As our division-by-division look at the Wide Receiver Opportunity Index (WROI) marches on, we move on to the AFC West wide receivers. The WROI looks at target opportunities for wide receivers on teams based on targets lost from last year’s passing game. Unfortunately for this particular piece, the AFC West has three teams in the bottom ten in terms of targets lost, including a team that lost only one target for eight yards. Not exactly the Lions losing Megatron, there. Each team in this division except for the Chargers lost exactly one wide receiver who received a target in 2015. Let’s take a look at how these losses change the wide receivers from 2015 to 2016.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers lost the only receiver worth a second thought in the entire division, and went out and got a plug-and-play receiver in Cleveland’s Travis Benjamin. The loss of Malcolm Floyd opens up 68 targets for Travis Benjamin. Benjamin produced 966 yards and five touchdowns on nearly double that amount in Cleveland last season. Many have Benjamin pegged for a useful fantasy football season in 2016, but given his yards per target and the available target opportunities, there is no way that Benjamin can come close to being fantasy relevant. Throw in the minuscule amount of targets from Keenan Allen due to injury (most of those targets instead went to Floyd), and you have a recipe for few wide receiver opportunities outside of Keenan Allen in 2016. Allen is Rivers’ primary target, and he barely turns towards his other wide receivers if Allen can stay healthy. If he gets injured, Benjamin becomes a must-snag given Rivers’ propensity for zoning in on the #1 wide receiver (and the ageless Antonio Gates).
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The biggest issues with the Broncos is not the wide receivers lost, but rather the loss of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Manning had very little left physically, but he was as sharp as ever pre-snap and kept the offense humming along just enough to get them all the way to the Super Bowl. In comes Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch, two QBs with massive question marks. No matter which on snags the starting job, the offensive woes are destined to continue. The outgoing targets for the Broncos are miniscule, and represent Andre Caldwell’s contributions to the offense. There isn’t going to be much change in Denver’s run-first offense, as the QB situation is a mess and Denver spent a pretty penny to retain C.J. Anderson (and went out to get Devontae Booker in the draft), so expect there to be a lot of Demaryius Thomas, a good amount of Emmanuel Sanders, and not much else to see in the Denver passing game. There just aren’t enough targets to go around for perennial fantasy football breakout candidate Cody Latimer unless Thomas or Sanders goes down with injury.
Kansas City Chiefs
If you’re looking past Jeremy Maclin in the Andy Reid-Alex Smith offense in fantasy football, you’re doing it wrong. Ever since he turned it around with Jim Harbaugh, Smith has been a tight end and running back first quarterback, and an offense led by him can generally only support one wide receiver. In this case, that receiver is Maclin. The Chiefs aren’t even pretending like they want to replace Jason Avant’s production; the depth chart behind Maclin and Albert Wilson is a who’s who of “who?” De’Anthony Thomas would fit in a more creative offense as a gadget player, but the rest of the receiving corps is unadulterated nonsense. Poor wide receivers outside of the incumbents and very few target opportunities mean there is no room for a receiver to breakout in Kansas City.
I think they’ll survive. The Raiders narrowly missed the six-way tie at the bottom of the WROI, but a catch week one by Rod Streater snatched them up from that distinction. Streater was almost immediately phased out of the offense as a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season. Instead of mining the existing target production, the Raiders are instead looking to grow the pie. With Derek Carr entering his third year and Amari Cooper entering his second, the Raiders are looking to take a big leap forward. Michael Crabtree has signed on long-term, and a bought-in Crabtree is both a rare sight and a valued treasure. Cooper faded down the stretch last year, but likely was hiding an injury or the rookie wall. Both should be around the 125-150 target mark as the basis of the Raiders offense. If you are looking for some value in the Raiders’ passing game, go for tight end Clive Walford. Walford flashed last season, and given that rookie tight ends are a wasteland, any production was a plus. Walford’s increased target volume is a decent upside play if you punt tight end entirely; he’s TE23, #224 off the board in fantasy football. He’s free, and there’s not anywhere else to go in Oakland if the Raiders are looking to grow their offense.
The AFC West is mostly bereft of target opportunities, as three of the four teams rank in the bottom-ten in the league on the WROI. The Chargers lost Malcolm Floyd’s 68 targets, which made him fringe fantasy relevant, and that was the best you could do in this division. The Chargers will plug in Travis Benjamin, who will likely put a slight bump on Floyd’s targets. There isn’t a sleeper wide receiver to be found by mining the target data, but given Oakland’s decision to take it to the next step, Clive Walford is a player to monitor closely.
Tomorrow we will round out the preview with a look at the AFC South.