The window for this team seems to be closing not only to win a championship but to be one of the best fantasy wonderlands of all time (Peyton Manning can do that for people). Peyton is on his last legs, as evidenced by his struggles with health down the stretch last year, and we’re not sure what this offense will look like once he’s gone. At least for this year, the team will contend not only because of Peyton, but also because of the very good defensive options the team provides as well. I would invest in most of the pieces in this offense for this year, but would be wary about investing in some pieces long term (like C.J Anderson, perhaps?).
Bustworthy Beauty: C.J. Anderson, RB
I’m concerned that the C.J. Anderson price point is driven skyward too prematurely, and this seems like a situation that could be destined to flop much like Montee Ball last year. An unquestioned top-20 price seems a little high for a player with a half season of success however amazing it was. There are even cases made for him to be the top overall pick in fantasy this year and I just worry that we’re moving way too quickly on the hype train. I understand that it seems the stars are aligning for him right now. Kubiak’s run-blocking scheme is great, Peyton Manning is alarmingly old so the Broncos may shift towards the running game more, and it seems like he does have the skills to be an elite option. He could very well end up being more than worth a first round investment, but understand that this is a riskier pick than some of the other top running backs. Also, it remains to be seen how much of Anderson’s production truly is a function of Peyton’s offense, so I’d be cautious before investing long-term.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Montee Ball, RB
Montee Ball’s fall from grace was really more of a crash than a fall. After Knowshon Moreno’s huge success in Peyton Manning’s offense in 2013, the Broncos smartly let him sign a contract in Miami. They understood that Moreno didn’t enjoy such success purely based on talent but more so because of Denver’s system. Peyton Manning in that record-breaking offense in 2013 posed such a threat that defenses couldn’t afford to focus on the running game. In a standard redraft league Montee Ball seemed to take that mantle in 2014 as the heir apparent, primed to repeat that success, and became a borderline top ten value just because of the Denver offense. I wasn’t a believer at the time because for me to assume that the hype is warranted, I like to see a track record or a significant statistic to back it up. I think a lot of success in fantasy football comes from sifting through all the hype and news. As a fantasy player, we receive so much information and try to process so many different opinions, we often lose sight of our own personal player valuations. Tons of people bought into this hype and were sorely disappointed if they didn’t snag C.J. Anderson. That doesn’t mean Ball is a bad football player. He struggled with injuries a lot early in the season and just didn’t ever make it back on the field healthy. I’m not so sure the Broncos are over him, and if Anderson falters even a half-step, they could give Ball a fighting chance.
PPR Princess: Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Emmanuel Sanders wowed the NFL in his first season out from under the wing of Antonio Brown. He became another elite toy for Peyton Manning in one of the best offenses in league history and seamlessly filled the void left by Eric Decker in 2013. Sanders remains clearly in conversation as a top-20 receiver for at least one more season with Peyton at the helm, and hold even more value in PPR leagues after a 101 catch season last year. The departure of Wes Welker and Julius Thomas further his case as he expects to step into a full-time slot role with Cody Latimer and Demaryius Thomas on the outside. I’m willing to go an extra mile and say Sanders will not only match 2014 numbers but he has a good chance to exceed them as well.
Dynasty Darling: Brock Osweiler, QB
Many people are high on Cody Latimer in dynasty leagues and I think he’ll be a good NFL receiver, but I gave the nod to Brock Osweiler here. I also intentionally avoided the easy answer (Demaryius Thomas), Let it be noted, Demaryius Thomas is an elite wide receiver and he will be for a very long time. Please invest in him, I just want to provide another option. It was close between Latimer and Osweiler for that “other take”, but quarterback is the safest position in the game as long as the skills are there. They are the least dependent on other players to perform at a high level. Receivers often need a great quarterback to be successful, but quarterbacks don’t necessarily need great receivers. It sure helps, but the floor for a quarterback with an NFL level skill set is higher than any other position. With that being said, while the Broncos offense will probably never return to its 2013 precipice, the pieces here have potential for the future, and Peyton Manning doesn’t have more than one or two seasons left in him. Osweiler projects to take over and after years of tutoring under one of the best quarterbacks of all time, much like Jimmy Garoppolo in New England taking over for an aging Tom Brady, the future looks promising.
Exactly zero wide receivers caught a touchdown pass for the Chiefs last year. Alex Smith threw 18 touchdowns and not a single one ended up in the hands of a wide receiver. That is simply mind-boggling to me. I know that the offense runs through Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith isn’t a daring quarterback. He manages the game, checks down to Jamaal Charles constantly and looks for his tight end across the middle of the field, but how do you not complete a single touchdown to a receiver on the outside? This was a 9-7 playoff contending team with an overrated defense and a nonexistent receiving corps. This speaks volumes to the rushing attack and Jamaal Charles, who is the real gem here. I’d invest in Jamaal Charles and to some extent Travis Kelce, but I’m not too excited about much else, especially…
Bustworthy Beauty: Jeremy Maclin, WR
I don’t care for this. I know he’s supposed to be the savior to the Chiefs wide receiver nightmare, and he hopefully will score at least a couple touchdowns, but I can’t expect a Philadelphia-level fantasy season even though he is the number one receiver. I fear that some may see on paper what he did in a breakout 2014 and expect he’ll be the similar explosive threat as the clear number one receiver in Kansas City reunited with his old coach Andy Reid. Maclin is a damn good receiver, but I expect a similar line to 2013 Maclin (63-859-5) as a ceiling. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exciting and it’s definitely not what you hope for.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Chris Conley, WR
Chris Conley takes this spot literally because I had to pick someone. I’ll keep this brief. A lot of people don’t even know this kid’s name, and at the very least, that should change. He’s an explosive athlete that will need to work on his drop issues, but he projects to be a decent receiver in his career and given the uncertainty at the second wide receiver slot, he could be in line for some targets down the road. Don’t draft him, but keep him on your radar.
PPR Princess: Jamaal Charles, RB
There are very few skill position players that run the show for their offense as much as Charles does. Every team knows full well that Charles holds the key to literally anything the Chiefs want to accomplish offensively and he still manages to run rampant. He was used less in the passing game this last season but is just that one season removed from a 70 catch, 693 yard season in which he also scored seven times through the air. Some of those 104 targets will return and while he may not have all of the blazing speed he once had, the talent here is unmistakable. Charles has a strong case to be the first overall pick in standard AND PPR leagues this year, and that’s simply because I’m just the least worried about him. Le’Veon Bell will miss three games at least, Adrian Peterson hasn’t been on the football field for a year, Arian Foster has injury concerns, Marshawn Lynch could drop dead because of his ungodly workload, Eddie Lacy projects to be good, but this is Aaron Rodgers’ offense no questions asked. We know that Jamaal Charles as long as he is healthy is guaranteed to touch the ball 20 times a game and unlike Arian Foster and Lynch who are the same way, he seems least likely to fall off a cliff or hurt himself (Probably from falling off the cliff. That has to hurt like a bitch.), and obviously in PPR leagues he is the far bigger threat through the air.
Dynasty Darling: Travis Kelce, TE
Travis Kelce is a monster. He compares physically to the best tight ends in the game (Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski) and is bordering on uncoverable if deployed correctly. Unfortunately for him, he is stunted by a run-heavy offense which lacks explosiveness in the passing game and that definitely limits his 2015 upside. I would be wary of drafting him as the third tight end after Gronk and Graham this year, but his long-term prospects are really good at a weaker position. This year, I would DEFINITELY be more interested in Greg Olsen, but Kelce doesn’t fall too much further. Fortunately for him, he is still the number one target in this offense even with Jeremy Maclin on board, and he should see the lion’s share of targets. Andy Reid needs to understand what he has here is special and force feed him the ball.
The Raiders will be better than advertised in 2015. They’ve made notable upgrades on both sides of the ball (Curtis Lofton is a good mentor to their younger linebackers), and Derek Carr is one year more mature, Latavius Murray poised to be a breakout running back, and Amari Cooper is one of the most NFL-ready rookie receivers I have ever seen. The pieces are here to make the Raiders relevant years down the road, but given the maturity I’ve already seen from Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, their time could come just a little earlier. I don’t think this is a playoff team, or even all that close yet, but I don’t think this is a fantasy wasteland and a league afterthought anymore.
Bustworthy Beauty: Latavius Murray, RB
I know I just said Murray is poised to break out, and this pains me to write because I’m a big Latavius Murray fan. I THINK he’ll be good. However, considering the fact that he was an afterthought until week 10 last season does raise some concerns. The Raiders tried to force feed an aging and cringe-worthy combination of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden instead of giving Latavius a shot early in the season when clearly nothing was going correctly, and his inflated 5.2 yards per carry is a product of the huge 112 yard game he had against the Chiefs in week 11. I think he passes the eye test and projects to be a really good back this year, but there is a lot of risk in expecting him to be a shoo-in top-20 running back.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Derek Carr, QB
I know Carr has many skeptics. People think he got lucky turning the ball over only 16 times and doesn’t have good enough accuracy and decision-making skills to succeed in the NFL. On paper his stats aren’t great (just 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 picks) and he only averaged 5.46 yards per attempt, but that was likely more due to learning the game at the NFL level and less because of a lack of skill. For me, he looks the part and could be a fantasy-relevant quarterback soon. He shows discipline in his lack of turnovers and showed some guts in important moments last season. We’re not considering him as a starting fantasy quarterback this year, of course, but as an emergency fill-in you could do worse and could be valued as a lower end QB2 in certain leagues.
PPR Princess: Roy Helu, RB
Out of the Raiders running backs, Roy Helu is by far the safest play. He’s undrafted in standard leagues, drafting Latavius Murray at his current ADP is a gamble, and drafting Trent Richardson is illegal in most states. In Washington, Helu was an underrated asset with big-time PPR potential. He only had 42 catches last year, but he displayed some explosiveness averaging 5.4 yards per carry as well as an exciting 11.4 yards per reception. In an offense that will be finding its legs for much of the season as they still work to build Derek Carr’s confidence and skill, Helu could be used as a reliable check-down option.
Dynasty Darling: Amari Cooper, WR
Isn’t this obvious? Amari Cooper is legit. Any receiver that draws comparisons to Marvin Harrison on draft day has to draw attention from fantasy owners. In dynasty leagues, I can make a case to take Amari Cooper as early as the third round because I think the future is so bright. That disregards the fact that he may struggle to put out anything eye-popping early in his career because of the state of flux of this Raiders organization. Alabama runs one of the most NFL-style offenses in college football, and they have prepared Cooper impeccably well for pro ball. He may not finish the season as the top rookie receiver in fantasy in 2015 (That honor is more likely to go to Nelson Agholor in Philly or Kevin White in Chicago), but if I’m buying for the long haul, I’m banking on Cooper.
Regardless of the Chargers underwhelming results on the football field (They boast an unimpressive 42-38 record overall since 2009 and have made the playoffs just once since that time), their offense has remained a very strong fantasy asset led by Philip Rivers gunslinger mentality. People often forget that Rivers is a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback and does lead an elite offense in terms of talent. As fantasy players, we don’t give a crap if the Chargers blow it in the waning minutes of the game as long as Rivers throws for his expected 4000+ yards and 30 touchdowns. This might be the last year we can expect this since Rivers has hinted at leaving San Diego for greener pastures after being permanently scarred by Norv Turner’s inadequacy.
Bustworthy Beauty: Keenan Allen, WR
Keenan Allen was woefully disappointing last year and nobody should question that. He was not close to worth his draft position, and unlike many others who painfully disappoint owners, his draft stock this year hasn’t dropped much all things considered. He’s going a round or two later, but that shows that a majority of people believe that his 2014 was a fluke. Perhaps it was, but the decrease in his targets and catches downfield (His YPC dropped from 14.7 to 10.2.) is alarming. Given the signings of Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones (who will factor more in the return game but could still take away targets), the presence (at least for 12 games) of Rivers’ favorite target Antonio Gates, and the return to full health of a target-hogging Danny Woodhead, I don’t see a huge uptick in value. At best, I think we can expect WR2 numbers as a ceiling this year and I’m not sure he really every crosses into elite WR1 territory. Rivers likes to spread the ball around and there are many mouths to feed in this offense. I know that Allen looks the part to be a very good wide receiver in his career (good hands, good jump-ball ability, good route runner) but he doesn’t wow you with speed (4.71 40 at the combine is disappointing) and he won’t have the elite upside you hope for. He’ll most likely slot into a reliable possession receiver role at best. He’s “safe” but not exciting, and that’s not something you love from a guy when you’re trying to hit a home run.
Sleeping Sweetheart: Malcom Floyd, WR
Now HERE is a home run guy who’s consistently undervalued as a plug and play WR4 or WR5. Make note that I won’t recommend him as any more than that, because he does carry significant durability concerns, but he’s finished above his value point in four of five seasons, discounting the 2013 season in which he only played two games (consequently also Keenan Allen’s huge rookie season, a potential parallel here). Floyd is one of the better deep threats in the league and Rivers is not scared to air it down the field. There won’t be much volume here, but you can rely on five or six targets a game and given his six scores last season, the potential to make your week on one long ball is definitely in play.
PPR Princess: Danny Woodhead, RB
Danny Woodhead is the prototype of waiver wire watch list player in standard leagues who shoots up in value because of PPR scoring (We call this type of player “Sprolesian”.). His great all-purpose 2013 season put the fantasy world on notice as he totaled more than 1000 yards from scrimmage (including 76 receptions, leaving PPR players drooling) in addition to eight scores (six through the air). Unfortunately, it all came crashing down with the serious ankle injury he suffered in week three in 2014, but that actually bodes well for owners trying to snap him up later on in PPR leagues. Barring re-injury he should play a similar role as he did two seasons ago on a very good offense especially as they try to acclimate rookie Melvin Gordon to the NFL. I expect a very underrated Sprolesian 2015.
Dynasty Darling: Melvin Gordon, RB
First note: In a standard redraft league, Melvin Gordon is being drafted too high. Second note: If you’re in a startup dynasty draft and he’s available at his current ADP (middle of the fourth round), ignore the first note, don’t even consider that it was ever written, and TAKE HIM (Granted, there’s no way he’ll be there that late in dynasty formats.) . The situation in San Diego is built for Gordon to be a workhorse for a long time. There isn’t notable competition for an every down role (Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are better suited as change-of-pace backs.) and with Philip Rivers potentially bailing, Melvin may be pushed into a more prominent role earlier than he’d like. Even this year in his rookie season I expect the leash to be longer since the Chargers paid a first round pick to draft him and they will be patient with their investment.
Yesterday: AFC South
Check in next week as we continue through the NFL, starting with our NFC East Breakdown.
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