Fantasy Football Sleepers: NFC West
As fantasy football season starts to encroach on us, I will be looking at identifying one or two potential breakout stars or underrated fantasy players on each team. I will try to stay away from rookies as much as I can because it is so hard to judge how they will do in camp or how many touches they will get. Fantasy football is all about volume, so finding who is due for an increase in carries/receptions while sneaking under the radar is key. Anyway, here are my NFC West breakout fantasy players.
Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR
This one may seem pretty easy selection, but never count out a big physical receiver in Bruce Arians passing attack. Not only was Arians able to work wonders with the too old and too small combination of Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton with the Colts last year, he did so with a rookie from under center. Moving forward Arians gets to work with the combination of Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer. If Palmer could return to somewhere close to where to was performing pre-knee injury he will be a long needed stabilizer in the passing game. With Fitzgerald still remaining one of the top receivers in the game, Floyd should be able to work with a fair amount of open space on the opposite side. Not only that but Floyd had 302 yards receiving in his last 5 games of 2012 against some pretty elite defenses. Those numbers also came with Brian Hoyer, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb throwing him passes. Floyd is poised for a huge season taking on a similar role that Anquan Boldin played back when the Cardinals were contenders, which is still weird to think about. Floyd will probably become a viable fantasy option as well, as he displayed a unique ability to win jump balls while at Notre Dame and Fitzgerald getting most of the attention from opposing defenses in the Red Zone.
Also keep an eye on: Rashard Mendenhall RB
San Francisco 49ers: LaMichael James, RB/KR
James had his coming out party of sorts at the tail end of last season and in the playoffs, but that is nothing compared to what he is capable of in 2013. With Ted Ginn moving on to become the Panthers return specialist James now has the first chance to show off some of the punt return skills he showed off while at Oregon. Not only that, but he should figure to play a large role in third down situations as the 49ers will probably look to limit Frank Gore’s touches throughout the season for an eventual playoff run. Even with the return of a healthy Kendall Hunter, whose injury opened the door for James in the first place, there will be plenty of carries to go around. Depending on how defenses react to the read option offense run so brilliantly by the 49ers after Colin Kaepernick took over for the injured Alex Smith, it could be another opportunity for James to shine, as he has the most experience running that style of offense after his years under Chip Kelly. James won’t get to many touches this season, expect 8-15 a game, but when he does get the ball he has proven that he is one of the more explosive running backs in the game. In the best case scenario we see the emergence of another Darren Sproles like player, and worst case he is on the better backs at getting to the corner and effectively running the read option offense that is sweeping the NFL. James propably won’t make much of a fantasy impact on a week to week basis this year do to the running back by committee system the 49ers are employing, but he could get a favorable matchup or be a homerun hitter of the bench if necessary.
Also keep an eye on: AJ Jenkins WR
Seattle Seahawks: Robert Turbin/Christine Michael, RB
Before I get lambasted for saying Marshawn Lynch’s backups will get a the chance to break out this season, let me explain. First of all, the Seahawks probably didn’t waste their first pick in the draft on a RB they probably weren’t going to play. Also looking back to Lynch’s days in Buffalo when he had back to back 1,000 yard season he lasted 2 seasons before he needed to take almost three full seasons off before regaining his All-Pro caliber form. Lynch’s running style is so violent that no one would be able to take that much punishment season after season and still walk.
That is why I think even without the injury several other runners with that style have suffered in the past Lynch will still have an off year. That being said Michael has a very similar downhill power running style, so there wouldn’t have to be much of a change in scheme for Michael to come in and take some of the 300+ carries Lynch had last season to try and limit the wear and tear on his body. There are already reports coming out that Lynch injured in organized team activities Michael tore it up. Turbin is more of a change of pace back for the other two pounders, but had a great season in that role last year averaging 4.4 yards per carry as a rookie. I Michael at all struggles to pick up the playbook or has a longer learning curve than perceived Turbin will be the man to spell Lynch this season. Neither of this guys is going to be much help in fantasy, as Lynch is one of the better red zone runners in the league. He will hog most of the touchdowns from inside the five yard line. However a late round flyer on one of two just in case Lynch does have my predicted slow down could end up being a nice steal toward the end of the year.
Also keep an eye on: Doug Baldwin WR
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, QB
Ever since coming into the NFL as the first overall pick back in 2010 Sam Bradford has had a pretty rough go of it. His offensive line play has been atrocious and his best receiving threat was a typically injured Danny Amendola, a far cry from the Greatest Show on Turf of the early 2000’s. However with the acquisition of Jake Long, the drafting of Tavon Austin, and surprising effectiveness of Daryl Richardson last season the Rams seem to be putting together a pretty potent offense. Questions have always existed that Bradford’s arm strength left a little bit to be desired, but Jeff Fisher has never really needed a rocket armed QB to run his offense effectively. Ron Jaworski has Bradford listed as his 22nd ranked QB this season, which I find pretty low.
If the reports on Brian Quick are true on the outside then this offense is loaded with weapons, and has a veteran offensive line, something that bodes well for the former Oklahoma Sooner. The defenses in the NFC West are pretty tough, and there aren’t a whole lot of new faces in opposing secondaries outside of the 49ers replacing Dashon Goldson. However with the continuity in the coaching staff that Bradford hasn’t had in his NFL career he is posed to improve. Last season he completed almost 60% of his passes for 3,700 yards so he is by no means a slouch coming in to this season, but I expect his yards and touchdowns to go down, while his 13 interceptions to drop. He is by no means a top 5 or maybe even top 10 quarterback at this point in his career, but this season he make start making the move. At only 25 he still has several years before he enters the true prime of his career. This season his fantasy value is probably a low end starter to valuable backup for me until he really proves he can put up the numbers week in and week out.
Also keep an eye on: Daryl Richardson RB