Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

AFC WEST

Written By :: Hilow

Denver Broncos

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi reunite in Denver after coaching together for five years in New Orleans
  • Defense: Vance Joseph comes over from Arizona to serve as the defensive coordinator

Personnel Changes::

  • Spent serious money on the offensive line with the signings of T Mike McGlinchey and G Ben Powers
  • Signed RB Samaje Perine
  • Signed TE Chris Manhertz
  • WR Tim Patrick returns from a lost season due to a torn ACL

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Chiefs x2, Raiders x2, Chargers x2
  • AFC East (4)::
    • Patriots, Jets, @Bills, @Dolphins
  • NFC North (4)::
    • Packers, Vikings, @Bears, @Lions
  • OTHER (3)::
    • Browns, Commanders, @Texans

Bull Case::

Joe Lombardi spent five years on head coach Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans from 2016 to 2020, during which time the Saints ranked fifth or better in points scored per game. The two coached an aging Drew Brees during that time, famously designing an offense to best maximize his talents while staving off a decrease in arm strength. Their new challenge now becomes how to maximize the talents of an aging Russell Wilson in Denver, who has spent most of his career throwing to receivers that could generate separation at target (Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf). 

Payton wasted no time once hired, pushing to sign offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers, each of whom was ranked second in 2023 free agent rankings by Pro Football Focus at tackle and interior offensive line, respectively. The primary skill position cadre of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams, and Greg Dulcich remain a high-upside core, each of whom was selected in the first, second, or third round in their respective draft class.

The Bull case for the 2023 Broncos is clear – Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi offenses averaged 28.01 points per game over the previous seven seasons, which includes their shared tenure in New Orleans and Lombardi’s time serving as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers over the previous two seasons. Russell Wilson holds a career 64.6 completion percentage and rattled off four consecutive seasons (2017-2020) of 31 or more passing touchdowns, averaging 35 per season during that span.

Finally, running back Samaje Perine was brought in to help ease the tension in the backfield caused by Javonte Williams’ knee injury.

Bear Case::

It is difficult to ignore just how poorly Russell Wilson played in the 2022 season, setting career-lows in passing touchdowns (16), completion percentage (60.5), and quarterback rating (84.4).

Another blemish to the potential for the Broncos in 2023 is health. Russell Wilson missed five games during the previous two seasons, Courtland Sutton missed two games in 2022, Jerry Jeudy missed two games in 2022 and seven in 2021, Tim Patrick is coming off a lost season with a torn ACL, and Javonte Williams suffered a devastating knee injury last season, including a torn ACL, LCL, and posterolateral corner.

Williams is reportedly “doing everything right” in his recovery, but the damage to his knee was extensive, likely leaving the recovery window extended.

As for the offensive line, the Broncos are coming off a season which saw them lead the league in sacks allowed at 63. Their offensive line finished the 2022 season ranked 30th in pass-blocking metrics. Their 10.0% adjusted sack rate ranked 30th as well, ahead of only the Bears and the Rams. While the free agent signings along the offensive line will help those numbers, Mike McGlinchey is better known for his work in the run game. McGlinchey graded out with top-10 marks in run-blocking metrics a season ago, per Pro Football Focus, but was graded as a below average pass protector, yielding a 5.1 percent pressure rate in 2022 after ceding pressure at a 6.1 percent clip over his first three seasons in the league.

Finally, I attribute some of Russ’ struggles in 2022 to his pass-catchers and their inability to generate separation at target. As was mentioned above, Wilson played the first 10 years of his career in Seattle with “separation genies” including Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and D.K. Metcalf. Courtland Sutton ranked 69th in separation at target and Jerry Jeudy ranked 82nd in 2022, likely leading to the increased reliance on rookie tight end Greg Dulcich and his seventh-ranked marks in that metric. Not that this precludes Wilson from taking a step forward in his underlying metrics under new tutelage for the 2023 season, but it could help explain why he struggled as much as he did with a more vanilla offensive scheme under Nathaniel Hackett. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

The final piece of the puzzle to consider prior to giving the outlook for this team moving forward is the change in defensive coordinator. Vance Joseph is one of the more aggressive DCs in the league, finishing the 2022 season with an obscene 34.5 percent blitz rate in Arizona (trailing only Wink Martindale and his absurd 39.7 percent marks).

From an offensive perspective (and considering upside paramount), that aggression is likely to be a plus for the team’s offensive expectation. The reasoning is simple, a more aggressive defensive play caller does two things – we can expect more opponent drives to be disrupted through heavy pressure rates while simultaneously expecting more splash plays to be generated against.

Both of these are likely to lead to an increase to the modest 63.4 plays per game the Broncos were allowed to run in 2022, and the offensive masterminds of head coach Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi are likely to lead to an increase in offensive efficiency from a season ago (30th-ranked 64.7 percent drive success rate in 2022).

It is difficult to be overly excited about the fantasy expectation for running back Javonte Williams considering his devastating injury late in the 2022 season, particularly during the first half of the season. That is likely to lead to an extremely low passthrough rate for teams that take the plunge at current ADP. Along the same line of thinking, it is difficult to be overly excited about Samaje Perine with the return of Williams looming, particularly in large field Best Ball tournaments where there is an increased emphasis on late-season performance.

Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi have a proven track record of extracting the most from the talent they have on the roster, which makes all of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and tight end Greg Dulcich interesting upside bets at depressed ADP. I have no issue gaining exposure to any of those four, at least for as long as their ADP remains in check. A good way to approach that uncertainty is to gain exposure early in the draft window before the field’s recency biases surrounding this offense begin to subside.

In closing, it will be largely up to the new coaching staff to maximize the talents on the roster – a good problem to have considering the lengthy resumes of Payton and Lombardi in doing just that.

August Update::

-Jerry Jeudy appears to be turning the corner into true alpha territory while Courtland Sutton has showcased a slimmed-down frame and looks spryer than I can remember. Both have legitimate spike week potential on a weekly basis.

-Denzel Mims should fill the “Z” WR role for the Broncos, which would allow Jeudy to spend more time in the slot.

-TE Adam Trautman served as the every down tight end in the team’s first preseason game, with Greg Dulcich reserved for heavy packages and clear passing situations. If that trend holds into the regular season, Dulcich is being drafted entirely too high.

-RB Javonte Williams is reportedly in line to play in the team’s second preseason contest, which reinforces earlier reports that he has been well ahead of schedule in his return from a torn ACL. The buying window might be closing fast on Williams.

-Samaje Perine is firmly “just a guy,” one that I was buying early in the draft cycle for his volume potential should Williams miss time. That no longer appears to be the case, and his ADP has skyrocketed in that time. Bordering full fade territory for me at current cost.

Kansas City Chiefs

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Matt Nagy returns to Kansas City to serve as offensive coordinator under head coach Andy Reid after Eric Bieniemy departed for the same position with the Commanders
  • Defense: Steve Spagnuolo returns for his fifth season as defensive coordinator

Personnel Changes::

  • Lost T Orlando Brown and T Andrew Wylie and signed T Jawaan Taylor
  • WR Juju Smith-Schuster departs for New England and WR Mecole Hardman leaves to sign with the Jets
  • Jerick McKinnon remains unsigned

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Broncos x2, Raiders x2, Chargers x2
  • AFC East (4)::
    • Bills, Dolphins, @Patriots, @Jets
  • NFC North (4)::
    • Bears, Lions, @Packers, @Vikings
  • Other (3)::
    • Bengals, Eagles, @Jaguars

Bull Case::

Points per game and league ranks supported from the Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid and with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback:

  • 2018 – 34.8, first
  • 2019 – 29.9, second
  • 2020 – 28.5, sixth
  • 2021 – 29.4, fourth
  • 2022 – 29.2, first

That, my friends, is the bull case for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023.

Bear Case::

I mean, head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes have done very little to give us much to discuss in this section. The obvious elephant in the proverbial room is the removal of Eric Bieniemy from the offensive coordinator position, who took the same role for the Commanders this offseason. That said, they replace Bieniemy with one-time Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who returns to reprise a role he held from 2016-2017 before accepting the head coaching position with the Bears.

The biggest unknown there is the fact that Nagy and Mahomes failed to overlap as Mahomes didn’t become the starting quarterback for the Chiefs until the 2018 season, a notion that is quelled a bit by the fact that Nagy served as the Chiefs’ senior offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach for the 2022 season. With that in mind, there would be a natural inclination to expect a slight decline in offensive production due to the nuances of situational play calling abilities, which I would contend should be all but squashed because, well, Patrick Mahomes is otherworldly.

The only other aspects to cover in this section are the departures of tackle Orlando Brown and wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, which the Chiefs did well to mask through the additions of wide receivers Skyy Moore in the 2022 draft (second round) and Kadarius Toney through trade during the 2022 season and addition of tackle Jawaan Taylor through free agency. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Many were concerned about the Chiefs heading into 2022 due to the loss of someone you frankly can’t replace in Tyreek Hill. Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, and Patrick Mahomes proceeded to lead the league in scoring in 2023 and silence those doubters in quick fashion. 

I recently did a study for The 33rd Team in which I analyzed the four major fantasy positions to see how important touchdowns were to their fantasy production. The highest correlation between overall touchdowns and fantasy production came at the quarterback position, with a borderline unheard of 0.974 r-squared value. Furthermore, the quarterback position led the way with a 40 percent contribution factor to overall fantasy scoring, with no other position eclipsing 23 percent (running backs). Basically, that is an analytical way of saying that touchdowns are super important to quarterback scoring in fantasy because of the decreased contribution from things like receptions and yardage totals.

Patrick Mahomes has averaged 38.4 passing touchdowns per year during his five years as a starter, adding 12 rushing scores to that total (2.4 per year). As in, the dude has averaged over 40 touchdowns per season over a five-year sample size – those are absurd numbers and completely lap the field. Patrick Mahomes is the unquestioned QB1 for the 2023 season and should be drafted as such in Best Ball drafts, with the primary concern being the high draft capital it will take to secure his services (more on this throughout the offseason with our strategy/theory content!).

Expect this offense to remain dynamic with a heavy emphasis on the connection between Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. Based on the personnel on the roster, I would expect the remainder of the offensive skill position players to continue to operate in a loose (and highly situationally dependent) rotation, with all of Kadarius Toney, Merquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Justin Watson, Justyn Ross, and recent addition Richie James likely factoring into varying degrees of snaps throughout the season.

The fact that the rotation at wide receiver is difficult to nail down as things currently stand is a bummer for our redraft brethren but is a situation worth capitalizing on for us Best Ball sickos. The optimal way to approach this situation from a portfolio management perspective is to spread exposure to the secondary and tertiary pass-catchers and do so via a sliding exposure scale, which we will discuss more in our theory content throughout the offseason.

The running back stable, and associated expected value, changes slightly with the removal of Jerick McKinnon, who stepped into a significant red zone role in the absence of Mecole Hardman last season. On that subject, this offense has routinely utilized heavy rates of schemed usage in and around the red zone, which was filled by significant contributions from both Mecole Hardman and Jerick McKinnon last season, both of whom are not on the roster for the coming season. We saw both Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore expand their contributions in that highly valuable area of the field in the playoffs, something to note heading into 2023.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a healthy inactive from Week 11 on last season after being clearly usurped by seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco. This is an area of the team dynamics that could change through the draft.

August Update::

-Man, this wide receiver room is only getting murkier by the day. As things currently stand, it appears as if Kadarius Toney and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will see the most snaps out of the lot but Skyy Moore is pushing for more snaps with each passing practice. I would expect those three to be the primary wide receivers when healthy.

-The truth of the matter, however, is that this offense is very much “Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce and then everyone else.”

-Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been receiving the bulk of the first team snaps in both practice and the preseason in the absence of Isiah Pacheco. That’s notable considering his depressed ADP.

-Jerick McKinnon, Kadarius Toney, and Skyy Moore are the players likeliest to contribute to the regularly designed schemed plays in Andy Reid’s offense. All are capable of providing nice spike weeks in best ball.

Las Vegas Raiders

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Josh McDaniels enters his second season as head coach and offensive play caller
  • Defense: Patrick Graham enters his second season as defensive coordinator

Personnel Changes::

  • QB Derek Carr departs for New Orleans, QB Jimmy Garoppolo signed
  • Signed WR Jakobi Meyers, WR DeAndre Carter, WR Cam Sims, and WR Phillip Dorsett
  • Signed TE Austin Hooper, and TE O.J. Howard
  • Traded TE Darren Waller to the Giants

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Cheifs x2, Broncos x2, Chargers x2
  • AFC East (4)::
    • Patriots, Jets, @Bills, @Dolphins
  • NFC North (4)::
    • Packers, Vikings, @Lions, @Bears
  • Other (3)::
    • Steelers, Giants, @Colts

Bull Case::

McDaniels has extensive experience in designing an offense built through a methodical and short-area approach from his time in New England with Tom Brady, something that could be required considering the move at quarterback from Derek Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo. Carr’s 9.1 intended air yards per pass attempt a season ago ranked fourth in the league. In his last stint with significant work in 2021, Garoppolo was all the way down at 7.5, which ranked 22nd in the league that year.

And while that might seem like a bear case on the surface, Garoppolo is a more natural fit at quarterback for the system McDaniels has the most experience in designing. The addition of Jakobi Meyers also gives this team a legitimate weapon to work opposite Davante Adams, while Hunter Renfrow is expected to be fully healthy entering the season after missing significant time last year.

It’s also hard to argue against the results from the offensive line in 2022, a unit that blocked to the highest adjusted line yards value and ranked eighth in adjusted sack rate allowed. The line returns all five starters, a unit that sprung running back Josh Jacobs to the rushing title in 2022.

Bear Case::

Josh McDaniels was unable to solve the red zone woes that have plagued the Raiders during the Derek Carr era, finishing with a sub-50 percent red zone touchdown rate for the second consecutive season in 2022. The team also lost big-bodied and physical tight end Darren Waller via trade this offseason, replacing him with two relatively underperforming entities in Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard, and quarterback Derek Carr, replacing him with Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The downside of this offense in 2023 relates to the unproven facet of McDaniels as a head coach and the recent track record of poor performance in the red zone by this team.

Davante Adams was supposed to help in that regard in 2022, which didn’t fully come to transpire. Adams now goes from a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, to a quarterback he played with in college, to a quarterback he has no previous experience with – and he has to establish that connection during a shortened offseason and preseason. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

The discussion on the expectations for 2023 from these Raiders has to start with the offensive line, a unit that went into 2022 ranked in the bottom half of the league on paper. They then went on to rank in the top 10 in most metrics including adjusted line yards, adjusted sack rate, and second level yards created. The return of Josh Jacobs, even on a one-year deal, is a big boost to the offense as a whole behind that offensive line.

The expected starting wide receiver trio of Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow is one of the more solid cores of pass-catchers in the league, with all three capable of winning within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. That skillset marries well with the strengths of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the expected offensive design from head coach Mike McDaniels, the latter of whom seemingly struggled to adjust to a quarterback with a penchant for attacking downfield.

In the same vein, the offense is going to need to a take a step forward in red zone touchdown rate after poor marks in consecutive seasons, which should be viewed as a reflection of both McDaniels and previous quarterback Derek Carr.

With so much offensive turnover from primary skill position players (addition of Jakobi Meyers, return to health of Hunter Renfrow, change from Carr to Garoppolo, and the loss of Darren Waller), we might see this team struggle out of the gate, particularly considering the abridged offseason after the recently approved collective bargaining agreement between the league and the Player’s Association.

Another aspect of this offense that should decide its course this season should be the ability to sustain drives. Garoppolo is not a quarterback to take chances downfield, instead electing to progress through his reads to reach the underneath player at an expedited rate.

Josh Jacobs was in a route at a solid 55.1 percent clip last season (and he ran the fifth most routes at the position at 323), meaning the change at quarterback could provide him with more pass-catching opportunities due to the change at quarterback.

Finally, Hunter Renfrow should benefit from the departure of Darren Waller. Considering the fact that the Raiders ran almost zero 21-personnel a season ago, we could see Renfrow return to a more inflated 75-85 percent snap rate this year.

In all, it is likely we see the Raiders return another middle-of-the-pack season as far as offensive output is concerned unless McDaniels and Garoppolo can improve the modest red zone touchdown rates we have seen from this team in recent history.

August Update::

-Josh Jacobs’ holdout has continued. With just three weeks until the start of the season, things are starting to get a bit dicey. What’s more, the preseason and camp showings from backup RB Zamir White continue to decrease his leverage daily. If he’s smart (complete unknown), he returns to the team prior to the start of the season.

-Davante Adams should continue to garner one of the top team target market shares and targets per route run rates in the league. His ability to win in close, via body control, and within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage should keep him in elite company even with Jimmy G in at QB.

-Jakobi Meyers continues to turn heads in camp and gives the Raiders a legitimate secondary pass-catching weapon in the absence of Darren Waller. He is likely to provide some spike weeks in 2023.

Los Angeles Chargers

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Kellen Moore comes over from Dallas to serve as offensive coordinator, taking over for Joe Lombardi
  • Defense: Head coach Brandon Staley is expected to call plays on defense

Personnel Changes::

  • WR DeAndre Carter departs for Las Vegas
  • RB Austin Ekeler has requested a trade

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Chiefs x2, Raiders x2, Broncos x2
  • AFC East (4)::
    • Bills, Dolphins, @Patriots, @Jets
  • NFC North (4)::
    • Bears, Lions, @Vikings, @Packers
  • Other (3)::
    • Ravens, Cowboys, @Titans

Bull Case::

The Chargers move from one of the more dynamic offensive play callers in Joe Lombardi to, wait for it, one of the more dynamic offensive play callers in Kellen Moore, the latter of whom lost the power struggle in Dallas to head coach Mike McCarthy (lolz, Jerruh).

That said, we’re likely to see some significant changes to how this offense is run in 2023 when compared to the previous two seasons under Lombardi, particularly considering the beautiful marriage of Lombardi’s scheme with the talents of Austin Ekeler (both of whom are likely to be coaching/playing elsewhere in 2023).

The Chargers boast a top-10 offensive line, particularly considering the decision to re-sign right tackle Trey Pipkins and the expected return to health of left tackle Rashawn Slater. Center Corey Linsley remains one of the best centers in the league in pass protection and both guards, 2022 first-round pick Zion Johnson and 2022 sixth-round pick Jamaree Salyer, have proven to be legitimate long-term starters after highly successful rookie seasons. The franchise appears to have gotten a legitimate draft-day steal in Salyer. 

Bear Case::

There’s no denying how important Austin Ekeler is to this offense as his open field ability is seemingly unmatched at the running back position in today’s game. Losing his football smarts that allow him to settle into soft spots in opposing coverages and his athletic abilities with the ball in his hands would be a massive blow to an offense that has thrived by being able to stretch opposing defenses in two dimensions (vertically and horizontally). Although no move has been made at this point, the relationship between Ekeler and the organization seems to be tattered beyond repair after the electric back requested permission to seek a trade.

Furthermore, the primary skill position players have not been the epitome of health over the previous three seasons, with all of Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Gerald Everett, and Donald Parham missing significant time recently. 

Expectations/Takeaways::

Whereas Lombardi’s offense is designed to be simple but dynamic, Moore’s is highly likely to be complex and unpredictable, dependent on the opponent. Moore has proven to be highly adaptable in his play calling tendencies, routinely changing how he calls a game to best attack the weaknesses portrayed from the opposition. Basically, Lombardi takes a more rigid approach through his scheme, designed to wear an opposition down over time, while Moore is one of the rare breeds of coaches that looks to maximize each possession.

Assuming health from the primary skill position players, we’re likely to see a resurgence in both points per game and red zone touchdown rate for the Chargers in 2022 considering this internal drive from their offensive play caller. Based on what we saw out of Dallas with Kellen Moore, expect a high rate of 11-personnel alignments from the Chargers in 2023.

Considering the discussion on quarterbacks and the reliance on touchdowns at the position in a fantasy setting that was brought forward in the Kansas City write-up, Justin Herbert finds himself on the precipice of fantasy stardom at the quarterback position. Even after a down 2022, Herbert has averaged 34 combined rushing and passing touchdowns during the first three seasons of his NFL career and Kellen Moore should do wonders to keep that pace, at minimum.

The expected loss of Ekeler is less of an issue for this offense considering the offensive coordinator change, meaning more fantasy goodness is expected to be available for the remaining primary skill position players. That means Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Joshua Palmers, in particular, should exceed early draft ADP from a fantasy points per game perspective.

Even Gerald Everett and, to a lesser extent, Donald Parham and Jalen Guyton have the potential to far exceed current ADP.

The running back position is a bit of a mess behind Ekeler currently, meaning more fidelity is required before we can make any sweeping assumptions.

August Update::

-Buy. The. Chargers. All of them. That’s the update. QB Justin Herbert has legitimate overall QB1 within his range of outcomes this year.


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