NFC West Fantasy Outlook

August 27, 2020
By Chris Steele

San Francisco 49ers
Player I’m drafting: George Kittle, TE (ADP 24)

There’s nothing he can’t do. He will be the first option in the passing game for the 49ers, and he should be the first tight end off the board in your draft. Travis Kelce is a great player, but there are tons of options for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. When the 49ers are dropping back to pass, Kittle is going to get his touches. Last season, Kittle even had designed running plays called for him last. Kyle Shanahan has the most beautifully designed running plays in the league, and when they aren’t running it they are taking advantage of play-action with Kittle gashing defenses for big yards. Jimmy Garoppolo is mobile enough to break the pocket and bootleg outside the hashes which gives Kittle more time to work downfield. Better yet, with the addition of tackle Trent Williams, Kittle won’t have to chip or stay in to block as often. Last season, his targets were down (107) from his high in 2018 of 135 targets.

However, there are even fewer options throwing the ball this year with the departure of Marquise Goodwin, and Deebo Samuel missing major time with a foot injury. Kittle earned a five-year contract extension through the 2025 season because this formula works with Shanahan’s run scheme and Kittle being the man in the middle of the passing attack. Expect a big season from Kittle.  

Who I’m avoiding: Jimmy Garoppolo QB (ADP 141)

The volume throwing the ball in this offense just isn’t there to make him a guy I want to hang my hat on. This is a run-first team, and Garoppolo just needs to do enough to keep them honest. I just can’t get over some of the head-scratching interceptions a pick-six against the Buccaneers, and an awful pick against the Bengals where he threw it into a crowd. He threw 13 interceptions last season, a lot of those interceptions came off of juggled and bobbled balls. However, this receiving core isn’t even going to be as seasoned as last year’s team (see above departure of Goodwin, and Samuel missing major time with a foot injury). Garoppolo threw 27 touchdowns last season, but Shanahan will look to just beat opponents at the point of attack and run over teams with an inexperienced group of wide receivers. Rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is a really trendy name and he might be a breakout player, but it usually takes a while for wide receivers to take over games. What I keep wondering about Aiyuk, is how much of the team is real, and what they are saying to talk this guy up to give him confidence as the No. 1 threat? The top wide receiver on this team might be Dante Pettis who has 11 catches and two touchdowns.

Sleeper: Jerick McKinnon RB (ADP 242)

McKinnon signed with the 49ers just six months before an ACL injury kept him sidelined for the past two seasons. McKinnon was going to be a feature back in Shanahan’s offense, but how does he fit into the picture now? McKinnon looks like a great fit for the role Matt Breida played in the offense after he was shipped off to Miami.  McKinnon can do everything Breida did in the offense, and McKinnon adds the best hands among the 49ers stable of running backs which might make him the best third-down option. I think we will get an indicator of how healthy McKinnon really is once we see the season start. If you see a lot of Jeffery Wilson cut McKinnon from your roster, but if McKinnon gets touches right away and looks like nothing has changed he’s the perfect fit in this offense.

Bust: Jordan Reed TE (ADP 606)

He’s listed as the second tight end on the depth chart, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to take a flyer on him having a bounce-back season. Chances are he’s done well for your fantasy team in the past, but make like Elsa and just let it go. Reed hasn’t been on the field since 2018 and he’s had seven different head injuries during his career. What should also be a major concern is pedal toe fractures and sprains that put him on the injury report three times during 2017-18. I’m no doctor, but turf toe is something that never entirely heals. It’s a tough injury to kick, no pun intended (but pun really intended). Tight end is a shallow position, but I would take my shots elsewhere before trusting Reed again.  

Seattle Seahawks
Player I’m drafting
:  Russell Wilson, QB (ADP 63)

He’s the most dependable player in fantasy football. He’s also one of the most overlooked. He’s thrown for more than 30 touchdowns four of the past five seasons, and he’s been a Top 10 fantasy player the past three seasons. Seattle was a Top 10 offense last season, and I like the addition of Phillip Dorsett as a slot wide receiver. This is considered to be a run-first team under Pete Carol, but regardless of touches Wilson puts up numbers to put in the mix for a fantasy championship. He hasn’t missed a game in his career due to injury, and he’s only really been on the injury report in 2016 when he played through some knee and ankle injuries. The downside of his injury history is that he is still a running quarterback and he’s due for a big hit to knock him out for a long period of time. Father time is undefeated and there’s a reason to believe that this streak has to come to an end sooner rather than later. I would bet on Wilson putting up another great season.

Who I’m avoiding: DK Metcalf, WR (ADP 46)

I think it takes a year for defensive coordinators to adjust to a player like Metcalf. As a rookie, Metcalf set the league on fire with 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season. He has the body of a football god and the speed to match. Here’s how defenses are going to stop him. make him run any direction other than straight forward. Metcalf wowed at the NFL combine until it came to the three-cone drill and shuttle where he put up numbers where you might wonder if he fell down or something. DK Metcalf: 7.38 cone, 4.5 shuttle. Tackle Orlando Brown had one of the worst NFL combines ever and he put up comparable numbers in the cone drill 7.87 cone — again he’s a tackle and this was not a good time for a tackle. I think coordinators force Metcalf to show he’s developed into more of a speedster and the numbers will reflect that this season.

Sleeper: Tyler Lockett, WR (ADP 55)

I think this is kind of cheating, but how is Lockett lower in ADP than Metcalf? Lockett had more yards 1,057 and more touchdowns (8) than Metcalf (900 and 7). I think people are fading him because everyone can’t wait to proclaim Metcalf as the next big thing. While they are fixating on the new and shiny Metcalf, swoop in and grab Lockett who’s been dependable over the last two seasons.  

Bust: Greg Olson, TE (ADP 193)

It’s an up or down league. You are either active or injured and Greg Olson has spent the past three seasons with too many injuries to be trusted. He’s going to be a touchdown dependant. I think at best you are looking at a semi-retired Jason Witten like season where we celebrate seeing him make plays moe than he impacts the game. Working his way back from a turf toe injury, Will Dissly shouldn’t have his numbers impacted by Olson. Dissly will be the breakout while Olson should be on the waiver wire.  

Los Angeles Rams
Player I’m drafting
: Robert Woods, WR (ADP 45)

His usage and consistency make him an easy choice. The past two seasons he’s had over 1,000-yard seasons. He only scored two touchdowns last season, but I would expect that to increase to somewhere around six this season considering his previous career totals, and him probably seeing more red zone opportunities. While this offense has a lot of weapons, he’s the one they are primarily going to runs things through. With the departure of Brandin Cooks, the Rams’ Woods stands to play an even larger role in the team’s success this season. Additionally, he has proven durability not showing up on the injury report since 2017.

Who I’m avoiding: Tyler Higbee TE (ADP 76)

I like him, but I think his value is way too high right now. We’ve become so desperate for someone other than Kittle or Travis Kelce to be good at the tight end position that we just want to declare the second coming of every tight end who just looks the part. Also, this is a group that spreads the ball around to the open guy. Higbee had his coming out party last year with 69 catches 734 yards and three touchdowns. This year, I think defenses will be ready for him. I would not expect a repeat of the numbers he put up last season, and I think the expectation that he takes another step to be among the best in the league is short-sighted. He’s a solid player, but he’s a late-round guy.    

Bust: Malcolm Brown (ADP 233)

The Rams offensive line is one of the worst units in the league, and Sean McVay’s west coast offense will be using the pass to supplement the running game. Last season for the Rams offense, it was all about how they are using Todd Gurley, or how they not using Gurley enough. Brown stands as the running back who is at the top of the depth chart and who stands to be the day one starter, but everyone is just waiting for the Rams to declare that Darrell Henderson who already has an injury or Cam Akers as the guy who will be getting all the touches. Henderson already has an injury, so my guess is that Akers’ value continues to rise and all he has to do to be the feature back is be better than a plodding Brown.

Sleeper: Van Jefferson WR (ADP 560)

He scored touchdowns against LSU and Georgia last year, so he can compete and win against pro-level talent. He owned the second half during Florida’s game against LSU last season scoring a pair of touchdowns. He finished with 8 catches for 73 yards. The most impressive part of Jefferson’s performance was he was matched up with Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley would have been a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft this year if he wasn’t just a freshman last season. Stingley is widely considered to be the best cornerback in all of college football this season. The only thing that slowed Jefferson down in the second half was an LSU linebacker injuring Jefferson back on a touchdown catch. If the hit on Jefferson happened in the NFL would have drawn probably 10 flags for a hit on a defenseless receiver, late hit and targeting and a fine would be waiting for the linebacker the next week. Jefferson has good speed, strong leaping ability and the hands and strength to fight through contact to make the catch. Right now, people are looking at Josh Reynolds to be a bigger part of the Rams’ offense, but Reynolds is nothing more than a depth guy. Jefferson has the makings of a late-round steal that can really blossom with the right opportunities this year.

Arizona Cardinals
Player I’m drafting:
Kenyan Drake, RB (ADP 11)

He’s going to have a huge advantage because teams are going to have to respect the Cardinals play action and RPO abilities. Quarterback Kyler Murray’s speed can make a defense look foolish if they crash inside and don’t respect his ability to run the ball, which will give Drake a huge advantage in gaining that first step to get to the hole.  

Drake averaged 102 total yards and 1 TD per game during his eight starts with the Cardinals after being traded from Miami. He had solid hands to help in the passing game catching 50 of 68 targets last season for 345 yards. He has a great burst through the hole, but he doesn’t have the breakaway speed to turn every run into a big gain. However, he’s fast enough that when he gets ahead of defenders he’s not going to get caught from behind. He logged 151 touches in eight games (18.8 per game). Arizona’s offensive line does a poor job of pass blocking, but they are much better run blockers. Drake will be the lead back with a solid change-of-pace back in Chase Edmonds behind him 5.1 yards per carry with five touchdowns last season. Despite Edmonds having a nose for the endzone, Drake will be a three-down back that should be taken in the first few rounds of your draft. Sportsinjurypredictor.com lists his probability to be injured at 59 percent. I think that number is a little high. He’s had six injuries in his football career, and three of those came during his college days. Two of his injuries came during preseason camp, and he was held out. The most serious was in 2018 when he sustained a shoulder injury but he was able to play through it the rest of the season.

Who I’m avoiding: Kyler Murray, QB (ADP 58)

Kyler Murray seems like a trendy pick to have a big year, but a quarterback’s second season is where we kind of find out if they are a boom or a bust. I’m keeping my distance until I’m convinced the AP rookie of the year is all he’s cracked up to be. He finished last season with 3,722 passing yards and 544 rushing yards and scored a total of 24 touchdowns. Watching a lof of what Murray did last season I was surprised at how many panicky throws off his back foot he had in clutch situations. He was just throwing jump balls up into crowds and hoping for the best.

With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins added to the receiving core, this might be a strategy that works this year. In the modern NFL you have the chance of a catch or a penalty leading to big yards, but a penalty doesn’t help you in fantasy and you can’t depend on all those prayers being answered. I’m interested to see how Murray really reacts when the play breaks down this season. When Murray would get moved out of the pocket or be on the run he looked for his blanky in Larry Fitzgerald to come to bail him out. It’s not a bad idea to throw a lot of balls to a guy who will write HOF next to his name someday, but things have changed now.

When the play breaks down, is Murray going to be looking for Fitzgerald or Hopkins? Fitzgerald had a really nice season last year with 75 catches for 804 yards and four touchdowns. The Cardinals ran a productive screen game through Fitzgerald and while he’s one of the best wide receivers in league history at finding space and angles, he’s never going to win a foot race with an athlete like Hopkins so that might inflate Murray’s numbers. It was a rough few first games for Murray last season. However, once Kliff Kingsbury started to incorporate more designed runs into the offense things loosened up. The thing I like lest about Murray is he still takes too many drive-killing sacks (sacked seventh most per drop back in the league at eight percent).

Also, it takes him a long time to make a decision. His legs by him extra time, but he has to adlib often just to get the play off because the offensive line isn’t good. The Cardinals added rookie tackle Josh Jones in the third round to try to cover the holes in the offensive line which failed to pick up blitzes and often allowed screaming pressure to come off the corners nearly untouched.  

Murray’s best game of the season was during week 16 against the Seahawks. He started to have better pocket awareness moving to buy time instead of just trying to keep the play alive and run for his life. Tragically, he suffered a hamstring injury on a third-down run early in the third quarter and was unable to return. After he returned in week 17 he played some of his worst football of the season.  

I think the Kingsbury offense will suffer this year too. Defensive coordinators hate hearing about how talented college coaches are changing the game, and they usually have something special to slow down those coaches they are being told are visionaries. With Kingsbury, I can’t tell if he’s a no-talent douche or if he just looks like a no-talent douche. What has Kingsbury ever won except at life?
Murray has the arms strength to be a great QB, but I don’t know that he has the O line to be an elite QB. These tackles suckkkkkkkk.

Sleeper: Christian Kirk, WR (ADP 91)

He needs to touch the ball more. They used him on end arounds and jets sweeps and plays like that a few times last season and they worked pretty well. They just need to find more ways to get the ball in his hands. He has great speed and vision. With Fitzgerald and Hopkins flanking either side, I think Kirk is ticketed for more slot work. Last season, Damiere Byrd had 46 targets with the Cardinals playing that role and Murray looked to the slot often with Fitzgerald and Byrd getting a lot of looks. Adding Fitzgerald and Hopkins should allow Kirk to see more volume and be an even bigger contributor. Also, wide receivers third year in a system is where they show who they are so I’m expecting big things from Kirk this season.

Bust: The Cardinals’ Defense

Start every tight end playing against this defense until they tell you to stop.
Week 1: T.J. Hockenson 6 REC, 131 YDS, TD
Week 2: Mark Andrews 8 REC, 112 YDS, TD, Hayden Hurst TD catch
Week 3: Greg Olson 6 REC, 75 YDS, 2 TD      
Week 4: Will Dissly 7 REC, 57 YDS, TD
Week 6: Austin Hooper 8 REC, 117 YDS, TD
Week 7: Rhett Ellison 2 REC, 33 YDS,  TD    
Week 9: George Kittle 6 REC, 79 YDS, TD    
Week 10: O.J. Howard 4 REC, 47 YDS, TD
Week 11: Kyle Juszczyk 7 REC, 63 YDS, Ross Dwelley 4 REC, 14 YDS, 2 TDS    
Week 12: Tyler Higbee 7 REC, 107 YDS, TD
Week 14: Ricky Seals-Jones 3 REC, 29 YDS, 2 TDS
Week 17: Higbee 8 REC, 84 YDS, TD

This defense almost lost Arizona a game to the Bengals. Let that sink in — they almost lost to the Bengals.  

The Cardinal’s defense isn’t just bad. It’s worse than that they play dumb. Arizona can’t wait to bite of play fakes and get caught out of position. Vance Joseph returns, for some reason, as the defensive coordinator, leading a group that ranked 28th in the league last season. They have a front four of — guys who play football? — who I guess eat up space in the hopes that Chandler Jones comes and bails them out with a sack-fumble.

The sack-fumble is about the only thing this defense does well (13th in the league in forced fumbles as a unit). They are not going to score or get a lot of interceptions (7 worst in the league last year). Patrick Peterson isn’t the game-breaker he once was, and Budda Baker is an amazing athlete and a great run defender. However, he hasn’t shown he’s going to be a safety making plays on the ball in the air.  

Isaiah Simmons gives them the suddenness this team needs.

Cardinals defense is trash they are not just untalented they play dumb.

Jordan Hicks is the best player not named Chandler Jones and neither can make up for how lost this unit looks on every play.

Those black alternate jerseys still look good trailing tight ends by 12 yards down the field.

Honorable mention: Andy Isabella, WR

Andy Isabella seems like he could be really good if he ever figures out where he’s going or how to run routes to get himself open.