The AFC West is the perfect illustration of why I love fantasy football to death. I don’t mean that the division is particularly heavy with fantasy studs, because it’s pretty ordinary in that sense. I don’t mean that this division is hiding an inordinate amount of sleepers that will reward the savvy fantasy tactician. What I do mean is this; it gives purpose to the division. The battle for the AFC West crown is the least exciting divisional battle in the NFL. Is it possible for a division champion to be less of a foregone conclusion? Spoiler alert: The Oakland Raiders have this one in the bag.
That was just to make sure you were paying attention. Obviously, any objective viewer who paid attention to professional football last year views the Denver Broncos winning the division as a borderline inevitability, and with good reason. They have the best defense in the division by a significant margin, and an offense that was already the best in the division by a massive margin and added Wes Welker and Montee Ball. The AFC West is like a small-scale version of the NBA. Three-fourths of the teams have zero chance going in and I have no idea what keeps fans of those teams interested.
This all comes back to why the AFC West makes me love fantasy football, because without it I would view that entire division as a waste of time. With it, I’m intensely interested in the other three teams, and I watch a meaningless Kansas City Chiefs-Oakland Raiders matchup with a fervor typically only reserved for playoff games. Fantasy football gives meaning to games that would otherwise be inconsequential, and it replaces ennui with the desire to answer one burning question: Should you draft him?
(ADP = average draft position. It’s based on present data from 12-team standard league drafts. Players with extra or decreased point per reception value will be noted. I don’t profile defenses because team defense generally have low impact in standard leagues, and I won’t touch Individual Defensive Players because this website has that brilliantly covered and then some. Kickers are ignored because not a single fantasy owner in history has regretfully looked back and said, “If only I had drafted Stephen Gostkowski …”)
Peyton Manning (ADP: 35th Overall):
He’s 37 years old, but so what? He’s the greatest regular season quarterback of all time coming off a season that was a career year even by his own lofty standards. He has put another year of time between himself and his neck surgeries, and, oh by the way, he just replaced ancient Brandon Stokley with the best slot receiver in the game. A late-season decline in arm strength poses some risk, but I’m more worried about the Broncos wrapping up the division by Week 12 and taking it easy down the stretch.
Ronnie Hillman (ADP: Early Round 8):
He saw an unexpected bump in value when he was named the starter in training camp. The respect that has to be given to the ridiculously lethal passing attack will mean lots of running room. He’s a usable flex when sharing the field with Montee Ball, and a stud if his teammate gets hurt.
Montee Ball (ADP: Mid-Round 9):
You can basically cut and paste everything I just said about Hillman. He’s a flex play already, and an every-week start if Hillman is hurt. Hillman being the nominal starter has dropped Ball’s draft spot. I like this because I believe Ball is the more talented rusher and represents greater value a round later.
Demaryius Thomas (ADP: 25th Overall):
Injury risk has understandably pushed him just out of the top-5 among receivers, but the fact is this: Thomas and Manning have more combined talent than any quarterback-wide receiver combination in the NFL. The risk is worth it.
Eric Decker (ADP: Late Round 5):
Last year’s No. 8 receiver in standard leagues is going as the 23rd wide receiver off the board. Huh? Wes Welker will siphon some targets and yards, but he won’t steal much of any red zone work, so I’m expecting another season of double-digit touchdowns for Decker. I don’t anticipate another top 10 finish at the position, but he’s much better than the low-end No. 2 he’s being taken as.
Do Not Draft
Wes Welker (ADP: Mid-Round 4):
The impact of his presence will be huge, but don’t mistake that for him personally being a fantasy stud. The Broncos have two excellent established downfield threats to New England’s zero. He won’t be getting over 170 targets like he did the last two seasons. Welker himself says he only expects to catch about 80 passes. That would make most receivers good fantasy starters, but not when those catches are only worth about 11 yards apiece. Avoid him in drafts, but target him in midseason trades in points per reception leagues. If Manning has another late-season dip in arm strength, you’ll see the ball in Welker’s hands a lot more from Week 9 on.
Knowshon Moreno (ADP: Late Round 13):
It says a lot about an offense when they have three running backs being taken in drafts. Unfortunately, the third running back in question is not very good and has never been good at staying healthy. I can’t envision a scenario in which he pays off.
Jacob Tamme/Joel Dreessen (ADP: Undrafted):
With the wide receivers sure to gobble down tons of yards and targets, one of these two needs to seriously distinguish himself to achieve fantasy relevance. Tamme is the poor blocker with better receiving skills and Dreessen is the superior blocker. Both lack the full skill sets necessary to stay on the field enough.