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Around the League Pop Quiz: NFC West


I always enjoy saving the NFC West for last because, in a lot of ways, it's always felt the closest to home for me. I grew up in Orange County, California, born right before the Raiders and the Rams made their way west. Even though my city was an hour south of Los Angeles, the Rams played a bit of their tenure in Anaheim and, prior to 1993, most residents of the city were either fans of the Rams or the Raiders, skirting the AFC West team down south entirely. I knew that NWA helped make the Raiders brand synonymous with hip-hop before I ever realized that the Raiders used to play an hour away from me, and I don't think I knew the Rams even had much of a home in California until the end of high school.

This wasn't entirely the systematic failure of complete football history, but instead an acid-wash of the Rams existence from my region of the country. Once the team high-tailed it to St. Louis, their footprint all but disappeared from Southern California. Many of us watched the Rams vs the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV with only the very sparse local reference to how the team hadn't even been gone a decade at that point. I say this because in Houston, where I currently reside, it is almost part of scholastic curriculum. The Oilers played in Houston, at the Astrodome, before packing up in the middle of the night to move to Tennessee. They changed their name, and one of the biggest cities in the country didn't have an NFL team again until 2002. Everyone, regardless of age, can give you that exact sentence. Los Angeles met the Raiders' departure with a mixture of bitterness and snide commentary, choosing to suddenly see the culture of scoundrels and cut-throats as a bad thing after so long rooting for that same team with that same swagger. Towards the Rams, the city mostly shrugged.

At about nine, when I had a casual interest in football that would ultimately develop at the end of my time in high school (Mom wasn't a big "ball in the house" person, either on TV or otherwise), I found a real interest in the San Francisco 49ers, the team I still claim as my favorite across all sports. It's also the only team that causes me to *almost* break my hand during the Richard Sherman interview, after Sherman finished dunking on my team physically and then emotionally. I still love them, even in what appears to be poised for another down year. But I do keep my eye, curiously, on the team much closer to my boyhood home. Especially as they enter such a make-or-break year.

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Los Angeles Rams

FILL IN THE BLANK: You can still get ______ for cheaper than his end of year results

We're gonna have to really give up on underrated Robert Woods one of these seasons, right? It's a retread of my advice last year, but the WR11 of 2018 is once again getting underrated because of the existence of Cooper Kupp. Woods is now being drafted closer to the end of the 4th round than the end of the 9th like he was last year, but Kupp has risen all the way to the beginning of the 5th round despite still not staying healthy all of 2018. Cooks has leaped over Woods despite seeing 86 receptions and 1219 yards last year... oh no, I'm sorry, those were Woods's numbers. In fact, Cooks was good for 80/1204. It's not a big difference, and it was a career year for both players, but it also doesn't mean I'm taking Cooks anywhere before Woods either.

Kupp is still someone I'm ultimately staying away from, given he's separated by a mere three picks from Woods on average despite not playing 16 games in an NFL season so far. I wish I had more factual analysis to give you here, but you're still targeting the number one receiver in this offense before the 2nd (Woods) or the 3rd (Kupp), no matter how much we expect this offense to hum. For reference to just how insane this is, think about it like this; there are only two teams that have two wide receivers going in the first four rounds by ADP: Tampa Bay (Godwin and Evans) and Minnesota (Thielen and Diggs). Cooper Kupp is being taken as the third wide receiver before nearly any other team has their second wide receiver coming off the board. It's just too expensive for too little.

 

Seattle Seahawks

You can safely write off __________ now

A. Rashaad Penny
B. David Moore
C. DK Metcalf
D. CJ Prosise

I could use this time to bang the drum for how great Chris Carson is and all of that, but since the beginning of the preseason the market has largely reset on the talented running back, who is now going in the third round of most drafts. That's about right, given how much incredible value he had at the end of last season, and how his role simply hasn't changed. Mike Davis's fantasy value is so high on another team because of the workload he seized in the backfield. That leaves the bad luck loser of the bunch to be Rashaad Penny.

I mention this because even though Penny's value has fallen one round since the start of preseason, that round is still the 8th (Devin Singletary used to live there until this past week, and it's now home to Matt Breida, Darwin Thompson, LeSean McCoy, and eight-games suspended of Kareem Hunt.) This is by no means a safer destination to draft a starting running back of any sort, but in reality, it's still simply too high for Penny. As Antonio Losada noted in his sophomore RB slump column, we're essentially looking at Penny's workload potentially gaining, but we're depending on his yards per attempt efficiency of 4.93 to not only improve, but for him to get the mass volume of those abandoned Mike Davis carries.

I texted with my one insider friend this week, and asked who he likes on the Seahawks. While he didn't have a strong sleeper recommendation, he was curt on Penny, saying he just didn't see the back taking the next step.

 

Arizona Cardinals

The ultimate "yawn" value  _________

A. Kyler Murray
B. David Johnson
C. Christian Kirk
D. Larry Fitzgerald

It's hard to remember how bad the Cardinals were in 2018, because frankly it all seems like a blur. Larry Fitzgerald's value has been widely tanked in 2019 because of it, even while Christian Kirk's value is rising, a hint that the team is finally letting the tide change. If it feels familiar, it's because we played with the concept last year, and after a career down year for Larry Fitzgerald, we wouldn't be surprised to finally see him retire.

Of course, that's more theme than truth. Fitzgerald still largely outperformed Kirk last year, even if it's not exactly a fair fight to place the ageless vet against the rookie and expect the latter to get more targets. But Kirk's stock has trended up in 2019, while Fitzgerald's fallen a whole round since pre-season began. Back to 2018, when the team had 1,095 less yards through the air than they did when Carson Palmer ran the three-headed QB monster that controlled the 2017 offense. The team was much less interested in letting either Rosen or Bradford throw the ball last season, meaning that the yardage decrease, combined with the -6 touchdown net year over year through the air, meant that the team was out of gas. For perspective, that means that a player like Fitzgerald suddenly wasn't topping a thousand yards receiving in a season for the first time since 2014.

Now it's easy to assume the following; the Cardinals offense will attempt to throw more than they did in 2018 without hitting the 2017 numbers just yet. Kyler Murray, good or bad, will open up the offense in a way that will lead to teams simply not stacking the box against David Johnson. And arguably most importantly, Kirk will be better than his rookie year and mean that opposing teams have to worry about a receiver other Fitzgerald.

It comes back to the original point. If the offense is bound to throw more than they did in 2018, feature a second legitimate receiving threat in Kirk, and bring Fitzgerald's numbers back up, he's probably worth at least a round more (back to eight) as a reliable WR3/BYE week fill in, if only for one last ride.

 

San Francisco 49ers

The man to own in the offense, for dynasty, is ___________

A. Deebo Samuel
B. Jalen Hurd
C. Dante Pettis

Yes, I cheated here, these are all technically the "right" answer, based off of value and what you're using them for.

Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel have been flying off dynasty and keeper draft boards, despite Hurd's injury, because it's expected that one of these two will break out in a significant way longterm, with Samuel leading the way. Both men flashed in the pre-season, each sporting an August touchdown or two, but Hurd's deep sleeper value in re-draft league was almost immediately dashed due to injury, allowing Samuel's stock to climb to a 13th round pick.

Dante Pettis is still listed as the WR1 for the offense, and while I'm big on taking the top receiver in an offense after the eighth round, and Pettis has fallen a full three rounds due to his camp struggles, with fantasy players not totally buying the depth chart. While I would've balked at his early August ADP of the 7th round, the 10th round is more than fine for me, even if I'm not as interested in him as long term as Hurd and Samuel. Quite frankly, Pettis is a ton more valuable in redrafts, but everything else remains to be seen...

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