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AFC West Risers/Fallers - 2018 Season Review

The top of this division was the strongest in the NFL while the bottom of this division saw some of the worst-played football in the NFL. It may remain that way in the near future, be it due to poor coaching or executive leadership or simply lack of talent.

The Chiefs and Chargers should control this division through a mixture of youth and experience on both sides of the ball with two quarterbacks in the top-10, leading great offenses and two defenses which got better as the season wore on. The Broncos and Raiders, on the other hand, look like they are going to struggle for relevance for many years. They could be a disappointment for their fans, both in real life and for people who draft any of their players in fantasy football. Lack of talent is not the only issue with these teams, but also a lack of direction making it difficult to see a lot of value from either team.

Regardless of the standings, each team has players to recognize for fantasy purposes as a riser or faller.

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Denver Broncos

Riser - Phillip Lindsay, RB

Coming into his rookie season not much was expected out of Phillip Lindsay. He was going to be a roster bubble guy who was undrafted out of Colorado and be the third on the depth chart behind both Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker. Then came training camp and the realization Booker still stinks and cannot hold on to the ball any better this season than he could before. Freeman also disappointed, leading the life-long Colorado native to make good in Denver.

1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on 192 carries is a great rookie season for a running back. If not for Saquon Barkley, Lindsay easily could have won the Rookie of the Year award. His 5.4 yards per carry average is also impressive. Not just because of his size at 5’8 and 190 pounds, but also because there was no real threat at quarterback to keep defenses honest, meaning many teams could crowd the box and yet he was still able to excel.

An off-season wrist injury as well as comments swirling that Denver wants to get Freeman more involved does make me concerned about how long Lindsay will be a player on the rise and not JAG in future seasons. He is going to be taken in the second or third round of drafts and this could lead to much despair for owners if his wrist does not heal or if the Broncos do re-commit to Royce Freeman for the lead back role in a committee. Phillip Lindsay is one of those players who looks like the real deal and a great player for your fantasy team. He also looks like a player with a lot of risk for such a high draft pick and this leads me to be a hesitant buyer at his current price. If he were to fall to the fourth or fifth round, I would be more comfortable with him as my second running back along with two top-level wide receivers rather than my running back one or taking him over one of those wide receivers.

Faller - Case Keenum, QB

Is he really on the slide or was 2017 just a blip of goodness on his career radar? It seems likely the latter is more correct, and this is more of what to expect from Case Keenum going forward.

If Chad Kelly had not been such an idiot again, Keenum may not have even made it through the season as the starter in Denver. Now it looks like the Broncos are stuck with him for at least one more season as they plan out their future under new head coach Vic Fangio.

After an 11-3 record as a starter for the Vikings and leading them to the NFC championship game behind 3,573 pass yards and 22 touchdowns, his 2018 season with the Broncos was inversely as bad as the previous season was good. Although his 3,890 pass yards was higher this was more to do with the team consistently playing from behind and less to do with Keenum’s play. In a season which saw Denver go 6-10, these yardage numbers only produced 18 touchdowns while also leading to 15 interceptions for the quarterback.

Keenum was already a player to avoid heading into next season but the recent acquisition of Joe Flacco reverts him to a backup role once more and effectively kills all fantasy value he may have retained.


Kansas City Chiefs

Riser - Patrick Mahomes, QB

There is not a whole lot of explanation needed for this choice.

Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs and their terrible defense to a 13-3 record and an AFC Championship game appearance at home against the Patriots. He threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and in his first full season as a starter he also beat out everyone else for the NFL MVP award.

After the loss of Kareem Hunt, everyone wanted to know what would happen and we saw exactly what happened. Like Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, a great quarterback can overcome a less than stellar run game to take the team to the top. Damien Williams filled the role to a good-enough extent to keep the team on track and whether it be Damien Williams, a free agent signee or a draft pick the run game will be even better next season allowing for possibly even better things.

Mahomes has moved ahead of the likes of Aaron Rodgers and others to be the number one quarterbacks in fantasy and into the realm of an early 2000s Manning into the conversation as a first-round draft pick. If this happens, and it will in many leagues, it will be too high. But what really is too high if you feel the player is so much of a positional advantage. Was Rob Gronkowski a wasted pick in the first or second-round in those dominant seasons? Was Manning too high in those seasons when he was drafted so high? Too high is relative for everyone to decide on their own accord. For me, yes, a first-round pick is too high, but for others it might be just right. In reality, it will all depend on the rest of the roster you are able to draft around him. If you want him, go and get him, but be ready to pay for him.

Faller - Sammy Watkins, WR

Big money does not always mean big output. This is true for many players who cash in because of free agency and Sammy Watkins is the latest in a long line of players to take the money, seemingly with a mask on in an apparent robbery.

Foot issues continue to be of concern for the speedy but oft-injured wide receiver whose injuries led to his shipment out of Buffalo and Los Angeles before landing with the Chiefs for the 2018 season.

In another shortened season for Watkins, he caught 40 passes for 519 yards in 10 games as the second receiver behind Tyreek Hill and the fourth option behind Travis Kelce and for most of his games, Kareem Hunt. With Chris Conley coming on strong to end the season in his absence, he could fall even further out of favor should the Chiefs re-sign free agent Conley. That could make Watkins expendable as a trade piece for a contender looking to win now and damn the torpedoes.

If he is healthy, he will be a top-36 wide receiver, but when is he really ever truly healthy is the question. He will go in the mid-rounds of drafts and he is a solid pick as the risk of a player is lessened as the later a pick is. If you don’t overpay, you should be fine with him in the seventh or eighth round. Any higher and you will be worrying all season about him.


Los Angeles Chargers

Riser - Mike Williams, WR

In his second season and in the absence of Hunter Henry, Williams really took a step forward in the offense for the Chargers. With Henry coming back, the jury is out if Williams will keep his trajectory pointed up, but my feeling is it is a good chance he will. Henry, while having a lot of potential, has not lived up to it thus far.

At 6’4 and 220 pounds, Williams is a big-bodied receiver, making him a good target in replacement to a tight end in the red zone. Although he didn't post eye-popping numbers, 43 receptions for 664 yards are respectable as a third option in an offense like the Chargers. 10 touchdowns are noteworthy and again shows his ability as a big target to come down with catches. While this number will most surely regress as compared to his total reception numbers in 2019, his catches should go up significantly, making it possible he again gets to those double-digits in touchdowns.

Taking him over a player like Sammy Watkins may seem like a bit of a stretch, but his floor is much higher than that of Watkins and his ceiling is just as high if not higher also. He is a player you will want to target in your drafts and he should fall to a decent price.

Faller - Keenan Allen, WR

How can one of the top receivers in the NFL be a player on the slide you may ask? With the likes of the above-mentioned Mike Williams along with Hunter Henry returning and Melvin Gordon likely to re-sign long term there will be a lot of weapons looking for targets in the coming years.

He will still be a target hog and be the wide receiver one for the team, but his domination of the targets will be limited with the breakout of Williams and return of Henry. 97 receptions and 1,196 yards are great, but the six touchdowns are a little concerning as he will not finish as a top-12 receiver with those touchdown numbers if his receptions should regress to the 80 to 85 number we might expect to happen. This reduction in catches will also take away some yardage making him closer to a 900-yard guy and not 1,200 yards.

These drop-in stats, while not drastic could make him someone to avoid in favor of others in the same ilk. A player like T.Y. Hilton with a healthy Andrew Luck or a Stefon Diggs could be a better pick in the same area of the draft. By no means should you be scared away from taking Allen in drafts, just be cautious and try to get a solid number one before selecting him as a good number two option on your fantasy team.


Oakland Raiders

Riser - Jalen Richard, RB

It was hard to make a decision on who to choose as a player on the rise. Not because there were so many to choose from, but because there was really no one. I could have gone with Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper as leaving the Raiders was the best thing for them, but this would have been unfair. Instead, I went with a player who is likely to be the starting running back on a run-first team in 2019.

Not only can Jalen Richard run the ball well, but he is also a good pass-catching back. Although he only rushed 55 times for 259 yards and one touchdown, he added an additional 68 catches and 607 yards on 81 targets in the pass game. If he becomes the full-time starter these numbers will jump.

Although his size at 5’8 and 205 pounds is a concern for durability, there is not much to like on the Oakland team as a whole and the offense in particular for fantasy purposes which could make Richard your best bet. Do not draft him hoping to have a steady number one or number two at the position for your fantasy team but if he is available as an RB4, you can do much worse than a potential starter on a running team.

Faller - Derek Carr, QB

Is he even going to be with the Raiders in a year? This is a question which is hard to answer and even harder to care about.

Derek Carr has a monster arm and is more talented than some other starters in the NFL, but he is hindered. He is hindered first by a terrible coaching staff from the head coach to the offensive coordinator. Jon Gruden and company have done him no favors with the trades they have made and the offense they have tried to put in place before the team moves to Las Vegas.

The trade of Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round draft pick as well as the trade of Khalil Mack for two first-round picks to the Bears means two things. The Raiders are in full rebuild mode for the future and one of the upcoming draft picks will be used on a quarterback to replace Carr.

4,049 yards is not bad for a team with no receiver weapons other than tight end Jared Cook, who is a free agent this offseason. But only throwing for 19 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions is concerning as the Raiders' inability to make any smart moves when it comes to surrounding cast. For this season and as long as he is with the Raiders, he is no more than a bye week fill in or a low-end number two starter in super flex. If he goes to another team and takes over, this could raise his value significantly making him a low-end number one starter. As for 2019, if you are not playing dynasty don’t roster him as a draft pick. Wait and if something happens and he shows good early, he will be there on waivers for you.

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