Fantasy Football: AFC West team breakdowns

With the fantasy football draft season right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a breakdown on the fantasy-relevant players on every team, division by division. You can check out the previous columns here:

NFC East                               AFC East

NFC South                           AFC South

NFC North                          AFC North

NFC West – Part One       NFC West – Part Two

Our last team breakdown will cover the AFC West, arguably the strongest division in fantasy football. No thanks to the Raiders of course.

Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs Depth Chart

Alex  Smith in the only Pro Bowl he'll ever make.

Alex Smith in the only Pro Bowl he’ll ever make.

QB: Alex Smith is the quintessential backup quarterback. He rarely throws interceptions and he puts his wide receivers in a good position to gain yards after the catch. However, the Chiefs just don’t throw very often, nor do they have anyone of significant talent for Smith to throw to. Andy Reid‘s offense isn’t reliant on throwing the ball down field, reducing Smith’s value even further.

However, Smith is remarkably consistent, scoring double-digit fantasy points in 10 of his 15 games on the way to the 15th best fantasy quarterback. He’s probably not worth drafting due to his lack of upside, but he’s the ideal replacement for your quarterback’s bye week.

RB: Jamaal Charles scored about 30 more fantasy points than LeSean McCoy, the next best fantasy running back. Let that sink in. Charles is potentially the most explosive runner in football and he’s certainly one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. Those are the factors keeping him in the top five overall despite some serious concern about regression.

The Chiefs have a much tougher schedule than last year, their defense is likely to regress, leading to less rushing from Charles, and there’s almost no chance Charles scores 19 touchdowns again this season. Also, perhaps most significantly, the Chiefs lost THREE starting offensive linemen. There’s no chance he can match what he did last year in terms of fantasy points.

Charles is arguably the riskiest of the top running backs, but he also has some crazy upside. I have him ranked at number four overall, but if you want to gamble on his talent as high as the top pick overall, I wouldn’t argue the point.

Knile Davis is one of the more valuable handcuffs in fantasy football this year. He’s shown that he has the talent to be a reliable starting running back, and if you do pick Charles, you should be sure to grab Davis in the later rounds.

WR: There isn’t much to like here. Dwayne Bowe was one of the most disappointing fantasy players last year and almost nothing happened in the offseason that would positively influence his draft stock. He’s a late-round flier at best, but I think his upside is as a flex player at best.

There are some other intriguing talents on the Chiefs like Donnie Avery and AJ Jenkins, but I seriously doubt that the Chiefs throw downfield often enough to render any of them usable. You can surely find better wide receivers on other teams.

TE: See the wide receiver section.

D/ST: The Chiefs defense is a very tough defense to forecast. They were one of the best defenses in fantasy football last year, and their dominant front seven is still mostly intact. However, Justin Houston‘s holdout worries me and I’m not sure their secondary is going to get the job done. They’re still worth a draft pick, but don’t reach before the 14th round to pick up the Chiefs. There are just too many question marks to invest much in the defense.

Denver Broncos

Broncos Depth Chart

QB: Not sure if you guys noticed, but Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL. He broke a different record practically every other week on

The man. The legend. The best quarterback in fantasy football.

The man. The legend. The best quarterback in fantasy football.

the way to one of the best fantasy seasons of a quarterback ever. Is he likely to regress? Yes. The loss of Decker will hurt more than people are giving it credit, and “career years,” are called that for a reason.

That said, people who are considering taking Brees over Manning are over thinking it. Manning is coming off the best passing season ever and he still has a great offensive line and the best receiving corps in the game. He’s a stud. I would be fine taking him some time in round two, or even as early as the end of round one.

RB: There are a very wide range of opinions about Broncos’ lead back Montee Ball. Per ProFantasy.com, he is ranked anywhere from the 4th player overall to the 20th player overall, which seems high for a player who has barely played in the NFL before. There are plenty of question marks about everything from his rushing to his receiving to his pass blocking to his talent in general. But the one thing no one can question is the situation.

There are no other running backs on the Broncos who are even remotely talented, so Ball should have the job all to himself. He’s inheriting the job that propelled big, fat Knowshon Moreno to a finish as the 5th best running back in fantasy football last year. And I believe that Ball is better than Moreno, at least a little bit.

I’m not saying Ball will finish as a top 5 running back, as I do think the Broncos regress at least a little bit, but I think his floor, assuming health, is about 1,100 all-purpose yards and about 10 touchdowns. That would make him the 13th best fantasy running back. And I think that’s the WORST case scenario. He’s a high-end RB1 and a 2nd round pick for me.

He has no clear handcuff yet, but if C.J. Anderson or Ronnie Hillman emerges as the dominant option in training camp they’d be very valuable. After all, if Moreno can be a top 10 guy in that offense, anyone can.

WR: Demaryius Thomas was the top fantasy wide receiver last year who isn’t currently suspended for the year. He is one of the best deep targets in the league and he excels at making massive gains after the catch. He’s a young player who is likely still improving. He’s the best receiver Manning has ever had, and he’s my bet to be the best receiver in fantasy football this year. He’s a first round pick for me.

Wes Welker was one of the best receivers in the NFL through the first eight weeks of last season, and then he was mostly irrelevant for the last 8. His true projection likely lies in the middle of those two, as a strong WR2, though concussions will be a concern for the rest of his career. Expect him to benefit from the loss of Eric Decker, especially on deep posts.

Many people are high on Emmanuel Sanders, and for good reason, given the QB throwing him the ball. However, I think Sanders has bust written all over him. I think he’ll split targets with Cody Latimer, and i wouldn’t be confident in Sanders as anything more than a backup wide receiver until we see that Manning trusts him in the red zone.

Latimer is a nice late-round flier, as Manning has shown the ability to turn young wide receivers into fantasy stars.

TE: Julius Thomas finally exploded onto the scene after a few years lost to injury and he promptly finished as one of the best tight ends in fantasy football. Injuries are definitely a concern, but the talent of Thomas makes him worth picking as early as the third round. It wouldn’t surprise me much to see Thomas finish as the best tight end in fantasy football.

D/ST: The Broncos defense was a massive disappointment last year after many drafted them thinking that they were getting a young, dominant defense. In truth, they weren’t THAT bad, as they were still a top 15 fantasy defense. They’ve added Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware and Bradley Roby to help give the pass defense a boost, and the return of Von Miller and Chris Harris should make the Broncos a great fantasy defense this season.

Oakland Raiders

Raiders Depth Chart

QB: Matt Schaub was unspeakably horrible last season, getting benched in favor of Case Keenum. He can’t be as bad as last year, but there’s no way you want him on any fantasy team. Pass on Schaub.

RB: The Raiders are going to have one of the most interesting camp battles in the NFL between Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. In all likelihood, the Raiders will have a committee-esque arrangement, not unlike the Panthers’ backfield.  Also not unlike the Panthers’ backfield, I’m not interested in either of them. I just think the upside is very limited for two old running backs with partial workloads in a bad offense.

I do like Latavius Murray as a super deep sleeper, or if one of the veterans (likely McFadden) gets injured. You probably shouldn’t draft him, but he’s a guy to think about on the waiver wire.

WR: James Jones has moved from the Packers to the Raiders this offseason, and his value has gone through the floor because of it. Jones’ biggest draw was his ability to score touchdowns, and I don’t think the Raiders will be scoring much this year. He’s a WR4 with low upside for me.

Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are likely worth a look in leagues 12-team leagues or bigger, but just as late round fliers. Moore in particular has shown flashes of flex/WR2 upside in the past.

TE: Don’t even think about it.

D/ST:  The Raiders added Khalil Mack and a bunch of old guys to try to upgrade their abysmal defense. This unit needs more than one year to turn it around. Pass.

San Diego Chargers

Chargers’ Depth Chart

QB: Philip Rivers rode a blistering start to finish as the 6th best fantasy quarterback. It’s unlikely he comes even close to those statistics this season, as Rivers only topped 20 fantasy points one time in his last 12 games last year. He’s a low upside backup, a rich man’s Alex Smith. He won’t lose you many games, but he won’t win many for you either. He’s the perfect bye week QB.

RB: Ryan Mathews was a top 10 running back this past year for the second time in his career. Let that sink in. He’s shown the ability to produce whenever he’s healthy, which admittedly is a major concern. However, he’s currently going as a mid-late RB2, giving him tremendous value. I’d be thrilled to take him as my RB2, and if I draft Jimmy Graham or a high-end QB and some wide receivers early, I’d be thrilled to pick him up in round 4 or 5.

Danny Woodhead had some value last year as a flex player or low-end RB2, but I think much of his value will be sapped by the addition of Donald Brown. Woodhead is still a decent pickup in a PPR league, but expect Brown to get most of the carries when Mathews needs a breather. If Mathews were to get hurt, expect them to split the leftover carries pretty evenly.

WR: Keenan Allen was solid last year, finishing as the 17th best fantasy receiver after doing nothing for the first three games. He isn’t an outstanding physical talent, so his upside is limited, but he’s a smart route runner whom Rivers trust to in the red zone and over the middle. Expect him to continue to improve and finish as a top 15 receiver this year.

Keenan  Allen is poised to make fantasy football players happy again this year.

Keenan Allen is poised to make fantasy football players happy again this year.

No one else on the Chargers is worth anything more than a late round flier. Malcolm Floyd could be worth a look in a super deep league.

TE: Ladarius Green is the future at the tight end position for the Chargers. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Antonio Gates is still the present, or at least is still present enough to sap a lot of Green’s value.  Barring an injury to Gates, I don’t want either as my starting tight end this year.

D/ST: The Chargers have some good, young pass rushers. And nothing else. Pass on last year’s 28th-ranked fantasy defense.