5 back. Even in PPR, he tends to be useful (though he does drop a bit, at least behind Andre Johnson). Will get 1,200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. No RB committee to worry about (Brian Westbrook should not scare you away).

Arizona Cardinals - 2nd in Division - 8-8
Sleeper - Early Doucet, WR - What, you expected Matt Leinart here? Though Doucet is primed to be the #3 WR, he should get plenty of short looks while Leinart builds his confidence to throw the ball down field. Being the slot receiver will make it easy for Doucet to be a solid backup WR in PPR leagues and a WR to keep an eye on in deeper, non-PPR leagues.

Bust - Matt Leinart, QB - Even with one of the 5 best WR's to throw to, I don't see Leinart proving himself to be anything else other than just an average NFL quarterback. He will be in charge of the offense for longer than I would leave him there, but could be replaced by Derek Anderson before the end of the season (who, in my eyes, is the more talented QB anyways).

Rookie to watch - Um, would it upset all the Cardinals fans out there if I said no one? The primary offensive parts are filled with veterans and I see no chance of a rookie making a splash on this team.

You already know - Larry Fitzgeral, WR - Top 5 WR, but may see his numbers drop so long as Leinart is behind center. Would probably shine a lot more with Anderson throwing him the ball, but you can expect another 90 catches, 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns, regardless.

Seattle Seahawks - 3rd in division - 6-10
Sleeper - Justin Forsett, RB - Based on where he is being drafted, Forsett qualifies as a sleeper to me. Extremely more valuable in a PPR league, Forsett caught 41 passes last season in a lot more limited duty then he will have this season. Leon Washington, Julius Jones and crew should not hold Forsett back from a 1,000 yard season.

Bust - Deion Branch, WR - Not that you were drafting him (unless you start 4 WR or are in a ridiculously deep league), but Branch could lose his starting job to rookie Golden Tate or former USC standout Mike Williams. He's never been a fantasy factor in Seattle and he's never had 1,000 yards or more than 78 receptions in a season. Stay far away from Deion.

Rookie to watch - Golden Tate, WR - An obvious no brainer for this team, Tate should be the #2 WR, opposite TJ Houshmanzadeh, sooner rather than later. A solid option as a #3 fantasy WR, Tate could develop into a reliable #2 guy by the end of the season.

You already know - TJ Houshmanzadeh, WR - Ironic that their are 3 WR listed for the 'Hawks, but Housh is as reliable as it gets in Seattle. With what should be a better offense, Housh should see 1,000 yards again this season and may even spike his TD totals back into the 6-8 range, making him a viable #2 in most formats.

St. Louis Rams - 4th in division - 4-12
Sleeper - Laurent Robinson, WR - Apparently Robinson is everyone's sleeper and for good reason. He is the most talented WR on the team and all but guaranteed to be the #1 WR come week 1. Regardless if Bradford or Feeley is throwing the ball, Robinson should see numbers good enough to draft him as your first WR off the bench.

Bust - Sam Bradford, QB - Yes, he was easily the best available QB in the draft, but he will be behind one of the worst offensive lines in all of football. With Feeley currently on the mend with multiple injuries, Bradford could be thrown into the fire week 1. Not worth draft this season, but definitely a QB to keep an eye on in the future.

Rookie to watch - Mardy Gilyard, WR - To say that the Rams have a poor offense is like saying the Rams had an ok season last year: it's quite an understatement. Knowing that, there will be blowouts in their future, which means the Rams will throw the ball, a lot. And if Gilyard happens to grab the slot receiver role for this team, he will have an opportunity to showcase his skills to be the #2 WR next season.

You already know - Steven Jackson, RB - Top 5 RB, PPR monster. On the worst team he's ever played for, has his second most rush attempts and rushing yards. Should see improved TD numbers if the passing game improves even just a little.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers - 1st in division - 11-5
Sleeper - Legedu Naanee, WR - With Vincent Jackson clearly out of the picture and everyone else in the world hyping Malcolm Floyd, Naanee can rest on his laurels knowing few people are expecting him to produce. What with Antonio Gates being option #1, a new rookie RB in town and Floyd taking over #1 duties, Naanee might as well be an afterthought. An afterthought to all but the most attentive fantasy players, that is. While defenses cue in on Gates and Floyd, he should find himself open more often than not and finding himself a clean 1,000 yards is not out of the question.

Bust - Philip Rivers, QB - Based on what you have to pay for Rivers' services, he will not live up to those lofty expectations. Without his #1 WR and missing his mammoth LT, Rivers' numbers should definitely see a downward spike. Not to mention the impact Mathews has on the running game may limit the numbers of passes Rivers throws, he will not be a top 6 fantasy quarterback this season.

Rookie to watch - Ryan Mathews, RB - The only rookie running back set in a situation where he should excel, Mathews is going to cost you a high pick or plenty of money to land on your team. With San Diego's ability to protect the RB and make any option look great in the back field, Mathews could be a top 15 RB this season. 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns are not out of the question, Darren Sproles involved or not.

You already know - Antonio Gates, TE - Antontio Gates and elite fantasy TE pretty much go hand in hand. Without Jackson in tow, Gates stands to gain more receptions and more fantasy points this season, as the only sure thing on the Chargers offense. 90 receptions and double digit TD's are not out of the question as Gates should finish the season as the #1 TE in all of fantasy football.

Kansas City Chiefs - 2nd in division - 9-7
Sleeper - Matt Cassel, QB - Being drafted primarily as a back up QB in all but the deepest of formats, Cassel should finally get a chance to air it out this season. With Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones taking the pressure off of him on the ground, Cassel to Bowe should become fantasy gold. Add in Chris Chambers and the fascinating Dexter McCluster to Cassel's arsenal and he has a chance to sneak into the top 10-12 fantasy quarterback territory.

Bust - Any TE - Once Tony Gonzalez left KC, the TE spot on the KC roster has been a black hole of non-fantasy entities. The 2010 season is no different. Leonard Pope is nothing more than an extra lineman and Tony Moeaki cannot stay healthy. Avoid at all costs.

Rookie to watch - Dexter McCluster, WR/RB - The swiss army knife that is this versatile rookie should help the Chiefs offense tremendously. As the slot WR, change of pace back or even being in the backfield in the wild cat formation, McCluster has the opportunity to shine in a variety of ways. The team wants to get McCluster involved in the offense as often as possible to watch his star value climb and shine.

You already know - Dwayne Bowe, WR - I could have put Jamaal Charles or Thomas Jones here, but with the uncertainty surrounding the two as to how much they will share the rock and who is the #1 back, I went with the consistently disappointing Bowe. In what will be his 4th season in the league, Bowe has had a drastic attitude change and physical change. Though he is listed as the #2 WR, look for Bowe to bounce back from a disappointing season and produce another 80 reception, 1,000 yard season as a viable #2 fantasy WR.

Denver Broncos - 3rd in division - 7-9
Sleeper - Brandon Lloyd, WR - As the most accomplished WR on the team, Lloyd should be able to sidestep Jabar Gaffney and become the #2 WR for the team. Eddie Royal has done little to prove he will be a solid #1, meaning there will be plenty to go around for the other WR on the team.

Bust - Knowshon Moreno, RB - Starting or backing up Correll Buckhalter, Moreno will not have the opportunity to shine in this offense. With a passing game that scares no one, teams will be able to put more men in the box, meaning less chance of Moreno breaking through for any big runs. He is being drafted too high for what little guarantees he can provide.

Rookie to watch - Demaryius Thomas, WR - With a lack of talent at WR, the Broncos were smart to grab this tall, good handed WR at the tail end of the first round. He provides youth to an ever aging position on the team and should be fighting for receptions with the rest of the team. Don't be surprised if he ends up as the #2 guy by the end of the season, if not because he is outproducing the other WR, but because they want to see what the future of their offense looks like.

You already know - Kyle Orton, QB - In no way is this an endorsement of any kind, but you know you will get 3,500+ yards and 20+ touchdowns out of the guy, to go along with his double digit interception totals. Not an elite QB, by any means, but a reliable bye week back up and a possible match up play against teams with weaker secondaries.

Oakland Raiders - 4th in division - 4-12
Sleeper - Michael Bush, RB - Darren McFadden was supposed to be the present and the future of the position, but poor health and lack of production has all but pushed him aside for the much more talented Bush. A bruising RB, Bush should stand out more this season with a better QB behind center, in Jason Campbell. He has poor hands, but averages more than 4 yards per carry, even in a poor offense. If Campbell can take some pressure off of the running game, Bush could outperform everyone's expectations.

Bust - Darrious Heyward-Bey, WR - Lazy. Overpaid. Overrated. Take your pick of negative connotations, Heyward-Bey will most likely live up to them. A reach when he was drafted, at no time does it look like he will live up to his top 10 pick billing. Currently taking days off from practice for "fatigue", Heyward-Bey should only get drafted in leagues where you are rewarded for crappy play.

Rookie to watch - None - No rookies have a chance to shine for this team. Only one rookie would really be involved in the offense from a fantasy perspective, but he is currently the #5 WR.

You already know - Jason Campbell, QB - A huge upgrade over the departed JaMarcus Russell, Campbell will instantly upgrade the passing offense. A career 61% passer, Campbell should still be able to attain 3,000 yards and 20 paTD's with the Raiders and will help open up the running game for Bush and DMC.

Well, that's a wrap on the West divisions in the NFL. Feel free to leave comments, questions and complaints in the comments section and look forward to the North division tomorrow.

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