During my Sports Journalism career, I’ve learned that I’m not as good as I want to be at predicting things. Maybe that’s because I haven’t tried bold predicting as often as I should. It’s time to change that.
JuJu Smith-Schuster finishes as a Top-3 WR, maybe No. 1
One of the major storylines for the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason was Antonio Brown‘s departure, which left the team without a player who topped 1,000 receiving yards in seven of his nine seasons in the NFL. But at the same time that losing Brown means that the Steelers won’t have their past years’ No. 1 target, it also indicates that someone else will have to step up as the best name in the receiving corps — And that will be Smith-Schuster.
The 22-year-old wide receiver is entering his third pro season, and his career accomplishments thus far have been nothing but impressive.
He had 58 catches, 917 yards, and seven touchdowns as a second-round rookie in 2017, which ranked him 15th among fantasy wide receivers. One year later, Smith-Schuster climbed six spots in the positional fantasy rankings after totalling 111 receptions (in 166 targets), 1,425 yards, and seven TDs. Therefore, he led the team in catches and receiving yards, and was second to Brown in both touchdowns (Brown’s 15, a franchise record) and targets (168).
Smith-Schuster’s transition as the team’s No. 1 target obviously open a spot for other young players to shine, such as James Washington and Donte Moncrief. But both Washington, who posted 16 catches as a rookie in 2018, and Moncrief, playing for a third different franchise in three years, have yet to prove themselves on the field.
With that being said, here’s an interesting exercise: How many targets Smith-Schuster will have in 2019? Again, he had 166 as the team’s second wide receiver. Then, it’s possible to see him leading the NFL in that regard. Keep in mind that in the past five seasons, the WR with the most targets had 184, 203, 173, 174, and 170.
Consequentially, that puts Smith-Schuster’s production in an impressive landscape, especially with Ben Roethlisberger posting eye-popping numbers at the age of 36.
More than leading the Steelers in receptions, yards, and touchdowns among wide receivers, Smith-Schuster can solidify himself as one of the best fantasy wide receivers in the league today.
Dante Pettis has a Top-20 WR season
Jimmy Garoppolo is back, the San Francisco 49ers needs a No. 1 wide receiver, and Kyle Shanahan–an offensive genius–will be in his second year with the team.
Meanwhile, Pettis, who was the first wide receiver drafted in the Shanahan era with the 49ers, enters his second season in the NFL after being San Francisco’ best wide receiver in the final months of 2018. Along with George Kittle, Pettis led the team in receiving touchdowns last season with five. And his 17.3 yards per catch were the franchise-best among players with at least 40 targets.
Although the Garoppolo-Pettis connection lacked consistency in 2018, when it happened (three times), it was good for 22, 39, and 35 yards, with one touchdown.
Pettis’ ADP right now is 34.4 among WRs (FantasyPros), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he increases his value by the end of the season. After all, the young receiver is surrounded by enough factors to make him more than “just” a home-run hitter in 2019.
Here are all Pettis’ five TDs in 2018; it’s impressive the variety of ways he is comfortable lining up for the 49ers:
Derek Carr finishes as a Top-10 QB
I had the chance to briefly comment on Derek Carr’s value in Paul Ghiglieri’s column early in the offseason.
First of all, I’m not sold on the Oakland Raiders’ defense, which might force the team to rely on a high-volume passing attack. There are plenty of reasons to believe the Carr-led unit can handle that situation.
Last year, Carr had just 10 interceptions, second-lowest in his career only behind 2016 (six). The biggest problem for No. 4 was the offensive production as the Raiders scored just 18.1 points per game, with Carr totalling only 19 passing touchdowns despite playing in all 16 games.
There are plenty of culprits to blame: the offensive line struggled, the running game never got on track, and the receiving corps had a running back (Jalen Richard) and a tight end (Jared Cook) as the team’s most targeted players–ahead of all wide receivers.
That explains the arrivals of Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, and Josh Jacobs, not to mention the new O-linemen, which finally gives Carr a good supporting cast. Indeed, Jacobs’ success in the running game may cost Carr some pass attempts, but at the same time, it should create more space in the opposing defenses.
Carr had a solid year in 2016, finishing ninth among quarterbacks and propelling two of his receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) to top 1,000 receiving yards and three of his receivers to have at least five TDs (Cooper, Crabtree, and Seth Roberts) on that season. By the way, Cooper totalled 83 catches and 1,153 yards three years ago, with four 100-yard games, which should remind the fantasy owners how impressive Carr can be playing alongside Brown in 2019. The 31-year-old wide receiver has been a Top-3 WR in every year since 2014.
2019 will offer the quarterback the best offensive arsenal of his career, just one year after he posted his career-best 7.3 yards per attempt.
Greg Olsen goes back to where he belongs
In every year between 2012 and 2016, Olsen was a Top-10 tight end in fantasy, including three Top-5 appearances and a career-best No. 2 in 2016. However, the Carolina Panthers’ tight end was injured most of the past two seasons, having played in just 16 games since 2017. This made him a risky, below-average TE investment.
Olsen has been on top of his rehab, and once the 34-year-old is back on the field, he’s likely to become Cam Newton’s favorite target again.
I know there are plenty of questions surrounding the Panthers. Newton’s shoulder injury is a major issue, the wide receivers still have to prove themselves on the field (which is not a bad thing for the TE), and Olsen has competition in the tight end position since Ian Thomas was drafted in the fourth round last year.
Still, every time Olsen is playing, there’s debating how impactful he can be: From 2012-2016, he was targeted 591 times. Keep in mind that Olsen averages 61 catches, 722 yards, and five touchdowns per 16 games in his career.
In a season with a lot of pressure after the Panthers missed the playoffs despite starting 6-2, Newton has to make sure to involve his most reliable target as the season progresses, trying to avoid a postseason-less campaign for two years in a row, something that has never happen in the Ron Rivera era.
Two Packers’ receivers have 10 TDs
Devante Adams had a career year in 2018, posting 111 catches, 1.386 yards, and 13 touchdowns. He now had at least 10 TDs in each of the past three seasons.
But Adams is not the only Packer we should all have an eye on entering Week 1.
That’s because the expectations are high for Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback is healthy again and has a new, quarterback-friendly head coach in Matt LaFleur. If LaFleur finds a way to help his quarterback, which he has done in the past, Rodgers unquestionably can put Green Bay in Super Bowl conversation again.
The first-year head coach was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, for instance, the year Matt Ryan was named MVP after throwing for more than 4,900 yards, and 38 touchdowns. One year later, Sean McVay ‘recruited’ LaFleur to work with him in the Los Angeles Rams. After a few months, that offensive unit scored the most points in the entire league. In 2018, the 39-year-old struggled to put the Tennessee Titans’ offence on track, but that was mostly because the team didn’t have enough weapons.
While for the cheesehead fans that means the dream of a second ring in the past 10 years is alive, for fantasy owners represents a needed, better production from whoever is playing alongside with Rodgers. Outside of Adams, no other Packers’ receiver had more than two touchdowns in 2018.
Who is going to be that guy isn’t a lock though.
After all, there are still position battles in the Packers’ receiving corps, as names like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, and Equanimeous St. Brown are battling for spots on the depth chart.
Besides that, Jimmy Graham needs a bounce-back season, which also makes him a strong candidate for one of the two Green Bay’s receivers to have 10 receiving touchdowns along with Adams. The tight end has topped 10 receiving touchdowns three times in his career, two in New Orleans playing with Drew Brees (2013 and 2014) and one with Russell Wilson passing him the ball (2017).
Jordy Nelson and Adams were the last two Packers to have 10 receiving TDs in a season (2016); they both finished as top-10 wide receivers in standard leagues that year.
(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)