As training camps ramp up, injuries start to mount, and endless fantasy football player analysis continues, here is my seventh “Second Opinion” article in the series, offering a counter-point to the projections, rankings and player commentary published at DraftBuddy.com. As in prior weeks, my job is to identify one player from each NFL team whose forecast is either too optimistic or too pessimistic. Here is my analysis of the NFC West division.
This division, by far, has the best defenses in the league. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco have established defenses, but with successful drafts the past two years, the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals have pumped up their size and power. What once was thought to be a walk over division is now one of the most feared divisions in the NFL. To have these teams face each other twice in one season only benefits all us fans from an entertainment standpoint, even if we cringe a little when our fantasy players faceoff against them.
St. Louis Rams
Team Report – Jul 22
St. Louis Rams are always a team with a lot of optimism heading into a season, but then an injury to a major contributor quashes that idea. In 2013, Sam Bradford was off to a hot start before getting hurt. His injury sent the Rams down the path towards yet another losing record.
The bright light that came out of 2013 was rookie running back Zac Stacy emerging as a legit threat to defenses. He ran all over the place wreaking havoc on defensive coordinators’ game plans. The wide receivers the past few years have not given us any reason to turn our heads. In 2014, with a healthy Bradford and Stacy the focal point of the offense, the receivers need to step up if the Rams want any chance of competing in the division.
Buried in a pool of young talent including Kenny Britt, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens and Brian Quick is second-year receiver Tavon Austin. Austin should be the main man for Bradford. Austin was a disappointment as a rookie with an underwhelming season in which he was expected to make a significant impact. Austin recently admitted he felt lost last season and struggled to get comfortable with the playbook.
With that experience and a full offseason to work with the team, Austin should make great strides in 2014. He is one of the fastest receivers in the league, so assuming the coaches can figure out how to get him in space and let him make defenders miss, he should regularly find the end zone. My bold prediction is a drastically improved year for Austin leading to a Top 30 performance.
Team Report – Jul 23
The reigning Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks are dealing with a few early bumps in the road on their way to back-to-back titles. First, Sidney Rice unexpectedly retired. Okay, maybe that isn’t overly significant. However, the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch does cause some concern to a team that prides itself on defense and bludgeoning the opposition with their running game. Even a non-holding out Lynch does have a lot of tread on his tires from recent seasons, including long playoff runs.
The player I am most concerned about from a fantasy perspective is potential Top 10 QB Russell Wilson. There’s no doubt that Wilson is a good quarterback, but the skill players around him are limited. He’s done a lot with very little so far in his career, but how long can he keep that up?
Seattle’s number one wide receiver, Percy Harvin, hasn’t played a full season in two years. Number two wide receiver Doug Baldwin ranks a little outside the Top 50. Starting tight end Zach Miller is old and on the decline. Top it all off with a Lynch holdout, and there isn’t a lot to support Wilson ranking as high as he is usually getting drafted. After leading his team to the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson takes a step backwards this season and finds himself outside the Top 15.
Team Report – Jul 24
It is hard not to like what the Arizona Cardinals have going their way heading into 2014. They have a smart, veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer leading the charge. From there, the second year running back Andre Ellington should continue where he left of being a quality dual-threat running back. At wide receivers, the Cards sport one of the top duos in the league between future Hall of Fame candidate Larry Fitzgerald and third-year player Michael Floyd.
I agree with this website’s prediction of Michael Floyd surpassing Larry Fitzgerald and being, statistically, the number one receiver on the team this season. However, after those two, most think Ted Ginn Jr. will be the third option, but I am really liking John Brown as a fantasy football sleeper.
Brown is younger and faster than Ginn. Ginn has had his chances in the NFL and has shown little success beyond his duties on special teams. I believe once Brown outperforms Ginn in the preseason, then the Cardinals will give Brown more opportunity to show what he can do during the regular season than most are expecting. Playing in the shadow of Fizgerald and Floyd, Brown could prove to be surprisingly successful.
San Francisco 49ers
Team Report – Jul 25
San Francisco 49ers continue to make moves to improve and push to win the Super Bowl. Many of those offseason moves were overshadowed by Colin Kaepernick’s new contract. The question everyone asks is what did Kaepernick do to earn that deal, after an uneven 2013 season? Well sit back and enjoy the ride, because this is the year we see him breakout.
Kaepernick’s rushing ability puts enormous pressure on opposing defenses. The 49ers added Steve Johnson from the Buffalo Bills to compliment an already solid trio of Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Lets not forget Crabtree was sidelined much of last season, but provided a big spark for the passing game after he returned. Whereas Russell Wilson doesn’t have a ton of talent at his disposal, Kaepernick does, resulting in a lot of upside and potential for him to finish as a Top 10 quarterback. Regardless of the defenses he’s on tap to face, when your team is so well rounded at all offensive positions, it’s hard to not see success in this young quarterback’s future.