White Sox

Fantasy Football Need to Knows - AFC West and NFC West

Fantasy Football Need to Knows - AFC West and NFC West

By David Ferris
CSNChicago.com

AFC West

Denver Broncos (8-8, 309 Points For, lost in Divisional Playoffs): The Tim Tebow party concluded with a surprise playoff berth, but the shrewd Broncos saw the forest for the trees and didn't hesitate to grab Peyton Manning when that door opened. Manning's sterling pro career has been built on continuity and familiarity; look for his numbers to gradually improve as the year goes along. Demaryius Thomas has the highest ceiling of the wideouts, but he's still raw and undisciplined. Eric Decker's sharp route-running skills figure to make him the team's most productive downfield option. Also keep an eye on tight end Jacob Tamme, who had a big year with Manning back in 2010. Willis McGahee had a renaissance of sorts last year, though the threat of Tebow's running helped keep defenses honest. If McGahee starts to show his age, rookie Ronnie Hillman will see plenty of snaps. Kicker Matt Prater is a solid kicker on the cheap if your league gives extra points for long-distance boots.

San Diego Chargers (8-8, 406 PF): The Mad Lib of the Chargers never seems to change - they start slow, catch fire late, and drive fantasy owners crazy along the way. Norv Turner is known as a star coordinator who is overmatched as a head coach, but several San Diego players stumped for the coach to return. That means something, especially with QB Philip Rivers waving the flag. The team didn't mind Vincent Jackson leaving in free agency, feeling he was a No. 2 wideout in No. 1 clothing, but there's no obvious replacement. Malcom Floyd and signee Robert Meachem look like support players, while talented Vincent Brown is just entering his second year. Rather than target any of these wideouts, let the market determine how you handle them; Rivers will get 27-30 touchdowns, somewhere. Tight end Antonio Gates is moving well in training camp, but his health has been a shaky bet for a few years now. Tailback Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry of the exhibition season; he'll be down 4-6 weeks. Rinse, lather, repeat. Let someone else use a Top 35 pick on him. Veteran Ronnie Brown has the mind of a star, but the explosion in his legs is gone for good. If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they'll do it because of Rivers and the aerial attack.

Oakland Raiders (8-8, 359 PF): While it's easy to tax Carson Palmer for his 16 picks over 10 games, you have to credit the guy for an 8.8 YPA and 2,753 passing yards - he was essentially sitting on his couch when the Raiders dealt for him in October. With a full training camp coming, we're excited about Palmer as a QB2 sleeper with upside. The outside targets are excellent: Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey could easily be Top 20 receivers this year (you'll get them outside the Top 30 in most leagues), and there's decent talent behind them. Darren McFadden is one of the league's best tailbacks when healthy, a dominant player who can run every play in the book, inside and out. But he's also missed 19 games in four seasons, and the team phased him out of the passing game last year. Some will have the stomach for him in the second round, some won't; we certainly implore you to find a safer pick for Round 1. Mike Goodson is the first hedge after McFadden, which means he'll be a mid-round pick everywhere.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-9, 212 PF): The Chiefs were the most injury-riddled club in the division last year and yet almost stole the title; don't be surprised if they go back to the playoffs in 2012. Running back Jamaal Charles looks sharp after last year's knee blowout; at least the injury happened in September, giving him a head start on rehab. The Chiefs realize Charles has to be spotted with another heavy-usage back, so Peyton Hillis is around to handle 40 percent of the work. Charles is an excellent second-round pick if you can swing it, even with his modest touchdown upside (Hillis figures to get all the chippies). QB Matt Cassel will never get back to the Pro Bowl without a ticket, but he's good enough to keep WR Dwayne Bowe relevant. Jon Baldwin did almost nothing as a rookie, in part because of the short camp; a full season can only help him. Watch out for the Kansas City defense, especially in front of the Arrowhead crowd. The Chiefs were the only team to beat the Packers in the regular season last year, thanks to the inspired play of sack master Tamba Hali.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (8-8 last year, 312 Points For): The quarterback position is up for grabs, as Ken Whisenhunt won't let Kevin Kolb's contract rule the day. All Kolb has shown in the NFL to this point is a brief run of success with the Eagles, something that might have been more about Andy Reid's offense than anything else. Pursuer John Skelton lacks a pedigree, but he has better pocket presence than Kolb and is more willing to pull the trigger on intermediate and deep throws. Star receiver Larry Fitzgerald has shown he can produce amidst any chaos, so don't worry about him. But rookie WR Michael Floyd could take a while to develop, especially given the spotty record of recent Notre Dame skill players. In the backfield, the team will give Ryan Williams every chance to beat out unreliable Beanie Wells; if Williams is healthy after last year's lost season (knee injury), he's one key name for your sleeper list.

Seattle Seahawks (7-9, 321 PF): There's outstanding depth at the quarterback spot, as Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson all have their plus points. But a football club is often better off with one sure starter than a collection of options; don't be surprised if this passing game takes a while to take off. Terrell Owens is the buzzy receiver name and Sidney Rice is the highest-paid target, but undrafted Doug Baldwin was the team's sharpest route runner last year and he should be again for 2012. Ignore the tight ends, something the Seahawks have done for a while. Marshawn Lynch has a DUI charge hanging over his head but it's likely to be dealt with after the season, so leave him be on your cheat sheet. The Seattle defense could be a major breakout player this year, especially when playing at home (the Seahawks probably have the best home-field edge in the NFC).

San Francisco 49ers (13-3, 380 PF, lost in NFC Championship Game): The first order of business for fantasy owners is to tune out head coach Jim Harbaugh; he likes to talk about his players like they're all Hall of Fame bound, and it gets in the way of objective analysis. The Niners have positive things to say about Randy Moss, but he's 35, didn't play last year, and showed absolutely nothing in 2010. We won't be drafting him unless the cost is outrageously cheap. Michael Crabtree might find a way to catch 80 or more passes, but he doesn't run past defenders or dominate them in the red area: there's not a lot of upside here, no matter that he was the 10th overall pick in his draft class. Tight end Vernon Davis is a decent mid-round target; he finally grasped Harbaugh's offense late last year and was dominant in his final three starts, including the playoffs (410 yards, four touchdowns). The Niners aren't sold on lead back Frank Gore, given that they signed Brandon Jacobs and used a second-round pick on LaMichael James. Rookie wideout A.J. Jenkins has been a mild disappointment this summer. The San Francisco defense will command a high pick, as will lefty kicker David Akers; alas, outlier seasons rarely repeat at these two fantasy spots.

St. Louis Rams (2-14, 193 PF): The Rams used four of their 10 draft picks on offensive skill players, but there's no guarantee any of them will be immediate fantasy factors. Running back Isaiah Pead is an intriguing hedge against incumbent Steven Jackson, though Jackson has proven more durable of late, in part because of a change in diet and workout. Both backs have to deal with a dreadful Rams offensive line, probably the worst blocking sled in the NFC. It's too early to render a verdict on quarterback Sam Bradford, who's been hung out to dry through two years. No QB has received less help from his other ten players. Second-round wideout Brian Quick will be handed reps right away, but it's more likely a veteran target (Danny Amendola or Steve Smith) will lead this team in receiving. Given the structure of the NFL, look for the Rams to find a way to win 5-6 ugly games in 2012.

Yoan Moncada is back at the top of the White Sox batting order

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada is back at the top of the White Sox batting order

Yoan Moncada’s time down near the bottom of the White Sox batting order came to a quick end this weekend. After just five games, Moncada returned to the top of the lineup for Friday’s game and was there again for Game 2 of the series with the visiting Kansas City Royals on Saturday.

It ended up being the “break” that manager Rick Renteria described it as, and the skipper, for one, believes that short stretch was beneficial to Moncada, who was struggling mightily when Renteria made that move last week.

Through the first 19 games of the second half, Moncada slashed .122/.250/.216 with three extra-base hits, four RBIs and 33 strikeouts. It was as noticeable a period of struggles at the plate as he’s had in his first full season in the majors, a campaign that has to this point failed to meet the big expectations the former No. 1 prospect in baseball carried with him into this season.

Renteria said that bumping Moncada down in the lineup would allow him to watch opposing pitchers face several other batters and remove the need to do certain things that come with batting leadoff.

For what it’s worth, Moncada got four hits — two of them for extra bases and one a home run — and walked twice in 18 plate appearances over the five games against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. He struck out nine times. Friday, he returned to the leadoff spot and went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored (and no strikeouts).

“When we put him down in the bottom of the lineup, it’s because I wanted to have him see other players have multiple at-bats over the course of a couple of games,” Renteria said Saturday. “When you’re leading off, you have a chance of either working very well, working on base, getting your hits, whatever the case might be. But if it’s not working out, you start to get a little frustrated. You’re still grinding through it.

“The perspective that I’m giving him is, ‘Hey, listen, no matter who I put in there, they also make outs. Sometimes they don’t get on. Understand it’s just not you. It’s a difficult position in which you lead off the ballgame.’ I just wanted him to take a breath, take a step back, look at it, and then make an adjustment, allow him to get back into that situation.”

While the numbers from that five-game stretch aren’t enough to determine whether this is the start of a second-half turnaround for Moncada, Renteria said he did believe the experience to be a beneficial one for his second baseman.

“I thought it was beneficial,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily have this conversation to say, ‘Hey, did it work out for you for the last few days?’ Nothing like that. But as you’re talking to him, just in passing, as you go through conversations and you see where they’re at, hopefully we’re making the right decision and the right adjustments for them.”

Moncada still owns a .149 batting average in the second half. He’s on pace to strike out 235 times this season, which would be a new single-season major league record.

But this rebuilding season was always going to be about developmental growing pains. And the idea is that the experiences he’s going through now will pay dividends down the road, when the White Sox shift from rebuilding to contending and Moncada, the hope is, shifts from the developmental stage to the superstar stage.

Power Rankings: #6 - Nazareth

Power Rankings: #6 - Nazareth

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Nazareth Academy

Head coach: Tim Racki

Assistant coaches: Casey Moran, Joe Reynolds, Rudy Luna, Brody Budmayr, Jeff Tumpane, Joe Battaglia, Steve Gray, Tom Minogue, Matt Letcher, Larry White, Jonathon Bittle, Joe Felice

How they fared in 2017: 12-2 (6-1 East Suburban Catholic Conference), Nazareth Academy made the 2017 Class 6A state playoff field, defeated Springfield, Danville, Sacred Heart Griffin and Providence Catholic before losing to Prairie Ridge in the 6A state title game.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs. Lutheran North (Mo.)

Aug. 31 @ Lake Zurich

Sept. 7 @ Marian Central Catholic

Sept. 14 vs. St. Patrick

Sept. 21 @ Benet Academy

Sept. 28 @ Carmel

Oct. 5 vs. Marist

Oct. 12 vs. Joliet Catholic

Oct. 19 @ Marian Catholic

Biggest storyline: Can the Road Runners move up a class to 7A and win a state title in 2018?

Names to watch this season: RB/DB Devin Blakley (Miami of Ohio), WR/DB Michael Love (Bowling Green)

Biggest holes to fill: The Roadrunners welcome back 16 returning starters (7 offense, 9 defense) from last year's Class 6A state title runner-up team, yet more depth will be needed playing "up" in 7A this playoff season.

EDGY's Early Take: The Roadrunners and head coach Tim Racki (who will be playing up in Class 7A this year due to the IHSA Success Factor rule) came up just short in winning the Class 6A state title in 2017 and the 2018 Roadrunners bring back nearly every key player from that squad this fall. The offense will need to settle on a starting quarterback (including D1 recruit sophomore QB JJ McCarthy) while the offensive skills group is a major strength this fall. The Nazareth Academy defense is also loaded and senior DB/WR Diamond Evans along with senior DT Cameron Leach are just names among several others who are expected to make a major impact this season. If the Roadrunners offense can settle in under a new quarterback this team has the potential to win a state title in Class 7A.