When I made my bold predictions for 2019 I expected to miss on all of them, but I hoped that if I got close enough then the logic behind those predictions would still be valuable. I wanted them to be bold enough that there was only an outside chance I would get any of them right and that certainly ended up being the case. It’s always helpful to review the process that led to decisions on draft day to see where the process worked and where it didn’t, and I think looking back at these predictions there are some lessons to take forward into next season.
Chris Carson will be the RB1
Chris Carson came into the season being drafted as a low-end RB2 and finished as a low-end RB1, so while being high on him paid off to some extent he fell well short of this prediction. Carson continued to be an effective runner but his fumbling problem cost him some production early in the season and he did not improve as a receiver as much as I would have liked. He almost doubled his target count (24 last season to 47 this season) but that wasn’t enough to get him into the elite tier of running backs. DK Metcalf was more involved as a rookie than I expected, as were the tight ends, and Carson also saw a dip in his touchdown total that offset some of his gains as a receiver. Carson finished sixth in the league in carries and fifth in rushing yards, so the rushing volume and efficiency carried over from last season and the Seahawks as a team continued their run-heavy approach. Taking shots on talented running backs that are in offenses that want to feature a lead running back, and that will commit to running the ball, in the hope that those running backs get involved in the passing game is an approach I’ll stick with going forward. Carson will be coming off an injury next season, but as his main competition for touches was Rashaad Penny, who himself suffered a torn ACL and has not lived up to his draft pedigree yet, Carson should still be in line for as much work as he can handle. He probably will settle in as a high-end RB2, and while that is a long way off of finishing as the overall RB1 I am not too disappointed in this prediction.
Chris Godwin will be the WR1
Michael Thomas ended up running away with WR1 honors, but Chris Godwin finished second despite missing two games. Godwin proved to be a great fit for the offense Bruce Arians installed in Tampa Bay and ending up eclipsing the 120 target goal I had set for him by one target despite the missed time. He thrived in the slot, where his size made him a matchup problem for opposing defenses, and he led the league in receptions of 20 yards or longer. That big-play ability meshed well with the aggressive tendencies of both Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay was predictably a pass-happy offense that frequently saw their games turn into shootouts, and that created a fantastic fantasy situation that allowed both Godwin and Mike Evans to produce. Godwin even improved on his touchdown numbers by finding the end zone nine times, and his catch percentage of 71.1% ranked among the best for high-volume receivers.
But even with everything falling into place for Godwin he wasn’t able to keep up with the record-setting season Thomas posted. Godwin’s big plays could not overcome the volume Thomas got this season, and as long as Evans remains with the Buccaneers Godwin will probably always have that limitation. Godwin showed this year he has the talent to be one of the elite fantasy wide receivers, but heading into next season I expect I won’t be willing to pay up for him in drafts. As of now the quarterback situation in Tampa is unclear, and if Winston is replaced it will probably be with a passer that is less willing to take shots down the field and the Buccaneers will probably try to balance their offense a little more. If Winston is back it’s hard to imagine him having a very long leash should he continue to throw interceptions as often as he does, and that level of quarterback uncertainty is enough to make Godwin someone who is worth avoiding should his draft stock rise too high off the back of his impressive breakout season.
Jordan Howard will be a top-12 RB
When I first looked back on these predictions I was feeling pretty good about them until I got to this one. My thinking was that Jordan Howard would slide into the role LeGarrette Blount had filled for the Eagles during their Super Bowl run. Howard had posted two strong seasons with Chicago before having a down year when the Bears shifted to a different offense that required more receiving talent out of their running backs than Howard could offer. Playing behind one of the best offensive lines in Philadelphia, and in an offense that figured to be high-scoring, it seemed like a great spot for Howard to have a bounce-back season. He was going to need to have some touchdown luck to make good on this prediction but that seemed attainable after back-to-back seasons of nine rushing touchdowns with a worse Chicago offense. I also thought rookie Miles Sanders would struggle a bit to start the season as I thought he would try to rely on his athletic gifts too much instead of following his blockers and getting upfield.
That all actually seemed to be working out early in the season, as after a slow start in the first two games Howard scored five touchdowns in a three-week span and appeared to have taken on the role of short-yardage and goal-line back. Then, the Eagles started to struggle on offense and Howard started to fall out of favor. Sanders did take a while to get going in the pros, but once he did it became clear that he was the more explosive player and made the whole offense better by being on the field. Howard’s lack of receiving ability once again caused him to lose snaps, and a shoulder injury essentially ended his season from Week 10 on. Even without the injury, Howard wasn’t coming close to RB1 territory and was at-best a serviceable flex option for bye weeks. He’s currently a free agent and his stock for next season will depend a lot on where he ends up, but even if he goes to a favorable spot it will be tough to trust him as anything more than a replacement-level option.
Mohamed Sanu will Outscore Calvin Ridley
This was more about my dislike of Calvin Ridley and the crowded nature of the Falcons offense than anything to do with Mohamed Sanu, and while Ridley did not have the season many expected of him he still easily outscored Sanu. Ridley had an inconsistent start to the season before having a little bit of a breakout after Sanu was traded to the Patriots. Sanu was functioning mostly as a fantasy-irrelevant drain on the other options in Atlanta before he was traded to New England, where he would have a single really nice game before spending the rest of the season as a disappointment. The lesson here is that while it’s probably good to be lower than the field on a young player who needs to overtake a perfectly serviceable veteran in order to break out there isn’t much value in targetting said serviceable veteran, especially in an already crowded offense. Sanu is a free agent heading into next season and is talented enough that if he lands in a good situation he should be worth rostering, but the upside will always be extremely limited and for that reason, he’s not the type of player I expect to draft next season.
On the other hand, Ridley is someone that should be in line for a true breakout next season. He’ll be entering his third year and with Sanu gone the Falcons offense has fewer mouths to feed. He should improve his consistency, which has held him back from becoming a true WR2 despite his clear talent, and Atlanta should still be a high-powered offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Austin Hooper sharing the field with Ridley. I expect to be a believer in Ridley come fantasy draft season, and hopefully next year I’m on the right side of predicting him.
Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews as the top QB+TE Tandem
Heading into the season I figured this was my boldest prediction so, naturally, this was the only one I got right. It helped that the main competition for Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, lost a few games due to Mahomes going down with an injury. It probably didn’t matter though because Jackson was dominant this season from start to finish and Andrews emerged as one of the more explosive tight ends in the league. We knew going into the season that Jackson had the talent to be a great rushing quarterback but his improvement as a passer coupled with the new offensive scheme the Ravens built around him led to a historic season. He broke the single-season rushing yards and rushing attempts for a quarterback, led the league in passing touchdowns by three despite sitting out the final week of the season, and posted a ridiculous touchdown rate of 9%. That monster season will likely result in Jackson being named the NFL MVP, and playoff disappointment aside he showed that he’s a competent enough passer to lead a strong offense.
Andrews had an interesting season as he operated as part of a time-share at the tight end position in an offense that ran a lot more than it passed. That is not typically a recipe for fantasy success but Andrews made it work by getting a solid amount of work when he was on the field and turning that volume into big plays. He finished the year with 852 yards and ten touchdowns on 98 targets, using his ability to rack up yards after the catch to help make up for the relatively low passing volume of the Ravens offense. Andrews was the closest thing Jackson had to a go-to receiver and if you were lucky enough to have this combination on your fantasy team you probably had a pretty fun season.
The question now is whether or not what we just saw is sustainable, and that question is one fantasy drafters will have to answer quickly. In prior years we’ve seen quarterbacks coming off big seasons go as high as the first round and if any quarterback would be worth that level of investment its Jackson. His rushing stats alone would make him worth an early-round pick before even accounting for what he adds as a passer. Even if Jackson is less efficient next season, and history suggests that at the very least his touchdown rate will come down a lot, if he maintains the rushing volume he’ll continue to provide a sizeable advantage over other fantasy quarterbacks. Whether or not any quarterback can maintain that rushing volume over multiple seasons is a different matter but after the success they had this season I expect the Ravens to try and find out next year. Regardless, hitting on this prediction shows the value of taking shots on high-upside quarterbacks instead of paying up in drafts for someone more established. That, unfortunately, means I’ll probably be passing on Jackson next season.
(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)