AFC West Help Wanted is the seventh in this eight-part series.
Throughout the off season Fantasy Football Trader’s Columnist Ernie Estrella will be touring the NFL by division and identifying key positional battles with Fantasy Football implications up for grabs.
No. 1 Running Back
Candidates: Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, Rock Cartwright, Michael Bennett
Don’t worry Raider Nation, Michael Bennett will not be the Raiders feature back, and neither will Rock Cartwright.
Neither is young enough, nor special enough to become an NFL feature back. And thank goodness the team finally got rid of Justin Fargas who was suffocating the position.
This year, either Darren McFadden finally lives up to his potential, or Michael Bush takes the reigns once and for all.
Hue Jackson has to want to give one of these guys a feature role and get 200-plus carries.
Both backs are in their third season, although McFadden is younger by a few years, and neither knows what it’s like to carry the ball more than 15 times a week.
McFadden can do more when catching the ball, but he is terribly prone to getting hurt and fumbles the ball an awful lot.
If he can get a majority of the carries, I am convinced Bush can get the job done.
He’s bigger, more durable, and in spurts has put up respectable numbers.
What’s the knock on him? Head coach Tom Cable thinks he doesn’t have the mental toughness to carry the ball 20-plus times and has been dangled in trade rumors this off-season.
I urge Al Davis to keep him. Bush is fast, explosive, and breaks tackles, which is one thing McFadden has not been able to do on the pro level.
The offensive line will also be improved with draft picks and the health of Robert Gallery, and Jason Campbell is an upgrade over JaMarcus Russell, so whoever wins this job should have the way paved for his best year.
Prediction: Michael Bush
Fantasy Implication: 5/10
With the running backs in Oakland somewhat simplified, Bush and McFadden should duke it out this preseason.
While I truly believe that McFadden is the more talented out of the two, I just don’t see him being durable enough to give himself a real shot.
It’s a scenario where Bush will come in and prove to be the more dependable and productive running back; but will he be able to produce big fantasy points?
Truthfully? No, but he can deliver steady numbers? Yes, if the Raiders commit to him 15-20 carries a game, and pound him at the goal line. But not knowing exactly who will play the roles in this new offense may leave people gun shy to draft him early.
Still, I get a good feeling that Bush will be worth adding to a fantasy team that has two established and dependable starters in front of him.
Bush makes a good risk, when you have some flexibility at the position and you can use him as a third back or flex position when the matchup is right. Just don’t peg him as your No. One or No. Two starter.
No. 1 wide receiver
Candidates: Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Yamon Figurs, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Nick Miller, Shaun Bodiford, Todd Watkins, Jonathan Holland, Paul Hubbard, Jon Rascon, Rick Perkins, Ernie Estrella
Welcome the Raiders’ new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, whose last job was the Ravens’ quarterback coach developing Joe Flacco.
What difference can one man make? Plenty.
Jackson also coached the receiving corps in Cincinnati during their last heyday.
These Raiders are light years away from that once potent Bengals group, but with no true veterans to show the way and the suffering of JaMarcus Russell now over, Jackson must reboot with this young group.
The Raiders are full of projects that have been in the league two to four years with no resume.
Figurs has one highlight in four years, and in the same time frame, Bodiford has one career catch.
Miller, Holland, and Hubbard would like to just be in Bodiford’s company, and Heyward-Bey shouldn’t beat his chest too hard after catching just nine passes all last year. Watkins had similar stats like last season’s infamous first round reach, and that was his best season in three years.
Higgins is a slot receiver.
The fantasy eyes are going to be watching Murphy and Schilens.
There was a lot to like about Murphy aside from the drops. He combines raw speed with physical play to get good space between his defender when the ball gets there so he seems to always have room for yards after the catch.
Schilens has ideal size at 6'4", 225 pounds and all of the veteran moves to help out his quarterback. He’s just been hampered by injuries that have kept him from being a more known commodity.
To be fair, if you happen to witness any of the Raider games last year, Russell just couldn’t hit a target even if he was armed with missile lock.
It’s a fresh start for all of these guys and with Tom Cable staying far away from calling the plays, and a quarterback with something to prove; I can see at least one of these two receivers blossoming this year.
Prediction: Chaz Schilens
Fantasy Implication: 6/10
Again, I like the upside of Murphy, but Schilens is a bit more polished and ready to have a consistent season barring another year plagued with injuries.
This is Campbell’s last chance to show the league he can play so he’ll depend on Schilens and Walker but probably even more so on tight end Zach Miller, who will probably get a bulk of the passes thrown his way; Chris Cooley’s production is an indication of who Campbell likes to throw to.
Schilens and Murphy should go well under the radar of most fantasy prognosticators’ rankings and be there in the late rounds of most drafts after two-thirds of the receivers are off the board.
The fantasy ceiling of Schilens is high for this year, and Murphy is right behind him. One thing is for sure; one or both of these receivers must connect with Campbell, for this offense to go anywhere.
No. 1 wide receiver
Candidates: Eddie Royal, Jabbar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, Demaruyus Thomas, Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker
The Broncos currently have 13 wide receivers on their roster; over half of which are a combination comprised of draft picks, undrafted rookie free agents, and other players three or fewer years of experience.
This position is in dire straits.
Coach Josh McDaniels’ ego is soaring, confident in his skills in developing young players that he was willing to part with elite receiver Brandon Marshall.
There’s not going to be a huge standout as Stokley’s best days are behind him.
Lloyd is a journeyman who never had No. One stuff to begin with.
Now, Thomas and Decker are fine physical specimens, but few rookie receivers make the kind of impact we’re looking for in fantasy.
Both are recovering from pre-draft injuries, Thomas a broken left foot, and Decker a sprained ligament, also to his left foot. However one of these could be worth a pick up in the second half of the season.
I know Eddie Royal is looking to shrug off 2009, but I think he’s still living in his great rookie season when he had Brandon Marshall on the other side of the field.
Royal also clicked with former Bronco, Jay Cutler, and has yet to do so with Kyle Orton.
The only receiver I see clicking right away is nine-year vet Gaffney, and that won’t make many readers happy, but he was familiar with McDaniels' system when he joined the Broncos and picked up the offense in a snap.
At 29 though, Gaffney is no spring chicken, but if he ropes in 65 catches and 800 yards, that may be enough to lead this team in receptions.
The Broncos have all of the signs of a wideout committee and if it takes five or six receivers to do the job of three, McDaniels has no problem with that.
Prediction: Jabbar Gaffney or Wide Receiver by Committee
Fantasy Implication: 3/10
Most of his best years were wasted on being a role player.
He may lead this team in receptions, maybe even yards, but he’s not going to break 1,000.
I would wager he doesn’t get more than 70 receptions either.
I believe the Broncos want to have a balanced attack that’s neither wins or loses depending on either the run or pass.
Early word in Broncos camp is that they want to go vertical with the rookies, but that’s provided they can digest and translate McDaniels’ monstrous playbook in time, and both recover from their foot injuries.
Too many “ifs,” if you ask me.
The potential numbers here are not what you’d want as a fantasy owner, so what are those kind of stats worth to you?
Not much more than a fourth receiver spot on a roster or a flex position at best, I’m afraid.
No. 1 tight end
Candidates: Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn, Marquez Branson, Nathan Overbay, Riar Geer
Tony Scheffler had this position locked before he was shipped off in a trade to the Detroit Lions.
Josh McDaniels was less than thrilled at Scheffler’s attitude at the end of last season, but to not find a way to kiss and make up, well, that move shocked a lot of people, he took another weapon away in Kyle Orton’s passing attack.
The drop off from Scheffler to the rest of the group is large.
We don’t know enough about these other kids to say one’s ready to take the mantle. Quinn’s got great size but he didn’t catch a ball in his rookie season.
Overbay is even bigger at 6’5”, 270 pounds. So I’ll keep an eye in preseason to see who really takes the control of the position.
My gut feeling right now though says to take experience over beauty.
Graham has the blocking skills to stay on the field and won’t cause a fuss if he doesn’t get the ball thrown to him enough.
He’s the perfect company man and is skilled just well enough in all the right places, but an elite tight end, he is not.
Prediction: Daniel Graham
Fantasy Implication: 2/10
Nobody gave Denver a chance last year and they somehow pulled it altogether, and sent fantasy owners scurrying for Broncos still left in the waiver wires.
Even great players struggle with new schemes. You just don’t know until the games are played.
The same could be said about this year, since everybody is lining up to give Josh McDaniels a thrashing if his risky moves don’t pan out.
The difference this year is the Broncos don’t have those playmakers so he has to generate new ones.
In the meantime, Graham will step in and bail Orton out on more than a few occasions, but just don’t expect gaudy numbers —30 receptions, 300 yards, at best, and that’s being generous.
If you are an owner who has to waste a roster spot on a backup tight end, you could do a lot worse than Graham.
No. 1 running back
Candidates - Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles
Did the Jets really let Thomas Jones walk?
Was Shonn Greene so good that they could let a guy who carried the ball 331 times and grinded out 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns last season (Jones’ personal best) just leave?
Not exactly, the Jets wanted Jones back at dirt-low money, but the 11-year veteran instead signed a two-year deal with the Chiefs at a total frugal price of $5 million.
Jones’ latest fresh start stemmed mostly from money than performance but he will be 32 years old this season and won’t give up the job without a fight.
Jones has always been a runner with big pride and a chip on his shoulder and will keep Charles from slacking.
He’ll be ready if Charles gets hurt.
Speaking of shoulders and pain, Charles is recovering from off-season surgery but should be fine to step in there and reprise his role.
He’s only making $470,000, much less than Jones, but if he strings together a full season, he’ll get that big payday he’s looking for.
Charles got the green light to be the Chiefs’ feature back halfway through 2009 and showed that he could be due for a big 2010.
He may not get the 25 carries a game he was getting at the end of the season —because Jones will contribute —but with Charlie Weis in the mix at offensive coordinator, the Chiefs can’t wait to unleash Charles as a versatile weapon in the league.
Prediction: Jamaal Charles
Fantasy Implication: 9/10
The Chiefs are going to be a team that plenty of fantasy owners will begin to eye in pre-draft preparations.
As stated above, Weis should bring a more balanced offense that hopes to improve on being the being ranked 23rd in points and 25th in yards.
With a good running game, Matt Cassel should have more time to find his improved receivers making the Chiefs a lot less predictable.
So, Charles should factor in as a big key to the Chiefs’ attempt at success, making him a great, affordable option for those in PPR leagues looking for a lower cost player with the potential to score a lot of points, while Jones should be weigh in heavily as a handcuff option.
Kansas City Chiefs
No. 1 wide receiver
Candidates: Dwayne Bowe, Jerheme Urban, Chris Chambers, Dexter McCluster, Terrance Copper, Quinten Lawrence, Lance Long
After the Chiefs bolstered their running game and brought in Weis to bring a first grade passing attack in Kansas City, the next important piece is the receiver position.
Weis has a few pieces set, but he’ll have to look hard to find a true number one receiver in this bunch.
Urban is not going to impact the game much as the team’s slot receiver, and Long and Lawrence will be lucky to make the team.
McCluster is a rookie highlight reel waiting to come, but he will be switching from running back to full time receiver in the pros. That doesn’t happen overnight and fantasy owners who had Percy Harvin last year could tell you that a combo player is a tough, ballsy play in fantasy.
When Bowe isn’t throwing teammates under the bus, he spends much of the season going in and out of coach Todd Haley’s doghouse.
Which leaves the soon-to-be 32-year-old Chris Chambers left to be the go-to guy on the Chiefs.
After coming to KC in a trade with the Chargers, Chambers immediately took advantage of Bowe’s missteps and slid into the team’s best receiver option.
And while Chambers has put together just one 1,000-yard season in a 10-year career, 2009 was the best season he’s had in the last five years, making the change of scenery a positive one for him.
Prediction: Chris Chambers or Wide Receiver by Committee
Fantasy Implication: 5/10
Someday, McCluster may be one of the Chiefs’ top wideouts, but not today.
Chambers is the most reliable and productive of the bunch.
We could also be looking at a group that each amasses 40-50 receptions and 600-700 yards, which I think is more likely given the strides the offense needs to take to improve will take a team effort.
Either way we’re not looking at sterling numbers for any of them, but instead looking at a group who should collectively be thought of as mediocre flex receivers who will see opportunities as long as the running game proves to be very productive.
San Diego Chargers
No. 2 wide receiver
Candidates: Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Craig Davis
The Chargers offense is close to being unstoppable, and yet the Jets figured out how to stop them.
They’ve retooled their running back situation with Ryan Matthews and he’ll join an offense that has their quarterback, tight end and top receiver all locked up.
So, what if anything, is this team missing?
If you said, “a second receiver,” then you’d be right. Unfortunately, I don’t see one on this roster, unless he shows up in one of the seven rookie free agents they signed after the 2010 draft.
Naanee will be nothing more than a slot receiver, and by the way, he’s not that impressive in that role. Davis has great hands and speed and was highly touted when he was drafted back in 2007 out of LSU, but so was his teammate, JaMarcus Russell.
Davis has been a walking injury report since, keeping the door open for restricted free agent Malcom Floyd, who has yet to sign his one-year tender.
He’ll eventually do so because he’s getting double what he made last year, but this is the second year he’ll play under a tender contract and with as little as what is asked of him, he could do a lot worse.
Prediction: Malcom Floyd
Fantasy Implication: 3/10
When you’re in a position of wealth, such as the Chargers are, the only real battle going on in camp is this one at wide receiver. The Chargers enjoy the luxury of not having to depend on a second wide receiver to set up their offense.
Their best pass-catchers are Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates. They also throw a ton to the running backs, and last year alone, players out of the backfield made nearly 100 catches of Philip Rivers’ 317 completions.
Another 150 completions will be split between Jackson and Gates, leaving roughly 75 more to spread around these three receivers.
Floyd will probably get the most out of the three, especially early in the season if Jackson gets suspended for his violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor traffic violation. Combined with two DUIs since 2006, the Chargers may need at least one of these guys to step up and Floyd is the clear leader and is starting to put up likable numbers but he’s never been much of a red zone target. For more in-depth fantasy football coverage visit Fantasy Football Trader
Floyd will probably get the most out of the three, especially early in the season if Jackson gets suspended for his violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor traffic violation.
Combined with two DUIs since 2006, the Chargers may need at least one of these guys to step up and Floyd is the clear leader and is starting to put up likable numbers but he’s never been much of a red zone target.
For more in-depth fantasy football coverage visit Fantasy Football Trader