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AFC West fantasy team previews

After spending all summer analyzing teams, player situations, and tracking news to get prepared for the 2019 season -- it's time to get down to the fun stuff. To get you prepared to draft your squads this season, my fantasy team previews discuss every fantasy-relevant skill position player, positional strategy, and where I have players ranked versus their average draft position (ADP). Let's get to it!

Denver Broncos

Quarterback: Denver had better hope their defense and run game propel their success this season -- because Joe Flacco and Drew Lock easily form the NFL's worst QB depth chart. For fantasy, there is no upside in this tandem. Flacco has averaged a pitiful 6.2 YPA and an 83 passer rating over the last three combined seasons, finishing as fantasy's QB20, QB24, and QB31 in this span. The Broncos pass offense is going to be sluggish at times this season, and their outlook is further compromised by Emmanuel Sanders' availability off of an Achilles tear and a reshuffled OL. Garett Bolles and Ja'Wuan James are locked in at the tackle spots, but RG Ronald Leary is returning from an Achilles' tear of his own, Connor McGovern is taking over for now-Panther Matt Paradis at C, while 2019 second-rounder Dalton Risner will start at RG. Outside of a few late-round darts on their pass catchers, the Broncos passing game may end up being one to avoid for consistent fantasy points.

Running Back: The Broncos' backfield, however, is easily their most valuable fantasy unit. Philip Lindsay earned the Broncos starting job as an undrafted free agent, beating out fellow rookie Royce Freeman and veteran Devonate Booker in training camp. Lindsay's breakout serves as another important reminder about why it's so important to pay attention to how teams use players in the preseason. Lindsay earned reps with the starters in training camp, and Broncos coaches played him on more first-team preseason snaps (27) than Freeman (22) and Booker (17). No one could have predicted what Lindsay would do during the season, though. Lindsay was one of the NFL's most explosive backs last year, becoming just the 20th RB to rush for over 5.4 YPC on at least 175 attempts since the merger. In their 13 games played together, Lindsay was clearly the main back over Freeman, leading the duo in snaps (40 to 32 percent), touches (14.4 to 9.2 per game), and red-zone carries (26 to 19). There is enough rushing volume to go around to sustain both Lindsay and Freeman in fantasy, but Theo Riddick's addition will be a thorn in both of their sides on passing downs -- especially Lindsay. The Broncos have shown that they want a running back committee this preseason, too. On Joe Flacco's 30 first-team snaps, Lindsay has played 15 downs while Freeman has played 11 snaps through two preseason games. I'm not sure why the Broncos seem intent on dwindling down Lindsay's role after his incredible rookie season, but Freeman and Riddick's presence make Lindsay an easy fade at his fifth-round average draft position.

-- Lindsay (Rk: RB27 vs. ADP: RB22); Freeman (Rk: RB36 vs. ADP: RB39)

Wide Receiver: Picking a receiver attached to Joe Flacco is unlikely to win you a fantasy league, but the Broncos have a quietly talented receiver group. Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton will man the Broncos perimeter receiver duties with DaeSean Hamilton in the slot. Sutton battled through a quad injury during an up-and-down season with Case Keenum at QB, but he'll enter 2019 as Flacco's main deep threat after easily leading Denver in targets 20 or more yards downfield as a rookie. While Flacco's deep ball has literally fallen off of the face of the earth -- he ranked 32nd-of-33 QBs in completions on throws 20 or more yards in air last year -- Sutton has elite athleticism to beat DBs downfield. At 6-3, 218lbs with 4.5-speed and 98th percentile agility, Sutton is sure to be painfully underutilized with Flacco under center. Sanders' average draft position is beginning to creep up after miraculously beating his recovery timeline off an Achilles' tear by at least 3-4 months. Sanders is a true athletic outlier after it appeared he had his normal explosion in the Broncos second preseason bout. However, in murky pass catcher corps with a bad quarterback, I always lean towards the cheapest option in fantasy. As Denver's primary slot receiver, DaeSean Hamilton will provide an easy interior target for Flacco to rely on and he's by far the least expensive option of this trio. While Sutton and Sanders are usually off of the board around 100-120 overall, Hamilton lasts deep into the double-digit rounds.

*-- Sutton (Rk: WR49 vs. ADP: WR44); Sanders (Rk: WR54 vs. ADP: WR48); Hamilton (Rk: WR61 vs. ADP: WR68) *

Tight End: Noah Fant joins Denver's wide open pass-catcher corps at an opportune time. Flacco's tendency to lock in on his tight ends bodes well for Fant's outlook. Over the past three years, Flacco has targeted his tight ends on 23 percent of his pass attempts -- the fourth-highest rate among QBs in this span behind Wentz, Luck, and Mariota. At 6-4, 249lbs, Fant ripped up the NFL Combine -- posting a 4.50 forty-yard dash, 6.81-second three-cone, and a 39.5-inch vertical. Each of these marks ranked in the 98th percentile among Combine participants at TE since 2000. Rookie tight ends usually develop slowly, but Fant is a generational athlete and he has plenty of opportunity to break out.

-- Fant (Rk: TE22 vs. ADP: TE21)

Kansas City Chiefs

Quarterback: This is not the year to go all-in on a QB early in your league, but even I have disavowed my late-round QB truther card when Mahomes slips into the late-fourth round. Regression is coming for Mahomes in 2019, but it won't be as severe as you may think. Since 2000, a total of 34 QBs have thrown a touchdown pass on over 6.5 percent of their pass attempts. In the following season, these passers have seen their touchdown rate fall by 2.2 percent and fantasy output dip by an average of 79 points year-over-year. Incredibly, if you knock Mahomes' 2018 stats by those baseline historical figures, he would have still finished as the QB2 -- just six points behind Ben Roethlisberger. Tyreek Hill somehow avoiding suspension further helps Mahomes' case to avoid a massive box score fall-off. In their first season together, Hill easily led the league in deep targets per game (2.63) as Mahomes-to-Hill combined for 716 yards on throws that traveled 20 or more yards in air. No other QB-WR tandem has come close to this output deep downfield in each of the past three years. With Hill and Travis Kelce sharing the field, the Chiefs offense is all but unguardable. Kansas City easily replaced Kareem Hunt with Damien Williams last season and added another track star in Mecole Hardman for Andy Reid to give opposing DCs nightmares. The Chiefs secondary is nothing to write home about either, and if they give up points in spades again, playing in a lot of close games will keep Mahomes throwing often. No quarterback has repeated as fantasy's No. 1 passer in recent seasons, but Mahomes has a great case to break that trend in 2019.

-- Mahomes (Rk: QB1 vs. ADP: QB1)

Running Back: Damien Williams is going to make-or-break fantasy seasons this year. On one hand, Williams is a career-long backup runner who has never seen more than 73 touches in a single-season. On a much more positive note, Williams is locked-in as the Chiefs No. 1 back on the most explosive offense in the league. Williams was a revelation after Kansas City cut Kareem Hunt, gaining over 95 yards from scrimmage in 4-of-5 starts (including the postseason). HC Andy Reid has always preferred to use a single running back as his featured player in Kansas City, and Williams is next in line for bellcow duties. Since 2013, Reid's starting backs have averaged 16.5 carries, 4.1 targets, a 75 percent snap rate, and handled 76 percent of the team's carries in their starts. As the Chiefs featured back from Week 15 on last year, Williams handled 14 attempts and 4.7 targets per game, he played on 70 percent of snaps, and saw 64 percent of the Chiefs total carries. Kansas City's thin depth chart enhances Williams' outlook further. Free-agent addition Carlos Hyde has been one of the worst pass-catching running backs in the league since he turned pro, ranking 46th in yards per target, 46th in yards after the catch, and 37th in catch rate among 46 qualifying backs in this span. Hyde has finished last in yards per carry compared to his teammates on each of his past three teams, turning his 413 attempts in this span into just 1,509 yards on the ground (3.65 YPC). Reid was emphatic that Williams is his starter in an early-July press conference: "We are asking [Williams] to be the full-time starter... he's taken the challenge and has earned the right to be that guy. Now it's a matter of production -- go do it." Williams offers RB1 upside at his late-second/early-third average draft position. After watching the first two preseason games, it is abundantly clear that Thompson has more juice in his legs than Carlos Hyde does at this point in his career. Per PFF's charts, Thompson has already forced five missed tackles on his 10 touches this preseason while Hyde has made zero defenders miss on his 7 touches. I'm prioritizing Thompson over Hyde late in all of my drafts and aggressively targeting the rookie in the 10th or 11th-round when I select Williams early.

-- Williams (Rk: RB11 vs. ADP: RB14); Thompson (Rk: RB52 vs. ADP: Undrafted on; Hyde (Rk: RB60 vs. ADP: RB45)

Wide Receiver: Tyreek Hill is automatically reinserted as a top-5 fantasy receiver after avoiding suspension. No receiver offers week-winning ability quite like Hill does and no duo has as much upside as Mahomes-to-Hill. In their first season together, Mahomes and Hill combined for an absurd 10.8 yards per attempt last season, the best clip in the league. The duo connected for 858 receiving yards and 9 scores when Hill was aligned out of the slot last year, also best in the NFL. No QB-WR duo has posted more yards or scores on slot targets since 2016. DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams have much higher target shares on their respective teams, but Hill's spiked week potential makes him worthy of going as high as WR3 in 2019 drafts. Sammy Watkins has burned quite a few fantasy managers in the past, but holding injuries against players is an easily avoidable bias. Every year is a new season, and Watkins is an undervalued WR3 at his seventh-round ADP. Of course, Watkins' draft-day cost will remain tame because of his past injuries, but that opens up a valuable opportunity for drafters who don't mind risk. Watkins played in nine full games last season, quietly earning 5.2 receptions and 74.8 yards per game. Watkins' 7.2 targets per game in his fully healthy contests were actually second-most on the team behind Kelce (8.1). Hill was right behind Watkins with 6.8 passing looks per contest. Still, Watkins' 15.0 PPR points per game in his first nine games with Mahomes would have ranked him 21st among wide receivers. Watkins' ability to separate hasn't suffered through all of his injuries, either, as he has gotten open (by gaining 3 or more yards of separation) on 50 percent of his targets over the last two seasons. This figure ranks ninth-best among WRs, only slightly behind JuJu Smith-Schuster (51 percent). I'm targeting Watkins as my WR4 on receiver-heavy builds where I can insulate some of Watkins' obvious downside injury risk. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson likely won't see enough volume to be fantasy-relevant every week while Kelce, Hill, Watkins, and Williams dominant targets -- but both are always on my radar late in best ball leagues. Hardman was a member of Georgia's 4X100-meter relay team in 2017-18 and displayed his blazing speed at the NFL Combine, posting a 4.33 forty yard dash at 187lbs. I would still target Hardman in rookie dynasty drafts, as the Chiefs have a potential out in from Watkins' contract after the season.

-- Hill (Rk: WR5 vs. ADP: WR7); Watkins (Rk: WR36 vs. ADP: WR33); Hardman (Rk: WR72 vs. ADP: WR67)

Tight End: As fantasy's TE1 in each of the past three seasons, it's awfully tempting to select Travis Kelce near the 1st-2nd round turn in 12-team leagues. Kelce has offered a positional advantage of 6.6 PPR points per game over the 12th-best tight end during his reign of TE1 dominance, and there is no reason to believe Kelce loses his crown in 2019. While Zach Ertz and George Kittle battle more competition for targets on their respective teams this year, the gap between Kelce and the field may grow further. Kelce is effectively used as a wide receiver in the Chiefs offense, and it causes mismatches across the field. Per Next Gen Stats, Kelce was detached from Kansas City's formation as a wideout or slot receiver on 54 percent of his snaps. A whopping 64 percent of Kelce's receiving yardage came against slot defenders last season, easily the highest rate in the league among tight ends. Look, drafting a TE early is not without risk, but Kelce presents the rare opportunity where it actually makes sense.

-- Kelce (Rk: TE1 vs. ADP: TE1)

Los Angeles Chargers

Quarterback: With top-15 fantasy results in 10 of his last 11 seasons, diagnosing Philip Rivers' range of outcomes is about as easy as it gets. Rivers has been a bastion of consistency throughout his career, and it's continued further into the back-nine of his career. Over the last five seasons, Rivers has scored between 16.5 and 18.0 points per game in every campaign, he's thrown between 28 and 32 touchdowns in all five years, and has been stuck between 4,300 to 4,700 yards each season. While passers ahead of him in average draft position like Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, and Kyler Murray offer more weekly upside because of their rushing ability, Rivers still remains a stalwart late-round QB selection in 12-team leagues. Even at 37-years-old, Rivers' skills have yet to show any signs of decline. Rivers is coming off a seven-year high in yards per pass attempt (8.5), due in large part to stellar play in all game situations. Per PFF's charts, Rivers earned top-eight marks in QB Rating when under pressure, kept clean, and when throwing deep (20 or more yards downfield) in 2018. While the Chargers have typically been an extremely balanced team over the last few years, Melvin Gordon's potential absence will open up Rivers for a slight uptick in volume. In the three games Gordon missed due to injury last year, the Chargers went 60 percent pass-heavy after throwing on 55 percent of downs with Gordon active. Rivers is unlikely to win you your fantasy league, but his consistency combined with Gordon's holdout makes him yet another attractive late-round QB target.

-- Rivers (Rk: QB16 vs. ADP: QB17)

Running Back: At press-time (August 21st), the Chargers and Melvin Gordon do not appear to be close to reaching a contract extension. Earlier in the month, reports surfaced that L.A. and Gordon's camp was only $1-$3 million apart in yearly contract value -- but talks have apparently gone radio silent since. Gordon is entering the fifth year of his rookie deal and must play at some point this season to avoid his contract tolling over. However, Gordon is steadfast in his holdout and has remained away from the team all preseason. For fantasy purposes, losing Gordon is a massive blow to the landscape. Gordon is a true three-down workhorse for the Chargers, as he's ranked top-5 in snaps, touches, and PPR points per game at the position over the last two seasons. Right now, I'm playing chicken with Gordon around his ADP and haven't felt comfortable taking him until the mid-third round at the earliest. Gordon will obviously smash his draft-day cost if he decides to return early in the year or if the Chargers reach a deal last minute, but no one truly knows when this situation will be resolved. Austin Ekeler stepped up for the Chargers in Gordon's three missed starts last year, playing at least two-thirds of the team's snaps and seeing 17-18 touches in each contest. This preseason, Ekeler has continued to play nearly exactly two-thirds of the first-team snaps. We haven't seen Philip Rivers yet, but Ekeler has out-snapped Justin Jackson 25 to 13 with the first-team through two exhibition games. Obviously, paying a sixth or seventh-round pick for Ekeler will feel foolish if Gordon comes back early in the season -- but for now, Ekeler is a high-end RB2 play for Week 1 against the Colts. Justin Jackson will be the change-of-pace back for as long as Gordon holds out and is worth drafting aggressively in the 10th or 11th round if you so choose to pick Gordon in your league.

-- Gordon (Rk: RB16 vs. ADP: RB12); Ekeler (Rk: RB31 vs. ADP: RB37); Jackson (Rk: RB49 vs. ADP: RB54)

Wide Receiver: If Gordon's holdout extends into multiple missed regular-season games, Keenan Allen's fantasy-backers are going to be sitting on a league-winner in the early-third rounds of drafts. The Chargers already have a large slice of targets available because of their offseason departures, and we already know L.A. will skew slightly more pass-heavy with Gordon off the field. Allen erupted for 7/72/1, 14/148/1, and 5/78/1 on a massive 36 percent target share in Gordon's three missed contests last year. He's been a little banged up this preseason (ankle/knee), but the Chargers are just keeping Allen fresh for what will be a monster regular season role. There is no way Mike Williams repeats his absurd touchdown efficiency we saw in 2018 this year, but Gordon's absence along with Tyrell Williams old vacated role puts the third-year receiver squarely on the breakout radar. An incredible 37 percent of Mike Williams' PPR points came from touchdowns alone last year, which is the second-highest TD dependency in a single-season among qualified receivers since 2000. Only the great Randy Moss depended on TDs for a higher percentage of his fantasy points in this span (39 percent of Moss' PPR points came from TDs in 2004). Scoring regression is unavoidable for Williams in 2019, but he can off-set the decline with more volume. Over the prior two seasons, Tyrell Williams saw 30 percent of the Chargers deep targets (20 or more yards downfield) and 20 percent of their air yards. Both figures were second-most on the team. I haven't drafted Williams as much as I would like this year because the fifth-round of drafts is littered with talent, but the path for a full-on breakout in 2019 is clear.

-- Allen (Rk: WR10 vs. ADP: WR10); Williams (Rk: WR23 vs. ADP: WR27)

Tight End: My 2019 tight end draft plan is pretty simple: Target O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, or Hunter Henry in the mid-rounds... and then log out. Henry hasn't fully broken out yet -- he finished as TE18 as a rookie and TE14 in 2017 -- but the path for a top-six fantasy finish in 2019 is as clear as day. Since he entered the league, Henry ranks fifth behind Kelce, Kittle, Gronkowski, and Howard in yards gained per route run and he trails only Howard in PPR points per target in this span. While veteran Antonio Gates was a thorn in Henry's side in 2016-17, Henry will be an every-down player this season and heavily involved in scoring position. Gates quietly saw 21 targets on Rivers' 89 attempts inside-the-10 yard line over the last two years, second-most on the team behind Keenan Allen (22). I have Henry ranked over Mike Williams in my top-200 and would happily take him in the early-fifth round of 12-team league drafts.

Oakland Raiders

Quarterback: Is 2019 the make-or-break year for Derek Carr? Jon Gruden and Carr's first year together got off to a sputtering start, then completely went off the rails after Amari Cooper was traded to Dallas mid-season. At the very least, Gruden and new GM Mike Mayock have surrounded Carr with, theoretically, the best talent of his career in 2019. Antonio Brown broke all the records with Big Ben in Pittsburgh and he is unquestionably the best receiver Carr has ever played with. Still, it's fair to wonder how big of a downgrade Roethlisberger to Carr is. Many QBs have played behind far worse offensive lines than Carr in years past, and had even fewer had weapons like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Yet, Derek Carr has never ranked above league average in yards per pass attempt in his career. Now surrounded by an all-time great receiver, deep speedster Tyrell Williams, and first-rounder Josh Jacobs -- the pressure is on Gruden and Carr to take a big leap forward. All of the Raiders additions talent-wise should help Carr bounce back after he posted a career-low touchdown rate (3.4 percent) -- but shaky pass protection may hold this offense back. After Carr absorbed a career-high 51 sacks last season, the Raiders retooled their offensive line and made former-Patriot Trent Brown the highest-paid tackle in the league. While Brown provides security on the right side, the Raiders left side of their OL is a gigantic question mark. LT Kolton Miller led all tackles in pressures allowed as a rookie, while LG Richie Incognito spent 2018 out of football. Oakland used to have one of the best league's offensive lines, but it has quickly devolved into a problem area. OL coach Tom Cable likely won't offer much in the way of help, either, as his linemen have never ranked higher than 20th in pass protection in any of his 13 years as a coach. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on Carr early in the season, especially with the Broncos, Vikings, and Bears on the schedule in the Raiders first five games.

-- Carr (Rk: QB24 vs. ADP: QB23)

Running Back: Offensive line concerns aside, I'm excited to see what Josh Jacobs can do as the lead back in Oakland. Jacobs was never a workhorse in Alabama's talented backfield, but he showed out as a play-maker in my Yards Created analysis. Jacobs trailed only David Montgomery in missed tackles forced per carry, he created five or more yards on 37 percent of his attempts (led the class), while only Darrell Henderson (2.8) gained more yards on his routes than Jacobs (2.4) last year. Jacobs was Nick Saban's most trusted back in short-yardage situations, and he showed excellent technique and poise in pass pro. Jacobs can immediately play all three downs in Oakland, and I'd like to see Gruden get him involved in the passing game on early downs. Oakland quietly targeted their backs on 28 percent of their first-down throws last year, the sixth-highest rate in the league. The Raiders lack of RB depth further cements a big role for Jacobs. Jalen Richard is Jacobs' only real threat for touches, particularly on passing downs, while Doug Martin is currently penciled in as the change-of-pace back. Still, First-round RBs are usually quickly integrated as focal points of their offense, and Jacobs is set up perfectly for at least 225-250 touches in his rookie season.

-- Jacobs (Rk: RB21 vs. ADP: RB21)

Wide Receiver: All of the Raiders moves this offseason has left them with a league-leading 359 targets available, meaning an insane 68 percent of Oakland's targets are up for grabs based on last year's usage. While Roethlisberger to Carr is a QB downgrade, Antonio Brown is set up to see a ridiculous amount of volume with the Raiders. I'm taking JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman, and Amari Cooper over Brown in my leagues because I believe in those offenses way more than the Raiders -- but I won't deny Brown's greatness or potential to lead the league in targets. Tyrell Williams is replacing Jordy Nelson as the deep speedster in this attack, but he is a bizarre fit in Oakland on the surface. In his first season with Gruden, Derek Carr averaged a league-low 6.7 air yards per pass attempt per Next Gen Stats while his 2.55 seconds to release was the fastest in the NFL. The Raiders leaky offensive line and barren receiver corps certainly bogged Carr down last season, but Carr has flashed effectiveness throwing deep in his career. Per PFF, Carr's 42 percent adjusted completion rate (for drops) is tied for fourth-best in the NFL since 2015. I'm cautiously optimistic on Williams in the 10th or 11th round of drafts as the Raiders locked-in No. 2, while rookie Hunter Renfrow projects to man the slot in three-receiver sets.

*-- Brown (Rk: WR15 vs. ADP: WR9); Williams (Rk: WR48 vs. ADP: WR53) *

Tight End: After Oakland let Jared Cook walk and cut Lee Smith this off-season, Darren Waller remains as the lone man atop the Raiders depth chart. At 6-6, 255lbs Waller is a converted wide receiver with freak athletic measurables. Once you adjust for his height, Waller's 4.46 forty yard dash indicates 99th percentile speed for a player of his size. Waller also posted 83rd percentile scores in the agility drills and a rangy 37.5-inch vertical. While Waller's athleticism hasn't turned into production yet, the Raiders surely have plenty of open opportunity for him to break out. Waller is a swing-for-the-fences TE2 attached to a wide-open pass offense beyond AB.

-- Waller (Rk: TE24 vs. ADP: Undrafted on


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