Outside of the Broncos, the AFC West is pretty much one of the worst divisions in football. It is not much different in the Fantasy world, but there is some talent that you can use to bring home a Fantasy title.
The impact of Wes Welker in Denver
Welker leaves New England where he had 145 or more targets and 110 or more catches in five of the last six seasons. Welker also produced at least 1,300 receiving yards in three of the last four years as well.
Those numbers will be hard to match in a new offense, but fortunately for Welker, he joins a Denver passing attack led by Peyton Manning and should not see as much of a dropoff as would otherwise be expected. Peyton piloted the most efficient Fantasy passing attack in the NFL last year, with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley all ranking in the Top 10 in terms of Fantasy points per target. Stokley was a 36-year old slot receiver who averaged a career best 9.4 yards per target in 2012 and finished eighth among those with at least 50 targets by averaging 1.46 Fantasy points per target. Stokley also had the best catch rate of any receiver in the NFL (77.6 percent) with at least 50 targets in 2012, so clearly Peyton knows what to do with his slot receiver in this offense.
It should also be noted that Manning completed 71.6 percent of his passes overall to players in the slot, which was the best mark in the NFL. Welker is a massive upgrade over Stokley in terms of talent and should thrive in this offense. I do not expect Welker to see another 170 targets in 2013, but he should increase his overall efficiency over last year (7.7 yards and 0.98 Fantasy points per target). With defenses very worried about Thomas and Decker out wide, Welker should even have more room in the middle of the field than he enjoyed in New England, where the primary focus of the passing attack was in the middle of the field with Welker and the two tight ends.
Look for Welker to see about 130 targets this year and severely cut into the looks for Eric Decker (133 targets in 2012) and tight ends Jacob Tamme/Joel Dreessen/Julius Thomas (143 targets). I really expect Welker to cut into Decker's red zone production as well. Decker led the NFL with 25 red zone targets and 12 red zone touchdowns a year ago, but I expect more than a few of those looks and scores to go to the heady Welker, who will be dynamite with Peyton's adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Manning has a knack for getting slot receivers in the end zone and in his last two seasons, Manning has thrown 13 touchdowns to slot receivers Austin Collie and Brandon Stokley on a combined 130 targets (best slot receiver touchdown rate in the NFL).
I think his overall targets, catches and yards will be down, but Welker will have a great shot at his first 10-touchdown season with Manning under center. That should yield a season of 80-plus catches for 1,100 yards and 8-10 touchdowns for Welker in 2013, which will keep him as a solid No.2 receiver in Fantasy Football despite his new team. Peyton Manning is now my No. 3 quarterback on the board with the addition of his new toy and Decker has fallen to top No. 3 receiver status. The physical freak on the outside -- Thomas -- remains a strong No. 1 receiver for your team and should be one of the first eight receivers taken on Draft Day.
Only take him if he falls in your draft: Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates currently has an ADP in the seventh round, where he has been the sixth tight end taken on average. At that spot I am passing on Gates, who seems to be on the downside of his career, but I have seen some drafts where Gates was available in the 10th or 11th rounds and at that spot, I'd take the plunge on the aging tight end.
In 2012, Gates saved his season with a strong performance in the red zone, where he scored six times on 11 targets, en route to a season with 49 catches, 538 yards and seven total touchdowns. However, Gates really seemed to lose a step as he averaged career lows in terms of yards per target (6.7) and yards per catch (11). He really seemed to disappear between the 20s and it should be noted that Gates was held to fewer than 50 yards receiving in all but three games a year ago. He even ended the season with a streak of seven straight games without 50 yards receiving, which is a far cry from what we have come to expect from the former Pro Bowler.
The good news is that Gates is fully healthy heading into 2013 and with all of the injuries to the Chargers wide receivers, he will be a primary target for Philip Rivers. He is a solid starting option as long as you get him late on Draft Day, but I am not drafting him earlier on Draft Day than alternate options like Brandon Myers, Jordan Cameron and Tyler Eifert.
For the third straight year, there will be a new No. 1 receiver in San Diego: Vincent Brown
Danario Alexander, who had been plagued by injuries himself prior to his breakout 2012 campaign, is out for the year with a torn ACL. Malcom Floyd also suffered a knee injury and will likely miss some time at the beginning of the season, so Brown has been elevated to the top spot in this passing attack. In his young career, Brown has averaged a very healthy 17.1 yards per catch, 8.2 yards per target and most importantly 1.17 Fantasy points per target. If he can stay on the field in his third season, Brown has No. 2 receiver potential with a No. 4 receiver price tag (47th at the position). He is a great gamble to snag later in your drafts as many I have talked to -- including his former head coach Norv Turner -- think Brown is a future star.
Now that he has a quarterback, Dwayne Bowe will live up to his potential
Poor quarterback play has really limited Dwayne Bowe the last few seasons and he was on the verge of being someone to go out of your way to avoid on Draft Day.
Last year, Bowe was the clear No. 1 receiver for the Chiefs and averaged a very healthy 8.8 targets per game. Despite that high target volume, Bowe was extremely inefficient and was held to just 59 catches for 797 yards and three scores for the season. Bowe had just a 52 percent catch rate and averaged 6.9 yards and 0.86 points per target, which ranked 60th, 52nd and 60th respectively among the 70 most targeted receivers in the league. This was not just a 2012 problem either, as Bowe has scored only four touchdowns and produced two games with 100 yards receiving in his last 24 starts combined. Bowe even closed out the 2012 season with nine straight games without either a touchdown or 100 yards receiving.
Things will be looking up for Bowe in 2013 now that the Chiefs have Andy Reid as their head coach and Alex Smith as the new quarterback.
Montee Ball is still the back I want to own in Denver
Second year running back Ronnie Hillman worked extremely hard this offseason and became the starter for the Broncos over the first two weeks of the preseason.
Even if Hillman plays a substantial role this year, the back I want to own for my Fantasy teams is the rookie Montee Ball. Ball is a big, punishing back with a great nose for the end zone, as evidenced by the NCAA record 83 touchdowns he accumulated while at the University of Wisconsin. At the very least, Ball should get half of the team's carries and all of the goal line work (Hillman fumbled at the goal line in Week 2 of the preseason) for a Denver offense that should be among the highest scoring in the league.
In 2012, the Broncos running backs produced 1,825 yards rushing and punched in 12 touchdowns. If Ball can get half of the yards and the bulk of the scores a season of 900 yards and 10 touchdowns is not out of the question. If he can become better in pass protection, which is a must if you want to play with Peyton Manning, Ball could take over this position full time on the first two downs and near the goal line. You can grab Ball as your third runner given his current ADP as the 25th runner taken and I think he has the potential to provide a very nice return on that investment in the middle rounds of your draft.
Walk, don't run to get Darren McFadden on your team
Darren McFadden has only rushed for 710 or more yards and finished as a Top 24 Fantasy running back just once in his five years in the NFL.
He won't be in the zone blocking scheme of 2012 that limited him to a career worst 3.3 yards per carry, but there is plenty to still be worried about headed into 2013. Outside of the fact that he has finished in the Top 24 in just 20 percent of his seasons, McFadden runs behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The preseason injury to the team's best linemen -- Jared Veldheer -- is a big blow to a line that cannot afford many to begin with.
It should also be noted that McFadden also set a career low in terms of yards per catch (6.1) and yards per target (4.1). Run DMC was also the worst red zone scorer among runners with at least 13 chances with a 3.2 percent scoring rate and was also dead last inside the five-yard line among those with at least five opportunities with a 12.5 percent scoring rate.
The only positives about McFadden headed into 2013 is that the team has gone back to a power running scheme and that suits his game very well. "Obviously he never felt comfortable in what we were doing last year," coach Dennis Allen said. "That led to some questions about him, but if you watch practice, the guy's still explosive. He's still a threat to take it all the way. And he feels more comfortable. If you don't quite trust it, there's always that doubt."
The other positive for McFadden is that he has a chance to get paid at the end of the year if he has a big season. That is a powerful motivator and cannot be completely discounted. Still, DMC has never been able to stay healthy and live up to his Top 10 (heck, even Top 24) talent outside of his magical 2010 season. You can take the plunge on DMC as a late No. 2 runner and hope he can stay healthy to exceed his draft spot. I'd rather have Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray, Darren Sproles and David Wilson over DMC this year just to name a few comparable No. 2 runners. If you do take him as your second runner, I think you must turn around and grab a quality third runner very quickly to prepare your team for the inevitable games that it will have to play without him, since he has played just 32 of his last 48 possible games in his professional career.
Raise your hand if you want to draft Ryan Mathews in 2013.
No one? Not one person?
To be honest, I am not surprised. I just traded the rights to Mathews and one of his jerseys in my personal JFFL league just to get the guy off my team in exchange for a late draft pick. I also think that Mathews seems to be made of glass and continually fails to live up to lofty expectations. The good news is that this year, the young back has no expectations in the Fantasy world despite having a very healthy and productive offseason that has really caught the attention of his new coach Mike McCoy.
Danny Woodhead will likely work on third downs and in obvious passing situations, but Mathews should be the primary ball carrier. Based on his current ADP as the 26th running back taken and the fact that the majority of your leaguemates will refuse to draft him, Mathews is actually looking like a solid value as a flex option in the middle rounds of your draft. Don't forget that Mathews was the No. 8 overall Fantasy back just two years ago and while I would not even think of insinuating that he still possesses that kind of upside, Mathews could easily outplay his draft position. The disdain for Mathews and his injury risk have already been factored in to his ADP, making him a reasonable value when he falls into your lap as a backup for 2013.
In 2012, Streater led the Raiders with an 8.0 yards per target average and was second on the team with a 1.02 Fantasy points per target average. He hauled in 53.4 percent of his targets as well, which was also tops on the team among all wide receivers. In other words, he was the most efficient receiver on the Oakland roster and enters the 2013 season as a full time starter opposite Denarius Moore.
Unlike Moore, Streeter is not reliant on the deep ball for the majority of his production, which is good given that new Oakland quarterback Matt Flynn has one of the weaker arms in the league. What Flynn lacks in arm strength he makes up for with accuracy and quick decision-making. Streeter has been the go-to guy for Flynn in Raiders camp and will be a very sneaky receiver to grab late in your drafts (especially in PPR leagues).
Thomas is a former basketball player turned tight end who has everything you look for in terms of raw athletic ability and size. With the injuries to Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, Thomas has gotten the chance to work with the first team this offseason in Denver and has seized his opportunity. He adds a vertical dimension to Peyton Manning's offense that did not exist with Tamme or Dreessen.
In limited preseason action, Thomas has been targeted just eight times and has caught all eight of them for 105 yards. He is averaging a very solid 13.1 yards per catch (and target since he caught them all) as well as 1.3 Fantasy points per target. It should also be noted that Thomas is second among all tight ends in the preseason, averaging 4.2 yards per route run from the slot.
Thomas jumps out at you on tape and looks like an upgraded weapon for Manning relative to Dreessen and Tamme. At best, he would be the fourth target in this offense, but Thomas looks like a nice deep sleeper to file away as a potential early season waiver wire add if he carries his preseason momentum into the regular season and retains the job as the receiving tight end.
Jamaal Charles will be a Top 3 Fantasy back this year as a perfect fit for the Andy Reid offense
Alex Smith will make some quality starts for your teams and is a solid No. 2 quarterback in the Andy Reid offense
Danny Woodhead will be a great flex option in PPR leagues this year