AFC North Fantasy preview
By James Collier
Our fourth divisional preview is the AFC West. Home of the Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs who get us underway tonight in Thursday Night Football against the Lions. This division boasts last year’s NFL MVP and fantasy QB1 plus two of the top three fantasy running backs from 2022. But how will they fair this year?
Russell Wilson did not live up to his self given nickname last year and was extremely “limited” in his first season in Denver. The Broncos managed just 29 total touchdowns, tied for 31st in the league. There is optimism that new head coach Sean Payton can breathe some life into the offense but Wilson is just a streaming option for now.
Veteran Samaje Perine was added to the backfield with Javonte Williams recovering from ACL and LCL tears. Williams has made a faster than anticipated recovery and so it is now unclear how this running back room will shake out. It’s possible that it’s a timeshare for most of the season, with Williams being the primary pass catcher.
The Broncos have not been blessed with injury luck at the wide receiver position in recent years. Jerry Jeudy was the sole positive to come out of last season, finishing as the WR26 despite missing two games and playing just 1% snaps in another. But his status for Week 1 is in doubt with a hamstring injury. After a training camp injury ruled Tim Patrick out for a second straight season, Courtland Sutton has an opportunity to bounce back from a poor 2022. And rookie Marvin Mims could be involved earlier than expected.
Greg Dulcich was a top 12 tight end from Week 6 onwards after recovering from his own injury. The optimism surrounding him has died down somewhat after limited involvement in preseason and with the Broncos adding Adam Trautman. But Dulcich will still be the primary pass catching tight end and should get more opportunities with the injury issues at wide receiver.
Kansas City Chiefs
If Travis Kelce is active tonight, you simply have to play him.— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge) September 7, 2023
If he’s on your bench, he’s going for 11/186/3.
Of course, if you play him, he’s probably going to be limited and finish the game with 1/9/0.
But that’s just how fantasy football works.
What else needs to be said, Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the world and the most reliable fantasy quarterback. He was a top five quarterback in 10 different weeks and top 12 in 15.
Jerrick McKinnon was a league winner last year, averaging 25.5 fantasy points per game over the last four weeks of the fantasy season. In that spell he scored six touchdowns on 23 receptions and was the fantasy RB1 in both Week 14 and 15. Isiah Pacheco was the team’s main ball carrier though and had a solid second half of the season, putting together a stretch as the RB17 after the Chief’s Week 10 bye week. Both will have value this year but it may be tricky to predict when to start or bench them.
There is an opportunity for a true number one receiver to emerge in Kansas City but it’s anyone’s guess as to, if anyone, is able to step up. Kadarius Toney is electric with the ball in his hands but can’t stay healthy. Skyy Moore was barely on the field as a rookie and had just a 6.3% target share. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the only receiver returning from 2022 to have over 35 targets but we’ve fallen for that trap before. Maybe second round pick Rashee Rice is the guy?
The number one fantasy tight end in six of the last seven years, Travis Kelce hyperextended his knee in practice putting his start to the season in doubt. As much as we don’t want to see our first round picks miss time, Kelce is 34 and sitting out a week or two to get back to full health might not be the worst thing.
Las Vegas Raiders
When he’s on the field Jimmy Garoppolo has always put up serviceable enough fantasy numbers. But the issue is him staying healthy. This is his first year as a full time starter outside of San Francisco and while the Raiders have some solid weapons, they are not on the level he had with the 49ers. Making him just a bye week streamer this year.
It took a while but Josh Jacobs finally came to an agreement on a one year contract with the Raiders. He is now back in training camp and the threat of him holding out should mean a lot of fantasy managers were able to get him at a significant discount. The Raiders handed him the keys to the offense with a career high 340 carries leading to a league high 1,653 rushing yards. If he’s not too rusty to start the season, he should see similar usage this year.
Despite moving away from a hall of fame quarterback, Davante Adams still topped 1,500 receiving yards and was a top three fantasy wide receiver. There will be question marks once again with another new quarterback but writing him off completely would be silly. The Raiders did add Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow is back despite trade rumours. But neither of them will be much threat to Adams and his 30% target share.
Long time starter Darren Waller was traded to the Giants so the team drafted Michael Mayer and added Austin Hooper in free agency. Mayer should be a fantasy relevant tight end at some point in the future but will be hard to trust this year.
Los Angeles Chargers
There’s no other way to put it, last year was a disappointment for Justin Herbert and the Chargers. He struggled with a rib injury and barely had his top receivers all on the field at the same time, leading to a QB12 finish. Which was no good for those that drafted him ahead of the likes of Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow. Things should get better this year and with a more reasonable ADP of the QB6, he stands a much better chance of rewarding drafters.
Despite ranking 20th in the league in rush attempts, Austin Ekeler was the clear fantasy RB1 in 2022. Only five players in the league had more than his 107 catches as Herbert struggled to move the ball down the field and instead leant on his running back. That receiving volume is unlikely to carry forward to this year and so Ekeler is going to need to score somewhere close to the 18 touchdowns he managed last year to remain a top three fantasy running back. Joshua Kelley appears to be the primary handcuff to own in case of an Ekeler injury.
The Chargers added Quentin Johnston to the pairing of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams via this year’s draft. Allen and Williams are top 24 fantasy wide receivers when healthy but they missed 12 games between them last season. They should still be able to hit that mark again this year even with Johnston added to the mix with new play caller Kellen Moore in town. Josh Palmer was a capable deputy last year and could see the field ahead of Johnston early in the season.
In his first season as a Charger, Gerald Everett had career highs across the board and finished just outside the top 12 fantasy tight ends. With added depth at receiver it’s hard to see him topping last season’s numbers but he will have his weeks and should be a solid steaming option.
Feature image credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
A Washington fan since the early 2010’s, James had no choice but to turn to fantasy football in search of happiness – and it wasn’t long until it became an obsession. You can follow him on Twitter @jamesc294.