NFL Fantasy Exit Interviews: NFC West

NFC West

2019 Team Offensive Ranks*Total offense:* 16th*Passing:* 24th*Rushing:* 10th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Kyler Murray -- 3,722 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT (QB8)
Rushing:Kenyan Drake -- 643 rush yards, 8 TD (RB17)
Receiving:Larry Fitzgerald -- 75 rec., 804 yards, 4 TD (WR35)

What went right: In no particular order, the most anticipated events of 2019 were Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and the debut of the new-look Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler MurrayCardinals. While the last one wasn't quite the box office blockbuster that the other two were, it definitely whetted our appetites for a sequel. Murray's athleticism and rocket arm provided hope that Arizona's offense had taken a huge step forward from 2018's league-worst outfit.

The biggest surprise came from an unexpected source in the middle of the season. The Cardinals consummated a trade with the Miami Dolphins in October, sending a late-round draft pick in exchange for running back Kenyan Drake. Maybe it was the dry heat or just getting away from a franchise that never seemed to know what to do with him but Drake was one of the NFL's most productive running backs in the back half of the season. In eight games with the Cardinals, Drake posted 814 scrimmage yards with eight total touchdowns while wresting control of Arizona's lead running back gig. He'll make for an interesting fantasy draft proposition in 2020 if he remains in the desert.

What went wrong: The Cards entered the season with questions at wide receiver that weren't truly answered. Larry Fitzgerald once again was Arizona's most productive pass catcher, despite being 36 years old and possibly in his final season. That's not optimal. Christian Kirk underwhelmed in what was pegged to be a breakout season. A trio of rookie wide receivers barely made a dent, with fourth-round wideout Hakeem Butler never even seeing the field due to a broken hand.

For the second consecutive year, David Johnson disappointed fantasy managers in a big way ... with this year being worse than the last. With a new play-caller, there was hope that Johnson could revert back to the 2016 form that made him a star. That hope was bolstered by a solid start to the season, scoring 18-plus points in four of his first five games. Then back and ankle injuries forced him to miss time. Upon his return, the Cardinals nonsensically pushed him back into action when he clearly didn't look right. As Johnson sputtered, Drake roared and the former quickly became an afterthought.

What needs to improve: Last year in this column, I noted that Arizona would need to improve across the offensive line. In theory, they did ... even if marginally. It helped that Murray is much more mobile than Josh Rosen could ever hope to be. Nonetheless, general manager Steve Keim will need to pour significant resources into bolstering the front line and protecting the team's investment at quarterback. It would also be nice for the team to find a game-breaker (or two) at wide receiver but I'm willing to wait for their current crop of pass catchers to develop before suggesting they go outside for help.

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 11th
Passing: 4th
Rushing: 26th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Jared Goff -- 4,638 yards, 22 TD, 16 INT (QB13)
Rushing:Todd Gurley -- 857 yards, 12 TD (RB14)
Receiving:Cooper Kupp -- 94 rec., 1,161 yards, 10 TD (WR4)

What went right: The story of the 2019 Los Angeles Rams offense is one of convolution. After setting the league on fire the past two seasons under Sean McVay, the Rams offense looked fairly mortal for long stretches this season. But it wasn't all bad. Cooper Kupp returned after missing half of last season and was once again Jared Goff's favorite target, snagging 94 balls (on 134 targets) and 10 touchdowns. Right on his heels was Robert Woods, who appeared primed for regression after career numbers in 2018. Bobby Trees' touchdown numbers took a step back (from seven to three) but nearly everything else was on par with what he accomplished the year before. Late in the season, a new option emerged. Tight end Tyler Higbee saw his role increase after an injury to Gerald Everett. Higbee took full advantage and finished the regular season on a tear. Over the final five weeks, the fourth-year player led the team with 43 receptions for 522 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Then there was Todd Gurley. Throughout the offseason, the rumors swirled about how healthy the star running back was (or wasn't) and how big his workload might (or might not) be. Despite the chatter, Gurley remained a touchdown magnet, leading the team with 14 total scores. Generally speaking, when Gurley's usage rates resembled what we'd seen from him in the past, so did his production. And then ...

What went wrong: ... there was the downside of Gurley. Or rather, Gurley's context within the offense. In the early part of the season, McVay seemed intent on trying to save his star running back for a late-season run. Call it "load management", if you will. Because of that, there were weeks when Gurley was nearly invisible in the offense and became incredibly touchdown-dependent. The biggest surprise was his lack of targets. In 2019, the ball was only thrown Gurley's way 49 times -- his fewest targets since his rookie season. That lack of opportunity took a big chunk out of Gurley's fantasy productivity.

Alas, Todd Gurley wasn't the only Ram who was less productive in L.A.'s aerial attack. Brandin Cooks posted arguably the worst season of his career. After four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Cooks finished with career-lows in receptions (42) and touchdowns (2) while filing to reach 600 receiving yards for the first time since he was a rookie and played just 10 games. Suffering two concussions just a few weeks apart didn't help matters. Regardless, it appeared that Jared Goff wasn't frequently looking at his direction. Speaking of Goff, the quarterback took a major step backward after signing a large contract extension. Now the question is whether Goff is the stud we saw in 2017 and 2018 or the deer-in-headlights we saw in 2016 and 2019.

What needs to improve: The obvious answer is "Jared Goff" after last season's frustrating performance. But going deeper than that ... it appears that the league has started to catch up to McVay's offense. Can he adjust and make the Rams offense a powerhouse again?

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 2nd
Passing: 13th
Rushing: 2nd

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Jimmy Garoppolo -- 3,978 yards, 27 TD, 13 INT (QB14)
Rushing:Raheem Mostert -- 772 yards, 8 TD (RB26)
Receiving:George Kittle -- 85 rec., 1,053 yards, 5 TD (TE2)

What went right:George Kittle. That's the tweet. In just two seasons, the former Iowa star has thrust himself into the elites at the position and could find himself coming off the board at the end of the first round of 2020 drafts. Elsewhere, for yet another season, the 49ers had a solid, if unpredictable, running game. It was like watching a reboot of your favorite TV show. Tevin Coleman! Matt Breida! With cameos from Kyle Juszczyk and Jeff Wilson. And introducing ... Raheem Mostert! It's actually that last guy who ended up leading the team in rushing yards and becoming a late-season fantasy star with 20-plus points in three of his last five games. If only we'd seen it coming. What some astute prognosticators did see coming was Deebo Samuel. The rookie wideout from South Carolina was considered a deep sleeper and began to live up to that potential in the latter half of the season.

Then there was the 49ers defense. This group was an afterthought in 2018 but ended up as one of the most sought-after stop units in fantasy football in 2019. Richard Sherman had a career resurgence after a lackluster 2018 but the biggest change came upfront. The Niners added veteran Dee Ford in free agency and spent the second-overall pick in the draft on Ohio State's Nick Bosa. The result was a defensive front that harangued quarterbacks and finished the year with 48 sacks, tied for 5th-most in the league. That propelled San Francisco's DST31 in fantasy in 2018 to DST3 this past season.

What went wrong: I don't know if you can say Jimmy Garoppolo "went wrong", but anyone hoping that 2019 would give us a clearer idea of who Jimmy G is ... well, you're still waiting. The Niners quarterback had a few nice weeks but lacked the consistency to be an every-week fantasy starter on a squad that mostly leaned on defense and the running game. Adding Emmanuel Sanders (via trade) and unlocking Deebo Samuel helped paper over an otherwise questionable wide receiver group. Marquise Goodwin underwhelmed before going on injured reserve while Dante Pettis faded from view like Marty McFly's siblings.

What needs to improve: Selfishly, it would be nice for the Niners to settle on just one or two running backs that fantasy managers know we can count on each week. But that's not exactly the way the Shanahan family seems to manage its backfields, so that hope might be futile. We stay at the ready to see if Garoppolo can be a game-changer rather than just a game manager, though as long as the 49ers are winning with their current formula, that might be too much to expect as well.

2019 Team Offensive Ranks
Total offense: 9th
Passing: 14th
Rushing: 4th

Statistical Leaders (Final positional ranking/PPR ranks)
Passing:Russell Wilson -- 4,110 yards, 31 TD, 5 INT (QB3)
Rushing:Chris Carson -- 1,230 yards, 7 TD (RB12)
Receiving:Tyler Lockett -- 82 rec., 1,057 yards, 8 TD (WR13)

What went right: Seattle's recipe for success remained the same as it's been under Pete Carroll -- run the football and when all else fails, let Russell Wilson be Russell Wilson. At the end of 2018, Wilson was a fringe QB1 with people questioning if he could again be elite. At the end of 2019, Wilson was the No. 3 fantasy quarterback overall with an outside shot (I'm being kind here) at winning the league's MVP award.

While Wilson's supporting cast has changed, we've still found plenty of fantasy value elsewhere on the roster. For the second straight season, Chris Carson was a top 15 fantasy running back -- and might have risen above RB12 had he been able to curtail some of his fumbling problems. Nonetheless, Carson took the starting job and ran with it until going on injured reserve late in the season with a hip injury. Alas, he wasn't the only Seahawk to spread his wings in 2019. Tyler Lockett had the breakout season many had hoped for in the wake of Doug Baldwin's retirement while rookie DK Metcalf proved that complaints about his three-cone time at the Combine were far overblown. Over the final month of the season, it was Metcalf who became Wilson's primary target and was arguably fantasy's top rookie wideout for 2019.

What went wrong: If there's a thing that went wrong for the Seahawks offense, it was health. In addition to Carson and Rashaad Penny suffering season-ending injuries, tight end Will Dissly was lost to an Achilles injury after a strong start to his campaign. If there was a silver lining to the last part, it's that the injury created an opening for Jacob Hollister to come into our lives and add depth at a position that sorely needed it.

What needs to improve: On the field, Seattle went 11-5 and were mere inches from winning the NFC West. In fantasy, all of the 'Hawks key pieces finished within the top 35 positionally. If we're being greedy, we could ask for all of those pieces to push into the top 25 next season, but that feels like a quibble.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who is ready to do a little binge-watching. Send him your aspirations to apathy via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

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