Before I get to this post's topic (NFC West Value Picks) I want to have a short discussion about dedication. In football it takes the full dedication of 53 men towards one common goal to have a successful season. Players, coaches, and team staffers must all push themselves and each other year-round to get to February's spectacle: The Super Bowl. Blogging also takes dedication. Here I am sitting outside on a patio in Maui looking out at the Pacific Ocean, maintaining a commitment to my readers by typing away to bring them the information they're looking for. That, people, is dedication. Back to football, though. By request, I'll be starting my day today by discussing my value picks from the NFC West. Here they are:
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers:
The way I see it, there should be three 49ers on fantasy rosters this season: RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis, and WR Josh Morgan. I've heard a lot of talk about how new Offensive Coordinator, Jimmy Raye, plans on using Vernon Davis frequently in the passing game, but I've heard that every year since Davis was drafted by the team in 2006. Josh Morgan is a sleeper that could put up between 700 and 800 yards this year as San Fran's number 1 receiver, but the quarterback situation is just too shaky there for a wideout (especially an unproven one in only his 2nd year) to post numbers worthy of a spot in your starting lineup. I see him having a few big games, but not showing the consistency necessary of a solid fantasy WR. Luckily for the Niners, they can afford for the passing game to be an afterthought. RB Frank Gore is undoubtedly the focal point of the offense yet is falling into the 2nd round. While his numbers have been in decline since his breakout season in 2006, Gore remains one of the few backs in the NFL that doesn't have to put up with a committee rotation. The 49ers have played it safe with him this off-season with the hope that he can stay healthy for all 16 games this year. If he can, he's definitely worth more than his 2nd round draft slot. The guy's a bruiser that can rack up yards, score touchdowns, and catch the ball out of the backfield, making him an even more attractive option in PPR leagues. Using a mid-first round draft pick on him is a medium-risk, high-reward pick that I would advise as I could see Gore running for 1,300 yards and 8-10 touchdowns while posting 50 receptions for 400 yards and a touchdown or two. Make sure, however, that you handcuff Gore with rookie Glen Coffee, who would step in as the starter should anything happen to big Frank.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Seattle Seahawks:
I'm going to be brutally honest right now. The ONLY way the Seahawks will do anything productive offensively is if they frequently get the ball into Houshmandzadeh's hands. Aside from a few tight ends, Housh is arguably the best possession receiver in the league, meaning his team looks to him when they need to move the chains. While he's not much of a deep threat and won't blow you away with his yardage totals, T.J. is a reception machine that flourishes in the red zone, making him an outstanding fantasy option for PPR leagues. I expect him to outperform his current late-3rd round ADP this season by posting 105 receptions for 1075 yards and 10 touchdowns. It's tough to draft him over the likes of Wes Welker (NE), Terrell Owens (BUF), and Dwayne Bowe (KC), but in a PPR format he could definitely outperform at least the latter two, if not all three. They key for Housh will be his health and the health of those around him (mainly QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Nate Burleson, who will take pressure off TJ). Seattle's had injury issues in the past, but if they can avoid such issues this season I like what they'll be capable of with one of the league's premier receivers in a Seahawk uniform.
Chris Wells, RB, Airzona Cardinals:
Sleeper alert. Rookie RB Chris Wells was an absolute beast at the Ohio State University, but somehow fell into the Cardinals' lap (31st overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. What a gift that was for a team that already posts unbelievable passing numbers and whose defense came on strong at the end of the season. Dealing with a sprained ankle for most of training camp, Wells' first preseason action came in week 3 where he rushed 7 times for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's a great start to his career and I fully expect his role in the Arizona offense to increase as the season rolls on. He'll get 7-12 carries a game for the first few weeks of the regular season, but be patient with him. The Cardinals did not spend a first round pick on him to spell Tim Hightower. Look for Wells to start by week 6 at the very latest. Currently being taken late in the 6th round, Wells will be a serious candidate for offensive rookie of the year once he rushes for close to 800 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. Not only will he provide 4th-5th round talent once he's starting, but he'll be a valuable asset in the fantasy playoffs as he faces SF, Detroit, and St. Louis (all poor defenses) in weeks 14, 15, and 16. Go ahead and take a flier on Wells in the late 5th to late 6th round and make sure you have two running back options ahead of him so you can be patient with the rookie while he works his way into the Cardinals' starting lineup.
Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams:
Running Back Steven Jackson is easily the best player on the Rams, but the team needs to balance itself out offensively in order to regain its status as a playoff caliber team. QB Marc Bulger has taken a beating the past two seasons due to an offensive line in shambles, and the team's wide receivers have not helped, either, failing to create separation and make plays down the field. The way I see it, WR Donnie Avery is the guy who will have to step up as the Rams' playmaker on the outside. Currently being taken in the mid-8th round, Avery is a second year receiver who showed immense promise in his rookie season, catching 53 balls for 674 yards and 3 touchdowns. Most importantly, Avery finished the season strong, posting 16 receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown in his final three games. Now, those numbers aren't great by themselves, but they are considering the Rams are a run-first team that had a quarterback that was playing hurt behind a suspect offensive line. A stress fracture has kept Avery from participating in much of training camp and the preseason, but he's back now and seems ready to build upon his rookie year statistics. He's a solid candidate to be this year's breakout player, so take him in the late 7th/early 8th round and expect late 5th-6th round production from the second year wideout.