Erik Smith’s 5 Bold Predictions – Revisited

Erik Smith reviews his bold predictions for the 2019 fantasy football season.

When I wrote my bold predictions for the 2019 season, I was trying to be bold. I stated that if I were to get more than one prediction correct, I probably wasn’t being bold enough. With fantasy football behind us and the offseason fast-approaching, I figured it was a good time to look back on my predictions and hand out grades. There is plenty to learn from both successes and failures, so let’s look back to see what we can learn for the 2020 fantasy football season.

When ranking players, I will be using Weeks 1-16 to avoid penalizing players that were benched in the final week.

 

Calvin Ridley Finishes As A Top 8 WR

 

My first preseason bold prediction missed the mark, with second-year wide receiver Calvin Ridley experiencing some ups and downs before suffering a Week 14 lower abdominal injury that ended his season. Overall, Ridley was the WR22 in PPR leagues from Weeks 1-16 with 197 fantasy points scored, while Keenan Allen finished as the WR8 on the year with 238 PPR points scored. Ridley did miss two games, so when examined on a points per game basis, Ridley moves up to WR17, scoring 15.2 PPR points per game in 2019. Cooper Kupp finished eighth in wide receiver scoring on a per-game basis with 16.5 PPR points per game, so while Ridley was just 1.3 points per game short of my prediction, it was still a significant miss. There were encouraging signs, however, that may have me drafting Ridley again in 2020.

Veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was traded by the Falcons to the Patriots following Week 7, and Ridley experienced a bit of a breakout before going down with an injury in Week 14. Below are Ridley’s stats on a per-game basis in the seven games he played with Sanu, followed by Ridley’s stats in the five full games that he played after the Sanu trade (I’m excluding Ridley’s Week 14 game that he left before halftime due to injury). While certainly a small sample, the results show a mini break-out.

 

Calvin Ridley

 

As you can see, without a veteran like Sanu around, Ridley saw his snap rate jump from 71.6% to 85.8%. As a result, Ridley saw his catches and receiving yards jump significantly over his five healthy games. While extrapolating a five-game sample over the course of a full season is never something that you should blindly trust, Ridley’s post-Sanu pace would have produced 87 catches on 132 targets for 1,251 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns over 15 games (I’m excluding everyone’s Week 17). That comes out to 248 PPR points, good enough for a top-eight fantasy wide receiver season.

This bold prediction was definitely a miss as Ridley failed to breakout for most of the season. But his usage was certainly encouraging after Sanu was dealt, putting Ridley squarely on the radar as a major breakout candidate for the 2020 season.

WRONG: 0-for-1

 

The Saints Offense Has Its Worst Fantasy Season In The Drew Brees Era

 

In my original column, I posted a table to show how dramatically the Saints had shifted towards running the ball in the three seasons prior to 2019. Below is that same table, but with New Orleans’ 2019 offensive statistics added in. The results are interesting, especially when examining the Saints’ season as a whole.

 

Saints Offense Through The Years

 

While the Saints scored 46 fewer points in 2019 than they did the previous season, they remained a top-three scoring offense in the NFL. Their offensive yardage totals dipped for the fourth-straight year, but ever so slightly, and they remained a top-ten offense according to their yardage gained. They reversed their run-heavy tendencies, breaking a trend of fewer passing attempts each year coupled with more rushing attempts each year. Finally, the Saints converted rushing touchdowns to passing touchdowns, throwing for 36 touchdowns while dropping to 12 rushing touchdowns, their fewest rushing touchdowns since 2013. And the most shocking part of all of this? The Saints did this in a season where Drew Brees only played 11 games.

So in the end, this prediction was a complete whiff. Brees finished as the QB8 on a points per game basis, the same as he did in 2019. Michael Thomas was the WR1 and it wasn’t particularly close, averaging 24.5 PPR points per game, a shocking 4.8 points per game better than second place. Jared Cook was a top-ten tight end and came on strong as the year closed out. The only “disappointment” was running back Alvin Kamara, who missed two games due to an ankle injury and was seemingly at less than 100% for several weeks after. Even battling injury and a significant mid-season touchdown drought, Kamara was the RB8 in PPR leagues on a point per game basis and finished as the RB11 overall.

I hypothesized in the preseason that an injury to one of the “big three” of Brees, Thomas, or Kamara could derail the Saints’ season. After suffering an injury to two of the three in the same season and still remaining a top-five scoring offense, it’s safe to say that head coach Sean Payton can adapt to any scenario he’s presented with.

WRONG: 0-for-2

 

Aaron Jones is Jamaal Charles 2.0

 

This is ultimately a hard one to judge, because, well, I didn’t exactly give a specific prediction (note to self for next year). I made my love for Aaron Jones abundantly clear in the preseason, so to make this a bold prediction I had to swing for the fences. Let’s see how many of the boxes this prediction checked.

First up, I mentioned the Packers’ reluctance to give Jones a heavy workload and stressed that he would need to see double-digit carries per game to come through on this prediction. Coming into the season, Jones had only received more than 10 carries in 12 of 24 career games. In 2019, Jones saw ten or more carries in every game but one, that bizarre Week 9 loss to the Chargers. My prediction passed the first test.

Next, I claimed that Jones had tremendous growth potential in the passing game, as he averaged only 2.33 receptions per game in his 12 career games with a heavy workload prior to 2019. This one is a bit of a mixed bag, as Jones experienced ups and downs in the passing game over the course of the season. Jones had three games in 2019 with zero receptions, three games with just one reception, and two games with two receptions. That accounts for half of his games, and combined with an embarrassing dropped touchdown in Week 6 against the Lions, it would be fair for some to remember him as a disappointment in the passing game. Of course, if you happened to tune in on Sunday Night Football in Week 8, you were treated to a seven-catch, 159 yard and two-touchdown performance by Jones through the air. Overall, Jones averaged 3.1 receptions per game and ended up with 474 receiving yards, an improvement from his prior years, but not quite up to Jamaal Charles levels.

Next, I mentioned that the Packers had produced the 21st and 14th ranked scoring offenses in 2017 and 2018, and would no doubt improve on those numbers with a move away from head coach and play-caller Mike McCarthy. The Packers offense scored the exact same number of points in 2019 as they did in 2018, and ranked 15th overall. Jones did not ride a breakout offense to the top.

In the end, Jones ranked as the RB2 overall for the year, and the RB3 on a point per game basis in PPR leagues, making this prediction far from a complete miss. He scored 16 rushing touchdowns, which tied for the league lead, and certainly paid off on his draft investment. But to match Charles, Jones lacked the passing game work as well as the elite yards per rushing attempt of one of the all-time fantasy greats. Jones rushed for 4.6 yards per attempt in his third year in the league, down from 5.5 yards per attempt in his previous two seasons. Charles didn’t have a season with less than five yards per rush until he reached his age-30 season. Jones had a great season, but he wasn’t quite up to the standards of Jamaal Charles.

WRONG: 0-for-3

 

Carlos Hyde Scores More TDs Than Le’Veon Bell

 

This was my favorite prediction of the year by far, and one that I silently rooted on all year for fear of jinxing myself. I was very down on the Adam Gase-led Jets’ offense, and as a result, was very skeptical of Le’Veon Bell‘s touchdown potential. And while I wasn’t particularly high on Carlos Hyde, at the time of this prediction I was more confident in Hyde’s abilities to score touchdowns on the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. Of course, I had to open my big mouth and say “There have been rumors during the offseason that Hyde could be cut before the season starts, adding to the risk in this prediction. If Hyde were to get cut, insert Darrel Williams into the title of this prediction, please.” Hyde was indeed cut and quickly picked up by the Texans, putting him in a similar position to the one he found himself in already. Then the Chiefs added LeSean McCoy in free agency, throwing competition into the way of Williams for the goalline work. So let’s see how all four of Bell, Hyde, Williams, and McCoy compared for the season.

 

Le’Veon Bell vs. The Field

 

Hyde indeed scored more touchdowns then Bell, as Bell mustered just four touchdowns on Gase’s offensively challenged squad. McCoy, who essentially filled in for Hyde in the Chiefs offense, scored one more touchdown than Bell despite being a healthy scratch for multiple weeks of the season. And Williams, an undrafted free agent signed by the Chiefs in 2018, scored just as many touchdowns in 12 games as the high-priced Bell scored in 15 games.

So did I win this prediction? Hyde scored more touchdowns than Bell, but I said to insert Williams into the prediction if Hyde was cut, and Williams only tied Bell in touchdowns. I likely would have pivoted to McCoy if given the opportunity, and he did in fact score more touchdowns than Bell. If I’m going to take the loss on my Aaron Jones prediction despite his RB2 finish, then I’m taking the win here and you can’t stop me! For a prediction where I expected to need eight or nine touchdowns to win, I only ended up needing four touchdowns. The lesson as always; draft players on good offenses and avoid those on bad offenses.

RIGHT: 1-for-4
 

Justice Hill Is This Year’s Alvin Kamara

 

Do I need to spend a lot of time on this one? Mark Ingram stayed healthy (well, until he strained his calf in Week 16), Gus Edwards locked down the backup running back role, and Justice Hill finished the year with 295 yards from scrimmage on 66 touches and two touchdowns. This prediction was always going to be a wild swing for the fences, and it certainly ended up as a big swing and miss. I envisioned a scenario where both Ingram and Hill saw the field, much like Alvin Kamara and Ingram in years prior, and Hill’s explosiveness took over in a dynamic offense led by Lamar Jackson. One issue that ended up getting in the way of my prediction was just how dominant Jackson ended up being. Jackson torched opposing defenses virtually by himself, and the Ravens seemingly were able to stick to plan-A for most of the season, rarely needing to search for answers to spark the offense.

When I wrote this Hill was a 12th round pick or later in drafts, which made him a nice flier in an offense with big-time upside. As the season drew near, the hype on Hill raised him a bit too high on draft boards. I stand by my preseason interest in Hill, but he serves as a nice reminder to abandon the hyped-up unknowns as they skyrocket up draft boards.

WRONG: 1-for-5

 

(Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire)

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