With training camps on the horizon, there’s plenty of unanswered questions that will impact rosters moving forward. In our Camp Questions series, our writers are looking at an issue with dynasty impact for each team.
Kansas City Chiefs
Camp Question: Can Tyreek Hill become a true WR1 in Kansas City?
After meekly bowing out of the AFC playoffs following an 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chiefs entered the offseason at a crossroads. A formidable defense which ranked seventh in the league in total points allowed helped mask the fact that the Chiefs were 25th in passing attempts and 19th in passing yards. This could be partially blamed on conservative play selection, and partially on a lack of reliable pass-catching weapons for him to throw to. On a team lacking in passing-game playmakers, it came as a shock when Kansas City chose to release veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin. Limited to only 12 games due to injury last season, Maclin still drew 76 targets, putting him on pace to eclipse the 100 target mark for the second season in a row. His departure leads to the obvious question: Who will emerge as the new WR1 for the Chiefs? The prevailing thought is that 2016 breakout player Tyreek Hill will rise as the new lead-dog in the passing attack, though 2015 third rounder Chris Conley, 2014 undrafted free agent Albert Wilson, 2014 fourth rounder De’Anthony Thomas, and 2017 fourth rounder Jehu Chesson will all be competing for looks. The clear winner of the Maclin release is tight end Travis Kelce who’s 117 targets led the team in 2016 and figures to increase this coming year. Can Hill live up to the offseason hype and build on his impressive rookie campaign, will one of the other receivers establish himself as fantasy viable in the Chiefs offense, or will we again be left with Kelce as the only usable week to week asset in the passing game?
Camp Question: Who will be the quarterback leading the Denver offense this season and what does that mean?
The problem in Denver is not whether there is a camp battle to keep an eye on, it’s more which competition holds the most intrigue from a dynasty standpoint. The Broncos still have a world-class defense in place, but the offensive side of the ball has as many questions as answers. Camp battles will include starting tight end, deciding the running back hierarchy, and all receiving roles after Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. These are all interesting storylines worth keeping an eye on heading into training camp, but are all dependent on the motor driving the Broncos offense: the winner of the quarterback battle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Siemian won the camp battle last year against Lynch, playing respectably in 14 games with 3,401 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. While not a detriment to the point he cost Denver any victories, Siemian certainly did not take over games and lead them to any undeserved wins. Broncos General Manager John Elway has to be hoping Lynch can take a step forward in his second NFL season and steal the starting job from Siemian. He saw action in 3 games, going 49 of 83 for 497 yards and 2 scores, and has the physical tools to be a successful NFL quarterback. With the draft capital the Broncos invested in him one would assume he’d be given a shot sooner rather than later. If Lynch takes the starting job from Siemian during training camp, he could be a viable QB2 in 2017 thanks to surrounding offensive talent while remaining on track for those who projected high-level play from him in the near future. If Siemian remains the starting quarterback entering 2017 despite his 2016 showing, it’s time to start wondering if the rawness Lynch displayed in 2016 and his mental struggles are a permanent barrier from him becoming a good NFL quarterback and a valuable fantasy asset.
Los Angeles Chargers
Camp Question: Where does Mike Williams fit into the Chargers offense?
Though injuries to key personnel have been a reason for poor showings from the Chargers in recent seasons, the team still boasts some impressive weapons. Familiar faces to fantasy owners such as Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Antonio Gates have been augmented by a bevy of young offensive talent in recent drafts. 2016 saw the fantasy breakout of running back Melvin Gordon (PPR RB7 in 13 games), wide receiver Tyrell Williams (PPR WR18), and tight end Hunter Henry (TE6 in July ADP at DLF). With so many weapons on the offensive side of the ball, it came as a shock when the Chargers used the seventh overall pick to select Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. At 6’4” and 218 lb., Williams has the prototypical build to be a dominant outside receiver and red-zone threat. He boasts a large catch radius, strong hands, and the ability to out-physical cornerbacks with his impressive size. The question is, where does he fit in the current Chargers depth chart? Not only does he have to compete with Allen, Gates, Henry, and Tyrell Williams for playing time, but he also has holdovers Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin vying for targets. Add to this logjam the fact that Williams has been missing valuable offseason program work due to a possibly-severe back injury, leading to the coaching staff questioning whether he is falling behind even before beginning training camp. If healthy and up to speed, Mike Williams has the potential to pass Tyrell Williams on the depth chart and form a dynamic passing duo with Allen for the foreseeable future. His health concerns, however, could limit his usage and entrench Tyrell Williams and other options ahead of him. With the plethora of pass-catching options at their disposal, the Chargers may feel no need to feature any player this season, devaluing all their players by using a committee approach. Mike Williams’ ability to establish himself early in the pecking order in Los Angeles could have repercussions on both his dynasty stock and the usage of all the players in the offense moving forward.
Camp Question: Can Marshawn Lynch be “Beast Mode”? What happens if he falters?
The offensive line in Oakland is among the league’s best, and could potentially challenge the dominating Dallas Cowboys line as the top unit this coming season. Such a dominant line will give Derek Carr time to utilize his passing game weapons but will also open up holes and running lanes for the running game, which is where I’ll be keeping my eyes during training camp and the preseason. Former fantasy stalwart Marshawn Lynch has decided to come out of retirement and join the Raiders, filling the void left by departing free-agent Latavius Murray, whose 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016 made him the PPR RB13. In his last full season in 2014, Lynch was the PPR RB4, rumbling for 1306 yards and 13 touchdowns, combined with 37 receptions for 367 yards and 4 more touchdowns behind a decidedly worse offensive line in Seattle. His 2015 season was cut short due to injury, though a year away from the game should have him back at full health. The jury remains out on what kind of condition Lynch will be in when he returns to the NFL, and training camp will be our first glimpse of the 31-year-old since he last played in 2015. Running behind arguably the best offensive line of his career, Lynch has the potential to be a league-winner for dynasty contenders. Keeping an eye on his progress at training camp and in the preseason will be a key to determining his value for the upcoming year.
Backing Lynch up are Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, 2016 rookies who both showed glimpses of potential in limited roles. Both are speculative handcuffs in case Lynch falters or is injured, as whoever holds the goal line and early-down work will be fantasy viable thanks to the potency of the Raiders passing game. Either could serve as receiving backs in the offense, though Lynch’s demonstrated competency as a receiving option in his career would limit the upside of any receiving back. In deeper leagues, Elijah Hood is worth monitoring – especially in deeper leagues – as his bigger frame and bruising running style is more reminiscent of Lynch than either Richard or Washington. This makes him a natural replacement for Lynch on early downs and at the goal line should Lynch be ineffective or injured. If Lynch falters, none of the running backs on the roster to date have shown enough to earn more than a committee role moving forward. If no one stands out in training camp or the preseason, owners should hedge on the possibility that the best asset in the 2018 Raiders backfield is not currently on the roster, and possibly not even in the NFL.