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Team-by-Team Analysis: AFC West (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jared Lese | @JaredL_FF | Featured Writer
May 2, 2021


We’re at the midway point of my Team-by-Team Analysis article series, as I’ve already reviewed the AFC East, AFC North, and AFC South. In this piece, I’ll wrap up my AFC analysis with the conference’s lone division remaining, one which possesses some of the NFL’s most explosive and promising young offenses. I’ll use FantasyPros data to analyze the primary fantasy positions (i.e., QB, RB, WR, and TE) for the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders.

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Division Overview

The below visualization reveals each AFC West team’s total points ranking, along with their positional ranks in fantasy and associated mean and median values. This conference features the best (young) QB in the game, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, a relatively stacked team just a QB away from serious contention, and an unexciting but overachieving offense.

The Denver Broncos have built a young, impressive core of playmakers in recent years, adding Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, and Noah Fant. On Friday, they added juice to their backfield alongside Melvin Gordon III by drafting Javonte Williams out of North Carolina.

Star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II, along with head coach Andy Reid and dominating pass-catchers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, lead the reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. Mahomes has consistently finished among the top fantasy QBs since taking over the starting job in his sophomore season.

Next, Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler lead the Los Angeles Chargers on offense. They could make a serious push for the division title in 2021.

Lastly, the Las Vegas Raiders have had the division’s worst offense on paper since Jon Gruden joined the team. Yet they still tend to overproduce, as shown by their 11th-place finish in fantasy last year across the four primary positions.

 

Team Breakdowns

Taking a step further into the divisional breakdown, we can see the fantasy point distribution across each team’s generally startable roles (i.e., QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, and TE1). By breaking the analysis out and ranking them accordingly, we can better understand 2021 opportunity by analyzing production distribution.

There are a few major observations and takeaways to make from the above chart.

Denver Broncos

2020 Observations:

  • After selecting the super athletic Fant with their first-round pick in the 2019 Draft, the Broncos’ offense underwhelmed last season. Anticipated breakouts from Sutton and QB Drew Lock didn’t come to fruition. None of their primary fantasy groups finished higher than 12th last year, with their QB, RB, and WR corps ranking 29th, 28th, and 21st, respectively.

2021 Takeaways:

  • This offense has some immense potential to produce serious return-on-investment opportunities for fantasy managers in 2021. However, it comes down to the most difficult and rewarding position: QB. If Lock can live up to his potential, all of the primary skill players will flourish.
  • Following the selection of Williams in the second round, none of Denver’s offensive players should possess a high ADP. With Lock inconsistently flashing potential, fantasy managers should be cautious when selecting members of this offense. However, I would happily take Sutton as my WR3, Jeudy as a WR3/flex, Fant as a startable TE, and Gordon or Williams – depending on how training camp and the preseason shake out – as an RB3/flex. There’s potential for league-winning picks at these costs.

Kansas City Chiefs

2020 Observations:

  • What can I say? The Chiefs’ offense is simply incredible, and they nearly – relatively speaking – won back-to-back Super Bowls. Destined to be one of the all-time greats, Mahomes finished as the QB4 (QB2 in PPG, excluding Dak Prescott and Marcus Mariota) last season. Similarly, premier receivers Hill and Kelce were the WR2 and TE1, respectively, in 2020.
  • After being selected with the 32nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire entered his rookie season with lofty fantasy expectations. His ADP rose to the mid-first in many leagues. But after a great start to the season, injuries and an inexplicable timeshare with Darrel Williams and Le’Veon Bell crushed managers who drafted him.

2021 Takeaways:

  • Don’t shy away from this offense despite paying a king’s ransom for all the primary players. Mahomes should go as the QB2, at worst, while Hill and Kelce will flirt with top-12 overall ADPs, especially in PPR leagues. In 1QB leagues, I wouldn’t take Mahomes earlier than the fourth, but he should arguably be the top pick in Superflex or 2QB leagues.
  • Edwards-Helaire offers immense upside with a depressed ADP, as many will overlook his solid per-game production in 2020, along with the draft capital Kansas City utilized to acquire him. If I can get him as my RB2 in the late third or early fourth, I’d be ecstatic.

Los Angeles Chargers

2020 Observations:

  • After selecting Herbert with the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and signing journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor in free agency, many anticipated the Chargers’ offense to underwhelm last year. However, Herbert balled out after a weird chest injury to Taylor, and the rest was history. Forever underappreciated WR Allen was great when healthy. So was Ekeler, one of the premier receiving RBs in the league, who missed much of the season with a severe hamstring injury.
  • TE Hunter Henry performed adequately in 2020, as did young WR Mike Williams. However, Henry is no longer on the team, and Williams is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

2021 Takeaway:

  • This offense looks to make a major leap in 2021 after taking OL Rashawn Slater with their first-round pick. If Herbert improves in Year Two, the Chargers could make some serious noise next year. Additionally, the major players all present notable ROIs considering their ADPs. Per FantasyPros, Herbert is currently the QB8, while Ekeler, Allen, and Williams are the RB11, WR10, and WR45, respectively, in half-PPR PPR leagues. They’ll cost a bit, but scooping them up at the right price will pay dividends.

Las Vegas Raiders

2020 Observations:

  • Led by forever adequate QB Derek Carr, the Raiders’ offense was solid but boring in 2020. Carr finished as the QB13, while Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller were the RB8 and TE2, respectively. Waller’s production buoyed him into the discussion as the most productive TE not named Travis Kelce, while Jacobs’ inefficiency and lack of a receiving presence worried fantasy managers.
  • Despite drafting Henry Ruggs III as the first WR overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, the WR corps underwhelmed in 2020. Injuries to Tyrell Williams, along with limited targets to Ruggs and fellow rookie Hunter Renfrow, led to solid results for former first-round pick Nelson Agholor.

2021 Takeaways:

  • Following Agholor’s free-agent departure to New England, along with signing RB Kenyan Drake from Arizona, the Raiders’ offense presents significant uncertainty in 2021. Ruggs will hopefully see more targets, but this definitely isn’t guaranteed with Waller remaining the top target. While Ruggs should be a late-round target because of his big-play upside, don’t expect too much production.
  • Similarly, Drake should limit Jacobs’ potential in 2021, as he already produced underwhelming numbers — despite finishing as a low-end RB1 in 2020 — considering his touch volume with limited backfield competition. It’ll be rather dangerous to expect similar production next year. However, I’d likely grab him if his ADP falls to the mid-third round or later.
  • Carr probably shouldn’t be drafted in 1QB leagues, but he could be a solid QB2 in Superflex or 2QB leagues. I wouldn’t set out to take him anywhere.

Check out more 2021 team-by-team analysis from Jared Lese:

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Jared Lese is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jared, check out his archive and follow him @JaredL_FF.