2017 NFL Fantasy Football Preview: NFC West
Dom Murtha goes division by division and hands out his predictive superlatives for each NFL team in this upcoming fantasy football season.
While last season was no doubt a disappointment for the Cardinals, they still did manage to produce some fantasy positives, which for our purposes here is what it’s all about. First and foremost, David Johnson was undoubtedly the league’s fantasy MVP, as he led the league in total touchdowns with 20 and additionally nearly completed the third 1,000+ rushing and 1,000+ receiving yard season in league history. Beyond Johnson’s excellent season, Larry Fitzgerald continued his historic career as well in 2016 by leading the league in receptions with 107. Where things really went south for Arizona though was at the quarterback position, as at age 36, Carson Palmer saw dips in every major category (yards, yards per completion, touchdowns, completions, completion percentage, etc…) and an increase in interceptions. If they are going to take a step forward as a team this season, they need to stay healthier, first and foremost, and Palmer needs to be better. At his advanced age, it is tough to tell if that is possible…
Fantasy MVP: David Johnson
Johnson is still only 25 years old and is coming off of a season in which he was the most valuable fantasy player. Considering, it makes sense why Johnson is the consensus number one overall on most fantasy big boards entering this season. With an offense poised to bounce back, I see no reason why DJ can’t make a run at 20 touchdowns again. Beyond that though, Johnson has made it clear that his main goal this season is to complete the 1,000/1,000 feat that has only been done by two other players in league history (Roger Craig,1985; Marshall Faulk, 1999). With a player having serious motivation behind a strictly fantasy benefit, owners would stupid to pass up on Johnson at number one overall.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Budda Baker
Cards on the table… Arizona has no legitimate rookies on offense; at least any ones poised to make a substantial fantasy impact, so that is why I had to go to defense here. However, even if they did have a worthy offensive rookie to list here, Budda Baker would still be a guy to consider in your IDP leagues. Sure he’s an undersized safety, but the guy is a baller. He hits hard, flies around the field, and possesses the cover skills to remain on the field in all sub-packages and down-and-distance situations. When it comes to IDP leagues, availability is key so that players can maximize their chances for tackles. Baker’s three-down skillset makes that possible, while his nickel blitzing ability should give him sack upside that not all DB’s possess.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: John Brown
In his first two seasons, Brown proved to be one of the more dangerous deep threats in the league, as he compiled 113 catches, 1,699 yards, and 12 touchdowns as the Cardinals third receiving option. Then in 2016, he fell out of favor, Carson Palmer subsequently regressed, and the disappointment culminated with the release of Michael Floyd. Once Floyd’s cancerous influence on the offense disappeared, Brown emerged again with some of his better games of the season, as he compiled 118 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets over the final three weeks of the season. My bet is that Brown returns to form over a full season’s length now that Floyd is gone and now that he has his sickle-cell condition seemingly under control. His talent is huge and the production is sure to follow.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Larry Fitzgerald
This is strictly an age selection, and considering the fact that I expect the entire offense to bounce back as a whole, you shouldn’t put too much stock in the wording of Fitz being a “fantasy disappointment.” Having said that, he’s going to be 34 when the season starts and his numbers from last season were down across the board from the year before. He no longer provides elite touchdown potential and reaching 100 receptions for a third straight season just seems far-fetched at his advanced age. Expectations of 100 catches, 1,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns would be too lofty, and the fact that most rankings have him valued over guys like Tom Brady, Davante Adams, Drew Brees, and Joe Mixon, means that people are expecting those lofty benchmarks. Pass on him in the third round if possible, while you should still expect him to be a productive WR2 this season.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were awful last season – no other way to put it. They started out the season 3-1 and then only won one more game the rest of the way. They got terrible quarterback play from both the veteran and rookie, while their offensive line provided no holes for their star running back to run through. The defense did it’s best, but with such a bad offense, they were on the field far too long to remain effective. This season they have made massive upgrades to the offensive line, while the addition of Wade Philips should whip the defense into their best shape yet. Another year in the league can only mean positive things for Jared Goff, while Todd Gurley was so underwhelming last season that he can only get better in 2017. While they won’t make the playoffs, things are looking up for the Rams this season.
Fantasy MVP: Todd Gurley
Gurley took the league by storm in his rookie season, however really struggled in 2016 due to poor quarterback play and even worse offensive line play. To the Rams credit though, they took this offseason and invested in their weakness by adding Andrew Whitworth – a 6-foot-7, 335 lbs. behemoth; a former two-time All-Pro, and former three-time Pro Bowler. He will prove to be the anchor and leader of this newly improved offensive line, which will only benefit Gurley going forward. In terms of Gurley remaining the team’s MVP, he doesn’t really have much competition. They have no elite receivers to speak of, while Jared Goff is only going into his second season as an NFL quarterback. Gurley will pace this offense and the Rams will only be able to go as far as he will take them.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Cooper Kupp
In four years of college at Eastern Washington, Kupp tallied an FCS record 428 receptions, 6,464 yards, and an incredible 73 touchdown receptions.
Now while he was just a third round pick in this past draft, Kupp is already listed as a starter according to the Rams first official depth chart. Certainly high praise and expectations for a player of his draft status, but considering the fact that he is the greatest receiver in the history of the FCS, it makes sense. Beyond his excellent production as a college player, Kupp enters his rookie season as the Rams most talented receiver. He is a savvy route runner, possesses excellent hands, and has the size to serve as the Rams best red zone threat as well. He should see heavy volume this season, while rumors already have it that he and Jared Goff are forming a strong connection in camp.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Todd Gurley
I explained above why I think Gurley will be the Rams best player this season, but on behalf of his improvement, really understand what the addition of Whitworth brings to this offensive line. With a former all-pro leading the way, the offense as a whole should improve, let alone Todd Gurley’s rushing production. Considering a player of Gurley’s elite talent averaged a mere 3.2 yards per carry last season, he has no choice but to get much better in 2017. An improved offensive line and a more experienced quarterback will help Gurley along the way.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Robert Woods
Look, everyone likes Wood’s work ethic and his do-it-all attitude, however he was grossly overpaid this offseason (5-years, $35M) and is going to be expected to produce as at least the number two option in this offense. The fact of the matter is that he never has had over 700 yards receiving in a season despite ample opportunities to take the number one target role in Buffalo due to the frequent injuries of Sammy Watkins. He’s just not a good wide receiver, and he shouldn’t be owned or treated as one in fantasy leagues this season – simple as that.
San Francisco 49ers
What a fall from grace it has been for the Niners since their run of three straight conference title appearances and a 2013 Super Bowl appearance… The tumble to rock bottom finally seems to have culminated last season when the Niners finished last in the division with a horrendous 2-14 record. So much of this team has changed now, as they will be featuring a new head coach (Kyle Shanahan), GM (John Lynch), quarterback(s) (Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, J.J. Beathard), and number one wideout (Pierre Garcon) just to name a few. Trying to gauge their potential fantasy impacts will be tough, but here goes nothing…
Fantasy MVP: Brian Hoyer
The Journeyman quarterback is 31 years old now and has certainly played on his share of teams, but this season looks to be different, as he finally has an offense all to himself. Sure the 49ers aren't the greatest show on turf, but they will be led by Kyle Shanahan and his forward thinking offensive mind, which if nothing else, has done wonders for other quarterbacks in the past. While it sounds counterintuitive -- with underwhelming offensive weapons and a dead heat competition at the running back position, Hoyer is poised to be the MVP of this team in 2017. By that I mean that there isn't another player on this offense who has a clear path to emerge as an elite fantasy option, therefore I will default to the starting quarterback. He's not a guy I would love to draft, but word is that this is Hoyer's team without much competition and that he looks really good in camp so far. He should easily reach 3,000 yards, and 20 touchdowns provided he remains healthy. A real ringing endorsement, I know...
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Joe Williams
He was kicked out of UCONN as a freshman, then abruptly "retired" during his junior season at Utah. On top of that he has a noted fumbling issue, so considering all of that, you are probably wondering why people are high on Williams. The reason is because he is loaded with talent and potential. During his final season at Utah after a brief step away from football, Williams rushed for over 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in just nine games. He then went and ran a sub-4.4 40-time at the combine, piquing the interest of all NFL GM's. On top of his talent, rumor has it that he is giving Carlos Hyde a legitimate push in camp and even if he doesn't win the job outright, he at the very least will be an explosive primary spell back. With little competition in this category, Williams is the Niners rookie to keep an eye on in 2017.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Brian Hoyer
Hoyer is healthy and is going to have a starting job this season, which is more than he can say about any other year in his career. That alone should help him improve statistically, and if it is not enough for you, consider that he is being coached by quarterback guru Kyle Shanahan.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Carlos Hyde
It kills me to write this because I really love Hyde's game. Also word right now is that Hyde looks to be in really good shape this camp, so take the following with a grain of salt... But if I am going to say that Williams is a rookie back to keep an eye on, I have to accept that Hyde is going to be at least slightly less productive than a feature fantasy back. People are drafting Hyde like he has little competition for touches, and the reality is quite the opposite. I already explained the expected emergence of rookie Joe Williams, but lets not forget that Tim Hightower is also looming on the depth chart. Ultimately, while I love Hyde and the way he plays the position, the fact of the matter is that he is often hurt and has competition behind him on the depth chart. Sorry to say, but there is a good chance that fantasy owners will be disappointed by his 2017 production just as they were with his 2016 production.
The Seahawks have been a playoff mainstay since 2012 when Russell Wilson first took over the team and while they have tried to maintain their identity of elite defense and a strong running game, things have begun to unravel over time. The defense has aged considerably and gotten much more expensive to maintain, while last season the team's leading rusher only tallied a little over 400 yards. To say that the foundation is beginning to crack appears to be an understatement. This season however, the Seahawks have attempted to reload and fortify their standing in the typically competitive NFC West. The addition of Eddie Lacy and Luke Joeckel appear to be their counteractions to a deteriorating offensive line and depressed running game. While largely underwhelming in terms of media attention, both players may prove to be what this team needs to churn out fantasy success for owners once again.
Fantasy MVP: Russell Wilson
This selection needed no second thought, as Wilson has been this team's most valuable fantasy player since the day he signed his contract. Sure Marshawn Lynch had a case to be made over the years, but ultimately what Wilson has been able to do in just a few seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He should be over 4,000 yards passing, 400 yards rushing, over 25 total touchdowns once again in 2017, which will give him little competition on his team for this award. On to the next one...
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Amara Darboh
The reality here is that the Seahawks don't have a lot of offensive rookies to sort through, so Darboh kind of wins this by default. He's likely to slot in as the Seahawks fourth receiver, while special teams appear to be where he will see the field the most. I'm not exactly bullish on his fantasy potential, but it should be noted that in college he was a consistent contributor for Jim Harbaugh's offense. Coming from a pro style system should give him an edge over the typical college to pro learning curve... so there's that.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Eddie Lacy
Lacy is not a guy that I love, I have made this no secret over the years, but the reality is that when he was on the field last season, he was quite effective (5.1 yards per carry). He looks to be in good shape entering camp this season, and operating in a run first offense should only help his chances at improving his overall production. Provided he can remain healthy, it appears that Lacy is the guy that Seattle wants to build their run game around going forward. That, along with a change of scenery, should be enough to win him the "most improved" award for the Seahawks in 2017.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Thomas Rawls
After rushing for a team playoff record 161 yards in the first round against the Lions last season, it appeared headed into this season that Rawls had a pretty tight grip on the Seahawks starting running back job. The arrival of Eddie Lacy this offseason coupled with the investment that the Seahawks have in other backs like Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise may end up complicating things for that plan however. Coming out of camp, I actually believe that Lacy is going to get the first crack at the starting job, provided he passes all of his weight tests. Considering that, Rawls may be in for a pretty disappointing 2017 fantasy season, despite playing so well as the starter during the playoffs last year.