The Fantasy Trenches –NFC West Edition

By Elliott Anderson

As we continue our journey through the fantasy trenches, the focus will stay on the west coast. The NFC west has been known for its tough defense and stout run game but will that trend continue? While high powered offenses have been scarce, there is fantasy gold lurking out west with the addition of Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and Sean McVay in Los Angeles. These two offensive minded coaches could help create a Wild Wild West atmosphere with Bruce Arians offense potentially returning to form and a healthy Russell Wilson in the Great Northwest. The offensive line was a cause for concern in 2016 for multiple teams in this division but the offseason can work wonders for getting players healthy and recruiting talent. There is a lot to be excited about in this division, so let’s jump on the fun bus with Uncle Pete and see how the big men up front can help us gain clarity in the whacky NFC West.

 San Francisco 49ers

Rush YPG: 126.2(4th)

Pass YPG: 182(32nd)

Sacks Allowed: 47(30th)

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: None

What kind of homer would I be if I didn’t talk about my beloved Niners first and foremost? I haven’t been looking forward to this so I’ll just pull the band aid off swiftly. The 49ers offense was horrific in all phases last season for many reasons.  Lack of talent, injuries, and dreadful scheme all contributed to San Francisco’s inability to consistently move the ball and sustain drives. Chip Kelley’s RPO(run pass option) scheme took the league by storm in 2013 when he was hired by the Eagles as their head coach but NFL defensive coordinators quickly found the antidote. The speed of NFL defenses can compensate for any potential gap or man read when playing against Kelley’s zone/read offense. Due to the 49ers lack of play makers, the offense was destined to fail. Even though San Fran was fourth amongst NFL teams in rushing that number is misleading. Nearly 70% of Hyde’s rushing yards came after contact.  In addition to that mind blowing number, Kaepernick rushed for an additional 340 yards on QB scrambles.  Their stuff rate ranking (plays where the RB was hit at or behind the LOS) was 22nd in the league.  To add insult to injury, the 49ers passing attack was ranked dead last in yards per game and their signal caller was sacked 3rd most in the league. Only four teams had a worse pressure rate that the 49ers. As terrible as all that is, it’s not all doom and gloom in the city by the bay. Shanahan and Lynch attacked free agency to improve the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line unit is intact and has benefited from the offseason to get healthy. They are a veteran group anchored by left tackle, Joe Staley and should improve from another year of working as a unit, as well as, the implementation a more power run scheme that will showcase their skill sets.  This group might be one of the most intriguing going into camp due to the fact that this offense will only be as successful as this offensive line. They have the pieces in place to bounce back but only time will tell how they adapt to the new offense…don’t sleep on the 49ers offense. [Editor’s Note: This team is still bad no matter what he says.  Don’t be fooled by blatant homerism.  No key additions to a line which finished as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked O-Line is all you need to know.]

Arizona Cardinals  

Rush YPG: 108.3(18th)

Pass YPG: 259(9th)

Sacks Allowed: 41(Tied for 25th)

Key Losses: Earl Watford (RT), Evan Mathis (Ret)

Key Additions: Dorian Johnson (G) Pittsburg 4th Round

Arizona is yet another team that was bit by the injury bug in the offensive line. It’s difficult for these groups to withstand key injuries because of the communication and trust necessary for O-lines to function at a high level. The loss of Evan Mathis early in the year created a monstrous void at the guard position that was a struggle to fill all season. The Cardinals are a team stacked with viable fantasy options. David Johnson, arguably the number one fantasy player, will thrive regardless of this unit’s production due to his versatility. Arizona’s offensive line had a stuff rate of 21% which would lead you to believe that DJ’s value would take a hit. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield makes him the number one option in this offense on the ground and in the passing game. Carson Palmer was harassed all season (24th ranked pressure rate) and it showed with the decline of Michael Floyd and John Brown’s receiving numbers.  Palmer’s lack of time in the pocket didn’t allow the deeper routes to develop so Fitzgerald and Johnson were peppered with targets on the shorter routes. Brown’s health was also a key to his decline in production but word out of Card’s camp is that JB has his health concerns under control.  Arizona addressed the guard position in the draft by taking Dorian Johnson in the 4th round. He was one of this year’s top rated guards but fell to the third day due to health concerns. If he is ready to play come preseason it would be a huge boost for this group. Bruce Arians is an offensive mined head coach with the ability to create schemes that will benefit every skill player. If this unit can gel in camp and during the preseason, then the Cardinals players should all be great draft day values at their current ADPs. 

 Seattle Seahawks

Rush YPG: 99.4(25th)

Pass YPG: 258(10th)

Sacks Allowed: 42(27th)

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: Ethan Pocic (C) LSU 2nd round, Luke Joeckel (T) FA

The beginning of the end for the Seahawk’s offensive line was the deal that brought Jimmy Graham to Seattle. Bringing in the superstar TE seemed like the move needed to put the Hawks in position to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Instead it cost them a 1st round pick and the leader of their offensive line unit, Max Unger. It’s been a drastic fall to the bottom of most NFL OL ranking metrics for this group and management has done very little to rectify the situation. Seattle did attempt to slow the bleeding this offseason with the signing of Luke Joeckel, a former 1st round pick by the Jags, andthey finally addressed the loss of Unger by drafting Ethan Pocic out of LSU. Pocic will compete for the starting job and could give them some much needed consistency at the center position. Russell Wilson is the cog that makes the Seattle offense go but he was pressured on a league high 37% of his drop backs.  We saw him begin to break down due to the constant pounding he had to endure.  As a result he lost some of his all-important mobility. Seattle has playmakers on offense, that’s clear.  Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham can find the open windows in defensive backfields but Wilson will have to have confidence in his O-line to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball on time. The talent in this backfield is undeniable, with the addition of Eddie Lacy, an emerging CJ Prosise and a healthy Thomas Rawls. Uncle Pete and offensive coordinator Derrell Bevell will have the ability to keep the RBs fresh. This is great news for the Seahawks but confusing and ambiguous for fantasy owners. The O-line should improve from last year’s run blocking struggles where Seattle backs were hit in the backfield on nearly one out of every four plays. That number must decrease if they plan to run the rock and play tough defense like in years past.  Pete Carroll’s “compete every day” philosophy helps his players reach their full potential and this will be no different in the offensive line. Carroll will coach the hogs himself if that’s what is needed for them to be productive and improve their effectiveness.  I expect this unit will be better in 2017.

 Los Angeles Rams

Rush YPG: 78.3(31st)

Pass YPG: 184(31st)

Sacks Allowed: 49(31st)

Key Losses: Greg Robinson (T)

Key Additions: Andrew Whitworth (LT) FA, John Sullivan (C) FA

This offense was terrible last year. There’s no way to sugar coat it or spin it in a positive direction. The Rams were in the bottom third of the league in QB pressures and stuff rate. Not to mention being dead last in scoring and YPG. The bottom line is that Jeff Fisher is a bad head coach and his commitment to mediocrity was unparalleled by any other head coach during his tenure in St. Louis. This showed in the Rams lack of offensive production despite spending last year’s 1st overall pick on Jared Goff (QB) and having 2nd year hype train engineer Todd Gurley in the backfield. Kenny Britt might have been the only shining light on this offensive unit and he is no longer with the team. The Rams made it abundantly clear in this year’s draft that they were going to surround Goff with potential game changers on the offensive side of the ball. They spentthree out of their first four picks on offensive skill players.  That included Gerald Everett (TE) in the 2nd, Cooper Kupp (WR) in the 3rd and Josh Reynolds (WR) in the 4th. The offensive line will undoubtedly improve with the addition of 2 time all-pro Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. Opposing teams loaded the box and dared Case Keenum and the rookie signal caller to make plays a  strategy which paid off. It didn’t necessarily destroy Gurley’s fantasy value but it knocked him out of the elite conversation at the RB position. Coach speak out of Ram’s camp is optimistic in regards to Gurley regaining RB1 status. The communication within the offensive line unit has improved and Gurley’s understanding of the run/pass protection schemes has also developed and is allowing him to be more effective within the offense.  Goff has spent time this offseason working with quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux to improve his overall game. These two have worked with the likes of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees to name a few, so Goff is surrounding himself with the right people to progress his skill set and hopefully compete at a much higher level in ’17. With the addition of an offensive minded head coach in Sean McVay and extensive offseason attention being paid to making this group better, all arrows are pointing way up in LA for the Rams.