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2017 Fantasy Football Outlook: AFC West

The Raiders, Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs provide fantasy football players with assets that could make or break leagues.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

No longer a playpen for the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos, the AFC West has seen the rise of the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs as conference powerhouses. With all four teams in the division stacked with talent at various positions, the AFC West will be closely watched by fantasy football players for the duration of the 2017 NFL season.

Players are accompanied by their ADP (average draft position).

Kansas City Chiefs

Fantasy Names: Travis Kelce, TE (29.18), Tyreek Hill, WR (44.75), Spencer Ware, RB (61.69), Kareem Hunt, RB (97.98), Kansas City Chiefs D/ST (161.66), Alex Smith, QB (177.71)
Sleeper: Chris Conley, WR
Disappointment: Hunt

The Chiefs don’t have much to brag about from a fantasy standpoint. Kelce was the No. 1 overall tight end in fantasy football last season and looks primed to contend for that spot again, even with Rob Gronkowski coming back. The departure of Jeremy Maclin should open up even more targets for the tight end who’s entering his prime. When looking at the Chiefs’ receiving corps, it’s tough to find a direct Maclin replacement. Conley fits the mold (6’3”, 205) and had an underratedly solid 2016 season while Maclin battled through injuries. If Conley adds a few touchdowns to his stat line from last season (44 receptions and 530 yards), then he could be a late-round flier that pays off in deeper or best-ball leagues.

Hill seems poised to be the main beneficiary of the unaccounted-for Maclin targets. Hill broke out during his rookie season, catching 61 passes for 593 yards, rushing for an additional 267 yards and scoring 12 total touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns came on kick/punt returns, so make sure that your league accounts for those for offensive players. If it does, it makes Hill all the more valuable and a worthy pick in the early fifth round. Hill’s dynamism on returns make the Chiefs’ D/ST the top fantasy unit going into 2017. Their defense was already stout and converting turnovers into scores, but three return touchdowns for a fantasy defense is invaluable.

The team’s running back situation is funky. Jamaal Charles was an early-round pick last season as he was due to come back from a torn ACL. Charles made it back to appear sporadically in just three games. Ware looked like a league-winner through the first six weeks, but he tailed off as the season wore on. Ware still finished as the RB14, but the Chiefs added competition in Hunt. A #DraftTwitter darling, many believe Hunt will grab the starting role at some point during the season, but all reports are that Ware is entrenched as the starter. Considering Ware has averaged 4.63 yards per carry through two seasons in Kansas City, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the lead guy. Hunt may steal some touches as a change-of-pace guy, but his high draft cost right now doesn’t make sense.

Oakland Raiders

Fantasy Names: Amari Cooper, WR (18.03), Marshawn Lynch, RB (40.08), Michael Crabtree (45.04), Derek Carr, QB (101.72), DeAndre Washington, RB (174.19), Jared Cook, TE (181.90)
Sleeper: Jalen Richard, RB
Disappointment: Lynch

The Raiders went 12-4 last season and established themselves as a serious AFC contender. Their offensive prowess resulted in some fantasy studs, namely Carr (QB7), Cooper (WR13) and Crabtree (WR9). Even their banished running back, Latavius Murray, was a top 11 fantasy back last season. Now the highest-paid player in the NFL, Carr is hitting his prime in both real life and fantasy football. Carr has been a top 13 QB for the past two seasons, even though the Raiders keep trying to be a run-first team. Their leaky defense paves the way for shootouts, which forces Carr into games where he’s slinging all day long. Being drafted right now as QB10, Carr is a comfortable late-round pick, though signal-callers like Dak Prescott and Tyrod Taylor are my preferred options.

Another year, another offseason where Cooper is being drafted way ahead of Crabtree. For the past two fantasy draft seasons, Cooper’s potential inclines drafters to take the chance on Cooper taking the next step and becoming the No. 1 guy he’s shown flashes of developing into. And for the past two full seasons, Crabtree has out produced him. Cooper has accumulated more yards in each of the past two seasons, but Crabtree has edged him where it counts: receptions and touchdowns. Cooper is a fine pick in the third round, but he’s going in the middle of the second at the moment, while Crabtree is going in the fourth-to-fifth. Sure, this could be the year that Crabtree takes a step back, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and is Carr’s preferred option in the red zone.

Though he was being pushed by a duo of impressive rookie backs in Washington and Richard, Murray finished as RB11 last season on the back of 12 touchdowns. Drafters who are taking Lynch in the third-to-fourth round right now must be expecting the same number of touchdowns, because there’s no way he lives up to that draft slot unless that happens. Lynch is coming off a hiatus year, was riddled with injuries in 2015 and averaged 3.8 yards per carry in his last seven games of action. Washington averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season, and Richard averaged 5.9 while killing it as a receiver out of the backfield. Add to that the speculation that Lynch could be held to 200 carries as a 31-year-old, and he’s one of the riskiest picks at his ADP.

Denver Broncos

Fantasy Names: Demaryius Thomas, WR (28), Emmanuel Sanders, WR (59.05), C.J. Anderson, RB (64.03), Jamaal Charles, RB (146.98), Denver Broncos D/ST (147.49)
Sleeper: Carlos Henderson, WR
Disappointment: Anderson

Much like the Raiders receivers, the Broncos top two targets’ ADPs are unjustly spread out. There’s a 31-pick difference between their draft slots, but over the last two seasons, there’s just a 31-point difference in their fantasy outputs. In 2016, Thomas outscored Sanders by a measly five points, yet Thomas is going in the third round, while Sanders is falling to the sixth and seventh in some cases. This isn’t a slight against Thomas, as he’s still a perfect WR1/2, especially in PPR formats. The issue right now is that Sanders is just severely undervalued, for reasons that are unknown.

This team’s running back situation is a travesty. Anderson appears to be the favorite for the starting spot going into this season, but he’s coming off a cut-short season that wasn’t going well (4.0 ypc) even before he went down. Anderson has seemingly struggled with some sort of ailment every season of his career, and he’s a risky pick, though one that could hit big if he stays healthy. Devontae Booker took over for Anderson midway through last season and owners who stashed him thought he would carry their team to the playoffs. To be completely blunt, Booker was atrocious. He averaged 3.5 ypc and scored just four total touchdowns after taking over as the starter. Kapri Bibbs outplayed him, and the Broncos added a sixth-round rookie back with potential in De’Angelo Henderson and Jamaal Charles, who’s another year removed from a torn ACL.

The Broncos’ defense is being drafted ahead of the Chiefs right now, but the loss of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is a bigger loss than many are taking into account. They probably won’t be the top three unit they’ve been the last two seasons. If you play MFL best-ball, Trevor Siemian isn’t a terrible late-round flier. He threw 18 touchdowns last season and has a lot of great weapons around him.

Los Angeles Chargers

Fantasy Names: Melvin Gordon, RB (9.66), Keenan Allen, WR (34.05), Tyrell Williams, WR (88.66), Hunter Henry, TE (94.98), Philip Rivers, QB (119.33), Mike Williams, WR (179.68), Antonio Gates, TE (184.17)
Sleeper: Travis Benjamin, WR
Disappointment: Allen

The Chargers went 5-11 last season, but they have a lot of talent on both offense and defense. Injuries always seem to find them exclusively, and it happened early last season when Allen went down in the first game of the season and missed the whole year. Despite Allen missing 22 games over the last two seasons and being four years removed from his last good fantasy season, there isn’t much of a discount on him in fantasy drafts right now. Drafters are expecting him to be the guy he was during the first-half stretch of 2015, but it’s unlikely he’ll be the same guy after so many injuries. The Chargers also have a lot more weapons than they did previously, at running back, receiver and tight end. His ADP is outrageous in my opinion, and I won’t have any of him unless his price drops before the season starts.

A Chargers receiver I will have a lot of is Tyrell Williams, who was a stud as Allen’s replacement last season. As a second-year player, “The Gazelle” broke 1,000 yards and caught seven touchdowns. With Mike Williams possibly due to miss the entire season, Tyrell could be a massive value at his ADP. Tyrell will be at the very least the No. 2 option in the passing game, and if Allen goes down once again (which is entirely possible given his history), he will be an every-week WR2. With Gates entering his final season (probably), Henry is set to take over as the starter. Henry scored eight touchdowns as a backup in his rookie season at a position where rookies tend to struggle and take time to develop. Henry is a perfect late-round tight end option for those who don’t want to pay a premium for the top guys at the position.

Some people have reservations about Gordon heading into this season, but the concerns are unfounded. I stupidly traded Gordon away last season because he was inefficient in terms of his YPC, and I pretty much lost my season because of it. A touchdown scoring machine with underrated pass-game chops, Gordon should be a lock at the end of the first round at arguably the most volatile position in fantasy.