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Fantasy Football: Top players to target in the AFC West

Fantasy Football
Photo Credit: USA Today

The AFC West has quickly become one of the most entertaining and competitive divisions in football. With star power at the top and great value to be had from each team, who are the players you should be drafting in fantasy football?

Denver Broncos

Phillip Lindsay

This time last year there weren’t many fantasy owners who would have penciled in Phillip Lindsay for success. The undrafted running back surprised as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, adding 241 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air. While he was undoubtedly the bright spot in the Denver Broncos’ backfield, it doesn’t look as if his carries will increase greatly from the 192 that he was given in 2018.

Lindsay finished 2018 as the RB12 and those who believe he can maintain or improve on that standard will be hoping that Joe Flacco will be enough of an upgrade over Case Keenum to increase the output of the offense.

Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders finished 2018 as the WR24, despite only playing in 12 games. At the time of his injury, he was WR16 and the Broncos’ clear top receiving option. While Sanders’ health is a concern given his age, it’s worth noting that he’s been a top 25 WR in four of his five seasons in Denver. He appears to be on schedule with his recovery and will start in Week 1. He’s incredibly undervalued at the moment and is a potential starting wide receiver for your fantasy team being drafted in a position normally reserved for depth players.

Courtland Sutton

Courtland Sutton didn’t quite have the impact that many were expecting after Demaryius Thomas was traded, but he’s a physical downfield receiver who’s shown that he can be a big-play threat. Flacco has a stronger arm than Keenum and has had success throwing the deep ball in the past, providing optimism for fans of Sutton. His 16.8 yards per reception was the seventh highest in the league in 2018 and a full season as the WR2 on the team should increase his production. Sutton looks to be the top receiving option for the Broncos long-term, but it might not be this year.

Sleepers

Royce Freeman was the assumed starter for the 2018 season before Lindsay’s emergence. The Broncos look to be transitioning to a zone-based rushing attack similar to the one in which he thrived in college and he should be more efficient. He’ll continue to split carries, but the fact that Lindsay hasn’t been officially named the starter is a good sign for his workload.

The third wide receiver in an offense expected to be run-heavy isn’t the most attractive proposition, but DaeSean Hamilton is a talented route runner who became more involved in the offense towards the end of the season. If Sanders misses time again, then he’s a good replacement.

Noah Fant was drafted for his ability to pass catches. He’s got great speed for the position and is big enough to be a matchup nightmare for defenses. The volume might not be there, but Fant has the ability to provide big plays and can be a very good option in the red zone.

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes

It’s difficult to state just how impressive Patrick Mahomes was in his first season as a starter. He had more points in 14 games than any other quarterback had in 16 games. In fact, he could have stopped playing after 11 games and still finished as QB9, ahead of Russell Wilson.

Not much has changed for the Kansas City Chiefs entering 2019, and Mahomes should be the top quarterback drafted in your fantasy league. It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t draft a QB early given the small differences between a lot of them on a points per game basis, but if you want the guy with the best chance of finishing the season as fantasy football’s QB1, then it’s Mahomes.

Tyreek Hill

Those who drafted earlier in the year could have helped themselves to a fantasy bargain during the height of Tyreek Hill’s legal issues. Whether or not you agree with the outcome, those are firmly in the rearview mirror now and Hill is being drafted like the top 10 wide receiver that he is.

With game-breaking speed, Hill is one of the best playmakers in the league and few players have the upside that he does. He averaged 17 yards per reception in 2018, and still managed 1,479 yards despite his catch rate falling to a career-low of 63.5%. Mahomes has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and Hill is his deep threat of choice, giving him the potential for huge performances.

Travis Kelce

If you’re looking for a consistently great tight end, then Travis Kelce is your man. When there’s a position with as much variance and unpredictability as tight end, finding a player who has had over 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons is a huge advantage. Kelce’s 191.6 fantasy points in 2018 would have been enough to make him the WR8, ahead of Michael Thomas and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The TE10 finished the season with 86.5 fantasy points while 52 wide receivers finished with more points than that. Take Kelce and worry about other positions.

Sleepers

If you’re drafting Damien Williams high in your fantasy football drafts, then you’re doing so because you believe in the Chiefs’ offense and Andy Reid’s ability to create production from running backs. The concern is that we’ve seen fantasy points from Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West in recent years. Williams will be productive, but just because he’s the starter in Week 1 doesn’t mean he’ll finish that way.

Sammy Watkins may not have been the top tier wide receiver that the Buffalo Bills expected when they drafted him, but he’s been productive when healthy. The same was true to an extent in Kansas City last season, although injuries ended his season early. Watkins’ targets are going to be limited with Hill and Kelce around, but that should give him easier matchups. Even with a smaller role, there’s a route to Watkins finishing as a top 30 wide receiver.

Los Angeles Chargers

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon is perhaps the most interesting question in fantasy football in 2019. It’s looking more and more likely that his holdout is going to extend into the regular season. The Los Angeles Chargers have historically been unwilling to bend to player pressure, with Joey Bosa missing the beginning of his rookie season due to a contract dispute, and Gordon will want to be paid handsomely.

When he’s on the field, Gordon is one of the top running backs in fantasy, with a heavy workload and 12+ touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. His draft stock is continuing to drop though as the fear of another Le’Veon Bell situation kicks in. If he’s on the field, then you’re getting a league winner at a discount, but you need to decide whether it’s a risk you’re willing to take.

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers is a player who may actually benefit from Gordon’s absence when it comes to fantasy. Gordon’s replacement is unlikely to have his red-zone prowess, and Rivers could find himself throwing more in those situations. If you like waiting for a quarterback, then Rivers is one who you could draft late and plugin for the season without worrying. Not since 2012 was Rivers, not a top 15 fantasy football QB, and he should be one again.

Keenan Allen

It seems like a long time ago that Keenan Allen was thought of as a talented receiver who was too injury-prone to commit to in fantasy. He now hasn’t missed a game since 2016. In 2017, Allen had 102 receptions for 1,393 yards, finishing the year as the WR3. He followed that with 97 catches for 1,196 yards as the WR14 last season. Allen is a polished route runner who lacks the touchdown upside of some of the other top receivers, but he has a high floor, going over 50 yards in 14 of 16 games last season.

Sleepers

Hunter Henry might have missed all of last season to injury, but there’s a reason that so many were projecting him for a breakout year. Henry had overtaken Antonio Gates as the top tight end for the Chargers and should be an important part of the passing game. Expect Henry to be a top 10 fantasy tight end.

If Gordon does miss time, then expect Austin Ekeler to be given the bulk of the workload. Ekeler was productive even with Gordon on the field, finishing 2018 as the RB27, but more opportunities could see his value soar.

After an injury-plagued rookie season, Mike Williams showed why the Chargers invested a top 10 draft pick in him. Williams used his size and physicality to dominate in the red zone and will hope to show that his WR20 finish last year wasn’t a fluke.

Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr

Derek Carr hasn’t been the superstar that it looked as if he was on the brink of becoming during an impressive 2016 campaign, but he has a great opportunity to get back on track. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have given the Oakland Raiders’ offense a complete makeover. Carr now has some of the best weapons in the league to work with. Carr hasn’t been terrible, but he’s only finished the season as a top 15 quarterback in two of his five seasons in the NFL. He’ll be available late in drafts, but if he can gel with his supporting cast, then he has the potential to finish in the top 10.

Antonio Brown

It’s been difficult to avoid Antonio Brown in the last year. The superstar wide receiver quit his team, got frostbite and has been publicly feuding with the NFL over their choice of helmets, but there’s no denying his talent. The last time that Brown wasn’t a top 10 fantasy WR was 2012 and he’s been the WR1 multiple times during that period. In fact, the last time he wasn’t a top-five fantasy wide receiver was 2013. Carr is a downgrade at quarterback, but Brown will be determined to prove that he made the right decision leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers. Provided he’s on the field, he’ll produce again in 2019.

Josh Jacobs

Josh Jacobs was drafted for his ability to contribute on all three downs. He faces little competition for places in a backfield comprised of veteran backups and should see a heavy workload from day one. We’ve seen fantasy football relevance from Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin, despite both being far removed from their best. Jacobs should lead rookie running backs in touches and the Raiders will give him every opportunity to prove himself. Assuming he can stay on the field, Jacobs should be a top 20 RB in his rookie year.

Sleepers

If you were asked to name the most obscure 1,000-yard receiver that you could then Tyrell Williams would be a good name to pick, but the former Charger had a breakout year in 2016 that saw him endear himself to fantasy football owners. He’s the clear number two wide receiver in Oakland, and with Brown drawing coverage from the top cornerback, Williams could have a career renaissance.

You might not have to fight off many fantasy owners to secure Darren Waller this season, but he’s the heir apparent to the starting tight end position in Oakland. While he’s not done much in his career to date, his skillset translates to the role vacated by Jared Cook. Keep an eye on Waller on the waiver wire.

Top targets in other divisions:

AFC East | AFC South | NFC West | NFC North | NFC South | NFC East

Andy Gallagher is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering Fantasy Football. You can follow him @AndySGallagher on Twitter.

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