Fantasy Football 2018 preview: AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS)

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Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Knowledge is power and the greatest asset you can acquire in order to compete for a fantasy football championship. Here’s your 2018 preview of the AFC West, the seventh of eight division profiles leading to draft season.

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DENVER BRONCOS

2018 Fantasy MVP: Demaryius Thomas, WR

For four seasons (2012-2015), with mostly Peyton Manning under center, Thomas averaged 100 receptions, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the two seasons since, with lord knows who under center, Thomas has averaged 86 receptions, 1,016 yards and five touchdowns. With Case Keenum in the mix, and Chad Kelly on the horizon, I expect one of the most underrated wide receivers in the game to find a middle ground between the averages and approach double digit scores for the first time since 2014.

2018 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Royce Freeman, RB

This running back situation will likely start out as a committee, but I expect the talented rookie to eventually hog all the touches for himself, making Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson obsolete in fantasy.

2018 Fantasy Sleeper: Jake Butt, TE

Jeff Heuerman won’t keep this red zone machine off the field. The Broncos haven’t had this type of weapon at the position since Julius Thomas. Also, Keenum connected with Kyle Rudolph for eight scores last season, so you know he likes to target his tight end when it counts.

2018 Fantasy Bust: Courtland Sutton, WR

If you’re in a dynasty league, feel free to target the former SMU stud, but otherwise keep your expectations in check for this season. It’s true he’s been a star during training camp, and as the third receiver he’ll certainly be involved in the offense, but unless there’s a serious injury to Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders he’ll be limited. I’m a fan of fellow rookie DeaSean Hamilton as well, but both will have to wait until next season at the earliest to shine — where Sanders could become a cap casualty.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

2018 Fantasy MVP: Kareem Hunt, RB

One of the easiest rules of fantasy football to follow is draft Andy Reid’s starting running back no matter who it is. Hunt just happens to be very talented. An improvement on his 53 receptions from his rookie season wouldn’t surprise me.

2018 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Byron Pringle, WR

A bigger version of Tyreek Hill, if this undrafted free agent makes the team, the Chiefs could field the most dangerous group of run-after-the-catch receivers in the NFL.

2018 Fantasy Sleeper: Sammy Watkins, WR

With a gunslinger quarterback and a potentially very bad defense, I expect the Chiefs to throw the ball a lot so the opportunities should be there. Plus, there’s enough weapons on this offense where Watkins will never be the focal point of opposing defenses. Draft a WR3 with huge upside.

2018 Fantasy Bust: Patrick Mahomes, QB

I like the talent, but he’s young and has a Brett Favre-mentality, which could lead to a lot of interceptions early with wild swings of inconsistency. There’s top-10 upside, but I’d rather trust a veteran like Matt Ryan or Philip Rivers, who are being drafted around the same time.

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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

2018 Fantasy MVP: Melvin Gordon, RB

There are durability concerns — he missed five games over his first two years and parts of others in 2017 — which is why he’s available outside of the top five. His 16-game average the past two seasons: 1,654 total yards, 13 total touchdowns and 55 receptions. His upside: 2,000 total yards, 15-plus total touchdowns and 75-plus receptions.

2018 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Justin Jackson, RB

If something does happen to Gordon, I’d rather have Jackson over Austin Ekeler (who I’m sure will contribute in the passing game no matter what).

2018 Fantasy Sleeper: Mike Williams, WR

If you’re thinking the Chargers will replace Hunter Henry’s potential production with an ancient Antonio Gates (or any other tight end for that matter) — you’re wrong. Expect Williams to receiver increased targets because of Henry’s absence, especially in the red-zone.

2018 Fantasy Bust: Keenan Allen, WR

Many are paying for Allen’s production over his final seven games last season — 798 yards and five touchdowns — which means you’re likely drafting him early to mid-second round, especially in PPR leagues. Remember, talent has never been the issue with Allen. Health has. He missed 23 games the two seasons before his breakout performance a year ago. Plus, Gordon and Williams could limit his touchdown upside. Keep these things in mind when you’re making a commitment on draft day.

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OAKLAND RAIDERS

2018 Fantasy MVP: Amari Cooper, WR

I just can’t quit Cooper. This is my third straight season predicting a true breakout for the former Alabama standout. Last season was a disaster, but at least it was a disaster for the entire Raiders offense. He’s finally the one who is supposed to have a rapport with quarterback Derek Carr (Michael Crabtree is in Baltimore). And here’s the averages of past WR1s under Jon Gruden over his previous 11 seasons of coaching: 136 targets, 79 receptions, 1,159 yards and eight touchdowns.

2018 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Eddy Pineiro, K

No, I’m not trolling Raiders fans. Despite suffering an apparent injury during a recent practice — we don’t know how serious — Pineiro has widened the gap between him and veteran Mike Nugent for the kicking gig. He was clearly the best kicker in college football and has looked sharp as an undrafted free agent. This is why you don’t worry about drafting kickers.

2018 Fantasy Sleeper: Jordy Nelson, WR

Gruden keeps talking up Martavis Bryant, but the venerable Nelson will likely out-produce him in the red-zone.

2018 Fantasy Bust: Marshawn Lynch, RB

This all depends on where you draft the 32-year-old “Beast Mode.” If you’re taking him in the third or fourth round, heed my warning. If he’s available in the sixth round or later, there may be some touchdown upside here. He certainly appears to be in better shape than last season, but it’s hard to trust a running back with his wear-and-tear at his age.

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