Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Preseason Watch List: NFC West

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals fell on hard times last year, marking the first losing season (7-8-1) in Bruce Arians' tenure. The team's play declined in all facets but was hardly alarming. Offensively the Cardinals finished 6th in points scored and 9th in yards, in spite of quarterback Carson Palmer's regression. On defense, the team gave up 362 points (14th in the NFL) but remained stingy with yards allowed (2nd). Right before training camp began, Coach Arians disclosed a successful battle with kidney cancer last year. Healthy and reinvigorated, this veteran team will try to make another championship push.

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/21 (Rookies and Veterans)
  • Where: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 3 -- (HOF Game) Dallas 7:00 pm
  • Aug 12 -- Oakland 9:00 pm
  • Aug 19 -- Chicago 9:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- @Atlanta 6:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- @Denver 8:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Is Carson Palmer's play in permanent decline? -- In 2015, Carson Palmer had a career-best season and showed full mastery of Bruce Arians' system. In 2016, Palmer looked like an average quarterback. Some wonder if Palmer was injured last year, but the reality is Palmer's 2016 numbers were more in line with his career averages. 2015 was the outlier. As Palmer approaches 38 years old, does he have positive regression left? We may not find out in the preseason as Arians intends to keep Palmer healthy by giving him limited snaps.  
  • Who backs up David Johnson-- David Johnson was insanely good last year (2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns) and has set his sights on "1,000/1,000"; he wants at least 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Regardless of Johnson's aptitude, the team needs to spell him at times, and it's unclear who shoulders that load. Arizona moved Andre Ellington back to running back after a transition to wide receiver. The coaches have expressed confidence in Kerwynn Williams, but the team re-signed Chris Johnson on the eve of training camp.
  • Is John Brown capable of stardom? -- A season ago fantasy owners were debating Michael Floyd and John Brown, but everyone thought both had star upside. Floyd was jettisoned and is now unemployed after a stint in Minnesota, while Brown regressed markedly a year ago (517 yards and two touchdowns). The good news is Brown was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, which doctors credit with his lethargic play and tight hamstrings. Now that he's treating his illness, Brown has been explosive in OTAs. If he can carry that play forward into camp, Brown has incredible fantasy upside. 
  • Can Troy Nicklas stay healthy? -- Niklas has missed 22 games in three seasons but remains one of the team's potential breakout stars. The former Golden Domer is massive (6'7", 270 lbs.) but has good hands. The team will start veteran Jermaine Gresham, but there is room for Niklas to see plenty of targets if he makes it through the preseason unscathed. 
  • Improving the inside linebacking corps -- Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are locked on the outside, but the inside linebacking corps is getting a total overhaul. Karlos Dansby is back in Arizona and should start in place of the injured Deone Bucaanon, while 1st round rookie Haason Reddick will get the nod alongside Dansby. 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Jeff Fisher was let go with three games remaining after another losing effort (4-9) and interim coach John Fassel fared no better (0-3). Los Angeles opted for a fresh approach and hired Sean McVay. McVay becomes the youngest head coach in the NFL at 31 years old, after spending three seasons in Washington as offensive coordinator. McVay wisely chose Wade Phillips -- the best defensive coordinator in the league -- to run the defense and provide needed, veteran experience to compliment his own youthful exuberance. The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2006, and haven't made the playoffs since 2004. Expect more improvement defensively as Phillips inherits a unit that ranked 9th in yards allowed a season ago. The offensive rebuild will take time after Los Angeles finished 32nd in points scored and yards gained last season, and questions abound at every position. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/26 (Rookies) / 7/28 (Veterans)
  • Where: University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 12 -- Dallas 9:00 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- @Oakland 10:00 pm
  • Aug 26 -- Los Angeles Chargers 8:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- @Green Bay 7:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Establishing the Sean McVay Era -- McVay needs to set the tone for a veteran laden team that is used to losing under Fisher. He's younger than a chunk of the roster, which may invite pressure to "show them who's boss." Those fears are overdone based on the calm, energetic and positive demeanor McVay has maintained during the offseason and through mini-camp and OTAs. 
  • Is Jared Goff a franchise quarterback? -- It seems absurd to questions Goff's potential just a year after Los Angeles drafted him 1st overall. Goff struggled in seven starts as a rookie, but he had a terrible supporting cast and even worse coaching. The early returns were alarming, but until Goff gets to play under McVay and his assistants, it's far too soon to give up on the former Cal Bear. 
  • Can Todd Gurley redeem himself? -- The Rams offensive line did Gurley no favors, but he needs to shoulder some of the blame for an abysmal sophomore season. Gurley gained just 885 yards on 278 carries and looked nothing like the game-breaker who dominated as a rookie in spite of stacked boxes. Many analysts have offered up many explanations, but nothing fully explains the drop-off. If Gurley has a strong preseason, expect his ADP to rocket higher. 
  • Defining the receiving corps -- Kenny Britt is gone in spite of solid play. Tavon Austin is not in spite of poor play. Robert Woods got 5-years and $34 million ($10 million guaranteed) to become the new top target. Rookie Cooper Kupp was incredibly productive at Eastern Washington and may be the most pro-ready rookie receiver. There are no guarantees for playing time in the receiving corps; the preseason will define who gets the snaps. 
  • Gerald Everett versus Tyler Higbee -- Lance Kendricks is gone, leaving 2nd year Tyler Higbee and rookie Gerald Everett to compete for the starting role. It's unclear either has fantasy value, but both players profile as above average pass catchers capable of high volume roles. 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The success under head coach Pete Carroll has been phenomenal. In eight seasons, the Seahawks have made the playoffs six times, including five consecutive seasons. The team has won four division titles (including three of the last four years) and gone to two Super Bowls, including the XLVIII win. In spite of that success, the team feels like it has a lot to prove after back-to-back losses in the Divisional Round. Defensively the team finished 3rd in points allowed, which was both stellar and a dropoff from prior seasons; Seattle finished 1st in points allowed for four consecutive seasons. Offensively the team struggled to score (354 points) both in the air (18th in TD passes) and on the ground (16th). Improving the offensive line play is the team's top priority this preseason, followed by re-establishing a reliable rushing attack. 

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/29 (Rookies and Veterans)
  • Where: Virginia Mason Athletic Center (Renton, WA)
  • Open to Public: Yes (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 13 -- @Los Angeles Chargers 8:00 pm EDT
  • Aug 18 -- Minnesota 10:00 pm
  • Aug 25 -- Kansas City 8:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- @Oakland 10:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Is Russell Wilson healthy? -- Wilson wasn't himself last year, and it turned out he played through ankle and knee injuries that would have sidelined most quarterbacks. OC Darrell Bevell insists Wilson is back in form and 100% healthy after an impressive mini-camp. A healthy Wilson is the key to the Seahawks offense returning to Top 10 form.  
  • Is Eddie Lacy the clear-cut starter? -- Fantasy owners doubt Eddie Lacy based on early ADP. That's a mistake. The Seahawks prioritized Lacy in free agency, and for all the talk of a committee, it's clear OC Bevell prefers a singular workhorse when given a choice. Lacy will skyrocket up draft boards if he looks good in early preseason work.
  • Tyler Lockett versus Paul Richardson -- Tyler Lockett was supposed to be on par with Doug Baldwin by this point in his career, but he regressed last year before breaking his leg in December. Lockett needs a strong preseason to secure a role as one of the three 'starters' alongside Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Paul Richardson -- no stranger to injury himself -- flashed late last year and has the natural talent to play meaningful snaps. 
  • Improving the offensive line -- Pro Football Focus rated the Seahawks line 32nd last year and projects it as one of the worst again. If Seattle can't improve the line play, the optimistic outlook for Wilson, Lacy, Graham and the receivers is harder to support. The X-factor is left tackle George Fant. Fant was last year's most improbable NFL starter, at any position. He played one season of college football at tight end, but the Seahawks signed him as an undrafted free agent because of his athleticism and strength. He was forced into the starting lineup and was, as expected, the worst tackle in football. This year he's 25-lbs heavier and gets the advantage of a full offseason of coaching. Will that be enough? 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

What's the expression, "It's better to fail fast?" The 49ers hope that mantra is true after a disastrous decision to hire Chip Kelly a season ago led to an already struggling franchise hitting rock bottom. The 49ers finished dead last defensively (32nd in points and yards allowed) and not much better offensively (27th in points, 31st in yards). Kelly was fired after a two-win season and ownership make wholesale changes to the front office. John Lynch took over as general manager and hired Kyle Shanahan as head coach. Offensively, Shanahan will implement his version of the zone-blocking run scheme and West Coast passing principles that helped lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016. Defensively, new coordinator Robert Saleh will have a host of young players to rebuild.  

Camp Details:

  • When: 7/27 (Rookies and Veterans)
  • Where: SAP Performance Facility (Santa Clara, CA)
  • Open to Public: Limited (See Website)

Preseason Game Schedule:

  • Aug 11 -- @Kansas City 9:00 pm EDT
  • Aug 19 -- Denver 10:00 pm
  • Aug 27 -- @Minnesota 8:00 pm
  • Aug 31 -- Los Angeles Chargers 10:00 pm

What We're Watching:

  • Ushering in Kyle Shanahan's system -- Shanahan is 37 years old but has been an NFL coordinator for nine years as part of four different staffs. His roots are in the West Coast offense perfected by his father when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls, but Kyle Shanahan has evolved his scheme to match today's preference for spread offenses and downfield passing. It's possible as the preseason unfolds the team could have new starters at every skill position. If that's not a recipe for excitement, you're not an NFL fan.
  • Is Brian Hoyer the answer? -- Brian Hoyer is a 31-year old journeyman playing for his sixth team. He's never thrown for 4,000 yards. He's never thrown 20 touchdowns in a season. He's never won more than seven games. Yet, a quick look at the 49ers depth chart points to a quarterback with job security. At least until Lynch and Shanahan can secure the long-term answer next offseason. 
  • Is Carlos Hyde's job secure? -- Carlos Hyde is perceived as the best skill player returning from last year's roster. He also struggled with injury and isn't an ideal fit for a zone-blocking scheme. While Hyde probably remains the starter, there's no guarantee other running backs won't take the reins as the preseason unfolds. 
  • Establishing a receiving corp pecking order -- Pierre Garcon was signed to a big contract and will be Brian Hoyer's top target. Beyond Garcon, questions abound. Marquise Goodwin flashed in Buffalo but only as a part-time contributor. Bruce Ellington and DeAndre Smelter failed to make a mark in spite of opportunities under Kelly. Jeremy Kerley has experience but lacks game-breaking skills. In essence, there is no guaranteed role for anyone outside of Garcon.
  • Who starts at tight end? -- Vance McDonald is the experienced veteran, but he's been rumored as a possible camp casualty. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell are limited; neither possesses the all-around game of a reliable starter. Rookie George Kittle has long-term potential, but rookies rarely make an impact at the position. Is Logan Paulsen the winner by default?