You thought I was going to start the NFC half of this series in the East, didn’t you? Would have made sense, since I started the AFC with the East division. But I don’t yet have a company card, so in order to reduce expenses, I am staying out West to cover what some are saying is the most competitive division in the NFL (if you pretend the Seahawks don’t exist for a second). Seattle is the city farthest north with an NFL team, so at least they have that going for them. This division had three teams in the playoffs last year and could very well repeat that in 2022. There is a ton of talent in this division so let’s get started!
Los Angeles Rams
The defending NFC West and Super Bowl champs proved last season that you can buy a championship in the NFL. I seriously don’t understand the salary cap, but it seems like they should have run out of money by now, right? GM Les Snead proved that you don’t need to draft all that often, as long as you hit on the picks you do make, acquire the right free agents, and make the right trades. The Rams are returning most of their offensive pieces from 2021, so let’s see how the fantasy market values them.
Cam Akers (32nd Overall, RB17)
Tom and Joe covered Akers in their first injury concerns podcast in depth. You should listen to Tom discuss Akers’ Achilles injury, but just know it’s not a great outlook for most players returning from that injury. I do wish he was healthy because the RB1 in a Sean McVay offense is extremely valuable. Nothing against them or their families, but even Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson Jr. were great in stretches for the Rams last season. Michel is gone, but Henderson is still there and the team drafted Kyren Williams from Notre Dame in the draft. Can’t forget about Jake Funk too! None of them are really a threat to Akers, but I am pessimistic about his explosiveness moving forward. His 2.4 yards per carry from last season should improve, but is it enough for you to take him in the middle of the third round?
Plus, there is a new report out of camp regarding a “soft tissue injury” that Tom covered here. At this price, I’m passing on Akers and wishing him the best this season.
Allen Robinson (65th Overall, WR25)
I already wrote about Robinson earlier this offseason. My thoughts on the player have not changed, and neither has his ADP really – it’s only moved up four spots. Stafford’s elbow injury doesn’t really scare Tom, so it doesn’t scare me. If you didn’t read my earlier post about Robinson or are too lazy to click the link above* the gist of things is that the Bears offense is bad, the Rams offense is good. Stafford is better than Justin Fields. McVay is an elite offensive mind. LA inked Robinson to a pretty lucrative deal, etc. The plan is to use him and use him often.
*Editor’s note: You, the reader are not lazy. You’re reading about fantasy football content in the middle of August! So well prepared!
Hard to believe this team even made the playoffs with the way they finished the year. Hard to believe they weren’t the number 1 seed and didn’t even win the NFC West after starting the year 7-0. That has been the way of the Cardinals under Kliff Kingsbury, though. Since taking over in 2019, the Cardinals are 15-8-1 in the months of September and October. They are just 9-16 from November on. Arizona inked Kingsbury and Kyler Murray to a long term extension in the offseason, so they seem to believe in them long term. Also in their favor is State Farm Stadium, home of the Cardinals, is hosting the Super Bowl this season. You will recall that the host city’s team has played in and won the last two Super Bowls.
Deandre Hopkins (85th Overall, WR35)
Hopkins will miss the Cardinals first 6 games due to a PED suspension, not because of injury. Joe and Tom discussed him in their latest podcast and his injury history is quite extensive, despite only missing two games his entire career prior to last season. Why I don’t love Hopkins at ADP here is more about how I like to build my team during the draft. I want to know early on if a player is going to contribute to my team or not. That way I can make an adjustment early on and not have it hanging over my head for half of the season.
Something that I don’t think is apparent to every one is that the Cardinals have a Week 13 bye. That means you will have at least 7 weeks without a player you are taking in the all-important middle rounds of your draft. Depending on your platform, you may not even be able to stash him in your IR slot, meaning he is taking up a vital bench spot on your roster. If he was a guaranteed WR1 when he came back, yes, I would draft him here. But as Joe mentioned on the podcast, his points per game average between 2020 and 2021 dropped by two points and he is entering his age 30 season.
James Conner (31st Overall, RB17)
You already know from reading my arguments in our Fantasy Debate series, I liked Hollywood Brown earlier this offseason. The college connection with Kyler and the lack of options around him for the first six games of the year were my main points. But he’s since injured his hamstring and missed a lot of training camp. That is certainly a situation to monitor. I also wanted to give a different player from this team that I liked, so in steps James Conner.
The way Conner performed last season came as a shock to most people, including me, but it really shouldn’t have. Especially if you saw how Kingsbury used Kenyan Drake after they traded for him 2019. Conner first broke onto the scene during the Le’Veon Bell holdout of 2018, finishing as the RB6 despite only playing in 13 games. Last season he took the 2nd most goal line carries and tallied 18 total TDs. He saw increased work in the passing game when Chase Edmonds missed time and the Cardinals did little to replace him this offseason. Arizona’s offense will once again be one of the top units in the league.
I think Conner is being undervalued currently and could easily see him finishing inside the top 10 at running back again this year.
San Francisco 49ers
The ‘Niners returned to the postseason last year as the third team out of the NFC West after an abysmal 2020 wrecked them with injuries. Kyle Shanahan tricked us all again with who his lead back was in 2021 – drafting Trey Sermon in the 3rd round, then using 6th round rookie Elijah Mitchell all season long. The team has made the switch at quarterback from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance this offseason. So much so that they don’t let him attend practices or meetings and he doesn’t even own the playbook. Harsh. So what does the change at QB mean for fantasy football ADP? Let’s find out.
George Kittle (42nd Overall, TE4)
Maybe I’m putting Kittle here because I had him on a couple of my teams last year, but he was absolutely not worth the early pick. He may have finished as the TE4, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Now that his ADP has cooled off a bit, he might be worth a look to some, but not to me. The switch to Trey Lance at QB means more designed runs and therefore less pass attempts per game. Kittle could be more efficient with the passes thrown his way and be fine for fantasy, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
We know he’s a great blocker and therefore could be asked to stay in more to block, limiting his upside. He has missed at least three games in each of the past three seasons, meaning your weekly edge at the position wasn’t around for about 25% of your regular season matchups. When he is around, he can be absolutely dominant. When he returned from injury in Week 9 last season, Kittle’s weekly finishes were TE2, TE5, TE5, TE38, TE1, TE1, and TE6. But then he disappeared in Weeks 16-18, scoring a combined 10.6 points.
Kittle certainly has those spike weeks that put you over the top in fantasy, but his ADP right now is a little too rich for my blood. I prefer some of the RBs and WRs going in that range a little more than him.
Brandon Aiyuk (99th Overall, WR39)
*Dodges tomatoes* Seriously I’m as surprised as you are, I – *Tomato hits me in the head* OWW! Please people, let me finish before you start booing and hurling objects at me.
If you believe in the Kyle Shanahan dog house, then you believe Aiyuk paid rent to live there last season. He might now own a stake of that property, that’s how long he was there last season. And it might feel like forever ago, but last season we were all drafting him almost two full rounds ahead of Deebo Samuel. How soon you all forget! I should throw tomatoes at you! But I won’t because even I forgot about their ADPs from last season before I started writing this. I’m not calling for a similar reversal again this season, but I also don’t think you should cast aside Aiyuk in your drafts.
The former Arizona State Sun Devil (without looking it up, could you even tell me what the heck a “Sun Devil” is?) is entering is third NFL season at just 24 years old. After an impressive rookie season, Aiyuk headed into last season with a lot of promise. But a hamstring injury suffered in training camp really put a damper on the first half of his season. However, from Week 9 on last season he was decent. He finished as a top 36 WR seven times in that ten week span, including three visits inside the top 15. Not spectacular, but decent! We know he’s super athletic in what should be a good offense. He’s probably the third option in a run heavy offense, but at WR39, don’t you want someone with the potential that Aiyuk has?
I forgot this last team in the NFC West existed for a second. I thought I was done writing this article, but sadly, I am not. Russell Wilson is gone which affects a lot of this offense. As long as Pete Carroll is smacking his gum on the sidelines, there were be at least one entertaining aspect of Seahawks games this year. Plus, Wilson returns to Seattle in Week 1! Then after that we can pretend this team doesn’t exist again.
DK Metcalf (49th Overall, WR18)
We saw what life was like for Metcalf without Russell Wilson last season and it was… good? That’s right! In the three games without his starting QB, Metcalf turned in two top-10 finishes at wide receiver. Geno Smith really peppered him with targets those weeks. But over the long haul, having a subpar quarterback is not better than having a good one. Those are just obvious Trent Dilfer-like facts. I just talked about Aiyuk being an athlete but DK puts him to shame. If anyone could muscle their way to a top 12 finish with Drew Lock at QB, it’s Metcalf.
I don’t know if it’s going to be Smith or Drew Lock, or even Jimmy G at quarterback in Seattle in 2022, but I can’t bring myself to take DK at his current price on a run heavy team. I think he will have to rely on TDs to return his draft day price. There are a lot of receivers going around him that I would rather target. Guys like Mike Williams, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, even Brandin Cooks or DJ Moore.
Noah Fant (177th Overall, TE16)
Fant is basically free in drafts if you completely forgot you had to draft a tight end. (A lot of forgetfulness on today’s installment of the series.) I know, I know. EVERY year we all claim will be the year Fant finally breaks out. And while it probably doesn’t happen on a consistent basis, other guys going in this range are Albert Okwuegbunam, Irv Smith, Robert Tonyan, David Njoku, and Hunter Henry. I mean, take your pick of the litter, but I think Fant is the most athletic of those options and young enough to still turn things around and surprise us all. One parting stat: Fant finished as a top-12 tight end in about half of his games last season, so you could do worse here.