The 2021 NFL season is rapidly approaching. This past off-season has flown by as free agency started off with a bang as Matthew Stafford was sent packing to the Los Angeles Rams. Even now, we’re still yet to see what will happen with All-Pros like Aaron Rodgers and Julio Jones.
The drama has been fantastic for fans all over the country. However, it’s almost time to play actual football again. Training camp is just a few months away and soon we’ll be evaluating preseason games with fervor. We’ll be profiling each of the divisions across the NFL for fantasy football impact and overall outlook.
Starting with the reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs, we’re going to look at every fantasy football-relevant player within the AFC West. Breaking down you should draft and what you should expect out of your investments can help swing your league. Finding the right outliers and avoiding big risks is the name of the game champions continually win.
Best Ball Sheet http://bit.ly/Donuts
Kansas City Chiefs
2020 record: 14-2
It goes without saying the Chiefs own one of the most explosive and dangerous offenses we’ve ever seen. The combination of Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce almost dragged an otherwise devastated unit to a Super Bowl last year. But offensive line injuries eventually surfaced against the Tampa Bay pass rush and the Chiefs fell short of repeating as champions.
A lot has changed since the end of the Super Bowl. The Chiefs completely overhauled the unit to help protect Mahomes and rebuild the running game. Swapping out mediocre and injured blockers for a set of fresh bodies and skill sets can redefine this offense.
The pass-blocking skill has massively improved with Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Austin Blythe, and Kyle Long as options for the line. There’s actual depth with Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in the fold. The only position of concern is right tackle but one weak spot won’t ruin their season.
The receiving corps remains top-heavy with Hill and Kelce headlining as first-round draft picks. Mahomes is also the top quarterback by over one-round. It’s clearly a unit with high expectations. There’s room for another playmaker to emerge at receiver with Sammy Watkins gone but not an immediate answer as to who fills his role.
Mecole Hardman is more of a speed threat than an actual useful receiver and I think that means Cornell Powell ends up taking the third receiver job. Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle lack consistency and separation ability. It’s actually surprising the Chiefs didn’t invest more into the position this off-season instead of building such crazy depth along the offensive line.
Mahomes will help make up for some of the talent deficit and Reid certainly has experience making useful offenses without a plethora of receivers. But the fantasy community is correctly identifying a lack of clarity beyond the obvious stars. Take Cornell late if you want a potential stud towards the end of the season who can flex into your lineup in a crunch but know he may also prove to be a complete dud.
The running back position is most interesting to me. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and LeVeon Bell utterly disappointed last year after a hot start as the line crumbled. CEH is a third-round pick right now after producing 1,100 total yards in 13 games, but he had only five touchdowns.
It’s a huge concern CEH basically had one fantasy-relevant game after his Week 6 explosion. Some of this was due to his health since he missed three games, and then the line’s health deteriorated. But he’s clearly not a transformative back who can excel above the pieces around him. That’s okay as long as this iteration of the offensive line actually works as planned.
The Chiefs are rightfully on the throne in the AFC and although there’s certainly quality competition, this is a loaded roster. Their defense should again be close to a top-10 unit if engaged weekly and their upside is far above anyone else’s in the conference except Baltimore.
Los Angeles Chargers
2020 record: 7-9
One of the huge winners of the off-season was the Chargers. Already stacked with quality playmakers and young quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers had one clear task: protect Herbert with better blockers. The team was able to land three starters in Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, and Matt Feiler. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is a solid presence in place, and left guard will have a competition between Oday Aboushi and Brenden Jaimes.
The offense just needs to stay healthy. There’s virtually no depth on the unit but the starters are excellent. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jared Cook and Austin Ekeler is an efficient dream. Herbert will need to push the ball downfield more than he did last year in order to keep the unit effective and not just about the highlights.
Rookie Josh Palmer is the one to watch here in that area. Williams has a troubled injury history and failed to really click with Herbert last year despite the need for the deep ball. He could breakout as he’s on his fifth-year option or the team could transition to Palmer if the chemistry just doesn’t happen.
Watch Palmer on the waiver wire for now. Williams is a good value as a 10th-round pick, and we’re hoping he replicates his 2019 numbers and not 2020 regression. Herbert has to trust the jump-ball artist.
Allen and Ekeler are the most valued assets. Allen, as a third-round pick, has been the model of consistency since 2017. He failed to hit 1,000 yards last year as he missed a couple games, but had eight scores to make up for it. Like Williams, Allen will benefit from Herbert being more aggressive and attacking more downfield windows.
Ekeler remains an efficiency kingbut the 26-year-old has yet to do it for a full season as a runner and receiver. His 2019 campaign featured 557 rushing yards and a whopping 993 receiving yards. But in 10 games last year he didn’t even match his receiving yards with his total production.
I think he’s a tad overrated as a high second-rounder. His durability hasn’t been tested, and is likely a better tandem back. The Chargers will continue to give Joshua Kelly and Justin Jackson touches whether we like it or not.
This team can compete for a Wild Card spot. The defense is good and is similar to the offense as far as lacking depth. Losing Casey Hayward was a bad move and the depth and linebacker is a concern. Denver can overtake them if the Broncos get any competence from the quarterback position.
2020 record: 5-11
The Denver Broncos are a sleeping giant of a roster entering 2021. The offense boasts a terrific set of young receivers, quality backfield with depth, an up-and-coming tight end, and at least average offensive line that can ascend with development.
The defense is loaded with playmakers after a quick remake this off-season. Re-adding Von Miller and Bradley Chubb off injury will help significantly. The secondary will take a huge leap with Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain, and Ronald Darby in the mix.
Of course the big question is at quarterback. Drew Lock stunk last year and his lack of success completely tanked the team’s chances at being more than a bothersome presence. This has to be fixed.
Either Lock will take the step, be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, or the Broncos pull off the miracle with Aaron Rodgers. It’s difficult to project how to value Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy, and even the backs without knowing who will line up under center. The good news is none of these players except Melvin Gordon is being taken high enough to get burned by. Gordon isn’t the player from this playmaker corps to draft considering his age and new competition with Javonte Williams.
Bridgewater is the better pocket passer and presence over Lock. The Panthers produced a quality offense with him at the helm, including two 1,000-yard receivers and a third playmaker over 1,000 total yards. There’s no reason outside of scheme limitations the Broncos can’t replicate that.
But Teddy isn’t fantasy relevant if he can’t reach 25 touchdowns. And the Broncos likely won’t win beyond Wild Card competition unless his scoring passes don’t increase. Which is why the Broncos remain in the Rodgers chase.
Landing Rodgers would completely change the AFC. The Broncos would provide Rodgers an unprecedented amount of support. I’d value Rodgers as a top-three fantasy quarterback and give a two-round boost to every receiver getting drafted. He makes everyone’s life that much easier.
Jeudy is the prospect most likely to prosper without Lock. Targeted over 100 times by Lock, a vast majority of the difference between targets and his 52 receptions can be attributed to bad accuracy. Bridgewater and Rodgers won’t have that same inefficiency issue.
I’m buying this offense, not in hopes that Rodgers actually happens, but rather the other ingredients can succeed with a stable presence like Teddy.
Las Vegas Raiders
2020 record: 8-8
The most troubled team in the division is the Las Vegas Raiders. Years of poor drafting on defense has led to issues along the front seven. The secondary has more talent in it now, but there’s still a lot left to be proven even as Gus Bradley has taken over the unit.
The good news is defensive talent was added. Casey Hayward, Trevon Moehrig, Quinton Jefferson, and Yannick Ngakoue are absolute upgrades that’ll pay off immediately. But the offense still has a lot of questions as to whether they can do enough to make it work with an average defense.
The good news is Derek Carr progressed finally in 2020 as an impactful passer. His play under pressure and out of structure took a leap, and he’s firmly above-average entering the year. The 30-year-old could be having his Ryan Tannehill growth and boost this team even more.
Losing Nelson Agholor might hurt but maybe not as badly as expected. Darren Waller returns as a prominent fantasy threat and elite tight end. He’s unguardable with his athleticism and versatility.
Agholor was a big-play threat but also unreliable. If healthy, John Brown is at least as good and more well-rounded. If Brown can play 14 games or more, the Raiders’ offense has a chance to be much more balanced and efficient.
The trickle-down effect can quickly help the unit. Getting Bryan Edwards for a full season adds a legitimate big-body rotational receiver. Edwards had some great tape at South Carolina, but Carr hasn’t thrived with a similar archetype in the past, so this will be a learning experience.
And then there’s the enigma of Henry Ruggs. Ruggs has a 12th-round ADP despite compiling just 452 yards on 26 receptions. His speed was much less of a factor because he struggled to track passes and run crisp, intentional routes.
There needs to be second-year growth from Ruggs or else he’ll be relegated to a gadget player. Jon Gruden already prefers bigger formations to spread sets, meaning there’s less snaps to go around for anyone not on the boundary. I’m not optimistic about Ruggs working out in 2021.
Running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake are an interesting case. Jacobs will get the volume to justify his second-round value but the Raiders’ rebuilt offensive line doesn’t offer promise his efficiency will improve. That means he tops out as a second or third back instead of a star producer even if he had 12 touchdowns in 2020.
I’d buy Jacobs but sell Drake. Drake will serve as an expensive receiving threat barring a Jacobs injury. He should be a flex option at best unless he gets promoted. Vegas simply hasn’t utilized a running back as a major receiving threat that helps a fantasy team with their current regime.
There’s not a huge upside with this team for the entire season. Waller and Jacobs are big-time targets and Carr is a viable fantasy starter. But the wins and losses won’t flow for this roster as currently constructed.
Image courtesy of David Eulitt/Getty Images
You must log in to post a comment.