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Around the NFL Pop Quiz: AFC West

The average NFL career is 3.3 years. This isn't every guy on the training camp type misleading analysis, this is for the guys who make the opening day roster, though as Terry Crews reminded the cast of "Ask Me Another" on a recent episode, sometimes it takes a guy (like Crews) seven real years to have three NFL years of playing time. Even as big and built as Terry Crews was, he had to resort to painting fellow players in order to make ends meet cause he was cut so much. Austen Lane chronicled his experience the first time he was cut in a way that still makes me think about the psyche it must take to have to endure the entire experience, while also playing lights out football every single day in an effort to make the team. Every single training camp I read about, or Hard Knocks I watch, is almost distracting. You're talking about guys who have to pick up, move across the country, sleep in a dorm room, carry some pads, not make a mistake, and stare unemployment in the face.

I bring this up because it's the seedy underbelly of everything we write about, and I'm usually reminded of that about halfway through writing these columns, as the first wave of cuts comes in. You can look at them, live action, over here! It's bizarre! It's the stock market of peoples lives!

Now to remove the emotional element; as of this writing, we are officially in the throws of cut season. It means I'll try to keep an eye on these as I write, because it can mean a lot of different things for playing time. In previous columns, I've recommended guys like Lamar Miller (forget it, go get Duke Johnson now) and even as recently as Saturday night texted a guy about coupling Andrew Luck (more on him in a future column) with Lamar Jackson as two later round QB options that suit him both short term and long term in dynasty. It's an important footnote for everyone looking for value right now. Careers are short, and opportunities are few, and the bad luck of factors like injury, or a talented roster, or being paid what you're owed, means that your Sundays are not guaranteed and no one is immortal. Except for us, the nerds who will keep playing every year. Onward!

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Los Angeles Chargers

Look for the most bang for your buck from ________

  1. Tyrell Williams
  2. Hunter Henry
  3. Mike Williams
  4. Justin Jackson

Even without Melvin Gordon, there is a ton of fantasy value in this offense. I purposefully left Philip Rivers off this list because I would have been forced to include him, my ride or die fantasy QB who is constantly overvalued. May he yell at his own players, or put his kids on his own private bus to hold them all, or simply smile with that weird-grin-and-bolo-tie combo. The man just reeks of value.

The question can be re-purposed in such a way that makes the answer obvious; who has seen a recent boost from the team's activity, shown value in a fantasy fill-in role before, and is still going for pretty cheap? Yeah, it's Justin Jackson. Positioned immediately to be stuck behind Austin Ekeler, Ekeler was maddingly inconsistent in games where he had ten plus snaps in 2018. His averages were, in order: 7.0, 3.5, 1.62, and 4.40. It's certainly not bad, and the 1.62 wasn't anything to overreact to in an already very small sample size. The question instead is this: does that four-game sample give you enough comfort to draft him in the sixth round, where he is now going?

Instead, try Jackson. The Chargers knew they had a talented player, but he was ultimately one of the camp casualties described. That story has a happy ending, as Jackson came back in September to help fill what was a previously full position for the Chargers until Melvin Gordon's MCL injury. They not only kept him, he was a gutsy play in the fantasy playoffs, totaling 10 receptions and 16 rush attempts in the last two games (bizarrely, the vast majority of receptions came in one game, and rushes came in another.) Like fantasy owners, the Chargers were actively figuring out what they had as they had him. If he exists now as a pass-catching running back, as well as a functional committee role, then isn't he worth an 11th rounder?

Where To Take Him: 11th Round
Confidence: Medium
Timeline: You'll know for sure if you haven't see him catch passes with consistency again by mid-October, at least through the first few meaningful BYE weeks


Kansas City Chiefs

_________ is rising, and I'd recommend taking him (until he costs you an 10th)

  1. Mecole Hardman
  2. Darwin Thompson
  3. Demarcus Robinson
  4. Carlos Hyde

Yeah there's not too much to say here. The fantasy community is screaming the name of Darwin Thompson, and though he was much cheaper a week or two ago than he is now, the rumors of Thompson becoming the week one starter or outperforming expectations (I could link some here, but by the time this publishes, even if it's within a day, will be grossly out of date) means that he's now a true must take. There's an argument to be made that Thompson, along with drafting talents like Jackson and Derrius Guice, make for the gutsiest ZeroRB strategy yet.

My colleagues have been really thorough at tracking Thompson's rise, especially Pierre's Bold predictions, and I welcome you to read their work instead. All things being equal, he may be the one sleeper we all largely agree on.

Where To Take Him: 11th-12th round
Confidence: High
Timeline: You'll know his role three weeks into the season


Denver Broncos

Save Your Last Dollar for _________

  1. Juwann Winfree
  2. Kelvin McKnight
  3. Fred Brown
  4. Daesean Hamilton

This is the one time a year I'll be using my "all of em" line, but seriously; the Denver Broncos are a bit of a fantasy wasteland in 2019, which also is a great stage for opportunity. Kelvin McKnight has recently been put into the WR3 system in the team's depth chart, while Juwann Winfree is being rumored to share that role to some degree, meaning the players are likely to have a good old fashioned horse race. Fred Brown has climbed up the Broncos listings, though the Broncos own depth chart has him listed much less favorably, making him the third of three for me. Daesean Hamilton brings in a year of experience and is listed the highest, but he may have the least amount of chatter of them all around camp.

The Denver Broncos could easily go into the 2019 season with 6-7 guys at WR who are expected to, at some point, show that they are a trusted pass-catching option for a team that desperately needs them. While I wouldn't say each of these guys deserves a dollar in anything other than the absolute deepest of leagues, these are all guys you add to your watch list and see who's getting the targets. Unfortunately, someone will have to in Denver.

Where To Take Him: N/A, watch lists for all formats
Confidence: Low
Timeline: A clear winner should emerge in October, but there's no telling who may get their opportunity and win


Oakland Raiders 

The real sleeper in this offense is ____________

A: Jalen Richard
B: Darren Waller
C: Derek Carr
D: Tyrell Williams

What a whirlwind Raiders camp has been, hasn't it? It's been a great six years since 2019 camp started for this hard-nosed team from Northern California, but luckily our long national nightmare is almost over. Antonio Brown is almost out of helmet appeals, I won't have to hear any Jon Gruden quotes about meaningless losses (stay tuned to the quotes about meaningful losses, though), and Josh Jacobs will have to stop hiding from the Hard Knocks cameras.

For those of you who read last year, you're going to get to see me make a very similar argument, one that I would argue has much more validity now, but we have to stop looking past Derek Carr. Currently going as quarterback 22, Carr is going into the 2019 season better equipped than ever before, with arguably the best running back and wide receivers he ever played with helping him out.

But put those new tools aside for a moment, and look at how Carr performed in 2018. After years of never having an accuracy better than 64%, Carr took a meaningful step forward by hitting 68.9% and finally topping 4,000 yards. The best player whose played all of 2018 for the Raiders was Jared Cook, and while Cook's value has skyrocketed in 2019, Carr was largely penalized for not having enough touchdowns, while also seeing a career-low in interceptions.

If you're hell-bent on waiting for QB, I think Carr is the absolute best option remaining, especially as this offense will almost certainly improve. Don't just take it from Jon Gruden's press conferences; Carr is good, improving, and yet his value has never been lower. Let him be the last QB you grab.

Where To Take Him: Last Pick
Confidence: High
Timeline: All season, baby

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