Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft, on the teams in each division.
The Broncos will make a push for the AFC title once again. They have upgraded the skill positions and are poised to be the heavy favorite in the division with veteran leadership. There are been several changes on offense so there is plenty of opportunity for dynasty owners.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning returns with improved arm strength and an upgraded receiving corps. He should be able to put up elite QB1 numbers once again. Some regression has to be expected from last year's record-setting campaign. If you are concerned about Manning's neck or age, try to acquire Brock Osweiler on the cheap. He has big upside and could put up solid numbers in Manning's stead. Denver's receivers would make even the inconsistent Osweiler a fantasy-viable option. Sophomore Zac Dysert is a strong-armed project with upside. Too bad he checks down often and appears to struggle reading defenses.
Running Back: Montee Ball was drafted last year to be the starting tailback in Denver. While many discounted Ball's upside after the immense Wisconsin production, Ball fits well with the Broncos' blocking scheme. Now that Knowshon Moreno is in Miami, Ball will get most of the carries as long as he is healthy. He will miss the rest of the preseason after undergoing an appendectomy. This will give dynasty owners an extended look at the rest of the backfield. Third-year Ronnie Hillman looks to take another step forward, but needs to improve pass protection and other areas of the position. His lack of size is a concern in pass protection. There is little chance the team brass will allow their star quarterback to take a pounding due to a running back who gets blown up in pass protection. C.J. Anderson is a player who could vault into the backup position and should be monitored in preseason. He is back who puts his foot in the ground and turn up the field. The youngster has talent and should shine with Ball out of action. There is a chance that a veteran is brought in to add depth at the position.
Wide Receiver: The Broncos signed Wes Welker to a two-year deal last year in free agency. He will man the slot position one final season in Denver with Demaryius Thomas and newly-acquired Emmanuel Sanders moved around the formation to create mismatches. Eric Decker took the cash and ran to New York. He is expected to be the top receiver for the Jets in 2014. Thomas is a free agent after the season, but is unlikely to hit free agency. The addition of Sanders should provide big plays for Manning. His speed will open up the field. Cody Latimer was drafted to be the heir apparent for Welker, and has exceeded expectations to date. Andre Caldwell will continue to be a low-upside reserve.
Tight End: Julius Thomas emerged a season ago and looks like a star. He is poised to be mentioned with the game's elite at the position. The youngster is also a free agent after the season, so his situation is one to watch. Thomas' value in Denver with Manning under center is considerably higher than it would be elsewhere. Jacob Tamme will back him up and play in two-tight end formations. Virgil Green is still trying to get on the field. Veteran Joel Dreessen retired this offseason.
Kansas City Chiefs
A year ago, the Chiefs brought in Andy Reid to run the show. He led the team to a respectable season after a red-hot start. If successful, Kansas City will be led by the defense and the running game once again.
Quarterback: Last year, Kansas City traded for Alex Smith and gave him the starting gig. The intelligent veteran orchestrated Reid's offense well in 2013. While expectations have increased, there is little upside for Smith's dynasty value. This is not a high volume pass offense. Chase Daniel was the backup a season ago, but may be pushed by a couple of youngsters. Second-year Tyler Bray has a strong arm and all of the tools if he can finally put it all together. The team drafted Aaron Murray in May's NFL Draft. While far from a superstar, Murray easily has the talent to become Smith's backup. There is an outside chance that Murray will be groomed to be Smith's successor so he is a decent stash in deep or quarterback-premium leagues.
Running Back: Jamaal Charles is expected to be heavily relied upon once again. After under-use the past few years, coach Reid leaned heavily on the talented ball carrier. Expect Charles to touch the ball often in 2014. NFL Combine darling Knile Davis was drafted a year ago to complement Charles. While the athletic ability is apparent, Davis may struggle to be an every-down back if Charles were to miss time. Cyrus Gray is back to provide depth. The Chiefs did draft De'Anthony Thomas to replace Dexter McCluster as the change-of-pace ball carrier and slot receiver. Thomas will return kicks as well. There is no viable handcuff for Charles dynasty owners.
Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe should lead the Chiefs in receptions yet again. But, beyond Bowe, Kansas City has plenty of question marks. There were high hopes for Jon Baldwin to emerge as the starter across from Bowe, but he flopped and was traded to San Francisco for A.J. Jenkins. Baldwin has bounced around the NFL since the trade. Jenkins might emerge to start opposite Bowe. He is a speedy receiver, lacking polish. Donnie Avery will be on the field often. His playing time is more of a reflection on the lack of talent at the position than his ability at an advanced age. One deep roster player to watch is Junior Hemingway. Kansas City will not pass often so the group has limited upside, just the same as the team's passer. Albert Wilson and Mark Harrison are youngsters even further down the depth chart.
Tight End: Kansas City is looking for answers at the tight end position. The new regime signed Anthony Fasano last year from Miami. While he is not a huge receiving threat, the veteran tight end is a very strong blocker and should help the running game again this season. He is valuable to Charles' success. Travis Kelce was drafted a year ago, but missed extended time with injury. He is now healthy and looking to make up for lost time. While athletic, Kelce may be a year away from making a strong push for playing time. A deep sleeper at the position is the tall and slender Demetrius Harris, standing 6'7” and weighing only 230 pounds. Harris is athletic and needs refinement after playing small-school football at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Oakland is still in rebuilding mode, led again by General manager Reggie McKenzie and Coach Dennis Allen. When the pair took over, the Raiders were cap-strapped with little talent on either side of the ball. The duo took the challenge head on and cleaned the roster of overpaid veterans and have the team a year away from starting to turn the corner. Interestingly, the Raiders were active in free agency, signing established players. Possibly, this was due to an ever increasing hot seat for both coach and general manager.
Quarterback: Last year, Carson Palmer – and his enormous salary – were traded for peanuts to the Arizona Cardinals. The team tried to make it with Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor. This was not a good move. The results were disastrous. This offseason, Matt Schaub was signed to provide veteran leadership. While far from great, the veteran should add consistency to the position. Keep the expectations low. There is a reason the Texans chose Ryan Fitzpatrick (ack!) over him. Schaub's undoing will be the untimely interceptions. Derek Carr was drafted to compete with Schaub. He should start by midseason. Carr is athletic (like his brother, David) but struggles with pre-snap reads and reading the defense. Matt McGloin and Trent Edwards are each hoping to shine enough in preseason to latch on elsewhere.
Running Back: Maurice Jones-Drew did not find a hot free agent market for his services so he landed in Oakland. He is expected to be the top ball carrier for the team. Jones-Drew makes the second back in as many years the Raiders signed from the Jaguars (Rashard Jennings in 2013). Darren McFadden is back and healthy …. for now. Given McFadden's history of injury, that may not last very long. Jones-Drew could provide solid RB2 value for owners this season. Jennings is now in New York with the Giants. One player to watch in preseason is raw, second-year Latavius Murray (a size/speed phenom). Marcel Reece is still around, but may play the fullback position. Given McFadden's injury history, and Jones-Drew's age combined with wear-and-tear, Murray makes a decent stash as he is available on the waiver wire in many dynasty leagues.
Wide Receiver: Oakland has almost turned over the entire depth chart the past few seasons. James Jones signed from Green Bay and could lead the team in receptions and receiving yards. Andre Holmes had a breakout game on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys and now is poised to compete for a starting job. Third-year Rod Streater will be a solid receiver for Oakland. One-time starter, Denarius Moore flashed big-time potential as a rookie in 2011, but has disappointed since. There are rumors of Moore being traded or released before the season. He could rebound in a new environment. The talent is there, but potential only goes so far. Other youngsters to watch are Juron Criner and Brice Butler. This receiving corps has plenty of deep speed and athletic ability. The play of the quarterbacks will be key to the fantasy success – or failure – of this receiving corps.
Tight End: David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera, and Nick Kasa were bit players a year ago. Rivera could emerge as the unquestioned starter by midseason. Coach Allen praised his improvement this past week. Rivera's emergence could come sooner than expected with both Ausberry and Kasa injured. Ausberry underwent a knee procedure earlier this week.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are in year two with Mike McCoy calling the shots. The strong finish in 2013 only heightens expectations for 2014. To McCoy's credit, he adapted the offense during the season, moving from a pass-happy offense to a ground-oriented attack. This is offensive balance is something for dynasty owners to monitor.
Quarterback: Philip Rivers looks to build upon a strong 2013 season. Rivers was effective with play-action passes as the running game was strong enough to keep defenses off balance. He is unlikely to duplicate last year's success, however. Toward the end of last season, there were entire halves of football where Rivers attempted a meager five or six passes because the offense was reliant on the running game. Kellen Clemens, signed from St. Louis, will hold the clipboard behind Rivers. Brad Sorensen is an interesting deep prospect to watch in preseason.
Running Back: Last year, Ryan Mathews showed that when healthy, he could have a big campaign. Durability has been the bane of his career to date. While sublimely talented, a rash of “fluke” injuries have limited Mathews' opportunity to shine so far in his career. The Chargers signed Danny Woodhead last year to play the change-of-pace role as he did in New England. He performed at a high level and was rewarded with a contract extension by the San Diego brass. Donald Brown was signed from Indianapolis to provide depth at the position. The oft-injured former first round pick will not be a threat to Mathews. He will provide depth. A rookie to watch is Marion Grice. With Woodhead far from a three-down back, Grice only has two injury-prone backs in front of him on the depth chart.
Wide Receiver: Keenan Allen was drafted last year to start right away. He slipped in the NFL Draft, but showed great promise as a rookie. Expect the former third-round draft pick to lead the team in receiving in 2014. If he can get past the neck injuries, Malcom Floyd looks to start across from Allen. Eddie Royal will compete with Vincent Brown to start in the slot. Neither is much of a threat at this point in their respective careers. Tevin Reese was a late-round draft pick. While very slight, he provides a needed speed element for the group.
Tight End: Antonio Gates will look to slow his declining production from the past few years. This could be the season we see Ladarius Green pass the veteran in pass targets. Green is a talented youngster, drafted in the fourth round from Louisiana-Lafayette by the previous regime a few years ago. With two strong players at the position, and lacking talent at receiver, expect more two-tight end sets, especially if the offense is focused on running the football.
This division looks like an easy time for Denver as each of the other three teams struggle to win eight games. Expect Kansas City to take a step back from the 2013 win total. The schedule is much more difficult for the entire division as each team will face the four teams from the NFC West.
Please feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIN, and Google+ so feel free to connect where most convenient.