Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Drew Petzing will be the Cardinals offensive coordinator this season, his first stint in that position in the NFL. Petzing was previously the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns.
  • Defense: New head coach Jonathan Gannon was previously the defensive coordinator for the Eagles elite defense and will surely have his hand prints on the Cardinals defense this season.

Drew Petzing has been coaching with Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski since 2014 and will surely have a lot of similar concepts to what we saw from Stefanski’s offenses in recent years. The Browns deployed multiple running backs, played a lot of 12 personnel, and ran the ball at one of the higher situation-neutral rates in the league in recent years. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals go about transitioning from Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense and personnel to their new system.

Personnel Changes::

  • Kyler Murray is not expected to be ready to start the season due to his late-2022 ACL tear. It is unclear how much of the season he will miss. Colt McCoy and Jeff Driskel are the next two QB’s on the roster at this point.
  • James Conner returns to lead the Cardinals backfield, with Keaontay Ingram set to be his backup. As of May 1st, the Cardinals had not signed any notable veterans or rookies to compete for the top spots on the depth chart.
  • AJ Green and Robbie (Chosen) Anderson are gone and DeAndre Hopkins is heavily rumored to be traded prior to training camp. Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, and Greg Dortch are the top returning wide receivers for Arizona, although their skill sets were much better theoretical fits for the previous regime’s offense so it will be interesting to see how they are used. Meanwhile, Arizona also added physical wide receivers Zach Pascal and Auden Tate in free agency – a possible signal about the “type” of player their new system will target at the position.
  • 32-year old Zach Ertz is returning from his own knee injury, but is expected to be ready for Week 1. He and second year tight end Trey McBride should both see the field a lot in the Cardinals new look offense.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • LAR x2, SF x2, SEA x2
  • NFC East (4)::
    • @ WAS, @ PHI, vs. DAL, vs. NYG
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @ PIT, @ CLE, vs. CIN, vs. BAL
  • Other (3)::
    • @ CHI, @ HOU, vs. ATL

Bull Case::

It is hard to find a positive outlook for the Cardinals, specifically for their fantasy production, for the 2022 season. The best case scenario for them would likely be if they are able to trade for or sign a serviceable veteran quarterback – maybe Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan to keep them afloat until Kyler Murray returns from injury. Along with that, if Arizona decides to hold onto DeAndre Hopkins then all of a sudden their starting lineup looks pretty solid with Conner, Hopkins, Brown, Ertz, and McBride making up their base “12” personnel. In that scenario, we could see Arizona have some success with a ball control type of offense that controls the clock and keeps games close. James Conner would likely see an enormous workload in that scenario and would have a chance to crush his 8th round ADP, while the Cardinals tight ends would have a chance to thrive in a different style of offense. Then, once Kyler Murray returns from injury his electric mobility could really open things up for Arizona on play action and RPO concepts out of heavier personnel.

Bear Case::

The Cardinals returning personnel is not a great fit for their new offensive system and their lack of action to draft or sign a notable quarterback despite reports that Murray is likely to miss at least a few weeks to start the season seems to signal that they may be willing to sacrifice the 2022 season for the greater good in the long-term. After the draft, Arizona is in great position to re-tool their team in the next 18 months but a part of that will likely involve churning through the roster and accepting being a bottom-5 team this year. Kyler Murray has clearly not been a fan of being a Cardinal for a couple of years now, and if he decides to take his time with his rehab then the Cardinals will almost have to take one of the top QB’s in the 2024 draft and Kyler will then be fully healthy and get shipped to a new team for a fresh start. It is in the best long-term interest of the Cardinals to be very bad this season, which means that things could get very ugly and very unpredictable as they move deeper into the year. It is tough to invest in that.

Expectations/Takeaways::

I will be surprised if the Cardinals win more than five games this season and it appears that they are going to be just fine with that. What this means for our expectations is that we need to think about what a long-term thinking team that is accepting defeat will do from a decision making standpoint as the season progresses::

  • James Conner and Marquise Brown have the top ADP’s among Cardinals skill players (assuming DeAndre Hopkins gets traded). While it is tempting to chase the projectable volume there, both players have injury histories and feel like longshots to be contributing meaningfully in December and January – the weeks that are most valuable for Best Ball.
  • Kyler Murray would have to drop to the 13th or 14th round for me to take a shot on him, as I don’t expect him to be ready early in the season and both he and the Cardinals are unlikely to push for a quick return if they start out as poorly as I am expecting. His upside becomes worth the risk at a certain point if he drops far enough, but the roster spot is valuable and I wouldn’t want to take him over any of the roughly 22 “locked in” starters who will likely have a starting job for as long as they stay healthy.
  • Zach Ertz and Trey McBride are intriguing late dart throws at tight end, as they should combine for a relatively high target share in the new system regardless of who is at quarterback and if Arizona does struggle then both of them could rack up some high volume games in comeback mode.
  • Keaontay Ingram is a name to keep an eye on. Ingram generated some buzz in 2022 and a young player like him is exactly the type of player that Arizona could throw a heavy workload to in a lost season.
  • Rondale Moore is a talented player who is being drafted in roughly the 14th or 15th round right now. His skill set does not really fit the new Cardinals offense, but he seems like a potential trade candidate and is still young and explosive enough where a good offense may take a chance on him and he would see his ADP shoot up a few rounds.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: This is still Sean McVay’s show.
  • Defense: Raheem Morris returns for his third season as the Rams defensive coordinator.

Personnel Changes::

  • Matthew Stafford is back as the Rams starting quarterback after an injury shortened 2022. The Rams also selected Stetson Bennett out of Georgia in the 4th round of the NFL draft.
  • Cam Akers ended the 2022 as the unquestioned leader of this backfield and the Rams have added no one notable this offseason.
  • Allen Robinson was traded, leaving the wide receiver room relatively bare behind Cooper Kupp.
  • Tyler Higbee returns as the clear top tight end on the team.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • ARI x2, SEA x2, SF x2
  • NFC East (4)::
    • vs. WAS, vs. PHI, @ DAL, @ NYG
  • AFC North (4)::
    • vs. PIT, vs. CLE, @ CIN, @ BAL
  • Other (3)::
    • @ GB, @ IND, vs. NO

Bull Case::

What do we look for in fantasy football when searching for teams and players that can help us win championships? High scoring teams are important, but we also want offenses that are projectable and have condensed and predictable usage. Those types of teams, and the respective players getting that heavy usage, can provide us with a ton of value. We have exactly that here with the Rams as Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, and Tyler Higbee are likely to see a ridiculous amount of the team’s usage. Kupp is obviously being selected early in the first round of drafts, but Akers is being drafted in the 6th round and Higbee is going in the 16th or 17th round. 

If we look at the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022, Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams were consistently seeing 65% or more of the usage for their offense and provided immense value to those who realized the condensed nature of the offense sooner than later. The Rams could be in a similar position this year as Kupp and Akers could approach a similar number. Akers was the only running back in the NFL to play 100% of the snaps in a game in 2022 and we’ve seen Sean McVay use running backs in workhorse roles before. Higbee had some massive games to end the 2022 season and with limited wide receiver options behind Kupp he could easily produce a top-12 TE season. Finally, Stafford is currently being selected as QB25. That is egregious for someone tied to one of the league’s top wide receivers. It is easy to pick on the Rams and their expectations this year are understandably low, but Sean McVay is one of the top offensive coaches in the league and they have a lot of the ingredients we look for in fantasy football. 

Bear Case::

The Rams offensive line was horrendous in 2022 and they did not make enough additions to where we should expect a huge increase in performance in that area. That is going to be a problem for keeping Matthew Stafford healthy, as his career is approaching its twilight years and his injuries are mounting. There were even talks of Stafford potentially retiring at the end of last season, though he has since confirmed his intention to play this year and likely beyond. The problem is that if he is taking a lot of hits, his season is likely to come to an end sooner than later and that hurts his value as well as those around him. The Rams struggled last year as teams sold out to stop Cooper Kupp and they simply didn’t have enough other threats or downfield weapons to punish defenses for that approach. The continued lack of above replacement level players in the offense would tend to suggest they will face many of the same issues this season. Kupp himself is coming off a season that ended by injury and while Akers had a great end to 2022, it remains to be seen if his body can withstand that type of pounding over a full season. Considering the extremely high expected usage for those two, they will both be at high risk for injury during the season and potentially being shut down out of caution if the Rams season goes off the rails.

Expectations/Takeaways::

I like to zig when others zag. While I am not overly optimistic about the Rams upcoming season, I do think there is far more value available here than the field and frankly they are unlikely to be a popular team to stack in Best Ball tournaments. Digging in to the ADP’s of Akers, Stafford, and Higbee was eye opening to me because their roles and upside jump off the page compared to players at the same positions who are being drafted in the same ranges. Everyone seems certain that the Rams will be a dumpster fire this year, but what if they’re not?? My favorite approaches to the Rams in Best Ball drafts::

  • Trying to replicate the floor/ceiling combo of Adams/Jacobs from 2022 by pairing Kupp and Akers. When I draft Kupp in the 1st round, I will take Akers in the 6th round every time if he is available. I would even consider “reaching” for Akers in the 5th if I don’t like the options that are there. In this scenario, I can add Stafford later but don’t feel like I have to.
  • If I take Kupp in the first round but miss on Akers, I will make sure I get Stafford as my QB2 and prioritize Higbee and Van Jefferson at the end of drafts.
  • On rosters that don’t have Kupp and do not have any RBs through five rounds, I will look to take Akers as my first RB in the 6th round due to his unique workhorse profile at that point in the draft.
  • Stafford + Higbee mini-correlations are a perfect complement to rosters that have one of the elite QB’s and/or one of the top-5 elite TE’s.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Offensive guru Kyle Shanahan returns for his seventh season as the 49ers head coach.
  • Defense: DeMeco Ryans left to become the Houston Texans head coach. San Francisco replaced Ryans with Steve Wilks as their defensive coordinator.

Personnel Changes::

  • Sam Darnold was signed in free agency and Jimmy Garoppolo left for the Raiders. Darnold joins Brock Purdy and Trey Lance in a crowded QB room.
  • Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell return to lead one of the top rushing offenses in the league.
  • Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle are all returning and healthy as the top receiving options for the 49ers.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • LAR x2, ARI x2, SEA x2
  • NFC East (4)::
    • @ WAS, @ PHI, vs. DAL, vs. NYG
  • AFC North (4)::
    • @ PIT, @ CLE, vs. CIN, vs. BAL
  • Other (3)::
    • @ JAX, @ MIN, vs. TB

Bull Case::

The 49ers offense was absolutely humming to end the 2022 season once Christian McCaffrey was up to speed with the system and all of their weapons were healthy. After their Week 9 bye, the 49ers averaged 30.4 points per game and scored over 30 points in eight of their next twelve games prior to basically playing the NFC Championship without a quarterback once Brock Purdy tore his UCL in his throwing elbow. For the sake of context, it is important to understand that the Chiefs led the NFL in scoring with an average of 29.2 points per game last season. While Purdy’s performance was certainly impressive, the bigger takeaway might be just how dynamic this offense is with all of their weapons at their disposal – something that hasn’t happened often in past years with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle struggling to stay healthy. Now adding CMC to the mix, the 49ers offense is truly on another level.

There are questions around Brock Purdy’s return timeline, but regardless of whether he is ready for the start of the season or not the 49ers offense should be a handful for opponents. Sam Darnold would be a capable fill-in as he has had productive spurts at various points in his career and this will be, by far, the best offensive scheme and supporting cast he has played with. Likewise, former #3 overall selection Trey Lance has been written off by many but his physical tools should still be intact and if given the chance to lead an offense like this he could still realize his potential. While so many questions around the quarterback position would normally make it hard to stay positive about an offense, Kyle Shanahan has shown that his system can prop up mid-level talents and writing the 49ers offense off would be an enormous mistake. Half of the 49ers division (the Cardinals and Rams) appear to be on track to be among the worst teams in the league and the 49ers have several other favorable games on their schedule as well. The 49ers offense should have many high scoring games again this season and their elite group of skill players makes them a threat to score 30+ on any given week, regardless of who is under center. Take whatever discounts you can get and bet on the system.

Bear Case::

The pessimistic view of the 49ers offense is that there is instability in the quarterback room and despite the promising run to end the 2022 season and their elite skill group is still made up primarily of players who have struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers::

  • The number of career touches for CMC are starting to approach a breaking point and we have to wonder if his body continues to hold up as he has struggled to stay healthy in two of the last three seasons. 
  • Elijah Mitchell has had a slew of injuries already in his short career.
  • George Kittle turns 30 this season and has not had a 1,000 yard season since 2019, while missing at least two games due to injury in each of the last four seasons.
  • Deebo Samuel missed four games due to injury in 2022 and nine games in 2020.

The thesis that the 49ers offense can prop up just about any quarterback is a fragile one if that offense starts to lose some key pieces. Looking at the historical data of their players, it seems like a low probability that they will keep everyone healthy this year like they did down the stretch in 2022. If/when that happens, the questions at QB could come back to bite them. Even if Purdy is cleared, there is no guarantee that he will be as effective or healthy as he was in 2022 and if he misses time then the track records of struggles of Trey Lance and Sam Darnold certainly increase the chances of systemic issues for the 49ers. Considering the high draft capital involved in investing in this offense (four players currently being selected in the first six rounds of Best Ball drafts), that is a lot of risk to take on. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

In Kyle We Trust. 

While the injury and system fragility concerns are valid, the upside here is simply too tantalizing to ignore. I think the 49ers will overcome their obstacles and find ways to drop big numbers on the scoreboard in 2023. Here are my takes on the respective players from this offense::

  • I am higher on Sam Darnold and Trey Lance than most people, which helps me stay optimistic about this situation as a whole. I specifically like taking one or both of these QB’s in Draftkings tournaments, where the 20 player rosters give you some extra room for error and these are the type of asymmetrical bets we want to be taking late in drafts. 
  • Brock Purdy’s injury questions will keep his draft costs extremely low. He is a perfect player to select as your second quarterback if you take one of the elite QB’s early in a draft. You can wait and get high upside from Purdy in the 17th or 18th round of a draft and know your roster will likely be fine without him if he misses the first few weeks of the season, while potentially getting a huge boost down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.
  • CMC is rightfully a top-5 pick. In drafts where you select him, targeting one of Deebo/Kittle/Aiyuk later in the draft and selecting a  49ers QB seem like very correlated bets as a healthy CMC that pays off that top-5 price tag almost certainly means the 49ers offense has continued to function as a high scoring unit.
  • Elijah Mitchell is a perfect running back target in the 11th-12th round of drafts, especially on “non-CMC” teams. He should get enough work to be able to contribute some random weeks in Best Ball even when CMC is active and he becomes a top-15 RB in any week that CMC misses.
  • As I alluded to earlier, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are players who I value more on teams where I already have CMC. I am unlikely to ever select both Aiyuk and Samuel – and I prefer Aiyuk due to the lower draft cost – but I will certainly mix both of them onto my rosters.
  • George Kittle’s dominant stretch late in the 2022 season was extremely promising for him going forward. He seems to have benefitted more than anyone from the addition of CMC, as he is left in one on one and mismatch situations far more often now. Considering the lack of elite options at the position and Kittle’s weekly and season long upside, I will have trouble passing him up anytime he falls to me in the 5th or 6th round.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Shane Waldron returns for his third season as the Seahawks offensive coordinator.
  • Defense: Clint Hurtt returns for his second season as the defensive coordinator for Seattle.

Personnel Changes::

  • Geno Smith returns with some job security and a big contract as the Seahawks QB.
  • Kenneth Walker returns at RB for the Seahawks, who lost Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer in free agency but selected Zach Charbonnet in the second round of the NFL draft.
  • The Seahawks selected highly touted WR prospect Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the 20th pick in the first round to join DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and give Seattle one of the better wide receiver trios in the NFL.
  • All three of Seattle’s top tight ends from last season return.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • ARI x2, LAR x2, SF x2
  • NFC East (4)::
    • vs. WAS, vs. PHI, @ DAL, @ NYG
  • AFC North (4)::
    • vs. PIT, vs. CLE, @ CIN, @ BAL
  • Other (3)::
    • @ DET, @ TEN, vs. CAR

Bull Case::

The Seahawks ranked top-10 in the NFL in pass rate over expectation in 2022, lost none of their key receiving options, signed Geno Smith to a lucrative extension, and selected the top wide receiver in the 2023 class with the 20th overall pick in the NFL draft. This situation reeks of a team that is ready to cut loose this season. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was highly regarded and would probably have been selected in the top-10 if not for a hamstring injury that cost him nearly the entire 2023 season. He is joining a Seattle team that already features two high end wide receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and Pete Carroll has already indicated that they intend to use him primarily in the slot, but he will also play on the perimeter occasionally in order to allow Lockett to move around the field. While many have pointed out that the Seahawks ran a high percentage of two tight end personnel last year as a reason to downgrade JSN, my belief is that his selection signals a desire to change their base offense to “11” personnel and that all three of the wide receivers will be on the field for 75% or more of the snaps. Geno Smith led the NFL in completion percentage in 2022 while ranking 5th in passer rating. The Seahawks have offensive line continuity and half of their division is in rebuild/tank mode. All signs point to an offense that emerged from the shadows in 2022 and is ready to continue their ascension in 2023. The condensed targets among the trio of wide receivers gives additional value to stacking this offense in Best Ball and higher floors. A rising tide lifts all boats, get on board before it’s too late!!

Bear Case::

While the Seahawks had a terrific 2022 season and certainly have a lot of offensive weapons on paper, there is a decent amount of risk here. From a best ball perspective, it becomes very difficult to envision this offense supporting all three wide receivers at their current draft costs as Metcalf (3rd round), JSN (5th), and Lockett (6th) are all being selected in the first six rounds. Looking at Seattle’s schedule, they have four games within their division against the Cardinals and Rams – two teams who appear on track for very bad seasons and therefore may not give Seattle competitive games that push their offense. They also have 2 games against a dominant 49ers defense and eight total games against the NFC East and AFC North – both divisions that are loaded with quality defenses. Putting those factors together, there is a decent amount of risk that Seattle will not have enough high scoring games to provide the spike weeks we are looking for.

Looking at the personnel, the JSN selection is no guarantee of an increase in aggressiveness from Seattle or the aforementioned possible change in personnel packages. They could simply have been trying to get ahead on replacing Lockett, who is reaching the tipping point age for wide receivers. Additionally, we can’t ignore the fact that for the second consecutive year the Seahawks selected a running back in the second round of the draft. Pete Carroll could very easily turn back the clock and ride Kenneth Walker and Zach Charbonnet with 30-35 carries per game. Finally, we have a decade of evidence of Geno Smith struggling and one year of him performing at a high level. It is completely within the range of outcomes that Geno turns back into a pumpkin this year as teams have a year of film to study on him and the Seahawks. Especially considering the acquisition costs of the main pieces of this offense, there could be a lot more risk than reward involved in this one.

Expectations/Takeaways::

I believe the “Bull Case” for Seattle is closer to what will happen than the “Bear Case”, but there is a catch. The issue is that the market also seems to be bullish on them, given their current ADP’s. As mentioned in the “Bear” section, it seems really tough to envision all three of those wide receivers giving you the value you are looking for – someone is likely going to whiff even if things go well. For that reason, I will here are my approaches for this offense in Best Ball::

  1. Drafting only one of the three WR’s on a roster and avoiding Geno or ancillary pieces – basically, a bet on which WR pays off or exceeds their ADP.
  2. Trying to stack this offense with two of the three WRs and then making it a priority to also get Geno, as he does most of his damage throwing the ball rather than running so a double stack is likely optimal. I would also potentially look to Noah Fant to these stacks with one of my last picks, depending on how I had addressed the tight end position earlier in drafts.
  3. Taking Geno Smith on teams where I pass on quarterback early and intend to draft three later round QB’s. Geno is a locked-in starting QB who has elite weapons and is falling to the 11th or 12th rounds in some drafts. He could easily outproduce his current draft costs and will certainly have some spike weeks. Obviously we want to stack when we can, but I am fine taking Geno on teams that do not have SEA wide receivers already on them in this scenario as well. 

I don’t have much interest in the running backs for Seattle at their current ADP’s. Kenneth Walker would get interesting to me if his price were in the 4th or 5th round, but I see him as an inefficient running back who relies on big plays to carry him, and he has a threat to his volume added to the mix now as well. Any running back I take in the first 40 picks needs to have some receiving chops and an unquestioned feature back role. I have a similar approach to Charbonnet – I would take him if he fell to the 10th round, but at his current 8th/9th round cost, I will pass.