These predictions, while bold, are meant to showcase several situations in which I feel a player is being valued incorrectly. While they would all need multiple factors to break the correct way to happen, there is almost certainly a universe where all of them come true. It may not be this one, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Chris Carson will be the RB1
Last season Chris Carson rose from a player barely on the fantasy radar to winning the starting running back job for the Seattle Seahawks and posting over 1,100 yards. This year Carson will make the jump from the 24th RB being drafted to finishing the season as the number one overall running back in fantasy scoring. That may seem like a big jump, but it probably isn’t as big a jump as you would expect. He is already one of the better runners in the league, finishing fifth in rushing yards and fourth in rushing yards per game. Compared to the top five running backs from last season Carson stacks up pretty well when it comes to just running the ball.
For Carson to jump over those players it isn’t his running that he needs to work on. He could stand to improve his touchdown numbers a bit, but as he was second in the league in percentage of his teams rushing attempts inside the five-yard line last season the touchdowns will come. What Carson really needs is receiving work, something required of running backs in today’s NFL if they want to be among the elite. Compared to the same running backs as above Carson was sorely lacking in that department.
The lack of receiving production last season is what kept Carson from joining the elite tier of fantasy running backs, but last year was his first season as the starting running back. Todd Gurley went from 26 his first season to 58 his second, and Ezekiel Elliot had 39 and 38 targets his first two years before jumping up to 95 targets last season. There is already talk from Seattle that all of the running backs will be more involved in the passing game, and if Carson is on the field the most he has a good chance to absorb a lot of that work. The Seahawks need to replace the combined 115 targets vacated by Doug Baldwin and Mike Davis, and while Carson will not take all of those targets he only needs to grab around 40 of them on top of what he got last year to take a huge step forward as a fantasy asset. It seems like the Seahawks will be replacing Baldwin in three-receiver sets with rookie D.K. Metcalf, but Metcalf projects to be more of a deep threat for right now whereas Baldwin was used more frequently as a low average depth of target option. It makes sense that a lot of those checkdowns will now filter to the running backs with Carson reaping the benefits.
Of course one of the reasons Carson has been pushed down draft boards heading into the season is the concern that former first-round pick Rashaad Penny will take more of a role this season and eat into Carson’s workload. But with Davis gone, there is plenty of room for both Carson and Penny to get work in this offense. Penny will pick up some of the touches Davis is leaving behind, but Carson’s role as the lead back is safe for as long as he keeps running like this:
Carson has all the tools and opportunity to join the elite tier of fantasy running backs, and if he gets a little bit of touchdown luck he has a chance to find himself at the very top of that tier.
Chris Godwin will be the WR1
Unlike Carson, Chris Godwin has been steadily rising up draft boards since the offseason began. Godwin’s current ADP of WR19 means most drafters are projecting him to make the jump from fringe flex play to full-time WR2, but even that ADP seems to be underselling the mix of talent and opportunity that Godwin has. Tampa Bay quarterbacks combined to pass the ball 625 times last season, fourth-most in the NFL, and hired an aggressive, pass-happy coach in Bruce Arians this offseason. That should mean there is easily enough volume to support two top-twelve fantasy WRs, which is good news for both Godwin and Mike Evans. There are 181 targets up for grabs in this offense with the departures of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, and Evans already saw 138 targets himself last season. There are only so many targets Evans can handle, and even if he saw a career-high in targets this season (currently 173 targets) there would still be plenty of room for Godwin to improve on his 95 targets from last season.
Another change for Tampa Bay that should be good for Godwin is that Arians plans to deploy him as the team’s primary slot receiver. This is the role Larry Fitzgerald had for Arians with the Cardinals, and we saw how valuable that role was for fantasy. Godwin is not quite as big as Fitzgerald, but he is bigger than most traditional slot receivers at 6’1 and he has the speed to make plays down the field and after the catch. Here he takes a simple slant route and turns it into a big gain by just running away from the defensive back:
As Godwin enters his third season in the NFL he will have plenty of opportunities to make plays like that every week. Tampa Bay again projects to be one of the weakest defensive teams, which means a lot of high scoring games as the offense tries to keep them competitive. It’s also possible the Buccaneers rely on the run a little less this season after giving Peyton Barber 234 inefficient carries last year, and following that up by not really doing anything to address the running back position. Godwin should easily eclipse 120 targets with the upside to push for a truly elite target number. Targets will lead to receptions and yards, but for Godwin to ascend to the number one overall receiver he’ll need some touchdown luck. The good news on that front is that he led Tampa Bay, and finished tied for fourth overall in the league, with 11 targets inside the ten-yard line last season. He wasn’t particularly successful with those targets, as he only converted that into four touchdowns, but it is a great sign that he was that heavily involved around the goal-line as a part-time player. Godwin will get his chances to score, and if he can convert on them, coupled with the incredible volume he should see, he will absolutely challenge for the WR1 spot in fantasy.
Jordan Howard will be a top-12 RB
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded for running back Jordan Howard in the offseason I expected there to be more hype around him for fantasy. Howard had rushed for over 900 yards in each of his first three seasons and was set to join one of the better offenses in the NFL. The Eagles have one of the best run-blocking offensive lines led by All-Pro center Jason Kelce, and they were in desperate need of a running back after the uninspiring collection of runners they had last season. Howard to the Eagles seemed like a perfect match, and then the Eagles went ahead and drafted running back Miles Sanders in the second round. That pick cratered Howard’s ADP, and he’s currently being taken as the 35th running back off the board.
Obviously adding a talented player at his position would hurt Howard’s value, but it seems to be an overreaction that does not properly account for how valuable the role he has might be. Howard will probably never become a good pass-catching running back, and that does limit his upside because it limits his touches to early downs. But the most valuable role for any running back on this offense will be the goal-line back, and Howard should have the inside track for that. Sanders is a better athlete and will be a better pass-catcher, but Howard is more experienced and is coming from a Chicago offense that is similar to what the Eagles run. Under coach Doug Pederson they have always relied on a committee approach to their backfield, so it really is a matter of each running back carving out some sort of defined role. If Philadelphia leans on Howard to handle most of the early-down, short-yardage, and goal-line work he should be able to excel in that role and be a valuable fantasy asset. On a team that should be scoring plenty and spending a lot of time playing from ahead, we could see Howard’s best season and certainly should see his most efficient behind this offensive line.
Howard may not be the flashiest of runners, but he is good at finding holes to run through and falling forward. Here he cuts back to force a missed tackle and find space to run through:
Not the best effort by the defense, but Howard makes the most of what was given to him. That decisiveness will be a perfect fit behind this offensive line, and should let him fully take advantage of plays like this:
Howard’s upside will always be capped by his limited ability as a receiver, but if he racks up yards and touchdowns that limitation won’t matter with where he is being drafted. He represents excellent value with the ability, and opportunity, to finish as a low-end RB1.
Mohamed Sanu will Outscore Calvin Ridley
A lot has been made this offseason about the schedule of the Atlanta Falcons, specifically how they get to play 13 of their 16 games inside this year. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been significantly better playing inside throughout his career, which should mean big things for an offense that was already high powered. It makes perfect sense to draft the secondary options on this team, which is what both Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu are, but the gap in their ADPs seems less logical. Here’s a comparison of what they did last season:
|Player||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Targets Inside 20yds||Targets Inside 10yds|
That is pretty even production between the two of them, but Ridley is currently the 23rd WR being drafted while Sanu is going 62nd at the position. That’s a big gap that can basically be attributed to two things; touchdowns and upside. Despite not seeing much more work near the goal-line Ridley was able to put up ten touchdowns to Sanu’s four. Touchdowns are important for fantasy without a doubt, but they are difficult to project year to year. Ridley was incredibly efficient on his targets once the Falcons got close to scoring, turning seven receptions inside the 20 into six touchdowns. He also scored twice from 75 yards out, which showcases his big-play potential but is also hard to count on every week. Aside from the difference in touchdowns Ridley and Sanu produced essentially the same numbers as receivers last season.
It’s impossible to compare these two receivers without talking about upside as Ridley is an ascending talent and Sanu is a reliable veteran. Sanu is a more known quantity, and while what he offers is valuable he can’t really touch the weekly ceiling Ridley offers. On the flips side of that, Ridley is a younger player more prone to weekly inconsistency. Last year he had 30% of his yards and 40% of his touchdowns in the two games he played against the New Orleans Saints, which is incredible if you started him in those two weeks but leads to some really disappointing games spread throughout the season. Ridley needs to improve on that consistency in order to provide value as a WR2, and consistency alone will not be enough if his touchdown numbers suffer any regression. That improvement could happen, but Ridley is being drafted as if it already has. It is dangerous drafting a player this much closer to their ceiling than their floor, whereas Sanu is currently being drafted below his floor. Sanu should be a value either way, but if the touchdowns break his way this season instead of Ridley’s, then Sanu will easily finish higher in fantasy scoring.
Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews as the top QB+TE Tandem
After the season Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce put together it is tough to imagine any quarterback-tight end duo outscoring them, but Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews are poised to both have breakout seasons that should put them in contention to do just that. Starting with Jackson, he has a chance to be truly special as a running quarterback. In his seven starts last season he averaged almost 80 rushing yards a game, which would put him on pace for over 1,200 yards for a full season. That would easily break the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season, and although it’s likely that Jackson scales back his rushing a little bit this season he has a very real chance of breaking that record. That sort of rushing upside gives him a great weekly floor while simultaneously letting him hit a ceiling that most other quarterbacks cannot touch.
That speed will help Jackson break big plays with his legs, but it should also help him extend plays to find open receivers downfield. The stress a mobile quarterback puts on the defense is good for everyone else on his offense. It keeps linebackers and safeties focused on the backfield instead of on the receivers, which means more broken coverages.
Once Jackson became the starter he was a startable fantasy quarterback the rest of the season, made more impressive when considering that the offense he was playing in was assembled mid-season once the Ravens decided to move on from Joe Flacco. This year Jackson is coming into the season as the unquestioned starter, with an offense tailor-made for him that features a fast group of skill-position players that can take advantage of the space he creates for them. If he can improve as a passer the sky is the limit for his fantasy production, and as he enters his second season at least some improvement seems definite.
One of the main benefactors of that improvement would be sophomore tight end Mark Andrews. Andrews provides Jackson with a big target that can stretch the field vertically and do some damage after the catch. Andrews is coming off one of the more impressive rookie seasons for a tight end we’ve seen in the past ten years, posting the sixth-most receiving yards and second-highest yards per target of any rookie tight end that saw at least 30 targets. Tight end is generally regarded as a difficult position for young players to learn, but Andrews was able to contribute right away.
Andrews flashed a lot of upside as a pass-catching tight end, enough to make him a promising breakout candidate for the upcoming season. His numbers and the way he was utilized were very similar to George Kittle as a rookie, and Kittle obviously broke out in a major way his sophomore year. It’s hard to project that kind of volume for Andrews given how much the Ravens will run the ball, but he is my pick to lead the team in receiving which should put him close to 1,000 yards. Ultimately his touchdown numbers will probably determine how high he finishes among the other tight ends, but he is about to make the jump to the upper echelon of the position.
Jackson’s rushing upside coupled with Andrews’s ability to stretch the field makes them one of the more dynamic quarterbacks and tight end tandems in the NFL. It will take both of them having breakout seasons, but they have a real chance to dethrone Mahomes and Kelce.
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)