Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
Here is Part Four of my Eight Part Series: the AFC West. Make sure to check back for Part Five-Eight as I cover the details of all 32 teams over the course of the next several days. Also check out:
The biggest loss for the Broncos this offseason was the team letting WR Eric Decker go and find a starting job elsewhere, which he did when he signed a five-year with the Jets. The deal is worth $36.25 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. However, will the loss make that much of an impact?
The team still has plenty of offensive ammunition in the form of WRs Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, with TE Julius Thomas expected to be more prominent in the offense. Even though this figures to be Welker's last year, he should still be counted on as a borderline WR2/WR3 in PPR leagues. Thomas, who is playing on the last year of his deal, is a true WR1 who could finish with top-5 receiver numbers. Thomas is a low-end TE1, and a strong value pick while others pick up guys like Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis before him. Whether Thomas can be consistent is the main question.
The team's loss of Decker also shouldn't be a hindrance due to the signing of former Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders, who received a three-year, $15 million pact back on March 15th. While Sanders never fully reached his potential as the starter in Pittsburgh last year, that should change with Peyton Manning at the helm. Sanders is a WR3 with some upside. The team also drafted Indiana WR Cody Latimer with the No. 56 overall pick, but there has been mixed news whether or not he will be rushed into competition coming off foot surgery. Latimer will be a mid-tier first rounder in dynasty leagues and could see some work as the season progresses. Although dynasty owners shouldn't expect much out of his first year.
Speaking of Manning; Owners breathed a sigh of relief after he received a clean bill of health from doctors following a neck exam during the winter. That's great news for fantasy football owners, but is he still worth a first-round pick? See what Andy Schmidt has to say about Manning's fantasy value for 2014.
Rounding out the Broncos, the backfield gets a makeover after Knowshon Moreno jumped ship and signed with the Dolphins to compete with RB Lamar Miller. Montee Ball is slated to be the starter after the team failed to draft competition in the draft and failed to sign true competition in free agency. As the bellcow of the backfield, Ball's value is creeping into high-end RB2 value, but he could be a sleeper RB1 right before the start of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs
QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs are embroiled in deep discussions regarding a new contract, but talks are said to be "almost nonexistent" due to Smith looking for "top-tier" quarterback money. Smith is coming off his best season yet after floundering in San Francisco, but the Chiefs would be wise to let Smith play out the last year of his deal and make him prove last year was no fluke. In terms of fantasy relevance, I still don't see Smith as anything more than a QB2 at best. He threw four scores in Weeks One and Two of last season, but only mustered five in the next seven games. He's a better NFL quarterback than in fantasy football as he could continue to deal with consistency issues.
The running back corps didn't see any major changes, which is good considering just how well Jamaal Charles played last year (he racked up 19 total touchdowns). Reid has gone on record as saying the team will lighten Charles' workload slightly, but he's still a top-3 fantasy running back in both PPR and non-PPR leagues. Charles IS the KC offense. That won't change this season. Backup Knile Davis appears to be this year's top handcuff.
The team failed to upgrade the No. 2 spot across from Dwayne Bowe, whose catches (57) and receiving yards (673) dipped from the year before. It appears that Reid has taken his "receivers don't matter much" attitude with him to Kansas City. Don't count on Bowe to bounce back in a big way, making him a make-or-break WR3. Donnie Avery, who was a candidate for release back in March, appears to have a very soft hold on the No. 2 spot. WR A.J. Jenkins will compete for snaps, but is off the fantasy radar completely.
I had written a fantasy sleeper piece on TE Travis Kelce back in April, but I may have put the cart before the horse on that one. Kelce is still rehabbing from microfracture surgery on his knee from October and has yet to receive a timetable for a return. There is still fantasy value there, but Kelce is better off as a stash-away TE2 until we see how he looks in training camp.
The Raiders made two big changes at quarterback by acquiring former Texans QB Matt Schaub as "the bridge" until second-round QB Derek Carr is ready to be the starter. Carr, drafted with the 36th overall pick, is a project as he needs his mechanics worked on and struggles under pressure. Still, Carr was the top prospect left on the Raiders' draft board, so he should see some starts either at the end of this year or in 2015. Schaub is about as low as you can get in regards to a QB2, while he could be passed over completely in many drafts.
A past weakness, the running back corps could now be the team's biggest strength after re-signing RB Darren McFadden to a one-year deal and bringing in long-time Jaguar RB Maurice Jones-Drew on a three-year deal. With both players sharing the backfield, despite DMC reportedly being named the Week One starter, this could be one of the backfields that I would avoid in all drafts this summer. Both are expected to be used. How evenly is the big question. Since both offer running and pass-catching ability, neither should be picked up as anything more than a flex option unless one suffers an injury midseason. This is going to be a battle to keep an eye on in training camp and the first few weeks of the regular season.
There is talent at the receiver position, but none of the guys on the current roster can be considered one of the NFL's true No. 1 wideouts. The team signed James Jones to a three-year deal, but he is far from looking like a true go-to guy. He's currently penciled in as one of the team's starters and should keep the job going into Week One. Fantasy-wise, I really don't envision Jones breaking any career highs from when he was with the Packers by a big stretch. In his Green Bay days, his best season came in 2012 where he caught 14 touchdowns. But that year, he only racked up 784 receiving yards. While I don't see 14 scores in 2014, 8-10 is attainable. Schaub is nowhere near an upgrade over QB Aaron Rodgers, but he is better than anything the Raiders had last year. Jones should also see enough targets that a WR3 ranking isn't a stretch, but don't consider a 1200-1300 yard season in Jones' future.
As far as the rest of the receiving group; Denarius Moore was rumored to be on the trade block if the team had drafted (Bills) WR Sammy Watkins. Since that never happened, he's lightly penciled in as the No. 2. Rod Streater could make it a battle. Moore has more athleticism, but Streater has shown more reliability. Because of that, neither Moore or Streater are worth anything more than a WR4. Behind Jones, the Raiders could spread the ball around a lot as former Browns WR Greg Little is also in the picture. Leave TEs David Ausberry and Mychal Rivera on the waiver wire.
San Diego Chargers
Named the Associate Press 2013 Comeback Player of the Year, QB Philip Rivers enjoyed an immensely successful bounce back season after racking up 4478 passing yards, five 300+ passing games and a 32:11 TD:INT ratio. Left for dead by many fantasy owners, Rivers' transformation can be credited to, now, second-year head coach Mike McCoy. At 32, and his mechanics back on track, Rivers is a slam-dunk QB1 heading into 2014. As long as the offense stays intact, Rivers should duplicate, or at least come close to, the numbers he saw last season.
The backfield saw a very small, but noticeable change for 2014. RB Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead are both the No. 1 and No. 2 backs respectively, but the team signed former Colts bust RB Donald Brown to a contract that reportedly contained $4 million guaranteed (??). This makes me question just how much Brown will be used, despite the report that Brown is only projected to see 5-10 touches per game. But because of Mathews' history with injuries, Brown could see a bump in that number. However, he is nothing more than a guy to keep tabs on on the waiver wire until injuries hit. 2013 was the first time Mathews had played in all sixteen games in one season, and it showed after accumulating 1255 rushing yards. However, because of the injury history and the presence of Woodhead, Mathews is no better than a mid-tier RB2. Woodhead was a PPR machine after reeling in career highs in catches with 76 and total touchdowns with 8. There is RB3/flex value there, but don't count on anything higher as long as Mathews can stay on the field.
With Danario Alexander now a distant memory, the Chargers will enter training camp with Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal as their top three wideouts. Allen broke out in his first year with 71 catches, 1046 and 8 touchdowns. The big question is whether he can match or break those numbers. According to a former NFL scout:
Scouts have been wrong about players before, but this is something to put in your fantasy notes if you're considering Allen this summer. He is currently slated as a WR2, but there is obviously some caution there.
As a Malcom Floyd owner in one dynasty league, you know what you get. A guy who will give you 700-800 receiving yards and 5-7 touchdowns. Floyd is worth a late-round flier, but his fantasy value had been capped years ago. Royal is worth passing on as a retread who offers nothing in the way of upside.
The biggest news in San Diego is the battle between TEs Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Gates has been the center of the Chargers' offense for the past 10 year, but we might now see a changing of the guard. With the athleticism of Green making coaches rethink their stance at the position, Gates is no longer a TE1 in any league format. Heck, I've seen him ranked as low as a mid-tier TE2 on some rankings. Gates is set to turn 34 in the middle of June and injuries have started rearing it's ugly head. Due a mere $5 million in base salary, Gates should remain the starter entering training camp. But how much work Green gets in is something that owners should be eying. Green is a 6'6/240 pound monster with 4.5 speed who can easily push Gates for work, or even push him out of the starting job completely. After being used mostly as a blocker in 2013, Greene's trainer said his biggest strides came in movement going in and out of breaks. If he can keep that up, the team has no choice but to use Green more in the passing game
While it's too early to say how much Green can gain from his playing time last season, his fantasy value is something all owners should keep tabs on as we enter the month of August. Currently one of our fantasy sleeper picks for 2014, this battle is the biggest of all in the AFC West.