2020 Fantasy Football Preview: AFC West draft targets

Derek Stevens joined Follow The Money to delve deep into six different strategies to follow that could help you win your NFL Survivor pool.

With the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, so are fantasy football drafts.

To help get you ready, Sportsnet’s Andy McNamara will break down one division position by position every Friday until the start of the campaign.

Next up: the AFC West.

QUARTERBACK

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

It’s the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the highest paid player in the history of the NFL — of course Patrick Mahomes is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback in the AFC West.

A knee injury cost Mahomes a couple of games this past season, and naturally his incredible TD rate dropped from the previous year. But the Texas Tech alum is primed to reclaim his fantasy throne in 2020.

Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

I put Drew Lock ahead of Derek Carr for fantasy value mainly because I feel we know what Carr is at this point. Lock, on the other hand, started only five games in his rookie campaign and is now loaded up with offensive talent.

Being able to sling it to Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay is a pretty sweet situation for any QB. There are no excuses for him to not take a huge step forward.

Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

This is a make-or-break year for Derek Carr, and he’s got a pretty good supporting cast around him. Many dump on Carr, but statistically he had a solid 2019. He threw for over 4,000 yards, and had a completion percentage of 70 and a 21-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio.

The touchdowns need to come up for him to be truly fantasy relevant. However, he’s a decent second in two-quarterback leagues as is.

Tyrod Taylor/Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers

A hard no from me on this QB situation and in general any receiving options for the Chargers.

Tyrod Taylor will be the designated starter until first-round pick Justin Herbert is ready. But the problem is that Taylor just isn’t that good, folks, and for fantasy purposes he’s awful. This journeyman is way too cautious, gets sacked a bunch, and brings down the fantasy stock of everybody around him.

I like Herbert as a dynasty/keeper stash, but you certainly can’t rely on him as anything close to a starting option in 2020.

Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs runs past Chicago Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman for a touchdown. (Tim Ireland/AP)

RUNNING BACK

Las Vegas Raiders

I give a slight edge to Joshua Jacobs over his Kansas City rookie counterpart because he is returning to the same system. This is a huge advantage in a limited COVID-19 training camp where Jacobs is already up to speed.

The sophomore quickly performed at an elite level last season even after missing three games. Over 1,100-rushing yards and seven scores in 13 appearances is impressive, but the receptions definitely need to increase to reach that next level of fantasy superstardom.

Head coach Jon Gruden has said that he wants to get Jacobs more involved as a pass-catcher in 2020, which would limit snap-stealing opportunities for Jalen Richard. I’d feel comfortable having the 22-year-old as a lower-end RB1 in standard leagues and just outside the top 12 in PPR.

Kansas City Chiefs

The fantasy conversation quickly changed in Kansas City once Damien Williams opted out. All of a sudden 32nd-overall pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire is thrust into the starting job with only change-of-pace backs behind him.

More elusive than fast, Edwards-Helaire received praise during onfield workouts for rushing ability, catching, pass protection and ball security. We won’t get a chance to witness the 5’7” LSU star in any exhibition matchups, though, so tracking Chiefs beat reporters’ comments on his progress will be key.

An RB2 with a higher ceiling seems like the right spot for CEH.

L.A. Chargers

The only fantasy position on the Chargers I’m excited about is running back, and I’m thinking specifically of Austin Ekeler — mainly because he’ll be the consistent checkdown option for Tyrod Taylor. Ekeler also proved he could run effectively last season, churning out an average of 4.2 yards per carry. All that said: It’ll be interesting to see how Justin Jackson factors into his workload, and Ekeler is still best suited for PPR formats.

Denver Broncos

The signing of Melvin Gordon squashed the fantasy upside for him and Phillip Lindsay both, turning Denver’s backfield into a committee. Barring injury, you can scrap Royce Freeman all together.

It seems like a guessing game on usage and workload between Gordon and Lindsay, which is fantasy poison. For season-long leagues, I’m rating those two no higher than flex options right now since we don’t know what the snap share will look like.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton pulls in a touchdown pass as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward defends. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

WIDE RECEIVER

Denver Broncos

Courtland Sutton emerged as a legitimate force last season to secure 72 receptions for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns despite playing with a less-than-ideal quarterback carousel. Imagine what he could do with the same man under centre 16 times. Sutton projects as a terrific WR2, while rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are both slotted in as starters behind him on the Broncos depth chart.

Wide receivers entering the NFL typically need some ramp-up time, so I wouldn’t want to rely too heavily on the two newbies. I see Hamler developing into a cheap DFS darling as a zippy possession WR out of the slot. Jeudy possesses the pedigree to become a bonafide superstar in 2021, and grow more valuable to Drew Lock as this current season rolls along.

Kansas City Chiefs

From Weeks 7 to 16, Tyreek Hill was the seventh-best WR in standard scoring and ninth in PPR. Missing four games to injury, Hill enters 2020 in a contract year and remains a sure-fire receiver for any fantasy roster.

Sammy Watkins is someone I remain very hesitant on. Don’t get caught up in name recognition — Watkins hasn’t suited up for 16 games since his rookie season, and has produced underwhelming stats his whole career. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson remain as bench wideouts with handcuff potential in the event Hill gets hurt again.

L.A. Chargers

The Chargers have playmakers at wide receiver, but will they get the ball enough to be impactful? Ultra-conservative new QB Tyrod Taylor has never attempted more than 436 throws in a season, and has only hit the 20-TD mark once — and that was back in 2015.

Keenan Allen is versatile enough to lineup anywhere, but his yards and touchdown total are sure to drop. That being said, I believe he can still have WR3 value in PPR.

Outside of that, though, I’m downgrading Mike Williams to a bench player, and that’s about it.

Las Vegas Raiders

I know first-round speedster Henry Ruggs III is the flashy new toy in Vegas, but his sub-six-foot, super-thin frame gives me durability concerns. He reads more like a Travis Benjamin type to me. I envision highlight-reel catches coupled with stretches of inconsistent production.

I still like Tyrell Williams as a solid flex option with WR3 upside as Derek Carr’s big-bodied target. Third-rounder Bryan Edwards intrigues me as a dynasty grab for the future as a raw, 6’3”, 212-pound specimen who’s impressed Raiders coaches at practice.

Travis-Kelce-Kansas-City-Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. (Steven Senne/AP)

TIGHT END

Kansas City Chiefs

Travis Kelce is the picture of consistency when it comes to being an elite fantasy football tight end. He’s eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark and 100-target plateau comfortably in four consecutive years. The NFL’s highest-paid TE deserves to be the first in his position group selected in any draft.

Las Vegas Raiders

I don’t like the addition of Jason Witten as a possible snap stealer from Darren Waller. Hopefully it’s more of a “just in case” acquisition and doesn’t hinder a nice follow-up to Waller’s excellent 2019.

The 6’6”, 250-pounder exploded for 90 catches and 1,145 yards on 117 targets, and was a safety net for the often cautious Derek Carr. Even with Las Vegas drafting Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, Waller will no doubt remain a major part of Jon Gruden’s game plan. So while the stat line may decrease some, still treat him as a top-seven tight end.

Denver Broncos

In real-life football, Noah Fant posted respectable numbers for a rookie. However, I’m not expecting a breakout season for the sophomore with so many options for Drew Lock. Can we really expect Fant to see north of 70 passes come his way with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay pining for attention?

Denver also drafted Lock’s old college teammate and go-to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, and the pair loved connecting in the red zone at Missouri. There are just too many hurdles for Fant to jump over in 2020 for him to be a fantasy force.

L.A. Chargers

Plenty of red flags fly up when talking about Hunter Henry and his fantasy relevance. First off, he’s missed 23 games over four NFL seasons, and to me the best ability is availability. Meanwhile, Los Angeles downgraded at quarterback in what will certainly be a run-heavy offence, and Henry’s never delivered more than 652 yards in a year. He won’t be a starter on any of my teams.

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