By Brendan Taffe

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton Is A Top-12 WR

Sutton has done everything the Broncos have asked through his first two years in the league. He is the team’s WR1, and he looks to be the go-to target for Drew Lock in his second year. In 2018, his rookie year, Sutton finished as WR51 in 0.5 PPR leagues. Last year, Sutton jumped all the way up to WR19. That is precisely the kind of ascent a fantasy manager looks for when projecting a future WR1 in fantasy football.  

At only 23 years old, Sutton is already one of the longest-tenured offensive players on the team. Since his arrival, the team has added Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to the receivers room, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam as tight ends, and Melvin Gordon to the backfield. Some fantasy owners may be scared off by the number of mouths to feed, but all of them are either unproven in the league or new to Denver’s system. John Elway built this offense, knowing the goal is to keep up with the Chiefs, and I, for one, am excited to watch. If somebody in your league is concerned about Jeudy’s addition, I’d advise you to take advantage.

Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr Sets A New Career High In TDs & Yards

Every year Derek Carr leaves Raiders fans and fantasy football owners wanting more. He set a new career-high in passing yards each of the last two years, and I expect that trend to continue. The Raiders spent three of their first four picks on offensive weapons, and their fifth pick, at 109 overall, on an offensive guard. Their first pick made Henry Ruggs III the first receiver off the board at 12th overall. Ruggs gets mislabeled as a field stretcher because of his elite speed, but he is much more than that. He will add another dimension to the Raiders’ offense that has not been there since Amari Cooper donned their uniform. Along with Ruggs was Bryan Edwards, a receiver out of South Carolina, and Lynn Bowden Jr, a hybrid playmaker from Kentucky. Those three will join Jacobs, Waller, Renfrow, and Williams to make a solid group that gives Carr more than enough options. 

There is somewhat of a misconception of Carr that he is too conservative enough to win games. While that may be true, the film and the stats tell two different stories. Carr was quietly ninth in the league with 7.9 yards per attempt this year. He has set a career-high in that category each of the last two years, (not so) coincidentally the two years Jon Gruden took over as head coach. With Ruggs now at Carr’s disposal, that number will increase, so should his touchdown and yardage totals along with it. Be comfortable with buying Carr as a solid QB2 in 2 QB leagues.  

Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman is a WR2

Betting on Mecole Hardman is an easy bet because it is essentially a bet on the Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. We all know what this team is capable of. In 2018, Mahomes’ first year as a starter, they paced the league with 34.8 points per game, a full 4 points per game higher than the second-best Rams. Last year they only finished second with 29.9 points per game while Mahomes was hobbled with a dislocated knee, but won the Super Bowl as a decent consolation prize.  

When the Chiefs drafted Hardman, the team was dealing with uncertainty around star WR Tyreek Hill. Considering potential trouble with the authorities, Hill’s future with the team was in doubt. Andy Reid drafted Hardman with his first pick of the draft at 56 overall. This pick occurred knowing that if Hill could no longer be on the team, Hardman would have to step in and fill Hill’s shoes. Hardman has blazing speed, posting a 4.33 40 yard dash at the combine. He did not get many opportunities in his rookie year, but he made them count when he did. Hardman led the NFL in yards per reception with 20.7. He scored 6 touchdowns on only 26 receptions, which is an incredible ratio. Hardman has to compete with Demarcus Robinson, who is not as talented as him, and Sammy Watkins, who is routinely unable to stay healthy. It will not be long until Hardman is the #2 WR for Patrick Mahomes, and once that happens, the sky’s the limit.      

Los Angeles Chargers – Keenan Allen And Mike Williams Suffer From Tyrod Taylor Starting 16 Games

The Chargers drafted Justin Herbert 6th this year, but he will not be ready to start. He is not as refined as Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa, and losing most of his first offseason does not help. Outside of the quarterback position, the Chargers have elite players all over the field. They are a playoff contender, and bringing Herbert in midway through the year will undeniably hurt their chances. Looking at their schedule, they should only be underdogs in Buffalo, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and both Chiefs games.  

As long as they are winning games, Tyrod will remain the starter. Unfortunately, as long as he is under center, the fantasy ceilings of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are considerably hindered. The last time Tyrod Taylor was a starting quarterback for a full year was when he took the Bills to the playoffs in 2017. Although it was enough to get them to the playoffs, Tyrod only threw for 2799 yards and 14 touchdowns. LeSean McCoy led the team with 59 receptions, Charles Clay led the team with 558 yards, and nobody caught more than 3 touchdowns. Allen and Williams are projected as WR21 and WR39, respectively. I would temper expectations on both Chargers receivers this year, and I would not hold my breath on Herbert starting anytime soon.  

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers – George Kittle Is The Only Startable Offensive Player

The Niners are one of the best teams in the NFL. They had a lead in the Super Bowl, returned all their critical offensive pieces, and drafted a wide receiver in the first round of this year’s draft. Their team relies on its impenetrable defense and its lethal rushing attack to win games. Jimmy Garoppolo is a mediocre quarterback not asked to do too much within the offense. As a contender, there are simply too many good QBs in this league to feel good about starting him in a 2QB or Superflex league. At receiver, Deebo Samuel will be recovering from a foot injury. Brandon Aiyuk is a rookie, and even if they were both ready to go, they are severely limited by Jimmy G’s low ceiling.     

If you understand how the Niners run their offense, investing in San Fran’s running backs should be a natural choice, right? Not quite. Their probable Week 1 starter is Raheem Mostert, who posted incredible numbers after taking over the starting gig late last year. From week 13 through the Super Bowl, Mostert rushed 117 times for 715 yards for an incredible 6.11 yards per carry while scoring 12 touchdowns. Mostert is now 28 years old and is on his seventh NFL team. His surprising play at the end of last year can most certainly connect to Kyle Shanahan’s deceptive run scheme. I think I could run for four yards per carry in that system. If Mostert fumbles or begins the season poorly, Shanahan will not be afraid to dip into his deep stable of capable backs. Coleman, Wilson, McKinnon, and Hasty should cannibalize Mostert’s production for consistent fantasy relevance.       

Seattle Seahawks – D.K. Metcalf Is A High-End WR2

DK is the most polarizing receiver from last year’s class. The only redshirt sophomore in the draft, Metcalf, ranked as the #1 receiver on NFL.com. He stands at six foot three, weighs 228 pounds, and has Madden create-a-player muscles all over his body. He is a physical marvel and showed out at nearly every event at the combine. His 4.33 40 tied with Mecole Hardman and only trailed Andy Isabella and Parris Campbell’s 4.31. The 40 time he recorded is especially impressive considering Hardman and Isabella are both 5’10” 187 lbs, and Campbell is 6’0″ 200 lbs. DK crushed the combine in every area except for the three-cone drill. His performance in this area was worse than Tom Brady’s two decades ago. Scoring in the second percentile for this drill caused people to overreact and drop him in the NFL draft and fantasy drafts.  

The three-cone drill is not the first time people have taken note of Metcalf’s agility or lack thereof. Both in college and during his rookie year, DK’s route tree was limited. He mostly ran routes that go north and south, so he was not required to move laterally and allow defenders to catch up. His route tree will most certainly expand as he gains more experience, but it will not be a problem even if it does not. This is because Metcalf landed in a perfect situation for his talents. Russell Wilson was the best passer on throws 20+ yards downfield last year, earning a 98.9 score from PFF. Metcalf’s combination of size, speed, and strength makes him virtually unbeatable downfield, and it is easy to make Calvin Johnson comparisons.

Along with the deep balls, he also led the entire NFL in end zone targets. This is an impressive stat to lead the league because it shows how much Wilson already trusts him. Metcalf was a 21-year-old rookie who got 100 targets in year one, so buy him wherever you can and have fun watching him play.  

Los Angeles Rams – Cooper Kupp And Robert Woods Both Finish Outside The Top-15

This may not seem like a bold prediction, but both of these receivers project to finish inside the top 12. Kupp and Woods do not get any favors from their schedule. They play the elite 49ers defense and a Seahawks defense that just added Jamal Adams twice each year. This year they are also forced to play the AFC East, which includes the top two defenses from last year and a much improved Dolphins’ defense. PFF analyzed every team’s position group based on the strength of schedule, and the Rams were one of four teams along with the Bills, Jets, and Bengals to face the toughest secondaries.  

Although it was just last year, it seems like forever ago that the Rams were in the Super Bowl. They had an explosive-enough offense for Sean McVay to earn the nickname “offensive genius,” but a lot of that shine has worn off. There were only seven teams with a worse offensive line last year, and the team did not make any improvements over the offseason. Zero free agents were signed to the line, and they did not call an offensive lineman’s name on the draft day until their third pick in the seventh round. However, they did use their first pick on a running back who has receiving skills and their second pick on a wide receiver, Van Jefferson. Jefferson is already 24 years old, so he should be more of a plug-and-play guy than most rookie receivers. It has also been noted that McVay wants to run more two-tight end sets. Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee are both above average at the position, and a fourth-round pick used on Brycen Hopkins. Both Kupp and Woods have high floors, but lower ceilings expect solid yet unspectacular WR2 seasons out of both.    

Arizona Cardinals: Kenyan Drake Is A Top-3 RB

Drake is one of the popular picks to take a big jump in year-end rankings this year. There is a lot of evidence behind picking Drake to succeed in 2020, and I am buying into the hype. By now, everyone knows his story. He was stuck in Miami being held back by their offensive woes for the first three and a half years of his career. In the middle of last season, Kliff Kingsbury called to save his career. He scored eight touchdowns in eight games with the Cardinals, which is a heck of a lot more efficient than the nine he scored in fifty-four career games in Miami. Before he arrived in Arizona, Drake had only reached the 100-yard rushing mark in two games. He surpassed that total in his short stint in the desert.  

From week 9 through 17 last year, Kenyan Drake was fantasy’s RB3. He did that while learning a new system and immediately pushing David Johnson and Chase Edmonds down the depth chart. Kingsbury showed last year that whoever opened the game as the starting back would get the lion share of work. In Chase Edmonds’ lone game as a starter, he got 27 carries! With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, Drake should see much less stacked boxes and plenty of room to run. This will be an offense that is going to be fast-paced, and in fantasy football, opportunity and volume are the names of the game. Drake signed a one year tender, so his future with the Cardinals after this year is undetermined. Because of this, Kingsbury can run Drake into the ground and not worry about long-term wear and tear. As a 26-year-old, he will not require as much as younger or more proven backs in a trade. As a one year investment, though, there are not too many better options than Kenyan Drake.  

Brendan Taffe – Dynasty/Podcast
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Twitter: @BCTAFFE