AFC West Division Preview: Plenty of fantasy options here lorded over by Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all eight NFL divisions during the 2020 fantasy football draft season. Here, we’ll tackle each team’s most pressing fantasy question, and team win totals. Be sure to also check out each team’s full preview linked up below. Next up, the AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, fresh off a 10-year extension, is being drafted as fantasy’s No. 1 QB. We all know what he’s capable of, but we also know the depth of the position. What’s the earliest you would pick him?

Matt: When he (or Lamar Jackson) falls to the third round of industry drafts, I have a tough time not taking them in that range. Of course, there is a sacrifice. You can acquire a possible high-end WR1 and there’s definitely a tier drop for running backs right after Round 3. So the opportunity cost is high when taking the early quarterback. However, Mahomes and Jackson are truly unique entities. With Mahomes specifically, the Chiefs have continued to beef up his supporting cast. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a pass-catching dynamo and speedster second-year wideout Mecole Hardman should get some more run in 2020 amid a pass-catching corps that is already star-studded. And if Mahomes starts running more going forward, that’s only going to boost his floor and ceiling. Mahomes took off 24 times over his three postseason games for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He picked up 11 first downs along the way and added an extra eight fantasy points per game to his total.

Andy: It should go without saying that our goal should always be to find the next Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, and to draft that quarterback at a spot that allows us to use our early picks on RBs and receivers. But whenever I see either Mahomes or Jackson slip to the early third, I’m interested. We tend to overuse the term “league-winner” when describing various players, but it’s an inarguably accurate description of Mahomes in 2018 and Jackson in 2019. Fantasy managers should be thinking upside at every point in their drafts; our top two quarterbacks have already produced two of the greatest seasons in the history of the position. The Chiefs clearly have the look of a team that will again average over 30 points per game, as long as Mahomes remains healthy. While he may not duplicate his cartoonishly great 2018 stats, he’s a near-lock to finish among the top-3 at his position.

Scott: If I were going to take a vanity quarterback, it would be Mahomes. Andy Reid, all these fun offensive pieces, you see what’s going on. But it’s a reactive pick for me, not a proactive one. If you catch me rostering Mahomes in an industry draft, it means I was backed into a third-round corner, unable to find a pick that made sense. In leagues that require just one starter, the cheapest hack remains in play; wait it out. (Of course, I want you to start playing in more diverse formats.)

OVER/UNDER on 11.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: Baltimore and Kansas City are the bullies of the AFC, so the juice is (as expected) on the OVER side of this ticket. If pressed, I would trust Mahomes, Reid, and this loaded roster, but perhaps you can get creative with a proxy for your over play. You return +240 if they win exactly 12 games, and you cash at a +290 rate if you hit the 13-win mark.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Kansas City Chiefs team preview)

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton broke out with his first 1,000-yard season last year finishing as WR19. What's the best-case scenario for him in 2020, and where should he be drafted?

Andy: Best-case? Well, it’s not crazy to hope for a small uptick in targets, perhaps to 140 or more. And if that happens, we could be looking at a 1,200-yard season with 8-10 touchdowns. Everyone likes Jerry Jeudy long term, but rookie skill players will face an unusually difficult transition this offseason. Sutton is the guy who already has a rapport with Drew Lock, which matters in a big way. Denver’s young quarterback was a late-season revelation in 2019 and the team surrounded him with weapons throughout the spring. I’m interested. If you’re targeting his primary receiving threat, you’ll need to draft Sutton as a WR2, inside the position’s top-24.

Liz: Sutton figures to suffer from a dilemma which the bros commonly refer to as “too many mouths to feed, man.” While he’s certainly a top-tier talent — posting 16 catches over 25 yards (WR2) — his top-eight (26.1%) target share figures to drop given the additions of route-technician Jerry Jeudy (No. 15), speedster KJ Hamler (No. 46), and pass-catching RB Melvin Gordon. From Weeks 13-17 with Drew Lock at the helm, Sutton averaged 4.4 catches and 56 yards per game. While those numbers should certainly improve given the familiarity the two already have with one another, it’s hard to imagine Sutton having the opportunity necessary to move inside of the top-15 producers at the position.

Dalton: He looked great his sophomore campaign, actually finishing top-five in WOPR, but his target share is almost certain to drop with the team spending a first-round pick on Jerry Jeudy, a second-round pick on KJ Hamler and Noah Fant continuing to develop (adding Melvin Gordon doesn’t help in the RZ either). With Drew Lock also a total question mark, I have Sutton in the 25ish range among wide receivers.

OVER/UNDER on 7.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: This number feels right and is a stay away for me, but if choosing I’d side with the OVER. Denver has an underrated defense and some highly intriguing skill position players, but getting average-type QB play will be huge. Facing the Chiefs twice is more than offset by getting the Chargers and Raiders for 25% of the Broncos’ schedule.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Denver Broncos team preview)

Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler showed off his dual-threat ability en route to a 6th-place fantasy finish among RBs in 2019. He’s currently being drafted towards the end of the second round — do you think this ADP is just right for him in 2020, too high, or too low?

Liz: As Ekeler himself so savagely pointed out, he is not the prototypical RB1. While he’s only averaged about eight carries per game in back-to-back seasons, his work via the air has significantly boosted his production. Per PFF, he managed the highest receiving grade among RBs (94.3) and 126 receiving yards (RB2) on receptions of 20+ yards downfield in 2019. The question becomes whether Ekeler will see as many looks without Philip Rivers (who looked to his RBs at a rate of 26%) under center.

The likely answer, given Tyrod Taylor’s history and Justin Herbert’s game tape, is that he will not. As the 13th RB coming off the board, however, his value as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 is perfectly acceptable given his explosive potential and reduced passing opportunities. He may not see 90+ looks, but he’ll draw close to 65, which is solid given his ADP.

Scott: I think the draft value is reasonable. The drop from Rivers to Taylor hurts, especially when we consider the style of those quarterbacks; Ekeler likely will lose a bucketful of Rivers dump-offs. But Ekeler is a remarkable talent as a receiver and a true student of that element of the game; he runs more diverse routes than the average back. I am not necessarily targeting Ekeler in my drafts, but I will not run away from him, either.

Dalton: He was in the bottom-10 in rushing DVOA last year and will no longer have Philip Rivers constantly checking down to him (Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert both bring concerns as replacements), so his ADP is a bit high for me. Ekeler is a good football player, and Melvin Gordon is gone, so he’ll be plenty valuable in PPR formats, but his BMI is in the 33rd percentile, and the Chargers’ offense should struggle with a rookie QB and one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Don’t pay for last year’s (awesome) receiving stats.

OVER/UNDER on 7.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: I’m surprised the juice leans to the optimistic side, given the Chargers have major questions at the one position you simply can’t have questions at: Quarterback. The Lightning Bolts made just two playoff appearances last decade, the classic example of a team that was mighty on paper, disappointing on the field. I’m not sold on Anthony Lynn as a head coach, either. I can only go UNDER in LA.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Los Angeles Chargers team preview)

Las Vegas Raiders: Josh Jacobs had a great rookie season, and his current ADP (18.5) is setting some high expectations for Year 2. Do you believe he’ll deliver, or are you expecting a sophomore slump?

Josh Jacobs #28 of the Oakland Raiders
How big will Josh Jacobs' leap be in Year 2? (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Matt: As a rookie, Jacobs was already one of the best pure runners in the league. He ranked fourth among backs with 150-plus carries by averaging 2.82 yards after contact per rush and was top-eight in total broken tackles. I don’t expect much of a drop-off or slump in his play. However, there is some worry about his passing game role. He averaged just 2.2 targets per game in 2019. Even more troubling, he ran 147 routes on the season, trailing Jalen Richard for the team lead (204). DeAndre Washington’s departure (127 routes) will send a few more reps his way but if Richard, who was retained this March via a two-year, $7 million deal, continues to get sizable burn as a receiver, that will hinder Jacobs’ ceiling. His draft slot as a Round 2 back takes some of that risk into account.

Dalton: Jacobs is a fine-looking young back who just led the NFL in broken tackles and elusive rating as a rookie, but he won’t be on any of my fantasy teams at his ADP. He recorded a modest 20 catches on 27 targets, and while there’s no reason to think he couldn’t perform well as a receiver with more work, all signs point to Las Vegas keeping him in a two-down role, as the team re-signed Jalen Richard and drafted Lynn Bowden in the third round. Jacobs also has durability concerns after dealing with injuries in college (when he totaled just 251 carries) and played hurt from Week 7 on as a rookie (while missing three games). Moreover, Jacobs’ touch share saw a significant decrease when the Raiders trailed last season, and they have one of the toughest schedules in 2020. To be clear, I have Jacobs ranked as a second-round pick, but as a two-down back with health concerns on a questionable team, his top-10 RB status among the expert consensus is a stretch.

Andy: If you’re looking for a candidate to make the jump into the overall top-5 in 2021 fantasy drafts, here’s your guy. He was stellar as a rookie, a missed-tackle machine who averaged 4.8 YPC and 88.5 rushing yards per game. The team has made it clear that Jacobs’ receiving responsibilities will increase in his second season, and I don’t think that talk is simply offseason sunshine. He was a gifted pass-catcher at Alabama. Jacobs actually ranked third in the league last year in rushing YPG — ahead of McCaffrey, Zeke, Cook, and most others — so he’s a clear threat to challenge for a rushing title in a healthy season. If he can run as effectively as he did in his rookie year while averaging a modest 3-4 targets per game, he’s going to be a monster in any scoring format.

OVER/UNDER on 7.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: The Raiders made Marcus Mariota the highest-paid backup during the offseason, when they also drafted Henry Ruggs over CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy (and then selected Damon Arnette in the top-20), as the organization continues to make perplexing decisions (and might want to work on those halftime adjustments). With one of the tougher schedules by multiple measures and coming off a season in which its defense ranked No. 31 in DVOA, I have Las Vegas’ new franchise finishing last in the AFC West, and the Raiders’ UNDER as one of my favorite bets of 2020.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Las Vegas Raiders team preview)

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