By Tzali Nislick
The NFC West might be the most competitive division in football this year, with all four teams being playoff caliber clubs. Over the offseason the Cardinals vastly improved with the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins and we saw another star change teams, as Todd Gurley’s absence leaves question marks in the Rams’ backfield. As we wrap up this divisional preview series, we take a look at what the NFC West has in store for us in 2020.
More from this series:
Kyler Murray: Kyler Murray made my must have list. He made a splash in his rookie season last year, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and he finished as the QB8 in fantasy. Now entering his second season, the Oklahoma product has all the hype around him and his team, especially with DeAndre Hopkins as a new weapon. Murray also establishes a high floor with his rushing ability and combine that with a full season of Kenyan Drake as well as continued development alongside Kliff Kingsbury and I think Murray has all the makings of a top-5 fantasy quarterback this year.
Kenyan Drake: Kenyan Drake also made my must have list. Drake went absolutely ballistic after a midseason trade to Arizona, performing as the RB4 over the second half of the season. He carried many fantasy managers to championships, scoring seven touchdowns in his last three games. But the more I’ve thought about it, I don’t think Drake will be able to sustain his production over a full year. 46.5% of his fantasy points over his last three games (the bulk of his production last year) came via touchdowns, which is nowhere near sustainable. I think he’ll benefit from being in Kingsbury’s system for a full season, but his finish in 2019 seems pretty flukey to me.
DeAndre Hopkins: I don’t think Hopkins will miss a beat on his new team. Deshaun Watson and Murray have similar playing styles with their mobility which allows them to get outside of the pocket and extend plays to find open receivers. Murray had a much lower YPA last season than Watson though, but to be fair he also didn’t have a weapon of Hopkins’ caliber. Hopkins has been able to overcome mediocre QB play in his career before, and Murray is far better than mediocre, so lock in Hopkins as a mid-tier WR1 again in 2020.
Christian Kirk: Christian Kirk took a small step forward in his second season last year and he wasn’t far behind Larry Fitzgerald for the team lead in target share percentage. But all three of his touchdowns came in one game and he didn’t show enough consistency throughout the rest of the season to turn any heads coming into 2020, especially now with Hopkins in the fold. He’s nothing more than a low end FLEX in deeper leagues.
Larry Fitzgerald: He’s in the same boat as Kirk.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff: Saying Jared Goff struggled last season is an understatement. His TD% decreased by 2.2% and he saw his INT% jump by 0.5%. He didn’t look anything near his 2018 self when he set career highs in yards and touchdowns and led the Rams to the Super Bowl. But also at the same time, he was hot to end the season, averaging over 20 points per game in his final five contests, lifting him to a QB13 finish. But the Rams only got worse on offense over the offseason, losing Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks to free agency and a trade respectively. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are good enough to carry the load, but Goff may be in for another mid QB2 campaign. He could find value as a weekly matchup streamer, though.
Cam Akers: I wrote about Akers as a running back who could outperform his ADP. The departure of Todd Gurley opened up 223 carries and 49 receptions out of the backfield. Sean McVay has hinted at Los Angeles turning to a RBBC with Akers and Darrell Henderson, but Henderson was unspectacular in 2019, averaging just 3.8 YPC. It might be a frustrating committee to start the season, but I believe Akers will eventually win the starting job and if he does, he has the potential to finish in the top 20 for running backs this season. Just don’t expect him to be hot coming out of the gate.
Cooper Kupp: Last year was a tale of two halves for Cooper Kupp, who averaged 21.0 PPG in the first eight games, but just 12.9 PPG in the last eight and failed to top 100 yards. He still finished as the WR4 though, and with no Brandin Cooks, Kupp could have another strong season in 2020. He’ll need to stay consistent over 16 games, but he’s improved every year of his career so I see no reason why he won’t continue his trend this season. His WR15 ADP seems about right, especially in PPR leagues.
Robert Woods: Woods made my must have list. He’s had back to back top-15 seasons and has 130 targets, 85 receptions and 1,100 yards in back to back seasons as well. He also has more fantasy points over the last two years than Odell Beckham, Chris Godwin, Amari Cooper, Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DJ Moore and Adam Thielen, somehow he’s only being drafted as the WR19. That’s a crime.
Tyler Higbee: From Week 13 on last season, Tyler Higbee was the eight highest scoring player in all of fantasy football. He was absurd, topping 100 yards in four of his final five games. He seems to be locked in as the Rams’ starting tight end entering 2020, but I’m taking his 2019 finish with a grain of salt since it literally just came out of nowhere. He has the talent and the size to have another productive season, but his lack of track record makes him more of a back end TE1.
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo: I wrote about Jimmy Garoppolo as a late round quarterback who could provide QB1 value. To sum up, I’m tired of the Jimmy G slander. All he’s done as the Niners starter is go 19-5 and guide his team to a Super Bowl, and he did that last year coming off a torn ACL. Somehow this will be just his second season as a full time starter, and since he’ll forever be tied to Tom Brady, let’s compare their two seasons coming off a torn ACL.
- 69.1 completion %
- 3,978 yards
- 27 touchdowns (5.7 TD%)
- 13 interceptions (2.7 INT%)
- 102.0 passer rating
- 65.7 completion %
- 4,398 yards
- 28 touchdowns (5.0 TD%)
- 13 interceptions (2.3 INT%)
- 96.2 passer rating
Garoppolo has one of the best offensive head coaches in Kyle Shanahan, one of the two best tight ends in George Kittle and two great young receivers in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. San Francisco always has a run-heavy scheme, so that might be the only thing that holds back Garoppolo. But he’s a very good quarterback who has the weapons to succeed, and he could be a value at his QB20 ADP.
Raheem Mostert: Raheem Mostert had an unbelievable finish to his 2019 season, scoring seven touchdowns in his final six regular season games before going nuts in the playoffs to the tune of 336 yards and five touchdowns over three games. I think he’s due for regression though, since a massive portion of his production came from touchdowns. He has the talent and had the usage last year to produce as an RB2 again this year, but I think he’s better suited as a FLEX with upside. Kyle Shanahan has had the tendency in years past to use multiple backs, and now Jerick McKinnon returns healthy to join Mostert and Tevin Coleman in a crowded backfield.
Deebo Samuel: Deebo’s Week 1 status is up in the air, as he recovers from a broken foot suffered in June. But if he’s healthy he has as much upside as any second year wideout, after coming on strong towards the end of 2019. The 49ers drafted Brandon Aiyuk in the first round, so he may have to compete for targets once he returns to the field. But injury aside, he seems like a decent FLEX option with upside.
Brandon Aiyuk: He has plenty of upside in Kyle Shanahan’s high flying offense, and it will be imperative for him to make an impact if Samuel misses time. Keep him on your radar at the end of drafts.
George Kittle: I’m never big on taking tight ends early, but Kittle is worth the price of a second or third round pick. He and Travis Kelce are in a class of their own and he’s the unquestioned number one target for Jimmy G.
Russell Wilson: It seems like Russell Wilson is finally getting the recognition he’s longed to deserve. He finished as the QB3 last year and could very well be poised for the same success in 2020 with the continued development of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. The Seahawks also added Greg Olsen and will get back Will Dissly from injury at some point. The Seahawks’ mediocre offensive line doesn’t even matter for Wilson since he can escape the pocket better than anyone else at his position. He’s a bonafide superstar and is in the second tier of QBs after Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
Chris Carson: Chris Carson has been one of the more underrated running backs in the league over the last couple of seasons, posting back to back 1,150 yard seasons, averaging 4.5 YPC in that span. With Rashaad Penny sidelined to start the season, rookie DeeJay Dallas is the only other threat to Carson’s workload. Downgrade him in PPR leagues, but he should be in line for another RB2 season.
Tyler Lockett: Tyler Lockett was awesome in the first half of the season last year, averaging 19.0 PPG through the first nine games. From there on though, he averaged just 10.7 PPG in the last seven games. He may struggle to find consistent production this year again, especially if Metcalf makes himself more of a fixture in the offense. Lockett is a dangerous weapon, but his unsteady floor makes him more of a back-end WR2.
DK Metcalf: All things considered, DK Metcalf had a solid rookie season, recording 58 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Now entering his second season, he’ll need to improve his catch rate, which was just 58% last year. The good news is that he had nearly a 20% target share a year ago, so Wilson seems to trust him enough to throw it to him that much. He’ll need to prove he’s more than just a vertical threat if he wants to really make the jump, but he has the size and athleticism to do so. He’s a quality FLEX with great upside.
Greg Olsen: He’s now 35-years old, but he may still have enough left in the tank to be a back end TE2.