This is the 4th installment of our new series sponsored by DRAFTREADY. Check out the NFC NORTH , NFC EAST, and AFC SOUTH.

NFC West

By: Roy Anselmo, FFSpin.com and FantasyFootballCrystalBall.com Contributor

Since the last division realignment in 2002, there is no argument that the NFC West has certainly not been considered one of the NFC’s best.  Aside from two random Superbowl appearances in 2005 and 2008 by Seattle and Arizona respectively, both teams, along with San Francisco and St. Louis, have not been able to maintain any level of sustained success.  However, the 49ers look to be a team on the verge of greatness with hard-nosed Jim Harbaugh as head coach, and Pete Carroll seems to be slowly building a team that can threaten for the playoffs in Seattle.  Both teams are built around tough opportunistic defenses with a strong running game. 

You figure new Ram head coach Jeff Fisher will soon have a team designed the same way in St. Louis given his history as the Titans head coach, and Ken Whisenhunt is still trying to find a quarterback who could do half of what Kurt Warner was able to accomplish for the franchise. 

From a fantasy perspective, this is not a division to look to if searching for your starting quarterback, unless of course you believe in Matt Flynn’s ability to put up the type of numbers he did in the few appearances while in Green Bay.  Flynn does look to have the most upside of any quarterback in this division, when you compare him to Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, and the winner of Kolb/Skelton.  When you factor in what Marshawn Lynch can do running the ball and with the additions at wide receiver (Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens), along with tight end Kellen Winslow III, you could look back at Matt Flynn (ADP 171) as a potential draft day bargain. 

Despite the lack of fantasy starters in San Francisco, aside from Vernon Davis and possibly an aging Frank Gore, they are the consensus favorite to win the division and could very well return to their 2nd straight NFC Title game. Former #1 overall pick Alex Smith  has top 15 fantasy potential as he’ll have arguably the best receiving corps to date with TE Vernon Davis, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and rookie AJ Jenkins.

The chart below contains OFFENSE rankings from last season.

RUSHINGSB OddsPPGRkYPGAvgAtt/GTDPASSINGRkYPGTDIntSacks
San Francisco10-12481284.13114San Francisco2918318544
Seattle50-1202111042815Seattle22194151450
Arizona60-120241024.22412Arizona17223212354
St. Louis75-112231044.1267St. Louis3017991055

Here is how we see the NFC West Depth Charts entering training camp.

TeamQB1QB2QB3
ARIKevin KolbJohn SkeltonRichard Bartel
SEAMatt FlynnRussell WilsonTarvaris Jackson
SFAlex SmithColin KaepernickJosh Johnson
STLSam BradfordKellen Clemens
TeamRB1RB2RB3RB4
ARIBeanie WellsRyan WilliamsL. Stephens-HowlingAnthony Sherman
SEAMarshawn LynchRobert TurbinLeon WashingtonKregg Lumpkin
SFFrank GoreKendall HunterBrandon JacobsLaMichael James
STLSteven JacksonIsaiah PeadDaryl RIchardson
TeamWR1WR2WR3WR4WR5
ARILarry FitzgeraldAndre RobertsMichael FloydEarly DoucetStephen Williams
SEASidney RiceTerrell OwensDoug BaldwinGolden TateBraylon Edwards
SFMichael CrabtreeMario ManninghamRandy MossKyle WilliamsA.J. Jenkins
STLDanny AmendolaSteve E. SmithBrian QuickChris GivensGreg Salas
TeamTE1TE2
ARITodd HeapJeff King
SEAZach MillerKellen Winslow Jr.
SFVernon DavisDelanie Walker
STLLance KendricksM. Hoomanawanui

Injury Rehab

Beanie Wells and his lingering knee issues are all too common for those owners who have employed him in recent years.  Given his 2011 season, he has shown toughness to be able to play through those nagging injuries, but it seems as if each week you are frantically scouring the web for information concerning his “game time decision” . 

There is no denying Wells’ talent and nose for the end zone, but with the constant knee issues and the predicted emergence of second year player Ryan Williams (missed entire rookie 2011 season after rupturing his patella tendon last August) – Beanie remains a player with his fantasy arrow pointing downward. 

In TD only leagues, Wells is a bigger asset considering he is non-factor in the passing game, and could still be worth the gamble at his current ADP that has him coming off draft boards in rounds 7/8.

Rookie Impact

Isaiah Pead wasn’t drafted by St. Louis in Round 2 of the 2012 draft to sit on the bench.  He amassed 3,288 rushing yards on 545 carries with 27 touchdowns while with University of Cincinnati (2008-2011) and was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl. 

At 5-11 200 pounds, he has a low center of gravity, quick feet and was a viable receiving weapon at UC.   Steven Jackson recently   stated “Isaiah has looked very impressive in this camp,”  and “Isaiah is someone who is very shifty, has a good understanding of the game of football.”   Fantasy football is about opportunity and Pead seems to be a handcuff to target based on S-Jax’s very heavy recent workload. The rookie is a true fantasy sleeper and someone to target after Round 12 (current ADP is 146).
 
Michael Floyd was picked in the first round with the 13th selection by Arizona with the expectations he will fit right in the offense and become an instant weapon to draw attention away from Larry Fitzgerald.  Floyd was a very productive player at Notre Dame from the start of his collegiate career (played in 11 of 13 games in 2008) with seven touchdowns in his freshman season.  Aside from a broken collarbone during his sophomore year (missed five games), he has been very durable and progressed nicely as evidenced by his college stat line:

YearTeamGGSRecYardsAVGTD
Tot.N/A43422713,68614.437
2008ND11104871915.07
2009ND774479518.19
2010ND1212791,02513.012
2011ND13131001,14711.59

Provided the Cardinals can find a competent quarterback capable of spreading the ball around, Floyd should only get better as the season progresses and is definitely a player a keep on your radar either late in the draft or via fantasy free agency.

Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson was Seattle’s 3rd round pick and has been impressing in camp. He is only 5’11, 204 but his accuracy and anticipation have left him in the mix for the starting job. Russell is a top flight athlete and was a fourth-round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2010.  At just under 5’11″, the odds are against the 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year starting especially with the high priced Flynn on the roster.

Free Agent Additions

Seattle’s search for franchise QB led them to payup for former Packer backup Matt Flynn. Matt Flynn is considered the favorite after signing a three-year, $19.5 million contract in March. The 2nd best quarterback on the market may have been hoping for more, but it’s an impressive haul for a former 7th-round pick who’s attempted only 132 career passes. Flynn will be a clear-cut QB2 for fantasy purposes.

Flynn’s #1 option at WR could be recently signed Terrell Owens by default as Sidney Rice continues to rehabs his multiple injuries.  The major knee injury that kept Owens out of the league for all of 2011 may be his biggest 2012 fantasy concern. He can obviously still run as evidenced by his recent 4.45 forty. He can be targeted as a WR4/5 in fantasy drafts. Owens had 72 catches for 983 yards and 9 TDs in 2010 and has topped 1,000 yards in 8 of his 12 seasons. He has alsbo been rather durable having missed just 3 games from 2006-2010.

Future first ballot Hall of Famer Randy Moss will be suiting up in San Francisco for a coach in Jim Harbaugh that won’t put up with his Mossitude.  If you are willing to overlook the lost 2010 season where he played for three different teams due to production / character issues - he is definitely a player to target as a late round flier.  The Superfreak should be well rested after sitting out the 2011 season.

Moss is the ultimate high risk/high reward player.  However, due to his aging skills, the reward might not be as high as in years past, especially when you take into account mediocre QB play and the fact that the 49ers plan to limit him to 20-25 snaps a game.  If his work ethic has somehow improved, Moss may see 50-75 receptions and 6-8 touchdowns.  However, if this ends up being the Moss of 2010, then you would have wished you did not waste a draft pick.
 
Otherwise known as the “other” Steve Smith, ex Giants 2009 standout (1,220 yards as Eli’s #1 wide receiver) was injured for much of 2010 and couldn’t quite find a spot in the Eagles’ rotation in 2011 after he was released from the Giants.  Since microfracture surgery on his left knee, he has seemed slower and less effective, but the Rams are reportedly ecstatic about what they’ve seen from the 26-year-old during training camp. If Bradford returns to the form that made him a #1 overall pick, then Smith could quietly have a very productive season.  He could be a steal based on his current ADP of 243 as rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens have failed to emerge as starting options.

Coaching Changes

Jeff Fisher is the only newly hired head coach in this division.  He is coming off a small hiatus after coaching the Tennessee Titans from 1994 - 2010, where he perennially had one of the top teams in the AFC and took the Titans to their first Super Bowl in 1999 ultimately falling to Kurt Warner’s Rams.  Coming from the defensive side of the ball, as he played as defensive back for the Bears and was the defensive coordinator for Titans/Oilers before being promoted, Fisher is known as a tough-minded coach who favors a strong running game.  Former Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer will take over at the same position with the Rams and figures to lean heavily on Steven Jackson.  Given the history of both coaches, look for the Rams to deploy a physical style of offensive similar to what Fisher emphasized while with Tennessee.  Both coaches like to rely heavily on the run and control the clock, with a belief that they will have Sam Bradford operating a more efficient passing game using short and precise routes to utilize the talents of their receiving core.

Overvalued:

Larry Fitzgerald (ADP-15): Erratic QB play could keep him outside the top 5 fantasy WRs.

Frank Gore (ADP-52): Brandon Jacobs is expected to steal some goal line duties and the coaching staff is looking to get 2nd year RB Kendall Hunter more involved. Over the final eight games of last season, he averaged 15 carries for just 54 YPG with 3 TDs.

Sidney Rice (ADP-107): Multiple shoulder surgeries and concussion concerns have cost him 17 games over the past two seasons. Additions of TO and Braylon Edwards could cut into his workload. Read more on Rice’s recovery in our On the Mend Series.

Undervalued

Steven Jackson (ADP-37): Has topped 1,000 yards in 7 straight seasons and the 29 year old should remain the focal point of the Ram offense. S-Jax gets a boost in PPR leagues as he’s averaged 50 catches per year from 2005-2011.

Danny Amendola (ADP-170): Read our take on the potential PPR monster in our On the Mend Series.

Brandon Jacobs (ADP-226): Has scored 36 TDs over past 4 seasons and could become a goal line vulture worth targeting in TD-heavy scoring leagues.

Sleepers

Rob Housler (ADP-258): Todd Heap is a walking injury. The 2nd year TE from Florida Atlantic has an ability to stretch the defense (hauled in 3 catches for 51 yards in first preseason game). Here are more details on why he could be a 2012 sleeper.

Steve Smith (ADP-243): The veteran has drawn rave reviews during training camp and appears to have upper hand on A starting job as the rookie additions (Quick/Givens)are struggling to adapt to the NFL.

Isaiah Pead (ADP-146): Solid receiving skills and S-Jax extensive workload could bring Pead into relevance in his rookie season.

Randy Moss (ADP-133): Snap count limit could hurt his value but should remain a threat in the red zone.

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