By Amol Nadkarni
Here we provide you with a fantasy outlook for each AFC West team:
The defending Super Bowl Champions begin their title defense with one glaring question: who will play quarterback? With the retirement of QB Peyton Manning, the Broncos have a void to fill at the most important position in football. QB Mark Sanchez was brought in from Philadelphia to compete for the job, while the Broncos also used their first round pick on former Memphis Tiger QB Paxton Lynch. Lynch will eventually be the starter, but for now Sanchez looks like he will be under center Week 1. With Sanchez almost guaranteed to implode in a starting role, Lynch might be someone who is worth a pick up off the waiver wire as the season progresses. At running back, C.J. Anderson looks set to enter training camp on top of the depth chart but is not a lock to start the season. Last season, Anderson failed to impress and talented rookie RB Devontae Booker has the potential to overtake Anderson. If you draft Anderson, make sure to handcuff him with Booker. At wide receiver, the Broncos have two bookend pass catchers in WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas and Sanders’ value will decrease this season due to the uncertainty at the quarterback position, but they are both still quality players to have on a fantasy roster. This season, Thomas should be seen as a low-end WR1, while Sanders is a mid to low WR2. TE Virgil Green might see his role increase this year, as the quarterback situation might dictate more check downs to the safety net tight end. However, Green should not be drafted and he is merely someone to keep an eye on as the season progresses. The Broncos have an elite defense, spearheaded by the dynamic pass rush duo of LB Demarcus Ware and LB Von Miller. Denver’s defense will be the first off the board and might be selected as early as the 8th round.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Led by the consistent yet unspectacular QB Alex Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs managed to string together 10 straight wins last season to make the playoffs after starting 1-5. Smith is a solid quarterback in real life, but in fantasy he is mid to low end QB2 at best, who will likely go undrafted. RB Jamaal Charles, who is coming off an ACL injury, will remain the lead back in 2016, despite the fact that RB Charcandrick West played well in his absence. Charles will resume his status a solid RB1, but it would wise to draft/pick up RB Charcandrick West as a handcuff, just in case Charles show signs that he is not fully recovered from his injury. At wide receiver, the Chiefs really only have one viable fantasy option: WR Jeremy Maclin. Maclin is a good possession receiver, who fits perfectly into HC Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. Maclin is a very solid WR2, who should be available after the fourth round. TE Travis Kelce is one of the few elite tight ends in the league. He will likely go anywhere between rounds four and seven, but he is an every week start, who Smith loves to target early and often. The Chiefs defense is one of the more sought after defenses in fantasy. They have playmakers in the trenches (i.e. Dontari Poe), at the linebacker position (i.e. Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson) and in the secondary (Eric Berry, Marcus Peters). When you reach the backend of the draft, remember to keep the Chiefs defense in mind.
The Raiders are seen by many as a team on the rise and it is particularly their young and exciting offensive core that has many excited. QB Derek Carr is slowly evolving into one of the top young quarterbacks in the league today. Carr should be available anywhere between round seven and 10, which represents excellent value for a quarterback who should be seen as a low-end QB1 with the potential to evolve into a high-end QB1 by season’s end. Last season RB Latavius Murray broke out, and entering 2016 he will continue to feature as the top back in Oakland’s offense. Despite reports that rookie RB DeAndre Washington will push Murray for the starting job, expect the talented and athletic Murray to keep his job and continue his upward trajectory in 2016. The Raiders have an exciting duo of wide receivers in WR Amari Cooper and WR Michael Crabtree. Cooper is the more talented receiver and an up-and-coming superstar at the position. He might start the season as a high-end WR2 but has the potential to finish as a solid WR1. His counterpart Crabtree represents a solid WR3 investment. TE Mychal Rivera might not be a household name, but he is someone worth keeping an eye on. He could take that next step this season and establish himself as a reliable tight end who could enter the slim ranks of TE1s. The Raiders defense does have talent and one does not have to look any further than LB Khalil Mack to see that. However, their defense is not at the level to be considered a week in and week out start. Instead they are better served as a week by week streaming option.
San Diego Chargers:
In what could potentially be their last season in San Diego, the Chargers enter 2016 with a franchise quarterback in QB Philip Rivers who is looking to get his team back to the playoffs for maybe the last time. Rivers is an underrated QB1, who every season just seems to produce. He is a steal in the later rounds, as he continues to prove that he still is one of top signal callers in the league. Since entering the league in 2013, WR Keenan Allen has been a one of the best possession receivers in the league. Allen is a low-end WR1 or a high-end WR2, who has over the last few seasons become Rivers’ favorite target. Coming off his best season as a pro, WR Travis Benjamin made the offseason move to San Diego from Cleveland and is someone to keep an eye on. He is a sleeper candidate who could become a solid WR3 with Rivers throwing him the ball. WR Stevie Johnson could also be a sleeper candidate in the slot and could be a priority waiver wire pick up. At tight end, the ever-present TE Antonio Gates is the only real fantasy option at the position, with the departure of TE Ladarius Green to Pittsburgh. Despite the historical Rivers-Gates connection, at this point in his career, Gates is barely a TE1 and can be had at the back end of most drafts. The Chargers defense is currently a work in progress and not worthy of a fantasy start.