AFC West Offseason Review

Jamey Black

04/09/2016

AFC WEST

DENVER:  The Broncos have been gutted pretty badly this offseason. There are only a couple of good newsworthy events to report, so let’s start with the good. The Broncos were able to retain WR Jordan Norwood, and this is really only good news because 3rd year receiver Cody Latimer is still struggling to find his way as a pro. Miami put an offer sheet on restricted free agent RB CJ Anderson but Denver matched, locking Anderson up as a Bronco for the next 4 years. RB Ronnie Hillman still lingers in free agency, waiting to find a home. It is believed the Broncos are interested in bringing Hillman back to Denver. One of the strangest transactions this offseason came about when the Broncos signed offensive tackle Russell Okung to a contract with zero guaranteed money. Okung signed a 1 year deal with a 4 year extension, but per the language of his contract, if Okung doesn’t take the field in week 1, he does not get paid at all. Very strange…works out great for the Broncos though. Denver did add QB Mark Sanchez, but only after Peyton Manning retired and QB Brock Osweiler signed with Houston, so a major downgrade at QB for the Broncos this season. Offensive lineman Donald Stephenson will compete for a starting job, likely at right tackle, but there is no guarantee he provides anything more than depth. Denver lost perhaps their best run blocker when right guard Evan Mathis signed with Arizona. The Vernon Davis experiment didn’t work, rendering Virgil Green as the starting TE after the Broncos cut Owen Daniels and Davis escaped to Washington. On defense, Denver lost 2 excellent players after LB Danny Trevathan was signed by the Bears and Malik Jackson left for Jacksonville. The Broncos lose depth in their secondary, failing to retain safety David Bruton, but their starters stay intact. If there is a silver lining, the Broncos had an absolutely dominating defense last year and despite the losses, they should still be a very good defensive unit in 2016.

FANTASY IMPACT:  RB CJ Anderson should have the backfield to himself in Kubiak’s RB friendly offense. In a time-share, Anderson and Hillman totaled 1,900 yards and 12 TD’s last season. In 2014, Hillman went down in week 10 and didn’t return until week 17. Over those 8 games (week 10 – week 17), Anderson totaled 1057 rushing and receiving yards, 10 TD’s and was the #1 fantasy running back in most scoring systems. There is no reason not to look at CJ Anderson as a low-end RB1 with upside for 2016…a lot of his success will depend on the QB situation. Mark Sanchez was a great fit in Chip Kelly’s QB friendly system in Philadelphia, but Sanchez won’t put up the same kind of numbers in Denver. His mobility will help as Kubiak usually requires his QB’s to bootleg, but Sanchez lacks the arm strength to stretch the field with the “X” receiver which is a key component in Denver’s offense. Sanchez’s ability to pick up rushing yards should help him to have moderate success, but he probably won’t offer stability as anything more than a low-end QB2. Unfortunately, the QB situation in Denver means slight to moderate downgrades for receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders for the upcoming season. It’s possible one of these guys reaches low-end WR1 status, but unlikely. This offense is going to be about the running game and CJ Anderson.

 

KANSAS CITY:  The Chiefs haven’t made much noise this offseason, and in their case, this looks like a good thing. KC did lose offensive lineman Jeff Allen but still upgraded, adding one of the best young tackles in the NFL Mitchell Schwartz. Losing backup QB Chase Daniel shouldn’t hurt as Alex Smith has been very durable through 3 seasons in Kansas City. The loss of safeties Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah shouldn’t cause any bleeding; the Chiefs still have Ron Parker and Eric Berry holding down the secondary. Kansas City did a nice job retaining their key defensive free agents, locking both linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali down for the next 3 seasons and signing defensive lineman Jaye Howard to a 2 year deal. Still only 29 years old, Jamaal Charles looks to return as the workhorse running back for the Chiefs, and by all accounts, the rehab of his torn ACL is moving well ahead of schedule. Just in case, KC extended the contracts of both running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. TE Travis Kelce also received an extension. The Chiefs lock their star TE down for the next 5 years at $45M.

FANTASY IMPACT:   RB Jamaal Charles should ascend back to the top-tier of RB rankings. With Maclin in town, Charles was on pace for over 1,700 total yards and 16 TD’s before going down in week 5 last season. It’s worth noting, Jamaal Charles has averaged 5.0 or more yards per carry every year of his NFL career. He may slip into the mid-2nd round of some fantasy drafts because of the knee injury…he should be drafted as a high-end RB1. WR is becoming a deep position in the NFL. With almost 1,100 yards and 8 TD’s last season, Maclin still finished 17th among receivers in standard formats. Maclin’s role shouldn’t change much for the 2016 season and he should be considered a WR2. Kelce was poised for a breakout last season, but it never came. Last season was almost an exact replica of Kelce’s 2014 season. Kelce scored a whopping 1 fantasy point more last year than he did in 2014 (standard scoring formats). With that said, he still finished 7th at TE and should be considered a mid-level TE1 with upside to be top 3 at the position.

 

OAKLAND:  The Raiders have had an excellent offseason and it’s looking like they will continue to take strides forward this year. First, they made a big splash by signing Kelechi Osemele , widely considered to be not only the best free agent offensive lineman available, but one of the best overall free agents to hit this year’s market. Oakland locked him down for 5 years with a $58.5M contract.  Osemele steps in as a big upgrade to departed J’Marcus Webb and improves the Raiders interior line tremendously. The talk of possibly moving Osemele to tackle was squashed after the Raiders were able to retain left tackle Donald Penn, another vital piece to their O-line. With Rodney Hudson healthy and back at center, Gabe Jackson a rising start at right guard and a healthy competition between Austin Howard and Menelick Watson at right tackle, Oakland will roll out one of the best offensive lines in the NFL (barring injury) this season when they take the field week 1. The loss of WR Rod Streater is of no consequence, particularly after the Raiders retained WR Andre Holmes as depth. On defense, the Raiders released LB Curtis Lofton to clear up $2M in cap space after a poor season that ended with Lofton on the bench. Both DE Justin Tuck and safety Charles Woodson retired, but Oakland did a nice job adding 6’ 4” physically imposing CB Sean Smith and re-signed safety Nate Allen to bolster their secondary. Oakland also added LB Bruce Irvin to a 4 year, $37M deal. He will step right in and improve their defensive front seven. Many thought OLB/DE Aldon Smith would escape after the Irvin signing, but Oakland was able to pull him back in the first week of April to lock down their defensive front.

FANTASY IMPACT:  It’s worth noting that, in 2014 Oakland had the worst offense in the NFL in terms of yardage and only scored more points than 1 team (Jacksonville). Oakland has improved, fielding a middle of the road offense in 2015 ranking 17th in points scored. This trend should continue, especially with Oakland fielding one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Look for RB Latavius Murray to put up solid RB2 numbers again in 2016. It’s hard to call Murray a RB1 because of his inconsistency, and on tape, he just doesn’t look the part, but he did log close to 1,300 total yards and 6 rushing TD’s last season. Unless Oakland drafts another RB (which is possible), Murray looks to carry the load again this season. QB Derek Carr had a mini-breakout season last year, throwing for almost 4,000 yards and 32 TD’s. I actually expect him to, at the very least, match those numbers this season with a good chance to improve and solidify himself as a legitimate up and coming star QB. Carr should be a high-end QB2, and I’m even going to say maybe better because while I think Oakland keeps improving, I don’t think the Raider RB’s are all that impressive. After putting up over 1,000 yards and scoring 6 TD’s as a rookie, I fully expect WR Amari Cooper to take another step forward this season and be in the WR1 conversation. Michael Crabtree was solid last year as a possession receiver and caught 9 TD passes in the process. I think he is a nice fit in Oakland and will continue to produce as a WR2. TE Clive Walford has sneaky breakout potential this season, possibly making a case as a weekly TE play in deeper leagues.

 

SAN DIEGO:  The Chargers offseason has been headlined with big signings and riddled with sizeable losses, netting an average or slightly better than average month in San Diego. The Chargers released LB Donald Butler and defensive tackle Kendall Reyes. Reyes has been terrible and never lived up to expectations in San Diego. Butler stood out early in his career, but seemed to shut down after a big payday in 2014. Dropping Butler freed up over $9M in cap space for the Chargers. Staying on the defensive side of the ball, San Diego lost possibly the best cover safety in the NFL and one of the top free agent DB’s when Baltimore scooped up safety Eric Weddle. The addition of safety Dwight Lowery will help the Chargers, but he is no doubt a downgrade from Weddle. The Chargers upgraded at CB, losing Patrick Robinson but picking up versatile CB Casey Hayward at a value price – just over $5M per year over the next 3. The Chargers snagged free agent defensive tackle Brandon Mebane from Seattle. Mebane should improve a Chargers run D that allowed over 2,000 rushing yards and 17 rushing TD’s last season. Offensively, San Diego made some noise grabbing free agent WR Travis Benjamin after Malcom Floyd retired. The Chargers retained right tackle Joe Barksdale, signing him to a new 4 year deal. While the Chargers were able to lock TE Antonio Gates in at $11M over the next 2 years, they allowed their future TE to escape when the Steelers grabbed Ladarius Green at a moderate $20M over the next 4 years.

FANTASY IMPACT:  Despite not having Antonio Gates for the 1st four games, QB Phillip Rivers was on pace for career highs in both passing yards and TD’s before Keenan Allen went down in week 8 last season. Through 8 games, Rivers was on pace for 5,500 passing yards and 36 passing TD’s. Allen is fully recovered from a lacerated kidney that ended his season last year, a season in which Allen too was on pace for career highs. Both WR Keenan Allen and QB Phillip Rivers should finish in or very close to the top 10 at their respective positions and both should be considered low-mid 1’s, particularly Allen in ppr leagues. Gates only played 11 games last season but finished 7th in points per game at TE. With WR Stevie Johnson coming on, the addition of WR Travis Benjamin and a fully healthy Keenan Allen, I’m not sure if Gates will maintain TE1 status as a 36 year old entering his 14th NFL season. With guys like Zach Ertz, Zach Miller, Eric Ebron, Ladarius Green and Tampa Bay’s ASJ all coming on at TE, it’s very possible and maybe even probable that Gates slides to the bottom or out of the top 10 at TE this season.  WR Travis Benjamin made a name for himself last season in Cleveland. Benjamin is talented and gets a huge upgrade at QB, but he was force fed the ball last year on a team that had no receivers. Benjamin should probably be considered a low-end WR2 to high-end WR3. Make no mistake, Benjamin does have blazing speed and Rivers has a rocket arm, so there is some upside here and Benjamin caught 5 passes of 40+ yards last season.

 

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