The NFL Draft is fast approaching and NFL teams are finalizing their draft boards while fantasy owners are beginning to compile their own draft strategies. Soon the wait will be over and we’ll know just where all these big name college prospects will be showcasing their skills at the next level.
In the meantime, we will continue our early division breakdowns for fantasy purposes. We are getting down to the nitty gritty with only two divisions to go. You may have noticed that there has been a bit more time in between these articles showing up on the site.
No. Old Uncle Waldo is not getting lazy.
This has been a measured tactic as the final two divisions are the ones I feel still have the most unanswered questions roster wise.
I have slowed down in hopes that certain positions (like the Denver QB…more on that below) and suspension appeals (Tom Brady…more on that in the next installment) will sort themselves out.
While it was a great plan in theory there are still questions remaining and the clock is ticking for me to get all the divisions in prior to the draft. So we will press on regardless.
For this edition we are heading out west. Out to the AFC West!
QB- It appears that the Raiders have finally solved their problem at QB and fantasy owners finally have a reason to take notice of the position. While he did falter a bit down the stretch, Derek Carr flashed the skills to continue his ascension in the fantasy realm. Carr finished his sophomore campaign with 32 touchdown passes and the third highest passing yardage in Raiders history with 3,987. Carr’s numbers would have been even better had he not tossed seven picks from weeks 13-17. He’ll need to protect the ball better moving forward as he’s lost seven fumbles in his first two seasons. That being said, the future looks extremely bright for Carr as he has solid offensive skill position weapons across the board. All that being said, we still need to temper our immediate expectations for Carr as the numbers he put up last season were still not enough to crack the top 12. We like that he is trending in the right direction having improved his numbers in completion percentage, passing and rushing yards as well as touchdowns from year one to year two. Carr is obviously a dynasty force moving forward but may need another year or two to crack the top 10 for redraft fantasy purposes. I have him just outside the top 12 heading into 2016 fantasy drafts.
The Raiders extended a second round tender on backup Matt McGloin and it appears that he will remain the #2 QB.
RB- There have been some mixed messages lately regarding Latavius Murray. On March 22nd Vic Tafur reported via Twitter that head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t seem sold on Murray as the lead back, “We’re looking for talent.” Del Rio said, “How it shakes out is up to the players.” Then on March 31st CSN Bay Area reported Del Rio backtracking a bit and saying running back is not a “glaring need.” Del Rio went on to say, “We do have a good player there.” And that he believes Murray is “just scratching the surface.” Hmmm. Which is it Jack? I’m guessing the answer lies somewhere in the middle as Oakland does need to add depth at the position and competition is always a good motivator. Murray did manage to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing last season while adding 41 receptions for 232 yards while scoring six times. Murray actually ended up 10th at the RB position in both standard and PPR scoring formats.
It’s behind Murray on the roster where things get shaky in a hurry. Roy Helu underwent surgery on both hips this offseason and is clearly not the answer as the primary backup. Taiwan Jones has bounced between DB and RB during his days in Oakland failing to make an impact in either role. A suspension will sideline former PPR producer Marcel Reece early in the season and at 30 his play showed signs of decline last season. The smart money says that Murray is indeed the lead back and the Raiders will address the RB situation throughout the remainder of free agency and the draft. Murray currently holds solid RB3 value with RB2 upside until we see how things shake out in the backfield. None of the other RBs currently on the roster warrant fantasy consideration.
WR- Here is a position with some meat on the bone for fantasy purposes. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree finished in the top 24 in both standard as well as PPR scoring formats in 2015. The duo saw 276 targets and finished with a combined 157 receptions for 1,992 yards and 15 touchdowns. That is a nice one-two punch. Cooper managed to surpass 1,000 receiving yards despite battling through a foot injury down the stretch that definitely hampered his performance. We like the toughness the kid showed even though there were weeks that he let fantasy owners down and we love his dynasty league potential. Cooper does not turn 22 until June and has already developed a nice rapport with his young QB. Keep in mind that Cooper posted 45 receptions for 662 yards and four touchdowns over the first eight games as a rookie. With the experience of a 16-game season under his belt and two healthy wheels underneath him, Cooper brings solid WR2 value into his sophomore campaign in redraft formats.
Apparently a change of scenery was all Michael Crabtree needed to regain fantasy relevance. OK. Having a real NFL caliber QB didn’t hurt either. Crabtree matched his career highs in receptions with 85 as well as touchdowns with nine while posting his second highest receiving yards total (922). Crabtree was targeted a team (and career) high 146 times and proved to be a perfect complement to Cooper as well as a safety valve option for Derek Carr. The Raiders extended Crabtree’s contract in December to the tune of four years for $35-million with $19-million guaranteed. We like this as Crabtree and Carr work well together making the 28-year old a solid WR3 heading into 2016.
Behind ‘The Big Two’ of Cooper and Crabtree there are some intriguing WR options that bring varying styles of play to the offense. Seth Roberts operated mainly out of the slot last season making the most of his 55 targets. Roberts finished with 32 receptions while catching five touchdowns and averaging 15.0 yards per catch (YPC). It appears as if Roberts will open the season as the clear cut #3 WR for the Raiders and he needs to be owned in dynasty leagues. Should Cooper or Crabtree miss time it’s likely that Roberts will get the first crack at stepping up. In redraft leagues there is no reason to select Roberts but keep his name in mind as a waiver wire addition.
It was a bit surprising when Oakland decided to re-sign Andre Holmes to a one-year deal. There was a time when it looked like Holmes was the WR we wanted to stash for fantasy purposes but that ship appears to have sailed. Holmes did manage to snag four touchdowns last season but he caught only 14 passes and averaged roughly 20 snaps per game. His value increases substantially should any of the WRs ahead of him go down but as things stand now Holmes is buried too deep on the depth chart to warrant drafting.
TE- It was apparent down the stretch last season that rookie TE Clive Walford had taken over as the #1 TE in the offense. From Weeks 13-17 Walford saw 26 targets to only 15 for Mychal Rivera. Recent reports that the Raiders are shopping Rivera make it clear that Walford is firmly entrenched as the TE we want to draft for fantasy purposes. Walford finished his rookie season with a 28/329/3 stat line and saw seven red zone targets (Rivera had six). According to a recent report from ESPN’s Adam Caplan, the Raiders want to “expand Clive Walford’s role going forward.” It’s no surprise as Walford is a solid blocking TE and has the size at 6’4”, 250-pounds as well as athleticism to create mismatches for the defense. Look for a big uptick from the 447 snaps he saw last season and for Walford to flirt with top-10 fantasy numbers this season.
Let’s wait to see if the Raiders can indeed move Mychal Rivera before we slap any kind of fantasy value on him. If he stays in Oakland as Walford’s backup then he has no value unless there is an injury.
K- Sebastian Janikowski is still under contract for 2016 and likely to be the kicker again in 2016. While this is an ascending offense “Sea Bass” hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2011 and has been outside the top 20 the past three seasons in fantasy scoring. He does still have that big leg making 4/5 kicks of 50-plus yards but there are younger and better options available.
D/ST- Under the guidance of new head coach Jack Del Rio and DC Ken Norton Jr. this defense made the jump from 32nd overall for fantasy purposes in 2014 to 20th last season. They improved their sack total by 16 and turnovers total by 11 with the new regime in place. With Khalil Mack emerging as a defensive force (he racked up 15 sacks last year) and a defensive minded head coach like Del Rio in place this is a D/ST on the rise. They signed OLB Bruce Irvin to help with the edge rush and CB Sean Smith as well as S Reggie Nelson to bolster a secondary that lost future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson to retirement.
It would help greatly if youngster Mario Edwards is able to resume his career after it was discovered that he has a “pre-existing” possibly “significant” neck injury. There is no definitive news as to whether or not Edwards will be able to play in 2016 and beyond.
The Raiders recently re-signed OLB Aldon Smith but he is suspended until at least November due to a bevy of off-the-field issues. Still only 26 years old (he’ll turn 27 in September) if Smith can keep his head on straight then he will absolutely help the pass rush. Oakland hasn’t returned a kick for a score since 2011 so an upgrade in the return game is needed. While this unit appears to be headed in the right direction they are still at least a year away from having real fantasy value. They can be avoided on draft day.