AFC West preview
Pretty good (if quiet) offseason, headlined by guard Kris Dielman signing a large contract extension. That probably doesn’t sound like much but when your team has as much talent as any in the league, why throw big money at free agent players? The offensive linemen form as solid and cohesive a blocking unit as any you can find, maximizing the fantasy value of the players I’ve commented on below. Also of note:
schedule features non-division teams such as Chicago, New England, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Baltimore (all of which are stout versus the run), while opponents collectively appear even stingier versus the pass.
Philip Rivers, QB
: First season as an NFL starter, and all he does is complete 61.7% of his passes for 3388 yards and an impressive 22/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Leading
to a 14-2 regular season record and homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Philip Rivers wound up playing in the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He’s going to continue to develop as a quarterback under the tutelage of new head coach Norv Turner. Rivers’ fantasy value equates to an early-to-middle round draft pick as a borderline starter, depending upon how many teams are in your league.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB
: The man, the myth, the legend. After gaining 2323 rushing/receiving yards last season and breaking the NFL single-season record for scoring, touchdowns (31), and rushing touchdowns (28), LT is widely considered the most prolific fantasy football player
ever. If you have the #1 overall pick in your draft, take LaDainian Tomlinson and don’t look back. (A buddy of mine drafted Shaun Alexander #1 a year ago, underestimating the infamous Madden curse. Finished last in his division, when he could’ve opted for LT with that pick and shaken things up. Don’t make the same mistake Joel did! In fact, that’s the official term from now on; if you have the chance to draft LT and do anything else, you’re guilty of “Joel-ing the football” and forsaking self-respect.) Count on 2000+ yards, 20+ touchdowns from LaDainian Tomlinson.
Michael “the burner” Turner, RB
: Really came onto the scene last season – 502 rushing yards logging a half-dozen carries/game and nice production as
kick returner. The 5’10”/237-lb bruiser with top-end speed kept defenses honest when spelling LT, averaging 6.3 yards/carry. Expect decent production again in 2007. This team is built for a Super Bowl run, meaning players on offense who touch the ball most (such as LT) will not be worn down as the season progresses; coaches are going to take advantage of the tremendous roster depth. Consider Michael Turner with one of your final draft picks. If LT goes down due to injury, you’ll want to be the genius who snatched Turner up ahead of time!
The most likely candidate for a breakthrough campaign,
Vincent Jackson compiled 27 catches for 453 yards (16.8 per catch) and six touchdowns in 2006. He gained more playing time, was relied upon more, and seemed to develop a rapport with Philip Rivers as the season progressed. If he can continue to refine his route-running skills as a complement to his size (6’5”/241), speed, hands, and ability to outmuscle defenders for the jump ball, Vincent can thrive in his third year.
Eric Parker has been a dependable possession receiver for the Chargers, averaging 50.7 catches for 691.3 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per season since 2004. Rookie
Craig Davis should be able to contribute immediately as a slot receiver, and has the ability to stretch the field as a deep threat. A decent sleeper prospect is
Malcolm Floyd, another big receiver (6’5”/225) with superb talent when he’s healthy enough to be on the field. Keep his name in mind as you begin scanning the waiver wire, come September/October.
*updated* Eric Parker has undergone toe surgery and won’t be figuring into the Chargers offensive plans until October or November, while Craig Davis has been making the most of increased repetitions with the first-team offense. This does make Davis a more draftable commodity, but don’t forget that rookie receivers usually offer negligible fantasy impact.
Antonio Gates, TE
: Any discussion around the
passing game these days revolves around its tight end, who by now has emerged as the best in fantasy football. His stat line from the 2006 season (71 catches for 924 yards and nine touchdowns) actually pointed to a down year, but Antonio still led the team in those categories and Coach Norv Turner never gets accused of undervaluing his tight ends. Dominant in the redzone and the primary read in many of the Chargers pass plays, I expect Antonio Gates will widen the distance in fantasy scoring between he and other tight ends. For leagues in which tight ends are optional and would count as a receiver, he ranks somewhere between #12 and #15. But for leagues which require starting a tight end, do not let him escape the third round.
Nate Kaeding, K
: Among the league’s most accurate field goal kickers already, this guy helps keep
on the scoreboard a lot – most of them extra points. In fact, Nate’s field goal
attempts only add up to half-or-less of the extra points he boots in on an annual basis. Not usually the recipe you look for in a kicker for your fantasy team, but consider how often the Chargers score. Most points/game in the NFL last season by a wide margin, #5 two seasons ago, and #3 the season before that. He’s among the better fantasy prospects at the kicker position.
Chargers team defense
: As always, this unit is really good and probably worth consideration as a top-5 fantasy defense. Gone are Wade Phillips and his blitz schemes, but the 3-4 scheme remains and we can still count on sacks-a-plenty. Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips will continue to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks from the OLB positions. Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, and Igor Olshansky remain intact as
formidable D-line. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was solid in his rookie debut and should see an expanded role this season. Marlon McCree was an exceptional find for
a year ago, and returns as starting free safety. Question – are inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm up to the task, now that they are penciled in as starters? The Chargers will be leading in the fourth quarter of many games, luring opponents into a riskier mode of offense which in turn plays to the strengths of this defense.
One of the more active teams at the trading block and on the list of free agency signings, this offseason. By the same token, a number of key veteran contributors from past seasons are no longer with the team.
offensive linemen are mediocre-to-good, unlike the vaunted unit in years past that routinely allowed Broncos offenses to dictate the flow of games. Also of note:
’s schedule is rife with challenges to its up-and-coming passing attack.
Jay Cutler, QB
: Considering he was a rookie last season and did not play a down until December, Jay’s 1001 passing yards (7.31 per attempt), completion rate of 59.1%, and 9/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio revealed a glimpse of really good things to come. What’s not to like about this guy? Smart, confident, blessed with a cannon for an arm. Is Cutler the second-coming of Elway for this franchise, basically the hope of Broncos faithful when he was drafted? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do expect his production this season will be good enough that you should rank him as, at worst, the #14 fantasy quarterback.
Travis Henry, RB
: Who knew the third option in the Titans backfield would gain 1200 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, a year ago? This time Travis Henry’s numbers are much easier to project, given his track record of success (when given the lion’s share of carries for a team) and his new employer. We are accustomed to Denver magically turning lesser known running backs into fantasy studs, but the challenge we usually face once the preseason rolls around has to do with knowing who the primary ball carrier will be.
has generously saved us the trouble this time, giving Travis Henry a $12 million signing bonus to start for the Broncos. Don’t expect there to be a different feature runner every game, like we saw in 2006. Now that Coach Shanahan has the workhorse running back he needs for this team to be really move the ball well on the ground, there’s a decent chance Travis Henry puts up career numbers. I would look hard at Travis Henry with your second-round draft pick.
Javon Walker, WR
: If the 16 games Javon Walker played in at a high level last season are any indication, the injury-prone rap no longer sticks. His 69 catches, 1207 combined yards, and nine touchdowns were all team-high marks.
carries a lot of fantasy value in yardage-type leagues especially, annually placing among the NFL’s receiving leaders in yards per catch and tacking on more rushing yards than many wideouts.
I think it’s safe to expect Javon Walker will touch the ball enough in his second season as a Bronco to justify drafting him as the #9 fantasy receiver. Hint – once players rounding out that tier of borderline top-10 fantasy receivers have been drafted, there are around a dozen receivers who are similar in upside and opportunity; you could address other positions for a round or two, at this point in your draft. Another way to look at it: make securing an elite receiver a priority, in your fantasy league. These are players who remain a fixture of your starting lineup, throughout the season.
Brandon Marshall, WR
: The big fella (6’4/222) stepped in
toward the end of November, in his rookie campaign, and caught nearly everything thrown his way. His stat line over that period amounted to 18 catches for 287 yards (15.9 per catch) and a touchdown. Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Tony Scheffler each got nearly as many looks as Javon
, once Jay Cutler was promoted to starter last season. The depth behind
is overrated, highlighted by veterans Rod Smith and Brandon Stokley; Smith is still rehabbing from major leg surgery and isn’t a lock to make the roster (“Blasphemy!” Broncos fans are saying) while Stokley’s lone breakout season came in 2004.
*updated* Brandon Marshall is working his way back into the starting spot opposite Javon Walker, after struggling through some minor injuries. Brandon Stokley filled in well during passing/receiving drills and scrimmage opportunities, during Marshall’s absense, and should play a lot as the third receiver in this offense.
As with a number of NFL teams,
will utilize more than one tight end – depending upon various game situations. Newly acquired
Daniel Graham, a former 21st overall draft selection, is considered the starter; one of the league’s better blocking ends, this guy signed a five-year, $30 million deal (half of it guaranteed) to leave New England and play for Coach Shanahan. Although his versatility sets him apart from other tight ends on the roster, it will surprise me if Graham catches more than 30 balls this season
A receiving specialist,
Tony Scheffler is tall and combines great acceleration with good hands. He ended his rookie season by catching 12 passes for 219 yards and four touchdowns in the month of December. (Not only did Jay Cutler focus on getting Scheffler the ball when they played together in the regular season, preseason numbers reveal that Cutler looked Scheffler’s way just as often in August.) Conventional wisdom suggests that the Broncos coaching staff will continue to take advantage of the Cutler-Scheffler connection. Consider drafting Tony Scheffler to fill that backup tight end spot on your roster, Daniel Graham if you’ve come to the end of your draft and still have a hole at that position.
Jason Elam, K
: Ridiculously accurate last season, Jason Elam returned to Pro Bowl form by converting 93.1% of his field goal attempts (77.8% from 40+ yards out). He booted less extra points than usual, last season, but expect an increase.
should convert more redzone possessions for touchdowns, with an improved rushing attack. With his name recognition, playing at a reputable level through the years and getting respect among kickers every offseason in fantasy football rankings … don’t expect Jason Elam to fall to you with your final draft pick. Another thing about
is sure to put a lot of points on the scoreboard against
in Week Fifteen, the opening round of the playoffs in many fantasy leagues.
Broncos team defense
: Jim Bates has been brought in as defensive coordinator, while Broncos management has made improving personnel on that side of the ball a priority. This year’s draft haul was almost entirely devoted to rebuilding the defensive line and should increase the amount of pressure up-front on passing downs. Sam Adams and Jimmy Kennedy (weighing a combined 675 lbs) were added to bolster the interior. Al Wilson was released after clearly still struggling with injury problems, but the stellar play of D.J. Williams and Ian Gold will keep Denver’s linebacker corps among the league’s best. John Lynch remains a force at safety, while Dre Bly was acquired from
to start opposite Champ Bailey at corner.
will be better on defense, to say the least. The Broncos would make for a nice middle-round selection in your draft, offering value as a starting-caliber fantasy defense but enabling you to wait while others target the Panthers and Dolphins defenses, for example.
This team valiantly fought its way into the AFC playoffs last season yet seems to be heading in the wrong direction. The O-line has for a second year in a row lost a solid contributor to retirement, and isn’t as dominant at run-blocking as it used to be while leaving much to be desired in the pass-blocking department. Also of note:
faces a rough schedule versus the run, four of its first five games against teams that on any given Sunday can neutralize a running back.
Damon Huard, QB
After Trent Green’s horrible concussion (and resulting departure from the field by stretcher) in the season opener against Cincinnati, fans on-hand at Arrowhead Stadium, the television audience viewing at the time, and those who later watched the replay on SportsCenter highlights regarded
Damon Huard with little optimism. Huard played well the role of game manager, however, leading the Chiefs to a respectable 5-3 record in the games he started. For the year, he completed over 60% of his passes, 11 for touchdowns (only one was picked off).
*updated* Brodie Croyle in his second year has been given every opportunity to seize the starting job but due largely to shaky decision-making on the field, has been deemed not ready. Coach Herman Edwards is looking Damon Huard’s way, after three preseason games. Maybe Croyle steps in later this season, or maybe he becomes the starter in 2008. But Kansas City is going to be Damon Huard’s team to lead in 2007. Do not draft Huard except in leagues which require starting two quarterbacks, and strictly as a QB-3.
Larry Johnson, RB
: Widely regarded as the #2 overall fantasy football force, early in the offseason, then it was “Steven Jackson is the safer pick.” How far is Larry Johnson’s fantasy draft stock falling now, what with him holding out of training camp and little help expected from the Chiefs passing game? Last season LJ was a one-man show running the ball, setting an NFL single-season record with 416 carries.
Expect his production to again measure up to the first-round recognition in fantasy drafts, but take a harder look at your league’s scoring system and the most likely best half-dozen players after LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson. What if he doesn’t play in Week One or Week Two, in the midst of this holdout?
*updated* Larry got paid, earlier this week: a five-year extension worth $43.25 million, $19 million of it guaranteed. The Chiefs only threat on offense, LJ can expect a steady diet of eight-man fronts throughout the season.
Eddie Kennison, WR
: This one’s easy. Which Chiefs receiver has been a model of consistency since 2002, averaging 58.4 catches for 961.4 yards and five touchdowns per season? Eddieeeeeeeee Kennison. Resist the urge to draft first round pick Dwayne Bowe too early (that means you, LSU fans), even if he is far and away the most impressive athlete among this unheralded bunch. But in Eddie Kennison, you know you’re drafting someone who’ll catch over 50 balls, rack up maybe 750 receiving yards, and score five touchdowns. Rank him no earlier than #40 among fantasy wide receivers, given the uncertainty surrounding
Tony Gonzalez, TE
: The man produces every year, reigning supreme as the elite tight end in fantasy football more years than not since 1999. Expect from Tony Gonzalez receiving numbers equal to or better than those he contributed last season; rank him as the #2 or #3 fantasy tight end.
This sort of depends on how often you feel the Chiefs offense can advance the ball into the redzone, but I suggest you delay drafting your starting tight end. There are at least six other tight ends grouped similarly with Gonzalez in terms of perceived value heading into this season (a tier below Antonio Gates, of course). Wait for that run on tight ends – if such a thing even happens in your league – before taking Gonzalez or a Jason Witten; you might get away with locking down that WR-3 or a top-tier defense in the process.
Justin Medlock, K
: Rookie from UCLA, a fifth-round pick. Apparently accurate from long range, and has never had a kick blocked. Don’t draft him for any reason (unless 31 other kickers have already been drafted and you went to high school with him or something).
Chiefs team defense
’s loss was
’s gain when Donnie Edwards signed with the Chiefs for three years and $7.5 million in guaranteed money. It is hoped James Reed can continue to play well at defensive tackle, something draft-bust Ryan Sims (now a Buccaneer) cannot say for himself. The other tackle position will be filled by free agent pickup Alfonso Boone, rookie Turk McBride, and/or rookie Tank Tyler. Defensive end is finally a strong suit, with Jared Allen and Tambi Hali making their mark in the pass rush department.
’s linebacker corps looks improved on paper – Derrick Johnson, Donnie Edwards, and Napolean Harris. While Ty Law and Patrick Surtain certainly bring a wealth of experience to the secondary and prevent opposing receivers from getting open very often, both are on the wrong side of 30. The Chiefs team defense is average at best. Maybe worth a look if you are drafting a backup unit to your starting defense, in deeper leagues. Hint – the Chiefs play host to the Titans in Week Fifteen, the opening round of the playoffs in many fantasy leagues.
The Raiders were a terrible reflection of the NFL and its standard of competition, a year ago.
’s only wins came in October, back-to-back against the Cardinals and Steelers. The Raiders defense in these two games scored as many times as the Raiders offense!
managed to score only 10.5 points/game, gained a miserable 246.2 yards/game of offense, allowed 72 sacks, and gave up 46 turnovers. The good news is that it can’t get any worse for the Raiders offense. In the offseason, personnel changes were made to address the horrid O-line situation and bring in better skill position players. Lane Kiffin, who left USC to coach under the pressure cooker that is Al Davis’ ownership style,
is known as something of an offensive whiz and should infuse some much-needed creativity and aggressiveness into the playcalling. Oakland’s franchise quarterback of the future was drafted #1 overall. Also of note: while the schedule isn’t conducive to running the ball with ease, several teams down the stretch (Tennessee, Houston, and Minnesota)
will offer some relief to whoever is throwing the ball.
: As training camp began, the coaching staff hoped
Josh McCown would be able to play well enough this season to allow
JaMarcus Russell to watch and learn.
Daunte Culpepper signed to compete for the quarterback job, after spurning what I hear was pretty good money to play for Jacksonville. Culpepper has a long way to go in learning the offensive system, but isn’t far removed from the fantasy football dominance we saw in him as a Viking. How much of his terrible play in Miami last season should we attribute to Daunte Culpepper having to play through pain, and how much to bad decision-making on the field?
Are his roughed-up knees ready for more collisions? Safe to assume this will be a redshirt year for JaMarcus Russell.
*updated* Daunte Culpepper has outshined fellow Raiders Josh McCown and Andrew Walter through three preseason games, but looks extremely rusty. Culpepper offers the most upside of these three, and will probably emerge the starter.
Crowded backfield, here.
LaMont Jordan returns as the incumbent starter, joined by free agent pickup
Dominic Rhodes, fourth-round draft pick
Michael Bush, and the unimpressive
Justin Fargas. Question – will Jordan play with renewed enthusiasm in 2007, running with power and some shiftiness, breaking tackles, catching passes as well as he used to? Question –
can Rhodes be anything more than a change-of-pace back, once he returns from suspension? Out of these guys, LaMont
has the potential for 1000 rushing/receiving yards and six or so touchdowns … if he can stay healthy. Underrated thus far in many fantasy drafts, Jordan can probably be had for the modest price of a middle-round pick. Dominic
is worth a later-round flyer in deeper leagues. Michael Bush may well have a future in the NFL, but it looks as though he will be put on injured reserve.
You could do worse than this group.
Joey Porter and
Ronald Curry are the probable starters and have run-after-the-catch ability, although both tend to miss time due to injuries. I can envision them combining for over 100 catches, around 1300 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. But I think it’s asking a lot to expect them to stay on the field in order to contribute at that level.
Mike Williams, Doug Gabriel
Travis Taylor could factor into the Raiders passing game, although none are worth targeting with a draft pick.
TE : Considering the Raiders franchise has lacked a playmaker at tight end since Todd Christiansen (1980’s), it makes sense that Oakland management invested its second-round draft pick in Zach Miller. From Arizona State, this guy reminds one of former Sun Devil Todd Heap. I rank him as the #24 fantasy tight end this season. (I’m tempted to bump him further up the list. Tight ends carry their weight in fantasy football via touchdown receptions in the redzone, though, and it’s not likely he’ll get very many chances at those.) As with the wideouts, you could do worse.
K : Unless fantasy points aren’t deducted for missed field goals in your league and bonus points are awarded for being able to kick the football “a quarter mile”, do not draft Janikowski.
Raider team defense
: The value, here, depends largely on your league’s scoring system. Are fantasy points awarded only for sacks, turnovers, and scoring … or based also on points-allowed and/or yards-allowed? The Raiders
will again put on the field a very good defense, but maybe not a top
fantasy defense. Derrick Burgess and Warren Sapp combined for 21 sacks but there weren’t any other players who provided much in that category. The Raiders linebackers are solid, led by Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard. The defensive backs are outstanding, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha good enough last season for consideration as an All-Pro.
*** The above discussion about player rankings is based on FantasySharks.com’s scoring system.