32 Fantasy Questions: Western Divisions
What is the key fantasy football question for each NFL team? Pat Thorman examines the AFC and NFC West.
32 Fantasy Questions: Western Divisions
While plenty of time remains before training camps open, the draft is in the rear-view mirror and basic roster structure is formed. Before things really start to pick up, let’s take a spin around the league and ask one pertinent fantasy question for each team. For fun, I will add my best guesses, which, in most cases will be safe to ignore in about a month. Without further ado, it’s time to look West.
Arizona Cardinals – Can Carson Palmer regain his pre-injury form and ignite the passing game?
When he’s had a clean pocket during his time in Arizona, Palmer is a 71.2-percent passer with a 30-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If he can get comfortable behind their rebuilt offensive line, the fantasy value of multiple receivers can be unlocked. In the six weeks he started games in 2014, Palmer was the eighth-best quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald was the No. 16 wide receiver, and John Brown was the No. 28 wide receiver. A healthy season from Palmer would also allow Michael Floyd to bounce back.
Best Guess: Absolutely. Rumors of a run-heavy attack look overblown. They have two pass-catching running backs, threw it in the red zone the second-most of any offense, and, without Palmer, their top three wideouts ranked 90th, 91st, and 92nd (out of 92) in percentage of targets that were catchable.
Denver Broncos – We knew Emmanuel Sanders would regress, but what do his quotes mean for Peyton Manning?
In 2013, while hurrying-up to the most plays in the league and throwing on 60 percent of snaps, Manning was fantasy’s No. 1 quarterback. He led in attempts, yards and touchdowns. Through 11 weeks of 2014, while passing on 64 percent of snaps, he was the No. 2 quarterback—ranking first in touchdowns, second in yards, and fourth in attempts. After their Week 11 debacle in St. Louis, Denver passed only 50 percent of the time and dialed down their no-huddle. Manning was the No. 26 quarterback, while ranking 11th in touchdowns and 16th in both yards and attempts.
Best Guess: While Manning wasn’t volume-dependent—and he did suffer a Week 15 quad injury—his stats were volume-enhanced. More handing-off for an aging passer who spent 74.9 percent of the last two years in the shotgun, in addition to fewer no-huddle snaps, isn’t the recipe for a resounding statistical rebound.
Kansas City Chiefs – Should we just ignore this year’s wave of “Alex Smith is undervalued” articles?
Smith was generally selected as the No. 20 quarterback last season, and that’s exactly where he ended up—the insomnia cure was free of charge. This year, he’s going decidedly later than that, while his outlook appears brighter. Justin Winn spelled out a compelling case for Smith last week over at RotoViz, and I couldn’t agree more. His pass-catching weapons left a lot to be desired and have been universally upgraded—not the least of which is a fully-operational Travis Kelce and likely the best wideout of Smith’s career in Jeremy Maclin.
Best Guess: Nope. In a post-draft look at how a handful of passing games were impacted, I noted how 2014 was the run-heaviest offense Andy Reid oversaw in more than a decade. To his credit, he didn’t force the issue with sub-par receivers at his disposal. Expect a statistical uptick for Smith.
Oakland Raiders – Is the line the most exciting thing about this offense?
They replaced PFF’s 22nd-ranked center with the third-best in Rodney Hudson. Austin Howard is shifting back to his natural tackle spot, after rebounding from a brutal first nine games in Oakland (-18.1) with a strong next seven (+5.3). He’ll bookend Donald Penn, who ranked seventh out of 84 tackles last year. Second-year guard Gabe Jackson (+3.7) had a solid career start, and rookie Jon Feliciano has a shot to win the right guard role. While it’s faint praise, this has the makings of the best offensive line Oakland has deployed in years.
Best Guess: No, but it’s close. Derek Carr’s touchdown-to-interception ratio clouded his putrid season. Amari Cooper may be a “good fit for Carr’s style,” but it’s not really a good landing spot. Latavius Murray’s 3.2 yards before contact per attempt ranked second out of 90 backs. His run-committed coaching staff (and improved line) should excite us the most.
St. Louis Rams – Will the addition of Nick Foles help or hurt the Rams pass catchers?
Foles led the league in deep ball attempt percentage each of the last two years. No Rams quarterback was in the top 10, and Sam Bradford ranked 37th in 2013. Of course, Foles ranked 31st in Accuracy Percentage in 2013, and only Jordan Matthews (72.3) saw catchable balls on more than 70 percent of his targets last year. Maclin (56.3), Zach Ertz (65.0), and Brent Celek (68.2) were close to the bottom of their respective lists in the metric. Of the most-targeted Rams wideouts, only Kenny Britt was below 70 percent last year.
Best Guess: Volume-dependent receivers, already fighting an uphill battle in a run-based offense, will be hurt by a scatter-shot passer. Brian Quick and Britt, both of whom ranked in the top 25 in deep target percentage, finally get a quarterback willing to go downfield. Current ADP is a fair representation of appropriate expectations.
San Diego Chargers – What kind of attack plan will we see from the Chargers?
In 2013, Mike McCoy’s team chucked the ball around, ran some no-huddle, and promptly got off to a 5-7 start. Then they famously deployed a ball-control offense to grind out a 5-1 finish, including a road playoff win. San Diego picked up where they left off, protecting their defense and ripping off a 5-1 start to 2014 before the wheels fell off. They struggled to a 4-6 finish and got away from McCoy’s ideal recipe, which was used during the middle 12 games of his tenure (we’ll call that the “Optimal” plan below).
|Game Plan||Record||Rush %||Rush Att/Game||Pass %||Pass Att/Game|
Best Guess: With a (theoretically) improved defense, a (potential) foundation back, and a (no doubt) wall of maulers blocking, it’s a safe bet that McCoy will aim for the plan that earned him a 10-2 record. That’s good news for Philip Rivers’ efficiency and Melvin Gordon’s volume. It’s bad news for opponents, who ran more than five fewer plays per game during the “optimal” stretch.
San Francisco 49ers – Will their fantasy season match their offseason on the Flaming Dumpster Scale?
Numerous departures, including their head coach, could lead to a meltdown. That much is obvious, and it has depressed their players’ cost. Colin Kaepernick, last season’s No. 15 quarterback (and 2013’s No. 10 quarterback), is getting picked in the 12th round—as the No. 16 quarterback—over the past two weeks. Anquan Boldin was the PPR No. 19 receiver last year and is going in the ninth round (No. 44 receiver). Torrey Smith’s ADP is holding steady in the late-seventh round, but Carlos Hyde’s has slipped to the late-third. Vernon Davis is essentially free, if you want him. If nothing else, it’s cheap to wade into these fantasy waters.
Best Guess: There is enough value here, especially with Kaepernick and Boldin, to not completely write them off. The line remains a strength if Brandon Thomas does a decent Mike Iupati impression. While the defense is in flux, and negative game flow hurts Hyde’s volume, it would raise their meager pass attempts total (29th-most).
Seattle Seahawks – Will an increased emphasis on the passing game hurt Marshawn Lynch’s production?
Among top-50 PPR running backs, Lynch derived the fourth-highest percentage of his points from touchdowns, and Jimmy Graham will absorb some of his red zone work. Yet Lynch still ranked fourth at his position in non-touchdown fantasy points, and a more prolific passing attack should benefit everyone. Lynch’s targets and receptions rose in each of the last two seasons, and both totals were the most since 2008. He also received PFF’s second-highest rushing grade on a per-snap basis of any back with at least 200 snaps.
Best Guess: Not very much, if at all. While Russell Wilson will throw more as he develops, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a history of low passing percentages. His Vikings did throw on 56.9 percent of snaps the season before they drafted Adrian Peterson—and then dropped to 48.8 percent. Despite a certain late-game play call, Bevell knows where his bread is buttered.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman