As we gear up for the 2017 fantasy football season, members of the QB List staff are revealing their 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season. These are predictions that could happen, but aren’t likely to. Here are Ben Palmer’s 10 bold predictions for the 2017 season:
1. Evan Engram finishes the year as a top-10 tight end
Rookie tight ends rarely ever do anything, no matter how talented they are. Even Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez caught fewer than 40 passes in their rookie years and they’re considered to be three of the greatest tight ends in history. Aside from Rob Gronkowski (whose rookie season was very good but not insane), no matter the tight end, they rarely produce much in their rookie year. Some are thinking Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie O.J. Howard might break that trend, but I think Evan Engram could be that guy. The guy has loads of talent and is in all honesty, built more like a receiver than a tight end. Eli Manning has had productive tight ends in the past, and he’s got a really talented one in Engram. Working his way into the top-10 might not be all that difficult either. Whether it’s injury questions (Gronk and Jordan Reed), questions of age (Jason Witten and Delanie Walker) or whatever else, there’s some uncertainty in the top-10 right now. Could Engram slide his way into there? I think so.
2. Jeremy Maclin finishes the year as a top-15 wide receiver
The Baltimore Ravens grabbed Maclin in the offseason to fill the role that Steve Smith had for them last year, and I think he’ll do just that if not more. The Ravens threw the ball a ton last year (to their detriment if we’re being honest). Joe Flacco had the second-most passing attempts in the NFL, just one behind Drew Brees, and with Marty Mornhinweg back as offensive coordinator and a less-than-impressive Terrance West in at running back, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Ravens throw a ton yet again. If they do, expect a lot of targets to go the way of both Danny Woodhead (as Flacco loves dumping off to his running back) and Maclin. Before last year, Maclin had two straight years of over 1,000 receiving yards and being that he was on the Kansas City Chiefs (who hate to throw the ball more than ten yards) for one of those years, that’s pretty impressive. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Flacco is a better quarterback than Alex Smith, and I think that Flacco’s going to be throwing a ton of target’s Maclin’s way. Sure, some will go to Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, but both of them have one thing they’re really good at, and that’s running long. Maclin’s good at everything else.
3. Carson Wentz finishes the year as a top-10 quarterback
Boy, aren’t I original picking Carson Wentz as a sleeper pick? Well, there’s a good reason people like him this year. He’s finally got a legitimate NFL-caliber receiving corps in front of him with Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith coming to town, not to mention all the positive buzz around Nelson Agholor. Plus, he’s got LeGarrette Blount for a running back, who should be relatively productive behind what is arguably the best offensive line in football (assuming Lane Johnson is healthy), and adding in ageless wonder Darren Sproles as a receiving back weapon doesn’t hurt either. NFL players typically make their biggest leaps in productiveness between years one and two, and I think Wentz could make a huge leap coming into this season.
4. Terrelle Pryor finishes the year with at least 1,200 yards and at least 10 touchdowns
I think that, if the Washington Redskins use Terrelle Pryor correctly, he could be awesome. The Cleveland Browns didn’t really use Pryor correctly all the time last year. They had him run a lot of go routes, and while Pryor is fast and can win some jump balls, he’s not blindingly fast enough to consistently beat corners one-on-one. Pryor’s strength lies in slant routes and stuff that gets him inside cornerbacks. Once he’s in on a cornerback, if the quarterback leads him well enough (and certainly Kirk Cousins is a skilled enough QB to do that), the corner has no chance of stopping Pryor from catching the ball; he’s just too tall and too long. I think the Redskins know this and saw this in Cleveland, which is why they signed him. They lacked a solid red zone target outside of Jordan Reed last year (and Reed can’t stay healthy), and I think Pryor is going to be that guy. With all the targets available in Washington with the departures of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, plus the touchdown potential and the fact that Washington will likely be a pass-first offense, I think Pryor could have a huge year.
5. LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in rushing yards and leads the Buffalo Bills in receptions
LeSean McCoy was pretty awesome last year, especially considering he missed two games, as he averaged 5.4 yards per carry and caught 50 balls. The Bills are a run-first team and I think that they’re going to absolutely run McCoy into the ground this year. With Sammy Watkins gone, and Jordan Matthews somewhat of an injury concern, the Bills will more than likely rely on McCoy to carry their offense. Being that Tyrod Taylor is a serious running threat, opposing defenses won’t be able to stack the box on McCoy, opening things up for him, and being that the Bills passing game is what it is, McCoy will likely be seeing a bunch of passing targets too.
6. Michael Thomas will be the top receiver in fantasy football
We saw just how good Michael Thomas is last year with his 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, and now with Brandin Cooks gone, Thomas is the number one receiver in the New Orleans Saints offense, which is always a good thing. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (HOT TAKE ALERT) and Thomas is exceptionally talented. Like I said earlier about Evan Engram, NFL players make their biggest strides from year one to year two, and if Thomas is able to significantly improve on what he did last year, he could easily be the top receiver in fantasy football this year, especially since there are questions about at least two of big three: with Odell Beckham Jr., there’s injury questions, plus he’s got a increasingly-bad quarterback in Eli Manning, and Julio Jones is losing Kyle Shanahan who helped make Matt Ryan awesome last year. Sure, it’ll still be hard for Thomas to top OBJ, Jones, and especially Antonio Brown, but he’s in the right situation and has enough talent to do it.
7. Brian Hoyer will force his way into being a top-12 quarterback
Kyle Shanahan showed that he could turn Matt Ryan from “Eh, I guess he’s better than Joe Flacco?” to an MVP. Now yes, plenty of that was Ryan himself, but Shanahan played a huge part, and now he’s moved to the San Francisco 49ers and Brian Hoyer, who despite being on miserable teams most of his starting career, has been a good NFL quarterback. He’s not been a great quarterback, but he’s certainly been serviceable, and with Shanahan at the helm, he could quite easily have the best year of his career, especially with Pierre Garcon as his top receiver. Plus, Marquise Goodwin, and Aldrick Robinson aren’t exactly slouches at the receiver position either. Not only that, but he’s got Carlos Hyde at running back, who’s had excellent reports coming out of the preseason. This could be a solid offense that could potentially overcome their poor defense and offensive line, and if they do, watch out because Brian Hoyer might just be slinging the ball (especially if there’s a bunch of junk time, and I bet there will be).
8. Keenan Allen will lead the NFL in receptions
Keenan Allen has had some serious bad luck. If you think of him as injury prone, that’s honestly fair, but in reality, he isn’t. He broke his collarbone in 2014, had a kidney injury in 2015, and tore his ACL in 2016. These have just been really bad luck injuries, not necessarily injuries that you’d expect to continue to nag him, and when he’s been playing, he’s been awesome. Before he got hurt in 2015, he was on pace to end the season with around 140 or so receptions. Now the Chargers passing attack is more developed with the emergence of Hunter Henry and Tyrell Williams, not to mention whenever Mike Williams gets healthy, which means that secondaries won’t be focusing solely on Allen, and given the volume he’s gotten so far, I think there’s a decent chance that he stays healthy all year and catches a ton of balls.
9. Zay Jones finishes the year as a top-20 wide receiver
I liked Zay Jones a lot as a draft pick out of East Carolina, and I liked him as the number-two guy behind Sammy Watkins. Now, Watkins is gone, and while Jordan Matthews is in Buffalo now, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire throughout his short career (he’s also not super healthy right now). That being said, Matthews is still just 25 and if you wanted to say he’s finally going to break out as the number one guy in Buffalo, I think that’s fair. But I think the Bills like Jones, and I think they trust him. Will he be the “number one” guy while Matthews is healthy? Perhaps not. But I think Tyrod Taylor will be looking Jones’ way a lot, and if Matthews is out at all, look for the NCAA D-I record holder for single-season receptions to have a big year.
10. Matt Ryan finishes the year outside the top-15 in quarterbacks,
Like I mentioned earlier, Kyle Shanahan helped turn Matt Ryan into the MVP of the NFL, and what benefits he’s bringing to the 49ers by joining them, he’s taking away from the Atlanta Falcons by leaving them. Last year was far and away Ryan’s best season, the dude was a statistical monster, and a lot of it had to do with Shanahan’s offense. I don’t think that Ryan is going to necessarily be a total bust, but could we see Matt Ryan back down to some version of the Matt Ryan of old? I think that’s entirely possible. Sure, he’s got great weapons in Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, but he’s had great weapons before (Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White for example) and he didn’t do close to what he did last season. I think regardless, a regression is in store for Ryan, and it could be a significant one.