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Tuesday, 12 August 2014 16:33

Fantasy Football 2014 Forecast: NFC West

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Home of the Super Bowl XLVIII Champions, are the Seahawks the best fantasy team in the NFC West or is this defense heavy division being taken over by a new team?

Seattle Seahawks

Nope, this is still the home of the Seahawks. They have the best defense in the division as well as arguably the best offense. The Cardinals finished higher in total offense, but the Seahawks didn’t have their top wide receiver: Percy Harvin. The injury concerns for him remain, which is why I have him cautiously ranked at 23, but his skill set is so dynamic it’s hard not to keep him on your radar. I don’t advise reaching for him, but I can’t blame you for getting caught in the allure. After Harvin is Doug Baldwin, who had some pretty good games last season. He’s a Flex player, but if Harvin misses anytime don’t be shocked if Baldwin flies off the waiver wire in your league.

I went into last season thinking Russell Wilson would finish 10th among QBs, and he ended up proving me wrong by finishing 8th. He may not have the best receiving options in the league, but he knows how to be effective with the players on the team. This year I have him ranked at 11, and I’m being conservative due to the Harvin concerns. Wilson didn’t start off too slow, but he did have two 0 TD games out of his first 6. After that Wilson went six straight weeks with at least 2 TDs, ten straight with at least 1 score. As much as this team relies on the run, Wilson still finds ways to be a quality fantasy QB, and I don’t expect that to change.

Beast Mode will look for his 4th straight season with 1,000+ rushing yards and 10+ TDs, and there’s no reason to think he won’t get it. You can expect at least 280 carries, and even a few catches here and there. Christine Michael may get involved here and there, but barring injury I don’t think Lynch owners have to worry about Michael stealing too many opportunities. This is Lynch’s team until he leaves.

The Seahawks defense is the best in the league. They lost Brandon Browner at Cornerback last year and they didn’t lose a step. The L.O.B. is the real deal.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers on paper look more talented than the Seahawks, and maybe with that talent they’ll outperform the defending Super Bowl champs, but I think the Seahawks have a fantasy edge going into this season.  Yes the 49ers didn’t have Michael Crabtree for most of last season, but again the Seahawks didn’t have Percy Harvin either. Anquan Boldin had great numbers last season, but do you expect them to be that high with Crabtree back? I don’t have Boldin in my top-30 because I think he only received as much attention as he did because of the absence of Crabtree. Factor in the arrivals of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd (who I expect to make the roster), and it’s hard to think Boldin will come close to his 85 catches from last season.

Anquan Boldin could fill a Flex spot on your roster, but Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are the pass catchers I’d look for in the draft from a prominent spot on your team. Reports out of camp are that Crabtree doesn’t look like someone who just recovered from a serious injury, and once Crabtree returned last season he was heavily targeted (7.6 targets in 8 games inclu. playoffs). He has WR1 upside for sure. Vernon Davis is ranked 5th among TE’s for me, mainly due to the additional weapons. I don’t think he’ll go for 13 TDs, but I have no problem believing he can go for 800+ yards again. Colin Kaepernick really focused solely on Boldin and Davis last year, so with far more options I don’t think they’ll be as great as they were a year before.

Speaking of Kaepernick, I expected more. Even with the absence of Crabtree I expected him to be a bit better. Granted it’s hard to argue against 524 yards on the ground, but there aren’t any excuses for him this year. Jim Harbaugh brought in more receivers so I’d like to see more than 3,197 and 21 TD passes.  The worst part is that what’s holding him back isn’t of his own doing, but it’s the offense’s reliance on the run game. Frank Gore was a year older yet ran more than he did the previous season. As much as people (myself included) try to dismiss Gore, he isn’t going anywhere. I will say look at Carlos Hyde as a sleeper. With Kendall Hunter out for the season, Hyde is most likely to be #2 on the depth chart.

Last but certainly not least, the 49ers are a top-3 defense in my opinion. You never want to reach for a defense, but they’ll be one of the first to fly off the boards, as they should.

Arizona Cardinals

Am I crazy for thinking this team is very underrated? Yeah I know how their starting QB is, but I actually like Carson Palmer (totally fine if that makes me crazy). I doubt he throws 22 INTs again this year, and I say he throws at least 25 TD passes. He did a great job bringing Larry Fitzgerald back to relevance, who by the way should hit 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in 3 years. I think this duo will be great for each other, with Fitz as a top-15 WR and Palmer as a solid bye-week fill in, maybe even a starting caliber QB if he can get those INTs down.

Michael Floyd is the other noteworthy WR that Carson Palmer will be throwing to, and many may not know this, but Floyd actually had a 1,041 yard receiving season last year. The former 1st round draft pick pretty much doubled his production from the prior season, greatly boosting his value once Palmer joined the team. Floyd is a WR2, and probably deserves to be higher in my rankings. Outside of him and Fitz, I think Rob Housler will be targeted a bit by Palmer. I haven’t ranked Housler, but he could be a TE sleeper, especially if this offense surprises people like I think it will.

One of the main reasons I think this offense will surprise people is Andre Ellington. With Rashard Mendenhall retiring, Ellington will be the starting RB. He didn’t get the ball as much as he should’ve but in his time on the field he amassed 1,023 total yards with 3 TDs. His 57 targets are telling, as he is not only a great runner (5.5 ypc on 118 attempts), but he’ll be catching some passes out of the backfield. If he can be utilized like that on a full time basis, he should definitely outplay his #15 rank on my list. Another fact that may surprise you is that the Cardinals DST finished 5th in fantasy scoring last year. This unit is out to prove last year wasn’t fluke, and I think they’ll do just fine for their fantasy owners this year.

St. Louis Rams

People are tired of waiting on Sam Bradford and I can understand why. I personally think he’s a top-20 QB and looking at last season’s stats before injury, I see no reason to think otherwise. Through 7 games Bradford ended with 1,687 passing yards and 14 TDs, with 4 INTs. That’s 241 yards and 2 TDs per game. It’s sad that he was starting off so well and ended up suffering a season ending injury, but in 7 games last year he already had two-thirds of his previous year’s TD totals. To me that shows growth, and because of it I think Bradford could be a great QB this season.

One of the reasons I think people are down on Bradford is because he doesn’t have the sexiest options. Chris Givens and Austin Pettis don’t exactly instill fear in opposing defenses. Jared Cook was great for what, 4 games? I hope the Rams will find a more effective way to use Tavon Austin because I think he can be a great weapon for Bradford. His speed and versatility could make him a very dangerous player if used properly. Another player who could be dangerous: Kenny Britt. I know, he hasn’t had a relevant in years, hasn’t had a 1,000 yard season yet in his career, and always either has character or injury issues. I didn’t say he was a sure bet, and I wouldn’t advise drafting him, but the possibility of a decent Flex-esque season is still there.

Zac Stacy won the RB battle and had a fantastic season with 973 yards and 7 TDs rushing over 14 (really 12) games. Safe to say if he played a full 16 he would’ve hit the 1,000 yard mark and maybe ended the year with 8 or 9 TDs. I’m a little confused at the Rams drafting Tre Mason in the 3rd round, especially since the RB they just drafted the year before turned into something great. My guess is that Mason ends up being #2 on the depth chart, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to eat into Stacy’s carries unless they just wanted a guy to give Stacy a break here and there. Stacy started off his NFL career with 250 carries (11th in the league) in less than 16 games, maybe the Rams want to make sure they preserve his health.

For every team in this division I’ve mentioned the defense, and that doesn’t change for the Rams. Like the three other teams in this division, the Rams DST finished as one of the top-10 in Fantasy Football. After drafting Aaron Donald this team has arguably the scariest defensive line in the league. Don’t feel too bad if the other three defenses in this division got drafted and you’re “stuck” picking the Rams, I think they’ll be pretty darn good.

For other rankings, check out the Fantasy Football Draft Central page, and follow me @CLNS_Marc for further coverage.