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Go West Young Man: How the Gold Rush that is the NFC West May Pan Out

A must-read deep dive into the NFC West’s fantasy outlook in 2020.

By Jared Clifton

San Francisco 49ers

It was a magical season for the 49ers, that ended just one rough Mahomes/Williams led 4th quarter away from their 6th Super Bowl title. With top 5 squads on both offense and defense, there weren’t many holes on this NFC juggernaut and they come back just as strong, with minimal losses, two immediate first round starters drafted and Jimmy G with his first full year under his belt.  Kyle Shanahan has these 49ers poised for a long window of contention and are the clear favorites to repeat as NFC West champs.

Must Start: George Kittle (TE2), Raheem Mostert (RB25), Deebo Samuel (WR35/inj.)

Travis Kelce has been the fantasy leader at Tight End the past four seasons and this may be the year for Kittle to overtake him.  Kittle kept pace with Kelce last year, in two less games and is a full four years younger then Kelce. He averaged 7.6 targets per game in 2019; nearly a full target less than 2018 (8.4 p/g).  With Deebo Samuel out of action for at least the first few weeks, Emmanuel Sanders firmly in New Orleans and Brandon Aiyuk likely to take several weeks to pick up the Shanahan offense with the unique offseason situation, Kittle not only could be the top TE pass catcher, he could challenge any WR in the non-Michael Thomas division for tops in targets.

Matchup Based Start: Tevin Coleman (RB41), Brandon Aiyuk (WR66)

Coming from Arizona St., there maybe isn’t a rookie with the same YAC potential as Aiyuk, unless it’s an unknown prospect in Tibet.  The 49ers have struggled to find that consistent WR to take the top off the defense.  Injuries and drops have plagued the past few big play threats and Kyle Shanahan is hoping that with Samuel sidelined for a bit, Aiyuk can fill the shoes that Goodwin, James and Pettis haven’t been able to keep tied.

Flexually Active: Jerrick McKinnon (RB77)

Mostert. Coleman. Maybe even Wilson.  There are a lot of mouths to feed in an offense that hands the ball off nearly half the time.  It’s been two full seasons since he has been on the field, but if he can find a niche as the pass catching RB, then he very well could be a useful piece on a team that needs some big play potential.  That is, if he makes the roster.  He’d possibly catch on to a potentially better team situation, if he is cut.  Keep an eye on the transactions near training camp. 

Waivers/Streamers: Jimmy Garoppolo (QB21), Jeff Wilson (RB102), Jalen Hurd (WR92), Kendrick Bourne (WR111), Dante Pettis (WR115), Trent Taylor (WR130)

There a pair of former Volunteer pass catchers that could get work early on; Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings, but Jennings is likely buried on the depth chart for this year and Hurd, who is coming off an injury that kept him sidelined for his entire rookie campaign, has some draft capital as a former third round pick.  At 6’5”/226 lbs., he is a big target that the 49ers don’t have, outside Kittle.  He is a true possession receiver and isn’t going to blow past many defensive backs, but he has the body and sure enough hands to go up and get the ball.  That’s a potentially enticing trait for late season TD dependent dart throws. 

Sleepers: Dante Pettis

Pettis is the definition of a post-hype sleeper.  A player that fantasy gurus were a year early on. Coming off an impressive six week span to end the 2018 season, Pettis was, as the kiddos say these days, the new hotness.  His disappearing act in 2019 was frustrating, but not a death knell to his potential.  In an offense that averages less than 30 passes per game, it just takes a big game or two to tilt the target share back to his 2018 numbers.  He’s another one that doesn’t have a roster spot locked up, but there are targets to pick up in San Fran and he has shown the ability to be an efficient target in this offense before.

Must Stash: Salvon Ahmed (RB129), JaMycal Hasty (RB132), Jauan Jennings (WR)

While Salvon Ahmed is the more established collegiate runner, Hasty is the back that fits a niche that isn’t clearly attributable to the 4 backs ahead of him. He is an elusive small back, that showed good route running and good separation speed.  It may be a year or two before the RB room clears out enough to get his opportunity, but when he does, Shanahan may have his next Devonta Freeman.

Breakout: Raheem Mostert

I chose Mostert as my breakout prior to the news of his trade demand last week.  Stay tuned on how that may affect his standing in San Francisco or where he may land next.

Mostert is a divisive player this offseason. Some look at his increased usage and monster playoff run and see a potential league winning RB going in the 4th/5th rounds.  Others see the maddening RBBC in San Francisco that’ll see Mostert disappear in games that Coleman or McKinnon are more involved or even take on the entire load. I fall somewhere in between and that puts him as a solid RB2 by my count.  It is odd to see a breakout at age 28, but his journeyman career has provided a minimal wear and tear workload.  Shanahan showed a lot of trust in him, due to his elite blocking metrics and tops in the league breakaway run rate (% of carries of 15 yards or greater). Don’t reach too far and leave him behind backs like Conner, Gurley and Fournette, but feel confident in his usage this year and pull that trigger in round 4. 

Bust: Tevin Coleman 

Coleman’s massive week 8 game against Carolina, 13 touches/118 yards/4 TD’s, unequally colors his season for most fantasy players. His usage fell off significantly to end the year and while Matt Breida is now in Miami, his touches are more likely gobbled up by Mostert and a potentially healthy McKinnon. Tevin will have a few games throughout the year that he lands as an RB2, but I don’t want to be the Nostradamus that tries to figure out what weeks to put him in my lineup. There are better options at his ADP of late 8th.

Seattle Seahawks

Although the Pete Carroll led Seahwaks finished with an 11-5 record, good for an NFC WILD Card spot, the continued decline of their defense and uncharacteristic 50/50 split on their homefield left them two games back of the ascending 49ers and with more questions than answers on how to get back to West dominance enjoyed for much of the 2010’s. They still have the best QB in the division, at least for now, and enough weapons on offense to potentially overcome a subpar defense to make it back to the playoffs. 

Must Start: Russell Wilson (QB4), Chris Carson (RB14), Tyler Lockett (WR20), DK Metcalf (WR22)

Seven balls on the ground are the only thing that gives pause to an otherwise stellar 2019 campaign for Carson.  There aren’t many RB’s that can boast 20 plus carries per game, with top 5 finishes in breakaway runs and yards created. He has some competition for touches in new addition Carlos Hyde and currently injured Rashaad Penny, but Pete Carroll is loyal to his bellcow backs, as long as he can trust their ball security. So long as he can minimize those fumbles, he’s a Top 24 back, with Top 12 volume.

Matchup Based Start: Rashaad Penny (RB56/inj.)

Penny had started to finally show the promise and hype that had built around him, since the Seahawks used a 1st rounder on him in 2018.  Then he was hit with ACL and meniscus tears,that threaten to keep him out until near mid season. If he can return to full form, he should be at minimum a solid 2, to the 1-2 punch beginning with Carson.  There are plenty of RB touches to go around in the offense, to make him a viable FLEX most weeks and if Carson doesn’t curb his turnover woes, he could slot nicely as the number 1 punch.

Flexually Active: Carlos Hyde (RB62)

See analysis below

Waivers/Streamers: Phillip Dorsett (WR95), David Moore (WR103), Greg Olsen (TE23), Will Dissly (TE30), Jacob Hollister (TE36)

With the addition of longtime pass catching TE, Greg Olsen, and a spate of leg injuries over the past few years, Will Dissly is not being talked about as an integral part of this Seahawks offense. However, looking at his career numbers, he has caught a TD on nearly 20% (19.3%) of his catches.  That shows an innate ability to find the pylons and that is a trait that Russell Wilson has always relied on heavily. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but with an aging Olsen and more of a short yardage target in Jacob Hollister, there is ample opportunity for Dissly to return to a big play TE target with real TD upside.

Sleepers: Carlos Hyde

Much like Penny, if Carson were to lose Carroll’s trust, Hyde would be in a prime position to get a lot of volume early in the year.  He quietly had a Top 24 season in Houston last year and while he won’t add much as a receiver, he still has the red zone chops to rack up a decent number of easy goal line TD’s. His value does diminish if/when Penny comes back and if Carson is still the RB1 in Seattle, but if one or two things go his way, he has the opportunity to be a sneaky good RB2.

Must Stash: Deejay Dallas (RB90)

Dallas is a player that has good size and true playmaker ability.  His workload in college was pretty pedestrian, but his highlight tape shows a player that was not used to the full extent of his athletic ability. He’s a true stash, as he is buried for at least this year, but has a lot of the tools that Carroll has used in his backs, even going back to his days at USC.  He’s the perfect taxi squad hold.

Breakout: DK Metcalf

Metcalf is just one of those select players that is so fun to watch.  His athleticism appears effortless and seeing him matched up on undersized DBs is comical.  That said, we really only got to see one elite level showing in his rookie year and that was against an overmatched Tampa Bay secondary. His drops and catch rate held back the superstar potential for a receiver getting 100 targets.  At his Top 16 ranked yards per reception, shaving off just a few of his 8 drops and improving on a bottom third true catch rate, would have had him over 1000 yards and conceivably an even better TD total than 7.  This could be the season that his name is mentioned among the top tiers of WR, so feel free to snag him anywhere in the 4th or later.

Bust: Greg Olsen

Olsen’s body has let him down over the past few seasons and there is no indication that we won’t see a repeat of his injury trouble this year. Outside of a few years with Jimmy Graham, targets have never been given in bulk to Seattle TE’s, so injuries, coupled with a position that isn’t highly targeted spell a difficult season for Olsen owners.  It’d be easier to target the younger upside TE’s coming up, than it would to try to recapture points from years past. I’d eye Dissly over Olsen at a similar price.

Los Angeles Rams

The Super Bowl hangover hit Sean McVay and his Rams especially hard in 2019.  After being out coached and outmatched by the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the shine is a bit off McVay’s offensive genius moniker and the Rams limped to a non-playoff 9-7 season.  Gone are offensive mainstays Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks, as well as many regulars on the defensive side of the ball, and in is new running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson, to try to replicate those outgoing numbers.  The Rams have some ground to cover to keep up with the 49ers, Seahawks, and even ascending Cardinals, and will need their offense clicking near 2018 efficiency to get there. 

Must Start: Cooper Kupp (WR17), Robert Woods (WR19), Tyler Higbee (TE8)

It amazes me that such a heavily targeted WR, with top 10 yards after catch stats, struggles so mightily to get into the end zone, but that is likely what keeps Robert Woods from being mentioned with Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay and even his teammate Cooper Kupp. Three total touchdowns (one rushing) just isn’t normal for a receiver catching 90 balls. I’m betting on a return to 7+ TD’s in an offense that is missing Cooks and Gurley and a finish near the middle of the WR1’s.

Matchup Based Start: Cam Akers (RB28), Jared Goff (QB18)

After two straight top 10 fantasy finishes, Goff barely missed to finish as the QB13 in 2019. His TD rate dropped significantly, even with 64 more attempts.  All of his other counting stats were in line to his fantastic 2018 season, so the likelihood of positive TD regression remains high. Even with Gurley and Cooks gone, it seems counterintuitive to think that this 25 year old former 1st overall pick has seen his best football.  He remains a fantastic QB2 or Superflex option and his upside in an offense that is just a year removed from excellence, is going to be difficult to find in the later rounds where he is being drafted. 

Flexually Active: Darrell Henderson (RB48), Josh Reynolds (WR81)

Josh Reynolds largely disappeared in 2019, after several promising weeks as a fill in WR in 2018.  His FLEX appeal is dependent on opportunity in a high volume passing offense that runs 11 personnel nearly 7% of their offensive sets and could easily be snuffed out before it begins, if Van Jefferson emerges early as that hybrid third receiver. Reynolds has the size and speed to play on the outside, so he potentially makes a solid WR4/5 if the Rams get back to 2018 numbers.  The volume should be there.  Say tuned to see if he is the one that capitalizes on that. 

Waivers/Streamers: Malcolm Brown (RB58), Van Jefferson (WR104), Gerald Everett (TE28)

Brown isn’t going to provide any value in the passing game and is likely pigeonholed as a straight line goalline back, but Todd Gurley is leaving 58 rushing TD’s over the past 5 years and one of these running backs is going to be the recipient of a large share of the 132 red zone touches over the past two seasons.  Brown profiles as the back best suited to gain the majority of those high TD percentage carries.  That is likely his sole contribution, but in an offense that should see a lot of opportunities within the 20, he is worth keeping an eye on late. 

Sleepers: Gerald Everett

The Tyler Higbee truthers are out in full force, after an amazing end to the 2019 season and there is some justification for that.  However, Gerald Everett, the former 2nd rounder out of South Alabama, may be the better TE value for the Rams this year. Outside of the final 5 weeks where Higbee became Goff’s locked in target, Everett and his numbers were eerily similar.  There is a case with Cooks gone, that we could see more 12 personnel in LA and this could open up Everett to a snap share increase much greater than 2019’s 56.2%.  If that happens, Everett could go from undrafted to a very usable fill in or FLEX piece, especially in TE premium leagues.

Must Stash: John Kelly (RB126), Brycen Hopkins (TE62)

One just has to watch Hopkins’ highlight reel from Purdue, to see why the Rams spent a late 4th on a TE, when Higbee and Everett are still in place.  He’s a big bodied, fast TE that plays like a wide receiver. It may be too high of praise to compare him to a young Jimmy Graham, but I can’t help but see the mirror image in his play.  He’s probably a year away from being relevant, but that’s why they make taxi squads, right?

Breakout: Cam Akers 

Cam Akers is good.  Like, really good. That said, he isn’t Todd Gurley and that’s ok. Akers should immediately be the top back in LA and with that will come a different look for the Rams.  One that likely spreads touches out amongst their backs, to avoid a repeat of wearing out their top guy.  He runs best from shotgun formation and that could lead the Rams to move to a less under center set.  That could limit his TD potential near the goalline, but he’s in a good spot to exceed 1000 yards rushing and add a decent amount of work in the receiving game. Most people have CEH and Taylor as the best impact backs, but Akers should be in that conversation and is worth a reach in the 5th round of dynasty or redraft drafts. 

Bust: Darrell Henderson

There wasn’t much confidence in Henderson last year from the Rams coaching staff. While the math adds up to him receiving a decent portion of the load Gurley leaves behind, the fact that he was meant to be a spark plug and compliment to Gurley and was never given the opportunity, doesn’t bode well with Cam Akers and the more often used Malcolm Brown ahead of him. There is opportunity open in LA, but I’d rather take my chances with other young RB’s like Justin Jackson and Antonio Gibson that are being drafted around him.

Arizona Cardinals

This is going to be fun, right?  Arizona comes in with a tremendous amount of hype in both the fantasy and real world.  The key word here is hype.  Don’t forget the Cleveland Browns hype last year.  I’m not saying they’re the Browns, but they’re closer to the Browns than they will be to the defending NFC champ 49ers.  I do think loads of fantasy points will come from this unit, but don’t expect a 10 loss team to turn around to a 10 win team this year. That said, there are enough pieces on this team that could help your fantasy team reach 10 wins and that’s what we’re here for.

Must Start: Kyler Murray (QB5), Kenyan Drake (RB11), Deandre Hopkins (WR5)

He got Gased.  At least that’s how Drake’s career is being framed.  His boom games at the end of last year are enough to get people excited and there’s likely some merit to that. I do see him being a frustrating start in some weeks, just based on the way Kinsgury’s game scripts happen to forget any semblance of ball control offense.  There will be games where his receiving ability is showcased that will delight and those that make us think of the dark days of David Johnson, but his talent is there and it should be an entertaining watch in a much improved offense. 

Matchup Based Start: Christian Kirk (WR40), Larry Fitzgerald (WR71)

Kirk is a receiver that can play on the inside or outside, but it would do wonders to see him in the slot more in 2020.  Unfortunately, Arizona is quite heavy on slot receivers with Fitz and KeeSean Johnson in tow.  Luckily for him, Arizona runs a lot of 4-5 WR sets and has done a good job of getting Kirk in space. With Hopkins likely to command over the top help, Kirk’s space should grow this year and provide YAC opportunities that should boost his middling TD rate and boost him near WR2 status. 

Flexually Active: Chase Edmonds (RB50), Andy Isabella (WR85)

Outside of just pissing off David Johnson owners, Edmonds really only hit for three weeks last year.  His situation is no less volatile this year, with Drake likely to command the majority of touches out of the Cardinals backfield. He is, however, in a premium category of handcuffs that would become immediately viable if something were to happen to Drake.  His yards created per touch were elite level and he has shown the ability to carry a full load when needed.  If the Cardinals are improved this year, it could open more backfield touches and you could do worse than filling Edmonds at a FLEX spot.

Waivers/Streamers: Dan Arnold (TE55), Maxx Williams (TE) KeeSean Johnson (WR122), Hakeem Butler (WR132)

I won’t say Kliff Kinsgury hates tight ends, but he hasn’t made one relevant since the immortal Jace Amaro back in 2013.  If ever he was going to make one relevant, it’d be the former Wisc-Platteville star.  He is a tight end in name only and would provide Murray with a big target down the seam and potential TD vacuum.  Goodbye Amaro, hey Arnold!

Sleepers: Hakeem Butler

It was a shame to see Butler go down with a fracture prior to the start of the season.  He’s an athletic specimen that would have given Murray a nice target to throw a jump ball to when chased out of the pocket.  He’s buried for now, but between him and the aforementioned Arnold, they give a new dimension to a passing attack that loves to have 4 or 5 targets on the field at a time.

Must Stash: Eno Benjamin (RB104)

Shifty is often used as a pejorative, but in Eno’s case, it should be his glorious nickname.  Benjamin will be a name we look back on and wonder how he slipped all the way to the 7th round.  He does have some wear on his tread, but he lands in a great spot, with an offense that is rising and could be elite by the time he gets meaningful snaps.  

Breakout: Andy Isabella

He’s fast. So fast. Now, can he get on the field?  There are going to be so many receiving options, that the former UMass star is in a great spot to be the Cards big play threat, in the same vein as Desean Jackson.  The focus will be on Nuk, Kirk and Fitzgerald, which will often leave Isabella on the lesser CB, nickelback or God forbid a poor trodding LB.  

Bust: Kyler Murray

There’s a growing collection of people that are looking for Murray to continue the streak of second year breakout QB’s that we have seen from Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson the past few seasons.  I’m not here to burst that bubble, but I do want to temper the expectations. Murray isn’t Lamar Jackson and he’s not Patrick Mahomes.  A more reasonable facsimile is Dak Prescott and he’s being drafted nearly a full two rounds before Prescott.  This is a better Cardinals team than last year, so the TD’s should be better, but also at the expense of less garbage time fantasy points. If you get him, start him with confidence, but outside of Superflex drafts, I’m willing to wait well past his 4th round price tag, for a comparable QB.

Jared Clifton (@unstuckintime82)
Dynasty/Redraft Analyst

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