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Fantasy Football: NFC West Breakout Candidates

Bryan takes a look at the best fantasy football breakout candidate from each team in the NFC West.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 10: Rondale Moore #4 of the Arizona Cardinals dives for the endzone but comes up short during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What if I told you that teams led by Sam Darnold and Geno Smith are the favorites to win their division? On top of that, Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray-led squads will likely fight to avoid last place? That’s just ridiculous!

It’s a strange new world in the NFC West. San Francisco and Seattle roster some of the game’s most dangerous playmakers, while Los Angeles and Arizona have both seen an exodus of talent over the past two years. While there are plenty of big names left in the division for fantasy purposes, there’s also the potential for a few sleepers to emerge over the course of the season. Let’s take a closer look at which players you should be drafting this summer.

Arizona Cardinals: WR Rondale Moore

Rondale Moore’s breakout was well underway in 2022. After sitting out Arizona’s first three games due to a hamstring injury, the shifty slot receiver emerged as a go-to target for the Cardinals. Between Week 4 and Week 10, he averaged just under six receptions and 59 receiving yards on nine targets per game. Sadly, a groin injury in Week 11 forced Moore to miss the remainder of the season.

What made Moore’s brief 2023 campaign so impressive was that he excelled with both Kyler Murray and backup Colt McCoy at quarterback (18.4 PPR points in Week 10). With Murray perpetually hurt, DeAndre Hopkins gone and Arizona in potential late-season tank territory, Moore’s slants and screens will be invaluable to a team that will fall behind early and often. Opportunity and ability are both there for Moore; now it’s just a matter of staying healthy.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers

Don’t refresh your page; this is not a 2022 season preview. This will be the season Cam Akers actually breaks out.

Well, it should be. Granted, the Rams aren’t loaded with candidates for this list. Cooper Kupp is already elite, Tyler Higbee is a middling tight end, and young wideouts like Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua are more dart throws than breakout candidates. Akers has the ability and (fingers crossed) a clear-cut role on Seam McVay’s run-first offense.

In 2022, Akers endured one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. Less than a year removed from an ACL tear, it was assumed that Akers would emerge as a fantasy RB1, and he was drafted as early as the third round in most leagues. Inconsistent usage and midseason “philosophical differences” derailed Akers’ season and even threatened to see him traded out of LA, but he eventually found his groove. Over the season’s final six weeks, he averaged over 85 rushing yards per game while dominating the touches out of the backfield.

Akers is a difficult player to rank this summer. There isn’t much competition, and it seems like he’s won the trust of Los Angeles’ coaching staff. However, the Rams’ offense could struggle, and that’s before factoring in the very real injury risks for Stafford and Kupp, which could derail it further. The rewards could be massive, but be mindful of the danger here.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Jauan Jennings

Brandon Aiyuk could go from good to great, but he is a pretty safe breakout pick on an offense loaded with skill-position talent. In fact, the only area of potential weakness for San Francisco is their wide receiver depth chart, where things get thin quickly after Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. That also means opportunity for whoever can emerge as the team’s third wideout.

It was easy to miss it, but Jauan Jennings accounted for over 400 receiving yards last year, his second in the NFL. It’s not an eye-popping total by any means, but it’s also worth noting that Jennings saw an increase in targets, receptions and offensive snaps over the season’s final seven weeks. While it’s still not guaranteed if Brock Purdy will be healthy for Week 1 or if we will see Sam Darnold, the 49ers won’t be starting run-first Trey Lance as they did last season; that only bodes well for more passes. Should San Francisco find itself playing from behind a bit more next year or lose one of their star pass-catchers, it will be Jennings that benefits the most.

Seattle Seahawks: RB Zach Charbonnet

Seattle’s second-round selection of Charbonnet was a surprise, but it’s no secret that Pete Carroll loves to run the ball. While Kenneth Walker III is still the lead back, Charbonnet could have some standalone value in an explosive offense.

Walker III is lightning-quick, but Charbonnet is the bruiser that adds another dimension to Seattle’s offense. The 220-lb running back found his way into the endzone 27 times over last two seasons with UCLA. Charbonnet also made strides in the passing game, hauling in 37 catches over 10 games. Will the Pac-12’s leading rusher overtake Walker III and become Seattle’s top option? Unlikely. However, Walker III started last season second on the depth chart, only emerging as an RB1 once Rashaad Penny suffered a season-ending injury. Charbonnet should flirt with RB3 value even if Walker III performs next year, but he’s also a high-end handcuff. Could we be looking at this year’s version of 2022 D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams? Stay tuned.