I was having a hell of a time compartmentalizing all of the nonsense in my brain into a well-organized column with good flow. So, I’ve decided to breakdown all the top stories in the fantasy football world division by division. If I was a betting man – which I am – I’m still putting my money on this coming out very messy and chaotic – just a notch above William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in the sense-making department – but here goes…
We are going to start in the NFC West, and in doing that we might as well start with the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. For me, there is very little fantasy appeal in this offense – the defense on the other hand promises to be the highest scoring DST in fantasy this year – but who cares, it’s a DST. Marshawn Lynch reported to training camp July 31st after holding out for a little under a week. I have to imagine he reported due to the ‘Hawks cavalier attitude to his absence – plus the 1.5 million dollar raise he received. Russell Wilson, when asked about Lynch’s holdout, seemed alarming at peace with the idea, focusing the conversation more on Robert Turbin and the ultra-talented second year back Christine Michael, because they were the backs that HAD reported to camp.
Nevertheless Lynch is there and will again push for 300 carries IF he remains healthy. It’s a big if considering Lynch has toted the rock 901 times the past three seasons and will turn 29 in April. He remains locked in as a first rounder and a strong RB1, those concerns and the ‘Hawks wanting to pepper in more of Michael, keeps him out of top five considerations for me.
Doug Baldwin is probably the safest bet of the WR corps, which is a shame. He will be thrust into playing the X receiver in this run-first offense now without Golden Tate, and look to improve on the underwhelming but solid 50-778-5 line he posted last year. As for Percy Harvin, he is supremely gifted, but won’t see the volume of targets you would want in a guy you’ll more than likely have to draft in the 5th or 6th round. Coupling that with his injury history and that he is penciled in as Seattle’s kick returner makes him a low upside WR2/3, unless of course you’re in a kick return yardage league, which is dumb.
Russell Wilson remains a low-ceiling QB1, considering he’s thrown the ball just 393 and 407 in his rookie and sophomore seasons respectively. The fact that Wilson should flirt with 100 carries 500 rushing yards and 3-5 rushing touchdowns is the only thing keeping his name out of the QB2 conversation. Jermaine remains a guy to keep an eye on taking over as the Z receiver in 3-wide sets, 4 of his 22 receptions last year went to touchdowns, he also caught touchdowns in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. His stand alone value is there but capped by lack of volume, although if Harvin or Baldwin were to go down, the 6’1″ 210 pound 24 year old could be in for a breakout season being an every down receiver.
The San Francisco 49ers are a team that also does not intrigue me much from a fantasy perspective. Except for Colin Kaepernick, and he was even one of the more disappointing quarterbacks in all of football last year, speaking in fantasy terms. After putting on the performance of a lifetime against Green Bay in the 2012 playoffs, and then opening the 2013 season against those same Packers, lighting them up again to the tune of 412 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 of 39 passing – Kaepernick was on his way to Canton. And then… ugh. He failed to throw over 200 yards in his next four games, completing under 50% of his passes in 3 out of 4 of those games while throwing 4 interceptions and contributing very little with his legs. He ended up righting the ship a bit and took the Niners to the NFC Championship game while posting very Russell Wilson-esque regular season line. Still what sets Kaepernick apart, and frankly puts him above Russell Wilson is his massive arm strength and gazelle-like break-away speed, which makes him a threat to score from any part of the field at any point in any game. Any. The guy has a gear that a lot of players – not quarterbacks… players – just do not have. Throw in the anomaly of Stevie Johnson, a hopefully full-time Michael Crabtree and their brand new toy from Columbus, you have Colin Kaepernick as a steal as his current ADP projects him as the 10th QB off the board in most drafts.
As for San Francisco’s new toy from Columbus, I am referring to the young man Carlos Hyde. The Niners have made no bones about their plan to scale back Frank Gore‘s carries this year, going as far as putting a number to it. Bill Williamson reported from Niners camp that they plan to shave off about 50 carries from Gore’s regular workload, putting him right at that 220-230 mark, leaving Hyde to pick up that work considering he and Jewel Hampton are the only other healthy running backs on the depth chart as it is currently constituted.
San Francisco has been weary of Gore and his age even though he has played all 16 regular season games the past 3 seasons. This is evident because they have spent round 4 or higher draft picks on running backs the past four years – Hunter, James, Lattimore, and Hyde in that order – what sets Hyde apart from the others is that he a legit feature back at 6′ and 235 lbs. While he will serve primarily as Gore’s handcuff in most formats, Hunter being lost for the year and James missing 4-6 weeks makes Hyde’s standalone upside higher than anyone else available at his current 10th round ADP. You do not have to have Frank Gore in order to draft this kid.
What do ya say we stop in St. Louis for a cup of coffee…?
Not much to see here kids. As I continue to write this column I’m finding it less and less sensible to have started with the super boing NFC West. Oh well, I’m not turning back now and please allow me to quote the great Kumar of White Castle, “We’ve come too far.”
I’m only going to touch on a couple players here because for me the Ram’s offense as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. The star of the show is Zac Stacy. The Rams RB situation was a muddled one at this time of the year last year and quite frankly one to avoid in St. Louis’ quest to find Steven Jackson’s successor. With Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham, and Zac Stacy all seeing first team work and failing to stand out one way or the other. The picture became clearer week five against Jacksonville when Stacy received 14 carries after handling a total of 1 in the previous four weeks combined. He ran aggressively and decisively for 78 yards behind an improved but still very confused offensive line. Stacy did pretty much the exact same thing the following week in Houston and after catching a ball in the flat and converting it into his first NFL touchdown week seven against a stout Carolina Panthers defense, Stacy was ready to make a name for himself.
The next four weeks, Stacy compiled 91 carries for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also snatching 10 grabs for 62 yards. He continued to run the ball effectively for the rest of the year despite playing through a host of injuries and is locked in as a 3 down back for St. Louis and a high end RB2 in 2014. The offensive line is still a bit of a cause for concern for Stacy but he didn’t have much trouble running through it last season and you also have to wonder about the front offices confidence in him given that they selected Auburn star Tre Mason in last mays draft but he apparently has a long ways to go and is buried behind Cunningham on the depth chart. The job is Stacy’s and I expect him to prove that he deserves it this year, if he already hadn’t.
Now before we head to the desert I simply have to talk a little bit about Kenny Britt. With a new knee, new team, old friend and old cuts Kenny Britt could be one of the candidates for fantasy’s bounce back player of the year award – if such an award existed, of course. Britt has fled the seemingly toxic situation in Tennessee and rejoined his old coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and apparently looks as good as he ever has. At 6’3” 223 pounds and still only 25 years old, Kenny Britt’s routes at Ram’s camp has looked crisp, his cuts have been quick and very strong, he looks like the player that got off to a insanely hot start in 2011 posting lines of 5-136-2 and 9-135-1 in the first two games with Fisher before tearing his ACL. If Britt can get back to even within shouting distance of that physical form where in which he was simply over powering and dominating every corner that dared to line up across from him, he can flirt with WR2 status, especially with such a lackluster group of wide outs competing for targets. There aren’t too many players in the 15th round that offer upside even close to Britt.
Now things get a little less boring…
The Arizona Cardinal’s position players are the ones that excite me most out of any in the NFC West, and quite frankly maybe in all of football. Let’s start at RB with Andre Ellington. Drafted in the 2013 draft out of Clemson, last year Ellington started primarily serving as a change of pace option for Rashard Mendenhall, playing mostly obvious passing situations and third downs – I threw “obvious” in there because using the term “passing situation” when in reference to a Bruce Arians coached offense is the epitome of ambiguity.
In weeks 1-7 Ellington totaled 28 carries and 20 receptions for 179 yards and 190 yards respectively, being used in that role. In seeing the explosiveness Ellington displayed in Dabo Sweeney’s high powered offense translate to the NFL seemingly without issue for him, the Arizona coaching staff then made an effort to guarantee they got the ball in to Ellington’s hand in the form of more carries. After Exploding in week 8 for 154 yards on 15 carries, Ellington continued to handle about 10-12 carries a game from there on out on his way to 118-652-3 and 39-371-1 rookie lines, averaging 5.5 yards for carry and 9.5 yards per reception. Oh yeah, and without losing a fumble. With Rashard Mendenhall out of the picture, a somewhat improved offensive line and 8-10 more pounds packed on to his 5’ 9” frame, Ellington should be in store for close to a full workload right around 200 carries and 65 catches in a pass-happy offense. Bruce Arians’ “bell cow” is screaming up draft boards, and with good reason.
Another guy I look to benefit greatly from Arians’ aerial attack is 3rd year wide out Michael Floyd. We’ve all heard it by now that Floyd is turning heads left and right at Cardinals camp and has been the unequivocal standout star thus far. With Andre Roberts off to D.C., Floyd becomes the unquestioned number two option for Carson Palmer leaving Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie Jaron Brown duking it out for reps in three wide receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald figures to play a lot of slot and work underneath the coverage, coverage that Ginn has the ability to blow the top off allowing more room to work on those short and intermediate passing routes, leaving Floyd in my mind to play somewhat of a featured role in this offense, with Ginn and Fitzgerald working primarily as specialists. At 6’ 2” and 220 pounds Floyd has shown incredible strength and superior high-pointing ability in the two years he has been in the league and I believe the stars are aligned this season for Floyd breakout. He is firmly in the cream of all the WR2s and given his stature, talent, and assumed volume, he is likely to produce as a WR1.
That’s it, that’s the NFC West and its impact on Fantasy Football. To see the all of the conference Fantasy Football Forecasts, check out my author profile!
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