This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
The Broncos are making a push for the AFC title. They have upgraded the skill positions and are poised to be a favorite in the conference with veteran leadership.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning returns with improved arm strength and an upgraded receiving corps. He should be able to put up solid QB1 numbers at a cheap price. If you are concerned about Manning's neck, try to acquire Brock Osweiler on the cheap. He has big upside and could put up solid numbers in Manning's stead. Rookie Zac Dysert was selected in April's NFL Draft as a strong-armed project with upside.
Running Back: Montee Ball was drafted to be the starting tailback in Denver. While many discounted his upside after his Wisconsin production, Ball fits well with the Broncos' blocking scheme. Second-year Ronnie Hillman looks to take another step forward with a full offseason to pick up pass protection and other areas of the position. It appears as though Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee could be competing for one roster spot in training camp.
Wide Receiver: The Broncos added Wes Welker in free agency. He will man the slot position with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker moved around the formation. Andre Caldwell will be a low-upside reserve. Tarvarres King was drafted as a big-play receiver to develop. He still needs plenty of refinement, but could be Decker's eventual replacement. As dynasty owners lose patience with the rookie, he is a worthwhile addition for the long term. Brandon Stokely was not retained with the Welker addition.
Tight End: Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are the incumbents, but keep an eye on Virgil Green and Julius Thomas. Both youngsters are looking to finally see the field. Thomas has had some buzz of late. But, expect Dreessen to play a lot given his blocking ability. The other three are fighting for playing time.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs brought in Andy Reid to run the show. He is putting his stamp on the team, on both sides of the ball. Most will focus on the offense, but Bob Sutton's crew on defense will have a new look. He has spent the past few years in New York as the Jets Linebackers coach.
Quarterback: Kansas City traded for Alex Smith and gave him the starting gig. The intelligent veteran will be asked to run Reid's offense. While expectations are not high, improvement from the past few years is expected on the offensive side of the ball. Chase Daniel was signed from New Orleans to back up Smith. Expect undrafted rookie Tyler Bray to get a long look to make the team. He will compete with Ricky Stanzi to be the third quarterback. Bray has plenty of potential if he can finally get his head on straight.
Running Back: Jamaal Charles is expected to see an uptick in touches. It was appalling how the previous regime went long stretches without giving their best offensive player the ball. If the speedy Charles can remain healthy, he will have a shot to be an elite fantasy option in 2013. NFL Combine star Knile Davis was drafted to complement Charles. We doubt his ability on the field, as compared to the fitness contests of the Combine. Expect Shaun Draughn to play often backing up Charles. Draughn played well in as an undrafted rookie last season. He should be able to out-battle the more touted Davis. Cyrus Gray might also be in the mix when healthy.
Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe should lead the Chiefs in receptions once again. But, beyond Bowe, Kansas City has plenty of question marks. There are high hopes for Jon Baldwin to emerge as the starter across from Bowe. Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster are in the mix for the slot and reserve positions. One deep roster player to watch is Jamar Newsome. The undrafted player out of Central Florida played well last season when he saw the field. Other players of note are Devon Wylie and Terrance Copper. Of this group, Bowe is the only one who is a certainty. Baldwin will have a shot, but needs to step up his game.
Tight End: Kansas City has re-made the tight end position this offseason. With Tony Moeaki coming back from injury last season, he was not able to make an impact. The new regime signed Anthony Fasano from Miami. While he is not a huge receiving threat, the veteran tight end is a very strong blocker and should help the running game. Also, Travis Kelce was drafted in April. The rookie is very athletic but may be a year away from making a strong push for playing time. However, he is a player to watch during the preseason.
Oakland is still in rebuilding mode, led by General manager Reggie McKenzie and Coach Dennis Allen. When they took over, the Raiders were cap-strapped with little talent on either side of the ball. The duo took the challenge head on and cleaned the roster of the overpaid veterans and have the team a year away from starting to turn the corner.
Quarterback: Carson Palmer - and his enormous salary - were traded for peanuts to the Arizona Cardinals. In a related move, Oakland paid very little for Matt Flynn, who was made expendable by the strong play of Russell Wilson in Seattle. The Raiders re-worked Flynn's contract to make it more team-friendly. While far from stellar, Flynn is still a viable option to run the offense. Tyler Wilson was drafted as a developmental quarterback. Out of Arkansas, and equipped with a big arm, Wilson will have a chance to overtake Flynn at some time. Terrelle Pryor is still on the team, but should be a well-placed third-string quarterback.
Running Back: Darren McFadden is back and healthy …. for now. He should get all of the touches he can handle. Given McFadden's history of injury, that may not take very long. After Oakland traded Mike Goodson to the New York Jets, the team signed Rashad Jennings from Jacksonville. Finally healthy himself, Jennings could make a huge impact on the Raiders offense. He possesses size and speed to help the running game control the ball. Two player to watch are rookie Latavius Murray (a size/speed rookie) and Jeremy Stewart. Marcel Reese is still around, but may be pushed to the fullback position. Given McFadden's injury history, Jennings makes a decent stash as he is available in many dynasty leagues.
Wide Receiver: Darrius Heyward-Bey was sent packing in the offseason as the Raiders cut salary, and are now reliant on a group of young receivers. Heyward-Bey signed in Indianapolis. Denarius Moore should lead the team in receiving. He flashed big-time potential as a rookie in 2011, but has been banged up since. Another promising youngster is second-year pro Rod Streater. Streater emerged as a viable deep threat last season. Josh Cribbs was signed from Cleveland, but may see more time playing special teams than on the offensive side of the ball. Other youngsters to watch are Juron Criner, Jacoby Ford, Brice Butler, and Duke Calhoun. This receiving corps has plenty of deep speed and athletic ability. It will be up to the unproven quarterbacks to play well enough to get theses youngsters the ball.
Tight End: Surprisingly, Brandon Myers was not re-signed. Possibly, he was a product of an overabundance of Carson Palmer dump off passes. David Ausberry, Richard Gordon, Mychal Rivera, and Nick Kasa will look to replace Myers. Expect either Ausberry or Rivera to lead the group in receptions. Rivera and Kasa are rookies and could need transition time to the NFL. If so, Ausberry will start and not be a fantasy option. Rivera could emerge as the starter by midseason.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers finally fired Norv Turner, and replaced him with up-and-comer Mike McCoy from Denver. McCoy talked Ken Whisenhunt to join him in San Diego after his firing in Arizona. While McCoy is renowned for his offensive genius, his biggest feat will be building an offensive line out of the porous pieces remaining from the previous regime.
Quarterback: Philip Rivers looks to rebound from a sub par 2012 season. His supporters will blame the line play for the quarterback's poor performance. Rivers does have a strong group of receivers to utilize and will have every opportunity to prove 2012 was a fluke. If not, this could be his last season in San Diego. Charlie Whitehurst will hold the clipboard behind Rivers. Brad Sorensen is an interesting deep prospect to watch in preseason.
Running Back: Ryan Mathews will finally be healthy and could have a big campaign if he stays on the field. Durability has been the bane of his career to date. While sublimely talented, a rash of fluke injuries have limited Mathews' opportunity to shine. The Chargers signed Danny Woodhead to play the change-of-pace role as he did in New England. He could put up huge PPR numbers. Middling talents Ronnie Brown and Edwin Baker will back up Mathews, and each could play if the starter is injured again.
Wide Receiver: It surprised many when the Chargers tendered Danario Alexander at a low level, but were rewarded when no other team was willing to sign the oft-injured playmaker to an offer sheet. Alexander will start and be a primary receiver as long as he can remain healthy. Multiple knee injuries have sapped him of his speed and ability to make big plays. Keenan Allen was drafted to start right away. Expect the third-round draft pick to battle Malcom Floyd for the starting job across from Alexander. The loser will compete with Vincent Brown to start in the slot. This is a talented foursome. Rivers really missed the big play ability of Vincent Jackson last season and his production increased with Alexander. These four receivers could buoy Rivers into the top ten or fifteen fantasy quarterbacks. Last year's overpriced signings, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, are buried on the depth chart and will have to earn a roster spot. Expect one - if not both - to be released.
Tight End: Antonio Gates will look to rebound from his declining numbers the past few years. Yes, health has played a role in this decline, but so has age and poor quarterback play. In addition, Gates was asked to block more in 2012 than some of his big production years. John Phillips was signed to provide blocking help. A player to watch is Ladarius Green. Green is a talented youngster, drafted in the fourth round from Louisiana-Lafayette by the previous regime. After a year of seasoning, Green could finally be primed for a breakout season, especially if Gates is injured again.
This division looks like an easy time for Denver as each of the other three teams struggle to win eight games.
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