Earlier this week I dropped my Fantasy Forecast for the NFC East, and today we move onto the NFC West. This division is going to be known more for its defense than its offense as it houses two of the top defensive teams in the league in the Seahawks and the 49ers. The Rams and the Cardinals are moving up in defensive talent as well, and don’t forget that they bottomed out the top-10 fantasy defenses last year. Think about this: each of these defenses finished in the top-10 last year, making this the top fantasy defensive division in the NFL. How will their overall teams fare? Let’s start with the Seahawks
Let’s get this out of the way ASAP. Percy Harvin, at the earliest, will be back in November. Even if he does come back at the earliest possible time, do you trust he’ll last the rest of the season? I don’t, and that’s why I don’t suggest drafting him. Enter Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Both players had 7 TDs last year, and with Russell Wilson’s growth those numbers have a good chance of staying the same. What I expect improvement upon is their yardage totals. Their production (or lack thereof) was due to Wilson’s lack of pass attempts throughout games. This is a running team, but I believe Wilson gets more opportunities to throw the ball, thus raising the stocks of Rice and Tate. Am I drafting any of them higher than the 5th round? No, but instead of wasting a pick on Harvin, you might as well save it for a Flex player who may actually give you weekly value.
Back to Russell Wilson, who I think will finish as the 10th best fantasy QB this year. Yes, I know Percy Harvin is out, and frankly I don’t care. Wilson finished as the 11th QB last year and not only did he not have Harvin then, but as we all know, Wilson started off the season fairly slow. His first 8 games he averaged 183 passing yards, and his last 8 that average rose to 206. I mentioned this being a running team earlier, but Wilson didn’t partake much in the run early on, only averaging 16 rushing yards per game. Now Mr. Wilson in his final 8 games brought an average of 45 rushing yards to the table. If you’re keeping track, he went from averaging a total of approximately 199 yards, to 251 yards per game, a rise of 5 fantasy points per game. If you’ll bear with some more numbers, 251 yards per game over a 16 game season equates to 4,016 yards. Now I won’t go into his TD breakdown (I can’t take too much math in one sitting), but his TD’s rose over the latter course of the season and I think his rise in the final 8 games is more indicative of the talent we can expect to be displayed over the course of this season. To wrap this all up, a lack of Harvin means nothing to me. I expect Wilson to be a top-10 QB without him, and if you are a Harvin believer, then imagine just how much better Wilson can become when he does eventually join.
Now Wilson may be the new prince of the Seahawks, but Marshawn Lynch is the king. Over the past two seasons he’s averaged 1,397 yards and 11.5 TDs. Yes, he has back problems, but injuries are a part of the game and you cannot doubt the value he can bring to your fantasy team. I think his workload does come down a tad from his 315 carries last season, but even so he did average 5 yards a carry so even if the number drops to 280-290, that’ll still net you about 1,400 yards (I say he gets around 1,350). Lynch owns the end zone when he gets close, and I wholly expect him to get the rock when the Seahawks are in the red zone. The only reason I have him ranked 3rd is due to his lack of presence in the passing game.
I won’t say much about this defense. Anyone who played against them in Fantasy Football leagues last year know how good they are. You can’t expect 40 point totals every week, but I have them ranked #1 for a reason. Steven Hauschka was decent overall, and was more valuable as the season progressed, but I don’t find anything too special about him. I don’t have him ranked in the top-10, but feel free to draft him at any point after that.
San Francisco 49ers
This team is eerily similar to the Seahawks. They are run-dependent and have a young QB that is a great runner, but can also do some damage in the passing game. The defense is top-10 caliber and is one of, if not, the hardest hitting in the league. Colin Kaepernick played 13 games last season, but the first 5 don’t even count in my book since Alex Smith was still the starter. Look at what he did in the final 8 games of the season (Russell Wilson much?) and you’ll see why fantasy owners are flocking to draft him. I have Kaepernick ranked higher than Wilson because he’s better at the run and got right into throwing the ball comfortably. He didn’t need to warm up like Wilson did and after making it to the Superbowl his confidence has to have skyrocketed. Only 8 games starting under his belt and averages 266 passing yards and 88 rushing yards (181 against the Packers) in the playoffs? Losing Crabtree at least until November (Percy Harvin) hurts his passing stats, but not enough to drop Kaepernick from the top-10 list.
Anquan Boldin is the #1 WR on this team, but not a top-25 guy to me. He was fairly lackluster all regular season then came alive for the playoffs, but 4 games aren’t a solid indicator for a full season’s worth of production. I’d draft Boldin as a Flex player, with possible WR2 upside if he develops a solid connection with Kaepernick. The #2 WR on this guy is a big question. The Austin Collie signing is intriguing, and I think he actually has the talent to beat out Mario Manningham for that spot, if his health will allow him to at least. In general, I wouldn’t draft a WR from this team other than Boldin until things clear up.
Will Vernon Davis go back to being elite or not? It seems like the past two seasons we’ve been drafting him with hopes of greatness, only to see brief flashes of the guy who once finished a season with 965 yards and 13 TDs. Another solid playoffs lowers suspicion for some, but remember he had a great postseason the year before and that didn’t translate into the regular season at all. Nonetheless, the loss of Crabtree, a lack of talent on the 49ers receiving side, and a general lack of TE talent boosts Davis to the 5th TE spot. Frank Gore is still trucking along, and had an impressive season last year. I think he’ll have a 3rd season in a row of at least 1,000 yards and 8 TDs since the team is so run oriented. Watch out for LaMichael James (SLEEPER ALERT!) stealing some shine, but overall this backfield is Gore’s. To wrap up, feel fine drafting Phil Dawson. The Browns’ horrible offense kept him down, but he should thrive with the 49ers this year.
St. Louis Rams
Your time is now Sam Bradford. Your O-line is improved. You now have a star WR in Tavon Austin with solid options including Chris Givens, Jared Cook, and Lance Kendricks. It’s your time to shine, and shine I think you will. With the improvements made to this team I think Bradford will finally play at the level this team expects. At 25, Bradford still has room for growth, and I definitely think he’ll have a nice rise from 3,702 yards and 21 TDs he had last year. Bradford is a key guy that I think owners should go for as a QB backup, because he’ll keep you in competition during your starter’s bye week, and he may even turn into a nice trade piece.
I think Tavon Austin can be a star. He isn’t in my top-25, mainly because WR is so deep this year. With a 4.34 40 yard time, this guy is a burner, and burner opposing defenses is what I expect. He’s a WR2 with WR1 upside in my opinion. Chris Givens is also a burner, so Bradford should have some fun throwing downfield this year. I see Givens as a Flex guy with WR2 upside. The two TE’s I’d pass on for now. Jared Cook is in my 14th ranked, but that’s more an indicator of the lack of TE talent and not a reflection of his skill. I’m tired of waiting for this guy to excel, and being paired with Kendricks is only lowering the amount of touches he can get.
With the departure of Steven Jackson, there is now a 3 way battle for the starting RB. Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Zac Stacy are all fighting for this spot, and quite frankly I have no idea who will win. Whoever does end up as the starter can inherit a large amount of carries, possibly thrusting them into top-20 territory, but there’s also the chance that this ends up into a RB rotation, which is what I’m afraid of. I wouldn’t draft any of these guys before the 8th round, depending on how your RB core looks at that point. I just need more clarification of what this backfield is going to look like Week 1 before I can have faith in making any of the 3 a part of my team.
Carson Palmer will make Larry Fitzgerald elite again. Larry Fitz finished last season with 798 yards and 4 TDs. As comparison, Denarius Moore finished last season with 741 yards and 7 TDs, with Palmer as his QB. Talent wise, Larry and Denarius don’t compare. Larry should be back to a 1,000+ yard, 8+ TD season again. In fact I’m predicting Larry has at least 10 TDs this season, as he is by far the best offensive option this team has, and Bruce Arians will make use of that. Will Larry make Palmer elite, is another story. Palmer had a nice bounce back season last year, putting up his best yardage total since 2007. Where Palmer struggles is his knack for making mistakes, and his INT numbers have always been in double digits. Larry Fitz can increase his yard and TD totals, but he won’t decrease Palmer’s INTs. Palmer is a solid QB backup, who has starter upside depending on his matchups. I’d stay away from him when he plays teams in this division though.
The rest of this offense is a big question mark. Could he possibly get back to 1,200 yards and 13 TDs? Maybe, but I’m not putting money on it. I’d take the risk of drafting Mendenhall and saving him on the bench in case he starts show any fantasy value. I’d do the same with Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd. Roberts was the better guy last year, but Floyd was the 1st round draft pick a year ago and is expected to be the #2 WR barring any struggles. These are two guys I’d take in late rounds (Floyd coming first) as possible Flex spots. This defense is where things get really interesting. The addition of Tyrann Mathieu only means good things for a pass defense that was already very good. Whether the run defense steps up or not is the main concern, but this team did a great job of causing turnovers and that can help make up for it. Patrick Peterson is truly a dynamic player, and if he is being used in offensive packages, I assume any scoring he does on that side of the ball would go to the DST since he’s listed as a defensive player. If that is the case, then this defense will be top-10 no doubt.