by Russ Bliss (9/1/11)
 

AFC West 2011 Preview


Denver Broncos

QB's: Kyle Orton has survived all the Tim Tebow hype and returns as the unquestioned #1 QB. However, the new coaching regime (run oriented philosophy) isn't like the old one (never met a passing play they didn't like) so you can be assured Orton isn't going to be putting up more than 3,500 yards and 21 TD's even if he manages to start all 16 games. Those are backup fantasy QB numbers. Tebow has supposedly been so bad that he has fallen behind Brady Quinn in the QB pecking order. Quinn has been pretty awful whenever he has started games so it wouldn't be a surprise if this situation would flip flop pretty quickly if Orton were to get injured and miss any games. Tebow has great athleticism, but has a lot to learn about running an NFL offense instead of just improvising based on his natural abilities.

RB's: Knowshon Moreno has had an excellent camp by all accounts and will be the primary RB in John Fox's run heavy offense. Moreno has battled injury problems in the past but appears to be in great shape and should be a good bet for 15-20 rushing attempts per game. Normally such a load would translate into him being a consideration for a fantasy RB1, but the Broncos brought in Willis McGahee from Baltimore and are expected to reprise his role of goal line vulture in Denver. And with Denver wanting to run the ball more, McGahee could see more than just 5-7 carries per game, meaning he might hold some value as a bye week filler. Moreno is a good fantasy RB2, and McGahee is a smart handcuff to him. Lance Ball returns as the #3 RB and at least offers some tough inside running if needed. Jeremiah Johnson is the 4th RB unless another veteran who gets released by another team is brought in before the season starts.

WR's: Brandon Lloyd won't duplicate his completely unexpected 2010 season, but he is still the #1 WR for Denver. In the new conservative offense though he is no more than a decent fantasy WR2. Eddie Royal is expected to start opposite him but there's been a lot of good things coming out about second year WR Eric Decker. Decker has excellent size (6'3", 218 lbs) and could push Royal for the starting job opposite Lloyd. However, in this offense, it's likely Royal and Decker will cancel each other out in terms of targets so neither will be a viable fantasy option. Of the two, if you want to take a late round flier in a deep draft though, Decker is the guy I'd peg. DeMaryius Thomas isn't recovered yet from the torn Achilles tendon injury suffered back in February and it's in question whether he'll play at all in 2011. At best he starts the year on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and at worst he goes on injured reserve. That leaves Matt Willis and David Anderson as the 4th and 5th WR's. Neither possesses any fantasy value between their positions on the depth chart and the style of offense we're expecting to see from Denver this season.

TE's: Daniel Fells currently sits atop the depth chart, but he isn't likely to be any fantasy factor in 2011. Rookie Julius Thomas has had a strong preseason and training camp but is not ready to start. Fellow rookie Virgil Green was deemed a good receiving TE but it hasn't shown so far and he likely won't make the active roster. Dan Gronkowski is a blocking specialist and likely to get lots of playing time in the Broncos expected run heavy offense, but he is a non-factor for fantasy. Former Panther Dante Rosario is also in the mix for a roster spot and if Fells loses his grasp on the top spot in the rotation is most likely to be next in line. But make no mistake, there is almost no chance of fantasy value from any of the Denver TE's in 2011.

K: Matt Prater is over the groin injury that prematurely ended his 2010 season and barring any setbacks will kick again for Denver in 2011. Prater is a good kicker, but the Broncos don't have the feel of high powered offense and that could limit his points in 2011. Prater isn't one of the top 12 fantasy kickers but is a solid bye week filler.
 

Kansas City Chiefs

QB's: Despite not being a particularly good QB, Matt Cassel is the unquestioned starter. Some will look at Cassel's 27-7 TD-INT ratio from last year and think he's better than he is. He had 5 incredible games last year where he threw 3 or more TD passes. He also had 7 where he had 1 or none. He also had 9 games where he threw for less than 200 yards. Cassel is no more than a mediocre fantasy backup QB. Tyler Palko is his backup and offers no upside. Rookie Ricky Stanzi was liked by some going into the draft and not so much by others. No matter what, he's not relevant.

RB's: Jamaal Charles is one of the most dynamic playmaking RB's in the game. He's a solid fantasy RB1 and would be considered amongst the elite if he got into the end zone more often. But he's not a big RB and while the Chiefs say they will run plenty this year, Charles isn't likely to get much more than 250 carries at most (he had 230 last year). He just isn't big enough to stand up to the punishment of being both an outside threat and an inside power back. Still, he gets yards in bunches. Thomas Jones is back to reprise his role as the other RB who gets 12+ rushing attempts per game as well, but Jones isn't nearly as effective as Charles and has lost a step after years of being a reliable fantasy RB. Jones is nothing more than a RB4/5 in fantasy and is best handcuffed to Charles. If Jones struggles in his role as the short yardage/goal line RB again this season, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Chiefs turned to former Ravens RB Le'Ron McClain. McClain is listed as a FB and is best remembered for one surprising season in 2008 when he rushed for over 900 yards and 10 TD's. McClain wanted out of Baltimore because they wouldn't let him have more rushing opportunities after that season and now in Kansas City he is a deep fantasy football sleeper to take over for Jones if Jones proves he's got little left in his tank. Dexter McCluster was moved back to RB after being listed as a WR last year. While McCluster has some playmaking skills, he's likely to only get a couple of touches per game and that's not nearly enough to warrant fantasy consideration.

WR's: Raise your hand if you were the guy who dropped Dwayne Bowe after his atrocious start to the 2010 season. Don't feel bad, we all make mistakes. Bowe is back and supposedly having a great camp and will be the #1 WR for the Chiefs. However he is just unlikely to have another 15 TD's again this season. 1,100 yards and 8-9 TD's is much more realistic an expectation, which makes him a quality fantasy WR2. But don't buy too high on him based on last year's amazing TD total. Rookie Jonathan Baldwin was supposed to come in and compete right away for the other starting spot, but he has been a disappointment in camp both on the field and off of it with his attitude. It was so bad that Baldwin got into a fight with Thomas Jones and ended up with a cracked thumb injury that has his status for the beginning of the regular season in doubt. Between his on and off the field behavior, Baldwin is no higher than 4th in the pecking order and has no fantasy relevance at this point for 2011. Steve Breaston was brought in to compete for the new #2 WR and while he is a significant upgrade over who the Chiefs had last year, too many are overvaluing Breaston, especially considering his injury history and the fact he's been limited in practices with a knee issue. I expect Breaston to be amongst many mediocre WR4/5 options out there. Jerheme Urban is officially listed as the starter opposite Bowe currently but he has a problem with drops throughout his career and lacks playmaking skills. On a run heavy offense, Bowe is the only WR to have, and have a realistic hope for being a fantasy starter.

TE's: While I love the story of how Leonard Pope jumped into a pool and saved a child from drowning during the off-season, and applaud him for it, it doesn't mean he is a good NFL or fantasy TE. Pope is the starter in name only as he is easily overshadowed in production by second year TE Tony Moeaki. Moeaki showed great receiving skills as a rookie in 2010 and could build upon that in 2011. Moeaki makes a solid fantasy TE2 and is likely to be second or third on the team in receptions. Jake O'Connell and Anthony Becht lead the group for the 3rd TE spot.

K: Ryan Succop has been a pretty good NFL kicker thru his first 2 seasons. But a mediocre fantasy kicker. He is one of many potential bye week filler options if he has the right matchup, but isn't a good bet for a steady dose of reliable top end fantasy points.
 

Oakland Raiders

QB's: Jason Campbell is got a vote of confidence from former Offensive Coordinator and new Head Coach Hue Jackson when they named Campbell the starter and let Bruce Gradkowski go. Campbell is a talented QB who has never realized his potential and possibly never will (especially given the lack of quality WR's to throw the football to in Oakland). For fantasy purposes, Campbell is no more than a mediocre fantasy backup. Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards will battle it out for the top backup spot but both have proven to be poor NFL and fantasy QB's. Terrelle Pryor was selected in the supplemental (with an emphasis on the "mental" here because of Al Davis's love affair with fast guys) draft and will be developed slowly as his true NFL position has yet to determined.

RB's: Darren McFadden finally lived up to the hype that made him a top 5 NFL Draft pick a few years ago. He rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of 13 games he played in last year and scored 10 total TD's. He also was very effective catching the ball with 47 receptions and averaged a total of 128 combined yards per game. He is the clear #1 in Oakland finally and a top 10 fantasy RB. He does have some injury concerns, as witnessed by his missing 3 games last year, but when healthy, and he will be healthy for the start of the regular season, he is a bona fide fantasy RB1. Michael Bush is the backup and is a very smart handcuff to McFadden. In the 3 starts Bush made in 2010, he rushed for over 100 yards and 1 TD in 2 of them. Overall Bush had over 600 rush yards and scored 8 TD's last year despite being the backup. Bush had 7 carries or fewer in 8 of 14 games last year which shows there is not really a time share. Rookie Taiwan Jones is a small but very speedy RB (what a surprise) and is likely to only get a few touches per game if that. Michael Bennett, Rock Cartwright, and Louis Rankin will battle it out to be the 4th RB.

WR's: Jacoby Ford has been on my fantasy football sleeper WR chart since the spring after a strong finish to the 2010 season. Ford is easily the best WR the team has combining playmaking ability and speed with reliable hands (something every other Raiders WR seems to lack). Ford may be small (5'9", 185 lbs) but he just makes plays. Ford isn't a fantasy starter, but he could be an excellent WR3/4 value who performs better than expected. Darrius Heyward-Bey will be the other starter and isn't likely to be any better in 2011 than he has been at any point thus far in his supremely disappointing career. He only starts because the Raiders are reluctant to acknowledge what a monumental mistake they made when they drafted him in the first round. Louis Murphy would have challenged for a starting job but will miss at least one regular season and maybe more because of a hamstring injury. Chaz Schilens has been unable to be healthy for two years now and is still hobbled with a knee issue. This has allowed rookie Danarius Moore to shine in training camp, but shining in training camp is one thing, doing it in the regular season will be quite another. Nick Miller, Derek Hagan, and Chad Jackson are the best names of the remaining WR's battling for a roster spot. But suffice to say, the only Raiders WR worth drafting is Ford.

TE's: Zach Miller was allowed to leave via free agency and while his replacement, Kevin Boss, is pretty good, he isn't the same talent as Miller was. Still Boss has potential to be the primary second read because of the lack of quality WR's and Boss is a decent TE2 with some upside. But there's little true breakout potential as he just isn't a special talent. David Ausberry was drafted as a WR but has been converted to TE and offers great size and speed, but he is a developmental project more than ready for game action. Brandon Myers and Richard Gordon are likely to battle it out for the top backup spot to Boss, but neither has fantasy value potential.

K: It's taken a few years, but Sebastian Janikowski has finally developed some decent accuracy to go along with the cannon of a leg he possesses. In the last 3 seasons he's nailed 83 of 100 FGA's, and 9 of his 17 misses have come from 50 yards or more. No kicker attempts more long distance FG's than Janikowski and while he missed 9 of those, he did make 13 from the distance. Janikowski is most valuable in fantasy leagues where you get bonuses for longer FG's without being penalized for misses. In a standard league, there are some more reliable kickers, but he is still worth having as a starter after the top 5 or 6 are gone.
 

San Diego Chargers

QB's: Phillip Rivers has completed the transformation of the Chargers to being one of the top passing offenses in the NFL. Despite missing Vincent Jackson for the first 11 weeks, and then Antonio Gates for the last 6, Rivers enjoyed a career high 4,710 passing yards (his 3rd consecutive 4,000+ yards season) and 30 TD's in 2010. Rivers doesn't get the credit he deserves for being amongst the fantasy elite QB's, but that just means you can get an elite fantasy QB a little later than those who spend a second round pick on one. Rivers has also been very durable having started every game each of the last 5 seasons. Billy Volek is the seldom used veteran backup. Undrafted free agent Scott Tolzien is the only other QB on the roster and probably will make at least the practice squad.

RB's: Ryan Mathews or Mike Tolbert? Mathews was supposed to be the new feature RB last year but injuries and inconsistent play led to the emergence of Mike Tolbert into fantasy prominence. Both players are healthy heading into 2011 and it looks like it will be a time share between them. Mathews will handle the primary rushing duties, but Tolbert will be used a change of pace RB who also handles most of the 3rd down duties and goal line work. The presence of Tolbert prevents Mathews from taking the next step up into becoming a solid fantasy starter, but Mathews is a good fantasy RB3 while Tolbert is a borderline RB3/4 because of the likely TD's he'll score. Rookie Jordan Todman is likely to be the #3 RB and while he has some skills, he has no value unless one of the other 2 get injured. Curtis Brinkley leads the remaining cast for the 4th RB spot.

WR's: Vincent Jackson is primed to have a big 2011. Unlike last season, Jackson isn't holding out and is under his one year franchise tender. He's itching to be a free agent and get a big multiyear payday and is well motivated. I fully expect him to better his 2009 numbers (68-1,167-9) and be one of the top 10 fantasy WR's. Malcom Floyd re-signed and will start opposite Jackson. Floyd was having a good 2010 season but injuries derailed it and while he has upside, he'll clearly be the 3rd option behind Jackson and TE Antonio Gates. That makes his fantasy prognosis no better than a WR4. Patrick Crayton was primed to enter the season as the #3 WR but his week one status is in doubt because of an ankle injury he had minor surgery on recently. Rookie Vincent Brown should be the #4 WR but would need an injury to become fantasy relevant. Seyi Ajirotutu will be the #5 and may even move up to #3 if Crayton's injury lingers and Brown proves to be inconsistent. Kelley Washington is a special teams standout only and a knee injury that is expected to keep him out for a few weeks into the season may cost him his roster spot. That would leave Laurent Robinson and Brian Walters as the most likely of the crew to muscle their way onto the opening day roster, but neither is going to have fantasy value.

TE's: Antonio Gates is possibly in a tier by himself at the top of the TE position. 782 yards and 10 in only 10 games put him on pace for a never before seen ridiculous season for a TE before the foot injury ended his season. Gates may be handled with kids gloves in practices throughout the season to prevent a recurrence but he is fine and safe to be the first TE off the board. Randy McMichael is back as his top backup but didn't have much fantasy upside last year and wouldn't this year either if anything were to happen to Gates. Kory Sperry is a low upside #3 TE on the team.

K: Nate Kaeding is one of the top fantasy kickers. He plays for a team with a high powered offense and is pretty much automatic from inside 40 yards. 3 of his 5 misses in 2010 came from 50+, and another one from 40+. His accuracy overall the last 3 seasons stands at 86%. Add in the plenty of PAT's he gets (no fewer than 40 in the last 4 seasons) and Kaeding should be one of the first kickers off the board.
 

2011 AFC East Fantasy Football Preview

 

2011 AFC North Fantasy Football Preview

 

2011 AFC South Fantasy Football Preview