It was difficult to come up with five original predictions for this article, partially because so many people are making bold predictions. Sometimes so many people make a bold prediction that it is no longer bold and is just expected to happen. Some people make bold predictions for attention or clicks, some people truly believe that they may come true, and other people likely just want to put them out there so that in the unlikely event that they are right, they can scream, “TOLD YOU SO!”, to everyone within earshot. I will preface this article by admitting that these five predictions are unlikely to be accurate, but I can see a way that each could become a reality.
I have been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan since I was about 8 years old. That’s not a common fandom in Iowa but I played NFL Blitz on N64 at that age, saw how dominant the defense was, and the rest is history. I had a Warrick Dunn jersey that I wore religiously the 2 times a year my team was televised in the Midwest and they made the playoffs a few times in there to keep me coming back for more. They gave me one glorious Super Bowl victory in 2003 but the years since have been quite cruel.
I have had to suffer through Josh Freeman and hearing all the “experts” say how people who REALLY know football know how great he is going to be. I had to watch Greg Schiano make a mockery of his coaching position and instruct his defense to dive into offensive lines during kneel-out-the-clock situations and to mimic snap counts and get called for penalties that he didn’t feel should be penalties but were absolutely penalties. I watched Doug Martin sign a five-year, $35 million deal as the “running back of the future”. And of course, I watched as we traded up into the second round to draft Roberto Aguayo, a kicker that couldn’t kick. We all saw how that panned out.
And now I am sitting through the Jameis Winston era, the time of a QB that can’t stay out of trouble, is incapable of making intelligent decisions on the field, was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, and yet is somehow on the verge of possibly signing an expensive, long-term deal to remain our QB. I like to believe that I am optimistic enough to continue following the team and understand who could have fantasy relevance but I am pessimistic enough to be realistic about expectations. I considered predicting that the team would make the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but that just seemed too farfetched. I considered predicting that Winston would make it through the entire year as the team’s starter (something that hasn’t happened for two years) or that Ronald Jones would eclipse last year’s 44 rush yards but those just seemed too mean.
From a fantasy perspective, however, this team’s pain could be your gain. Their defense is expected to be deplorable. As a result, they will likely be playing from behind a lot and doing quite a bit of passing. This will benefit Winston, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and the subject of my first prediction, O.J. Howard.
OJ Howard will finish the year as a top 2 TE
Howard improved his numbers in his second year going from 26 catches to 34 and from 432 yards to 565. He did have 1 fewer touchdowns than in his rookie year but he also missed the last part of the season with an ankle injury. This prediction is, of course, reliant on Howard being healthy for a full season but it is certainly within reach if that happens.
Simply put, Howard is a freak. He stands 6’6”, weighs more than 250 pounds, has a 30 inch vertical, long arms, gigantic hands, and can accelerate very quickly. That’s wide receiver measurables in a tight end body. Consider that he will often be guarded by linebackers and you will understand how he could easily obtain big numbers this season.
Before his injury last year, he was TE6 in PPR leagues. DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries will no longer be available to dump the ball off to and Howard should see a large percentage of those vacated targets. Even if fellow tight end Cameron Brate (no slouch) is in the game as well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howard line up in the slot on those plays. He has proven himself in the red zone (4 catches on 4 targets in 2018), proven himself in camp this offseason, and I believe he will make a big leap this year in fantasy as well. I will not be the least bit surprised if he doubles his receptions and has double-digit touchdowns.
Robby Anderson finishes as a top 10 WR
Full disclosure, I’m a little biased on this one. I picked up Robby Anderson heading into my championship matchup last year. Many of my starters were injured or were just sitting out in preparation for the real-life playoffs. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I liked what I had seen and I knew that he had big playability. AND HE DELIVERED!!! 9 catches on 13 targets for 140 yards and a touchdown on the way to a championship! I’m going to like the guy, but there’s more reason than that to be optimistic heading into this season.
The Jets are not expected to be all that good and much like the aforementioned Buccaneers, are likely to be playing from behind a lot and therefore passing a lot. Anderson should be the clear cut WR1 on the team and should see a guaranteed 100 targets. He will need more than 100 targets to reach the top ten, especially in PPR, but quarterback Sam Darnold seemed to key in on Anderson near the end of last year, giving him a 37% target share over the last 5 weeks.
There will be others fighting for targets as well but one of those newcomers is all-pro Le’Veon Bell. I believe that could help Anderson as people will need to pay more attention to the running back than they have had to in year’s past with guys like Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell.
Anderson has also reportedly improved his route running ability and the Jets have broadened his route tree in camp. He has always been a threat on deep routes and is a threat to blow the top off of the defense at any moment. Now, he will be used on screens, out routes, posts and many others, a skill that should open him up on those go routes when the time comes. If he can stay out of trouble, improve his catch rate, and keep Darnold’s trust all year, there is no reason that Anderson can’t be a WR1 at the end of the year.
Both Iowa TEs finish top 10
This is likely the biggest reach of the five predictions, but if the eye test and reports out of Lions and Broncos camp are to be believed, there is an outside chance that this could happen. TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant will each look to continue the tradition of stud tight ends coming out of the University of Iowa and finding success in the NFL. The list to date includes names like Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and most recently George Kittle. To avoid turning this article into a big list, I will keep it at that, but Google it, there are more. My point is that tight ends coming out of Kirk Ferentz’s program have found plenty of success at the next level and now that these two have been drafted in the first round, the expectation will be that they do the same and soon.
Historically, rookie tight ends have not had a lot of fantasy relevance but these two will have a chance to change that. First, let’s look at Hockenson. There are reports out of Lion’s camp that he quickly formed a bond with quarterback Matthew Stafford and he looks like he belongs in this league. He is showing off the sure hands that made him a solid asset for the Hawkeyes and is catching everything thrown his way, even against double teams and even in joint practices against the New England Patriots who boast one of the best defensive units in the league. He may start the year as the team’s number two tight end behind Jesse James but if he keeps making plays the team will have no choice but to start him and that would do wonders for his fantasy value.
Then there is Fant, selected 20th overall by the Broncos. Though he was taken after Hockensen, he is arguably a better receiving tight end than his former teammate and I would say he is a better bet to produce big numbers in his first year. Part of that is because of the system that he is in and part of it is out of necessity. The Broncos have multiple injured tight ends which will force Fant into action whether he is ready or not. They also just lost receiving back Theo Riddick to injury and have questions at wide receiver. Fant has impressed new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello who said that Fant can “do just about anything”. He has wide receiver hands and if he can improve route running there is no reason that he can’t be one of Joe Flacco’s top receiving options this year.
James Washington finishes as Steelers WR1
James Washington has received a lot of hype this offseason and his performance in the team’s first preseason game against the Bucs. He caught 4 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and put his name in the hat to open the season as the team’s number two option at receiver. I know, I know, it’s the preseason, but there were plenty of reasons to be excited even before his latest showing.
One of the first pieces of hype came when the presumed top receiving option, JuJu Smith-Schuster was asked about who he thought could be a difference-maker for the team this year and he responded that he was impressed by James Washington and that he could “sneak up on everybody.” I believe that there is an outside chance that he could sneak up on Smith-Schuster as well. Free-agent receiver Dez Bryant and ESPN personality Mike Clay are both predicting a breakout year.
Many people feel that Donte Moncrief will be the team’s WR2. Color me skeptical. Moncrief is a seasoned veteran and I certainly believe that he will have a big part on the team but I think that what you see is what you get, and the team could get much better production out of a young, hungry receiver like Washington. He would need to win the WR2 job early, but if he does he should see lighter coverage than Smith-Schuster. This is not so much an expectation that he will hit the numbers that Smith-Schuster hit last year as it is that Smith-Schuster won’t repeat his numbers. This is certainly bold and I wouldn’t bet the house on it, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility either.
3 Rookie RBs finish in the top 12
The 3 most popular rookie running back picks this year will be Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, and Miles Sanders. There are a lot of reasons for optimism for each but I feel that the top reason to keep an eye on these guys is that each could have a large role in their respective teams’ passing games in addition to their leading rushing roles. They would each need to secure and hold onto their starting roles for an entire season to even sniff the top 12 but if the preseason hype is to be believed, each has a great chance to do so.
Those three are not the only rookie running backs with a chance to excel through. Devin Singletary has been a popular rookie pick this year as well. Part of that is because of the uncertainty surrounding his team’s starter LeSean McCoy. I’m not sure how realistic those concerns are but if Singletary gets his chance, I want him on my team. Quick, name me the top 3 other options on the Bills!!! Exactly. There is not a lot of reason for fantasy optimism surrounding that team this year, but Singletary has an outside shot of being a bright spot for them.
Other rookie options that have a chance to shine are Tony Pollard for the Cowboys (if Zeke sits), Darrell Henderson for the Rams(if Gurley’s knee issues flare-up), Justice Hill for the Ravens, Myles Gaskin for the Dolphins, Darwin Thompson for the Chiefs, and Alexander Mattison for the Vikings. Keep an eye on all these guys this year.
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)