As part of the O’Zone’s launch, I’m putting together an eight-part ‘Studs and Duds’ series. These won’t be obvious picks. Anyone can say Adrian Peterson is poised for a big season. I’m here to list players that might not come to mind when thinking of a particular team. I will list one stud and one dud for each NFL team, listing players from one division per article. In this column, I’ll take on the NFC West. Let’s get to it.
Stud: David Johnson, running back
Johnson was a top candidate to win NFL Rookie of the Year last season. Another running back in his division, Todd Gurley, won the honor, but that doesn’t take away from Johnson’s impressive season. Johnson was fantasy’s sixth-best running back last season because of his versatility, scoring 12 total touchdowns in five starts. He recorded nine games with at least 10 fantasy points last season. He carried the ball less than 10 times in five of those games. A strong runner, Johnson should get the bulk of Arizona’s goal line carries and be heavily involved in the passing game, making him a top-flight fantasy option.
Dud: Chris Johnson, running back
Before David Johnson broke out, Chris Johnson experienced a fantasy football resurrection. Once deemed “CJ2K” for his 2,000-yard season in 2009, Johnson was among the league’s best rushers last season until he fractured his tibia in Week 12. Johnson is expected to play Week 1, but the other, younger Johnson took advantage of Chris’ absence. Johnson is the inferior option and should be drafted as such.
Los Angeles Rams
Stud: Todd Gurley, running back
Gurley suffered a torn ACL in his last season at Georgia, but fans saw no ill signs of it in his rookie campaign. Gurley finished as a top five fantasy running back last season, despite totaling nine yards over the first three games. Gurley averaged 17.6 fantasy points in his next seven games, scoring six touchdowns in that span. Gurley is the premier football star in Los Angeles and they’ll have to rely on him a lot with Case Keenum starting at quarterback.
Dud: Tavon Austin, wide receiver
Percy Harvin. Dexter McCluster. Tavon Austin. All three are extremely quick. All three occasionally take carries out of the backfield. Lastly, all three are inconsistent. Austin is another flashy receiver who doesn’t have a defined position. He excels at returning kicks and making defenders miss but not much else. He surpassed 15 fantasy points in four games last season and failed to reach 10 in all but one of the remaining games. He’s too inconsistent to use him as anything more than a flex option.
San Francisco 49ers
Stud: Torrey Smith, wide receiver
Smith didn’t accomplish much during his first season in San Francisco, but there are reasons to be optimistic this season. He’ll be the top receiving option in Chip Kelly’s offense. The 49ers will be trailing frequently, so they’ll elect to throw quite a bit. Smith has speed that not many defensive backs can match and he’s proven he can be a reliable fantasy option. He’s only two seasons removed from his 767 yard, 11-touchdown year. I think Smith will return to form and surprise a lot of people this season.
Dud: Everyone else not named Carlos Hyde
Hyde had a spectacular debut against the Vikings in Week 1 last season with 30 points, but his season was cut short because of a plethora of injuries. If he stays healthy, he should be a top 15 running back in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced system. What about Blaine Gabbert? No thanks. Bruce Ellington is out for the season. Colin Kaepernick will start the season on the bench, even when The National Anthem is playing throughout Levi Stadium. For now, there are no other relevant fantasy options on this team.
Stud: Russell Wilson, quarterback
After finishing as a top seven fantasy quarterback in his first two NFL seasons, Wilson has finished in the top three in each of the past two. You know what you’re getting with Wilson: few turnovers, around 30 total touchdowns and about 500 rushing yards. Despite playing for a run-first team, Wilson is one of the NFL’s most unpredictable players. Most teams have yet to figure out how to stop him and he’ll be a top five fantasy quarterback until that happens.
Dud: Jimmy Graham, tight end
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, NFL fans debated who the better fantasy tight end was: Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has finished as the top tight end in each of the past two seasons while Graham has struggled to fit in as a Seahawk. He’s been asked to block often, which is his biggest weakness. He went from being Drew Brees’ top option to an afterthought in Seattle’s run-heavy scheme. To make things worse, he suffered a torn patellar tendon last season. Even if he stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine him putting up the numbers he used to in New Orleans.