Welcome to the AFC West, the land of highly touted rookie running backs and receivers, as well as a tight end who gets to play with Peyton Manning. Lucky. They always say the west is the land of opportunity and that is exactly what the rookies in this division have.
This might be the most talented crop of offensive rookies of any division. And a lot of these guys are going to slot right into the starting line up.
These guys have great pedigrees and have shown an ability to play at the highest level of college football. We have guys from the SEC, one guy from the national champion Ohio St Buckeyes and another from the Big 10.
Oh who to start with?
This division is now home to two of the three Heisman Trophy Finalists from 2014. Do we start with the Biletnikoff Award winner or the guy who was a handful of yards short of setting the single season rushing record surpassing Barry Sanders? Hmmm….
AFC West: Fantasy Rookie Preview
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers needed a running back so they traded up in the draft to grab arguably the best prospect at that position, Melvin Gordon. He was the most productive running back in college last season rushing for 2,587 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns on the ground. He’s got a great burst through the line of scrimmage. He’s got incredibly strong legs and he averaged over 7.5 yards per carry in both 2013 and 2014 so you know he’s hard to get on the ground.
He’s got plenty of moves in space to make defenders miss and is deceptively quick. He’s also incredibly strong and has an NFL-ready body. The best part is he enters a San Diego backfield that doesn’t have a feature back. Ryan Mathews is in Philadelphia, Donald Brown has been a disaster and Branden Oliver is great in small bursts. Gordon does have a tendency to try and get outside a little too often and he probably won’t have as much success doing that in the NFL, where ends and linebackers are faster.
He should slot in as the starter from Day 1 and with Philip Rivers in the backfield with him, he should see less stacked boxes. Antonio Gates has also been suspended for the first four games of the season so look for San Diego to lean on Gordon.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders
In a move that would make Al Davis role in his grave the Raiders did not – I repeat DID NOT- take the fastest player available, the player with the most impressive measurables or a player with serious character issues. Instead they took Alabama product Amari Cooper.
That’s not to say Cooper isn’t fast. He clocked a 4.42 at the combine which is definitely not slow. He was the Biletnikoff award winner last year when he put up a 124/1727/15 stat line going against vaunted SEC defenses week in and week out. He also proved he was capable of carrying the offensive load for Alabama where he was often the only real passing threat. He had no problem working across the middle and has great hands to catch the ball away from his body. He’s also great in and out of breaks, often completely turning around the corners covering him.
The Oakland Raiders have a young quarterback of the future in Derek Carr and Amari Cooper has the potential to be his go-to target. The Raiders don’t have a lot of consistent receivers on their roster and definitely did not have a NFL level no. 1 receiver before Cooper got drafted. The ball should be headed his way early and often. I think they’ll be fast friends.
Cooper has the talent and pedigree to become the next great rookie receiver to hit the NFL. You’re going to see him go early in the drafts this year so if you want him, you better act fast.
Chris Conley, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
There is another SEC receiver joining Amari Cooper in the AFC West and his name is Chris Conley. Everyone heard that line about how Kansas City hadn’t had a receiving touchdown for X amount of weeks. The Chiefs needed receivers so they went and signed Jeremy Maclin, but they added even more receiving strength by drafting Conley in the third round.
The Chiefs let Dwayne Bowe leave so Conley should be in line for a lot of targets. He’s got great hands and rarely lets the ball get into his body on a reception. He also makes great adjustments to the ball in the air. He’s got a great size/speed combo for an NFL receiver, standing 6 ft 2 in and clocked a 4.35 forty yard dash.
At Georgia he showed a great ability to run routes and was very fast in and out of his breaks. With Alex Smith as their quarterback, the Chiefs utilize a lot of short routes looking to get the ball into their playmakers’ hands. Conley averaged 18.3 yards per catch last season at Georgia, making him just the type of big play threat the Chiefs were missing last season.
Maclin is obviously going to be the top option in the passing game, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a very late round flier on a burner like Conley.
Jeff Heuerman, TE, Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning likes to throw the ball to his tight ends in the red zone. He no longer has the services of Julius Thomas and it’s about time Manning takes some out-of-nowhere tight end and makes him a Fantasy star. Heuerman got solid speed down the seam and reminds people of Manning’s old pal Dwight Clark. He’s also great in pass protection so he’ll definitely see the field.
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