2020 NFC West Fantasy Review
The NFC West has a claim as the toughest division in football this season. All four teams finished with 6 wins or better (the only division to accomplish that), three teams finished above .500 and have two teams representing them in the playoffs (Rams & Seahawks), with the Arizona Cardinals barely missing out by a game. The division combined for 36 wins, which was second behind the AFC North. There was fantasy goodness a plenty from the NFC West as we saw several players finish near the top of their position rankings, and saw several younger players take a step forward towards the tier of elite.
We head out to the West Coast to look at the reigning division champs, the Seattle Seahawks. Once known for the dominating “Legion of Boom” defense that brought home a title in 2014, the Seahawks seemed to find success in a different way this season. Their offense ranked 8th in 2020, scoring 28.7 points per game as Pete Carroll and staff finally seemed to let Russ cook. Coming into the season Vegas pegged Seattle with an expected win total of 9.5 games, which they outperformed in a big way finishing with a 12-4 record. The Seahawks are on schedule to host familiar division rival LA Rams this weekend.
One of the winningest QBs already in his career, Russell Wilson continued to add to his resume of dominance in 2020. Wilson became the first QB ever to record a winning record in each of his first 9 seasons and surpasses Peyton Manning this year as the NFL’s all-time winningest QB in a player’s first 9 seasons. There has literally been no other quarterback in history to win the way Wilson has to start his career. In the scope of fantasy, there were MVP rumblings for Wilson after his crazy hot start to the season. Over the first 8 games Wilson amassed 2,541 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air. To show how insane this was, that’s a full season pace of 5,082 yards and 56 touchdowns. That would have been the 11th most yards in a season all-time and would have broken the passing touchdown record set by Peyton Manning in 2013. However, Wilson cooled off in a big way over the second half, throwing only 1,671 yards and 12 touchdowns. The biggest gripe from owners this year was Wilson’s performance in the fantasy playoffs, finishing as the QB28 and QB14 in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively. 2019 showed how hot and cold Wilson could be, and owners thought in 2020 we would be getting an MVP level of consistency after those first 8 games this season. Heading into 2021 it’ll be hard not to rank Wilson amongst the top 5 QBs given the ceiling he possesses along with his rushing ability which always helps provide a bit of a boost for QBs. Perhaps we see an uptick in volume next year since Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson are both set to be free agents this off-season. Add in the familiar Tyler Lockett and the emergence of DK Metcalf and it’s hard to ignore Wilson as a high QB pick in 2021 drafts.
Overall, another great year with an exceptional ceiling however consistency was all over the place and burned owners a bit in the playoffs.
As we saw Chef Russ cook a bit more in 2020 and it came at the expense of the volume fantasy owners were expecting from the Seattle backfield. After ranking 3rd in rushing attempts in 2019 with almost 30 per game, the Seahawks finished 2020 ranked 18th, dropping down to about 25 attempts. Factor in 4-5 of these each game came from Russell Wilson, and the Seattle backfield quickly became a bit thin for RB volume. Chris Carson demonstrated to be the same RB we’ve known him for in his career – a big bruiser who performs when on the field, but usually a good bet to miss time each season. He appeared in 12 games this season, averaging 15.65 PPR points per game. If you take away the Week 7 Arizona game, he left early due to injury, his average jumps to over 16 points per game which would rank him in the top 10 at the position for RBs who started 11 or more games. However, this has been the story with Carson seemingly throughout his career – somewhat of an enigma, he’s very productive when he starts, but always a good bet to miss time. Carson’s back-up Carlos Hyde filled in well when called upon, until he wasn’t available either. Hyde popped with 16.6 PPR points in Week 7 when Carson left, but managed to get hurt himself and miss the next few weeks. He came back strong in the re-match against Arizona in Week 11, but then Carson returned, and Hyde went back to change-up duty. A few others stepped in while Hyde and Carson were both on the shelf including younger options such as rookie Deejay Dallas and second year player Travis Homer. Dallas scored a few times in Weeks 8 and 9 to provide managers with decent fantasy outings, but neither player really did much to be put on the radar. Former first round pick Rashaad Penny started the season dealing with an injury which he never seemed to get out of the gate. He appeared in the Seahawks final three games, but only carried the ball 11 times total. It’ll be interesting to see the direction Seattle goes at RB next year. Carson and Hyde are both set to be free agents so decisions will need to be made with their contracts. If neither gets re-signed, I must imagine Pete Carroll signs or drafts another guy because heading into the season with Penny, Dallas and Homer makes for a scary proposition.
Overall, some great production from the starter but missing several games from a second-round pick is tough on any fantasy team.
The value lost from the RB room was sent over to the WR corp. In a big way. Tyler Lockett continued to be a favorite target of Russell Wilson as he’s been throughout his career, and we saw DK Metcalf take another step towards the league’s elite. Both WRs eclipsed 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. Only the Chiefs had a pair of teammates do the same (Kelce and Hill). Consistency was a bit hard to come by, but Metcalf and Lockett finished as the WR7 and WR8 in PPR, respectively. On the surface it’s hard to look at a WR corp. with two options in the top eight and not be impressed, but the consistency is a huge hurdle that made owning either guy tough. You can’t bench players like Metcalf or Lockett because you’ll miss out on the monster explosions, but when they fail to reach just 10 points in a week it really sets your team back. Metcalf finished under 10 PPR points 4 times this year while Lockett did the same 7 times. Compare that to other WRs in the top 10 who several never finished under 10 points other than injury. David Moore chipped in with 35 catches, 417 yards and 6 touchdowns which is decent for the WR3 on a team but wasn’t too fantasy relevant in most leagues. Heading into 2021 I imagine Metcalf will possess the higher ADP than Lockett, but both should still be drafted as top 20 WRs. I imagine they’ll continue to eat into each other’s targets a bit and if the Seahawks revert to a focus on the ground game like 2019, consistency could continue to be an issue.
Overall, I’m giving a similar grade to Russell Wilson for the same reasons. Elite ceiling from this group but maddening consistency where they hurt you badly certain weeks.
Around the league tight end continue to follow a similar pattern as it has in years past – the elite ones produce elite numbers and the rest is a weekly crap shoot. Unfortunately for Seattle, their tight ends didn’t even reach weekly crap shoot territory. The best performer was Jacob Hollister who finished as the TE38 on the season in PPR. No reason to dive much into this position group. You never started anyone at this position on the Seahawks in 2020. Heading into next season I would pay attention to who Seattle drafts or signs in free agency. Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister are set to be free agents so that leaves opportunity for Will Dissly who’s been productive before but had trouble staying healthy.
Overall, this was a terrible TE group for 2020.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the second of two teams to make the playoffs in the NFC West finishing with a 10-6 record led by Head Coach Sean McVay. One time not long ago the Rams were an absolute gold mine for fantasy points, but 2020 tells a different story for this Rams team. The Rams finished ranked 11th in yards per game, but all that yardage didn’t turn into points as they ranked 23rd in points per game. I think a lot of that is due to their 1.6 turnovers per game which was the 5th worst mark in the league. Los Angeles outperformed their expectation this year in the win/loss column; Vegas pegged the Rams for 8.5 wins in 2020. They travel to Seattle this weekend to take on the Seahawks.
2020 was a down year for Jared Goff, finishing with the second lowest yardage, lowest number of touchdowns and second highest number of interceptions since becoming a full-time starter. He improved his efficiency, finishing with a career high 67% completion percentage. Unfortunately, we don’t get fantasy points for completion percentage. Goff was an option better left on the waiver wire this year as he finished at the QB20 on the season in points per game with QBs who played 15 or more games. Just to illustrate how unexciting Goff’s 2020 season was, Carson Wentz averaged more points per game while he was the starter than Goff did. In hindsight it seems like a massive blunder, but the Rams are tied to Goff through 2025 after his recent contract extension so hopefully a bounce back is on the horizon for next season. Josh Reynolds is the only WR slated to leave in free agency and up and coming rookie Cam Akers should all help take the pressure off Goff next year. I trust McVay to figure things out for his offense and get Goff back into a better position to succeed.
Overall, Goff was nothing more than a bye week/injury streaming option this season and in most cases was better left on the waiver wire.
The Rams backfield is a tough one to assess because overall the Rams’ offense ranked 7th in rushing attempts and 10th in rushing yards, so the production was there for the group. The problem was throughout the course of the season it was split amongst three guys which no fantasy manager likes to see. While Cam Akers was brought along slowly to start the season, Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson took turns producing fantasy points. Brown eclipsed double digit points in Weeks 1 and 4 while Henderson achieved the same Weeks 2, 3 and 5. Each player continued to be modestly productive until Week 13 when it looked like Cam Akers was taking over the backfield. Akers was given 15+ attempts in three straight games before getting injured against the Jets. As Akers dealt with injury and Henderson/Brown remained ineffective, none of the RBs did anything worth note the last few weeks of the season. None of these backs really helped on a season long basis as Malcolm brown finished the year as RB43, Darrell Henderson RB36 and Cam Akers RB45. Next year should provide more clarity as Malcolm Brown is a free agent, which should leave the backfield to split between Akers and Henderson. My guess would be somewhat of a split favoring Akers in 2021.
Overall, this back field showed glimpses of hope from each of the three backs but failed to produce a remotely reliable option.
The lone fantasy bright spot for the Rams this season was their WR corp. which has been a top-notch unit every year since McVay has taken over. This year wasn’t as fruitful as years past, but still got solid production from the group overall. The brightest spot was Robert Woods who finished as the WR14 in PPR. Always a high-volume player, Woods received 129 targets this season which he turned into 90 catches, 936 yards and 6 touchdowns. As Woods usually does. He added another 155 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. Cooper Kupp was the bigger surprise, finishing all the way down at WR26 after finishing as WR4 last season. Kupp makes his hay in the touchdown department and when your offense ranks near the bottom in scoring, it will certainly limit your TD opportunities. Kupp was somewhat consistent this year but didn’t carry the same ceiling as in years past. He finished with 92 catches, 974 yards and only 3 touchdowns. Josh Reynolds wasn’t a bad 3rd option coming in at WR62 but not someone who you probably put in your line-up this year. Outlook for next year depends on your thoughts around Jared Goff and the Rams’ offense. If McVay can correct the mistakes and turnovers there should be a higher ceiling on the offense in 2021. Reynolds is set to be a free agent, but he should get replaced by upcoming rookie Van Jefferson.
Overall, a solid yet unspectacular group where Woods and Kupp both seemed to regress to the mean in TDs, Woods in a positive fashion and Kupp negatively.
Like Seattle and most other teams in the NFL, tight end didn’t really move the needle this year on the Rams. After a blazing hot finish in 2019, Tyler Higbee was a major draft darling coming into 2020 but massively disappointed finishing as the TE17. Gerald Everett finished as TE24, so you probably didn’t start either guy outside of one or two weeks where you were desperate. Everett is a free agent this off-season so perhaps that opens the door for more opportunity for Higbee in 2021.
Overall, they gave you a bit more than Seattle’s unit, but still not much to be excited about.
San Francisco 49ers
Coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2019 the Superbowl hangover hit San Fran hard as they failed to even make the playoffs this year. Coming into the season the 49ers had the 3rd highest projected win total from Vegas at 10.5 games. Injuries hit the team in a hard way this season as they limped to a 6-10 finish in the competitive NFC West. This season was a bit of a mirage for fantasy owners as there were several pieces set up to be huge contributors (George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel) but failed to deliver mostly because of injury.
Kyle Shannahan and company will be taking a long hard look at the QB position this off-season. After joining the team from New England in 2017, Jimmy G has only played in 25 games while missing 23 games due to injury. You can make the case in 2019 with a healthy Jimmy G was then the 49ers were at their best, but hard to tie your franchise to a guy who’s started one full season in his career. Even when he played this year Garoppolo was underwhelming. He finished with 1096 yards, 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions over 6 games and only averaged 13 fantasy points per game in the 5 full games he played, which ranks as the QB34 amongst all QBs who started at least 5 games. Nick Mullens was a disaster and while CJ Beathard flashed a bit in his two starts, neither guy was one you wanted to rely on for fantasy.
Overall, this position group crashed hard in 2020 and will be a place of high interest for Coach Shannahan this off-season.
The 49ers running back group this year was a hodgepodge of unsung heroes and retreads from the past. At any point this season you could have tuned into a 49ers game and saw Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Jerrick McKinnon, JaMichal Hasty or Tevin Coleman carrying the rock. Wilson and Mostert were the primary features amassing over 100 attempts each, but all 5 backs were featured in at least eight games. None of the running backs gave fantasy owners any season long value, with Jeff Wilson finishing the best at RB32. The allure behind the San Fran backfield is that you know the Shannahan system will be productive, and if you can pick correctly any given week, you probably have yourself a solid RB2 with RB1 upside. On any given week one of these guys would finish inside the top 25, but guessing which one, was an exercise in futility. The 49ers rushing offense finished 15th in the league, but Wilson was the leader of the group with only 600 yards which shows how spread out the production was amongst several players. Mostert was the one that hurt the worst; he had an ADP of RB23 coming into the season and finished well below at RB48. He produced when on the field but was only available for eight games. This will be a backfield I’m paying close attention to in the off-season because we know a Shanahan backfield is typically a gold mine. Coleman, McKinnon and Wilson are set to be free agents this year and Mostert and Hasty can both be cut quite easily. Interesting to see the direction they go into 2021.
Overall, this was a productive group but individually the players didn’t stand out over a whole season. You could have guessed each week which guy would be the main one, but it was typically a coin flip at best.
This group had a lot of promise heading into the 2021 season headlined by sophomore stand-out Deebo Samuel. The 49ers spent a first-round draft pick on rookie Brandon Aiyuk and had some notable names such as Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor. Like the rest of the 49ers team, injuries held Deebo Samuel out of nine games and Aiyuk missed four and left early in others. The bright spot amongst this group was the rookie Aiyuk who put up 60 catches for 748 yards and 5 touchdowns adding another 77 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Aiyuk was the WR3 in points per game from week 15 to week 17 and if he can stay on the field for a full season with a potentially upgraded quarterback, I like Aiyuk as a top 20 option next season. Deebo was a big disappointment following a strong rookie campaign, but the injury bug hit him hard. He started the season with a foot injury that kept him sidelined the first few weeks of the season. After putting together two solid games in weeks six and seven Deebo was sidelined again until week 12. Another two solid performances, another injury ending his season. The potential we saw as a rookie was there but Deebo needs to get healthy this off-season.
Overall, there’s a lot of promise with this group heading into 2021 if the 49ers upgrade the quarterback position. Aiyuk had a great rookie year and Deebo has the potential. Injuries just kept them sidelined more than you wanted to see.
Coming into 2020 George Kittle was debated alongside Travis Kelce as who should be the #1 tight end off the board. Injury was the only thing that could stand in Kittle’s way and unfortunately, he was hit with the bad injury bug that plagued the 49ers this season. Crazy enough Kittle only played in 8 games this year and still finished as the TE19 on the season which speaks volumes to how beastly he is when he’s on the field. Heading into 2021 Kittle should be right back up at the top of the tight end board behind only Travis Kelce. Shannahan is too good an offensive mind not to feature Kittle, and the 49ers should have an upgrade at QB next season. Jordan Reed was an average fill-in once Kittle went down. He fell in line with the rest of the crapshoot tier where he gave you a solid week if he scored, otherwise you’re left disappointed.
Overall, this is a group that features one of the best in the NFL but couldn’t stay on the field this year and the back-up filled in but was nothing more than average. The low grade has more to do with the fact you spent a premium pick to acquire Kittle who essentially only gave you half the season.
Heading into the season with high expectations, Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals finished with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs for a second straight year under his direction. Arizona finished slightly above expectation this season, as Vegas pegged them for 7.5 wins at the beginning of the year. The Kingsbury offensive system has worked well in the NFL as the Cardinals ranked 13th in points per game and 6th in yards per game. QB Kyler Murray dealt with a shoulder injury he played through for some of the season which perhaps held the team back a bit. Heading into 2021 I must imagine Kingsbury’s seat is getting warm given the late season collapse from the team. Arizona started the year with a 6-3 record but dropped five of their last seven games to finish 8-8.
After trading for Deandre Hopkins in the off-season there was enormous expectation for Kyler Murray entering his second season. Kyler entered the season with an ADP of the QB4 which many thought was a bit too rich, however he delivered in a big way finishing this year as the QB2 in total points, and the QB3 in points per game, and this includes his Week 17 game where he left early and only put up 3.8 points. Murray was white hot to start the season and cooled off a bit after Week 11, but even a hobbled Kyler Murray still proved to be better than most options as he put up 16+ in every game except one this year. Murray finished the season with 3,971 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns while adding another 819 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Another year and another (hopefully) normal off-season should get Murray more comfortable with Hopkins and the offensive system. Murray should be locked in as a top 3 QB for 2021.
Overall, a great performance from a player who demonstrated a great ceiling with a solid floor.
Expectations were high for the Arizona backfield as Kenyan Drake entered the season with an ADP of RB13 and cost fantasy owners a high pick based on the potential we saw last season in this offense. Drake provided owners with two weeks I would consider “great” and everything else was just okay. That seems to be the feeling around Drake’s season this year – didn’t kill you but wasn’t anything special. At first glance it looks like Drake had a solid season finishing as the RB16 on the year but dig a bit deeper and he finished as the RB23 in points per game. He only missed one game due to injury and left another early so was reliable which is why his end of season total looks so attractive. Plus, he was propped up by double digit touchdowns, something not always easy to repeat. He ended the season with 955 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Coming into the season the big draw behind Drake especially in PPR leagues was his expected use in the passing game, but that didn’t materialize as Chase Edmonds owned all the passing down work. Season long Edmonds had a great year for where he was being drafted. He entered last season with an ADP of RB49 and finished the year as RB25. Edmonds proved to be a steal and a solid contributor if you snagged him late in drafts. He only provided 448 yards and one touchdown on the ground, but also 402 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Kenyan Drake is a player to watch this off-season since he is set to be a free agent this year.
Overall, even if it’s unexciting, it’s hard to ignore a backfield that had two options in the top 25. Both guys didn’t give you the ceiling of other options, but reliability goes a long way in fantasy. Drake might have disappointed for his draft cost but Edmonds far outperformed his ADP.
After trading for one of the league’s best, this group had huge expectations for 2020 led by stand-out Deandre Hopkins. The Cardinals traded a second-round pick and David Johnson to acquire one of the league’s best, a move which many believe was the end of Texans coach Bill O’Brien. Hopkins’ end of season numbers look great finishing with 115 catches, 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. The only issue fantasy owners probably have with Hopkins this year was the low touchdown total, a number I would bet is most likely going up next year. Heading into the season with an ADP of WR5, Hopkins balled out for managers finishing as the WR4 on a season long basis and the WR5 in points per game. There were a few games sprinkled in you wanted more from Hopkins but overall hard to be upset about the return on investment. With the arrival of Hopkins, break-out candidate Christian Kirk took a back seat but still put up a respectable 48 catches for 621 yards and 6 touchdowns. He finished the year as the WR51 which was well below his ADP of WR38. There was a stretch from Weeks 4-9 where Kirk gave you startable production but outside of that was rather mediocre. The rest of the group didn’t do a whole lot. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald might have played his last NFL season and has been fantasy irrelevant as of late. Fitz only achieved double digit fantasy points in four games this year and even if he comes back, not someone I’m targeting in any drafts next year. Andy Isabella showed flashes as a deep threat in 2020 but not enough to bump up the grade of the unit. If Fitzgerald retires next year Isabella might be a decent deep-league dart throw.
Overall, the unit was led by one of the best in the game but failed to provide much behind Hopkins. Hopkins provided fantasy managers great production and finished better than his draft position, something not a lot of players can say.
As the case with most teams, the Cardinals didn’t have much production at the tight end position to speak of. Dan Arnold had a few decent games late in the season in Weeks 13 and 14 on the back of a few touchdowns but finished under double digits every other game. You weren’t starting Arnold during his breakout weeks and if you trusted him after the two decent games, he let you down the rest of the way. Grade: F
Stay tuned for the AFC South tomorrow and as always, stay true.
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