Since @DFF_MattK and I have gone through 6- of the 8-divisions in the NFL, my final piece in this series will feature the AFC West. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the sleepers and the players to avoid in this division.
To start in Denver, I will be breaking my cardinal rule which is listing a rookie as a sleeper, that rookie is Jake Butt. He was drafted in the 5th round with the 145th pick of the draft and was a really nice pick-up for Denver. The 6’6” tight end out of Michigan was being highly touted by some to go in the early rounds of this year’s draft, but unfortunately tore his ACL during Michigan’s ‘Orange Bowl’ game against Florida State in December.
Reports coming out of Denver suggest that the coaching staff strongly believe that Butt could be a solid all round tight end. When I look at his tape, I can’t help but notice that he gets beaten a lot when blocking. However, if you are reading this, then chances are you play fantasy football and honestly couldn’t care less how bad they are as blockers as you are all about how they play as a receiver. Ultimately, Butt is big, strong and at only 22 years old he has time to learn. So with NFL level coaching, he could develop into a good blocker and be the all-around tight end that Denver is looking for. During his 4 years at Michigan, Butt was Speight’s go-to guy. He was a reliable ‘chain-mover’ who averaged 11.6 yards per reception (off 118 receptions) but only managed 11 touchdowns across his college career. So how does he fit into Denver’s offense? Well at the moment, Denver currently has Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and AJ Derby on their depth chart. None of these are reliable receiving options. Using Virgil Green as an example, he has never had more than 30 fantasy points in a season in his 6 years in the league. Denver has been crying out for a receiving tight end ever since they lost Julius Thomas. I believe they now have the answer.
I will be looking to avoid Trevor Siemian in Denver’s offense this year. Truth be told, he didn’t do a bad job last season for Denver. He threw for 3,401 yards and 18 touchdowns, but missed two games (week 5 vs Atlanta and week 13 vs Jacksonville). He was the 26th best quarterback last year (in standard scoring) finishing the season with 191.70 points, just behind Colin Kaepernick (who currently can’t get a job in the NFL). Granted, it was Siemian’s first season as a starter in the NFL so he has plenty of room for improvement, but I am looking to avoid him for one reason, and that is Paxton Lynch. Ultimately, you don’t take a quarterback with the 26th pick of the draft if you don’t see him as your future starter. I can honestly see Siemian being Denver’s starting quarterback come week one of the season. But suggesting Lynch is developing as well as the back office wants him to, Siemian is only one or two ‘below par’ games away from being benched.
It is no secret that Shane Ray is a huge talent. Going into his 3rd season in the league, he has managed to avoid being forgotten on a defense that has TJ Ward, Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, et al. Last season, despite only making 8 starts, Ray managed to get 8 sacks, 33 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries (one of which got returned for a touchdown). This all equated to him being the 47th highest scoring linebacker on fantasy points with 98.25. Shane Ray will be a starter at OLB next year as a result of Demarcus Ware’s retirement and should be in for a huge breakout season. He is incredibly quick off the snap and has a great ‘footballing brain’ allowing him to read the play and react. You should be able to grab him in the late rounds of an IDP draft which will work out as an absolute steal for you as he improves on last season and really announces himself to the league.
Kansas City Chiefs
Looking at the Chiefs, I am going to combine my player to avoid with my sleeper. Kareem Hunt seems to have landed in an ideal scenario in Kansas City. He is competing with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West for snaps and in my opinion, he outclasses both. His draft stock took a huge hit due to his 2015 season where he was suspended for the first two games for “violating team rules” and spent the rest of the season picking up injuries. He still managed to put together 973 yards on 178 carries, including 12 touchdowns. As a result, he dropped to the 3rd round of the draft and fell to Kansas City. His receiving game really came together in the 2016 season when he made 41 receptions for 403 yards but only the 1 touchdown which was more than the previous three seasons combined. Spencer Ware started in 14 games last season and accrued 922 yards for 3 touchdowns. Ultimately, Ware was brought in as Jamaal Charles’ backup and a pass-catching back. To his credit, Ware hauled in 33 receptions for 447 yards last year showing he is a capable receiving back.
With a rookie running back and two ‘above average’ veterans, it is tough to make an argument for which one should be “the guy”. I base my opinion here purely on who I believe to have more talent, so in this year’s fantasy drafts I would be letting somebody else reach for Spencer Ware while I sit and take Kareem Hunt in the later rounds. I strongly believe Hunt has the talent to out-play Ware and take the starting job from him.
The Chiefs have a really solid group on defense, so it is pretty tough to pick a sleeper among the group. But I will be looking at DJ Alexander to have a breakout year in 2017. The Chiefs have had Mr. Consistent in Derrick Johnson putting up solid fantasy numbers over the last 12 years (with the exception of 2014 when he suffered a torn Achilles in week 1). Johnson then repeated this injury toward the back-end of last season, leaving talks of potential retirement with him now being 34 years old. Now it is more likely that Johnson will be the Chiefs starter come week 1; however, you have to wonder how much time he will spend off the field, giving opportunities to other players to showcase their talents. This is where Alexander comes in. Going into his third season, Alexander is yet to do anything in the NFL, accruing only 17.50 fantasy points in his first two seasons. But with Johnson not getting any younger, there is every chance that Alexander could step in this season and announce himself to the NFL. I wouldn’t be reaching for him in fantasy drafts, but if you have room to stash him then he may turn out to be a shrewd pick-up. [EDITOR’S NOTE: DJ Alexander was recently traded to the Seattle Seahawks]
The Raiders are sneakily strong at running back this year. They have Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, 7th round rookie out of North Carolina Elijah Hood, Taiwan Jones and some old guy that likes Skittles. My pick of these is going to be Jalen Richard. Last years undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi was surprisingly useful in fantasy football, finishing the season with 86.60 points. Now that Latavius Murray is out of the picture following his move to the Vikings, Richard should have more opportunities.
Now I get it, the Raiders ‘shook the world’ when they signed Marshawn Lynch and a lot of people started talking about the endless possibilities that ‘Beast Mode’ could bring. But let’s be real, Lynch hasn’t played football since week 10 of the 2015 season. There is no denying his talent, but he is not going to come out of retirement and be a bell cow in the Raiders’ offense. Richard is a capable receiver, hauling in 29 receptions from 39 targets last season so will be comfortable taking whatever opportunities are given to him. I can see the Raiders going with the dreaded ‘running back by committee’ approach, with Richard excelling. In deeper leagues, it is definitely worth having him on your roster, he isn’t going to get you David Johnson level points, but he could definitely put you some points up in the flex position and come up with a 170-190 point season.
I just can’t see how Cordarrelle Patterson is still valued highly by some. He was drafted in the first round back in 2013 with such high expectations coming out of Tennessee and only managed to sneak his way over a 100 point fantasy season once (his rookie year). There could be an argument for him that he is now in a new offense so could thrive with Derek Carr at quarterback, but he is competing with Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts and potentially Ishmael Zamora for targets. With Crabtree and Cooper taking the majority of this, I strongly suspect Patterson is going to be mainly used as a kick/punt returner. For that reason, I will be avoiding him.
There may be a bit of bias for my defensive selection. I will be going with a fellow Brit in Obi Melifonwu. The London born safety was a four-year starter at UCONN and was his teams’ top tackler in 2016 with 118 hits, leading the team with four interceptions. He stands at 6’4” and 224 lbs and backs that up with good speed, running the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.40 seconds. He also fits in well at free safety just behind the aging Reggie Nelson. Nelson has been a reliable fantasy option the last few years at Cincinnati and Oakland, but there is a steady decline in his numbers since 2014 as seen below.
With Nelson now at 33 years old, he is leaning toward the back end of his career with the only real competition at Oakland being Melifonwu. It is difficult to say that Melifonwu will steal Nelson’s position in the depth chart, but I expect him to definitely eat into his time on the field and get the opportunity to put up some solid fantasy numbers.
My sleeper pick for the Chargers is going to be based on price. Dontrelle Inman is a value pick. Before last season, he was never really given much of a chance, despite a 486-yard and 3-touchdown season in 2015 on 63 targets. Last year, he was the second best receiver in San Diego, finishing with 105 fantasy points (behind Tyrell Williams on 147.90). It is also good to look for the value in the Chargers receiving corps due to the injury problems to their top guy Keenan Allen and now a potential injury issue with first-round draft pick Mike Williams. Inman proved last year that Phil Rivers can rely on him and will continue to do so this year. He will be going very late in any drafts so is definitely worth a pick-up in deeper leagues. I will be using a similar theory with my player to avoid. Tyrell Williams is being severely over-hyped based on last year’s stellar performance. I am not saying that Williams is going to have a bad year following that, I just want to avoid him this year as I am not willing to pay the high price that some may demand for him.
Joey Bosa had a really strong first season with 10.50 sacks, 30 tackles (17.50 tackles for a loss) and 19 QB hits, ranking him 21st amongst all defensive lineman. I expect him to improve on that this season based on him not having any off-field drama. Last year, coming into the season Bosa was part of one of the most controversial rookie holdouts in recent years which brought a lot of negative attention his way. If he can perform the way he did last year off the back of the ‘off-field issues’ then I am interested to see what he can do without all the drama attached. Along with a lack of depth at the DE position for the Chargers, Joey Bosa should be on your IDP line-up going into this season and for the future.
That wraps up this ‘Dodgers and Sleepers’ series for the AFC. Keep a look out for @DFF_MattK as he gets stuck in the NFC West in the series finale. If you enjoyed this series (which I hope you did) then feel free to drop both @DFF_MattK and me (@DFF_JamesH) a follow on Twitter.
Links to previous articles in this series are available through the links below:
AFC West – (You are already there!)
NFC West – Coming soon!