Okay, let’s get this out of the way before we get any further: most of these predictions probably aren’t going to come to fruition. I’ll be lucky to see one of the five hit, and I’ll be ecstatic if three or more of these wind up true. Bold predictions, as I’m sure our other writers have said, are meant to be bold. They should be way out there. It’s not predicting that DeShaun Watson is the top QB this year…it’s predicting that Kirk Cousins is. It’s correctly finding the Phillip Lindsay at running back or the Tyler Boyd at wide receiver. It’s taking a leap of faith on a player we love or hate. So what are my bold predictions for 2019?
Curtis Samuel finishes as a top-15 WR
If you’ve read anything I’ve written this year, you know I love Curtis Samuel. He was a WR/ RB out of Ohio State two years ago, but he muddled through injuries most of his first season. He missed the preseason last year, then the first 4 games, and then finally started. Here were the stats from Samuel’s last nine games:
|10||at PIT||L 21-52||4||4||18||0||1||1||0||5.9|
|11||at DET||L 19-20||7||5||55||1||0||0||0||16.5|
|13||at TB||L 17-24||11||6||88||0||1||8||0||15.6|
|14||at CLE||L 20-26||8||4||80||0||0||0||0||12.0|
|17||at NO||W 33-14||4||2||72||1||0||0||0||15.2|
Despite Cam Newton playing through a shoulder injury, Samuel still scored a touchdown in four of his last nine games and he averaged 12.5 fantasy points per game. This would have put Samuel right around wide receiver 30 in terms of points per game. Well that’s not great…right? Samuel did this while trying to carve a role out for himself, and with less than 4 receptions per game. He should have more of a role this year based on his excellent route running, the team’s glowing comments from camp about his play, and his growth as he prepares for his first full season. I’m ready to buy in on Samuel, and I’m ready for him to make the leap. How big of a leap? I think he safely enters the WR2 range, and I think it could be even higher if things break the right way. For that reason, Curtis Samuel finishing top-15 despite his ADP (WR38) is my first bold prediction.
Note: For more on why I love Curtis Samuel, check my deep dive article HERE.
Darwin Thompson steals the Chiefs starting RB job and averages RB1 numbers
Darwin Thompson is another young talent I like but he’s currently buried on the depth chart (he’s also the 58th RB by ADP) who might not see much of the field all year. If we go back to Kareem Hunt’s breakout in 2017, it’s hard to imagine it only happened thanks to Spencer Ware getting hurt. Ware was the favorite for the job, but he went down in camp and Hunt never looked back. Flash forward to today, and Darwin Thompson finds himself in a similar situation: there is a new starter ahead of him without a track record of handling the workload. I think it’s possible that Williams outright fails as the starter or that he gets hurt and needs a replacement. In either situation, I like Thompson’s chances to steal the job from under him. Why? Let’s look at the college stats:
Thompson was a workhorse at Utah State and he got the job done. He averaged an impressive 6.8 yards per carry and he caught nearly two passes per game. It’s safe to say he could handle the load in Kansas City, and the Chiefs liked him enough to draft him. Why else should we like Thompson? Matt Waldman scouted Thompson in his Rookie Scouting Portfolio and compared him to Brian Westbrook–another Andy Reid running back form the Eagles days. Waldman praises Thompson’s strength, field vision, and pass-catching ability while confirming that he can handle a full workload. Want one more reason to love Thompson? If he gets the start, he’ll be playing for a top-5 offense that led the league last year. More than half of top-12 running backs typically come from top-12 offenses. If Thompson gets the job, the sky is the limit. I’ll wager he steals the job at some point, plays like a beast, and makes people forget about Damien Williams.
Allen Robinson finishes 2019 with 1000 yds, 10 TDs, and a top-10 finish at WR
What kind of Bears fan would I be if I didn’t include at least one homer pick among my bold declarations? If I’m making a bet on any Bears player this year, it’s Allen Robinson. Why? First, Robinson has done it before. He was a top-6 receiver in 2015 with 1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 150+ targets. Simply put, he was a monster. Fast forward to 2019, and Robinson has only finished one season since then. He hasn’t hit 900 yards or even 7 touchdowns in that time either. The second reason I love Robinson is he’s finally healthy again. Robinson was out all of 2017 (save for a single catch) and he was still getting back to 100% last season. Despite that–and playing in a new offense–Robinson still put up this stat line:
What would happen if we projected out a full season using that 13 game sample? Let’s see:
So in his first year catching passes from Mitch Trubisky in the Matt Nagy offense, Robinson was still on pace for close to 1,000 yards. He’s now a year healthier, he’s more familiar in the offense, and he should benefit from a young and improving quarterback. I expect Robinson to make a leap in his second season with the Bears, and I’m expecting a high ceiling. There’s another reason I’m high on Robinson though: his teammates’ health.
Looking at the Bears roster, here are the most notable pass-catching options Robinson will contend with:
- Anthony Miller (dealing with an ankle sprain)
- Trey Burton (returning from hernia surgery)
- Taylor Gabriel (never caught 70 passes in his career)
- Tarik Cohen (no complaints here…Tarik Cohen is a beast)
- David Montgomery (rookie RB)
Two of the main guys Robinson would be fighting for targets (Miller and Burton) are both recovering from injuries and it’s possible neither is at 100% when the season begins. What should we expect if Miller and Burton missed a couple games? Robinson would feast! I’m not saying he would become DeAndre Hopkins or anything…that’s far fetched for almost anyone. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Robinson fed more in that time. It would give him time to establish himself as the top dog, and to create a strong connection with his quarterback.
Maybe this one’s not as much of a stretch as the others. Still, Robinson is going as the 32nd wide receiver off the board and he is the Bears #1. He hasn’t been a stud since 2015, and it’s possible he is nearing the end. I’ll wager he’s about to remind us how amazing he can be, and I’ll predict Robinson for 1,000+ yards, 10+ touchdowns, and a top-10 finish among all wide receivers.
David Johnson finishes RB1 with 1,000 receiving and 1,000 rushing yards
Fantasy football is definitely a case of “what have you done for me lately”. If someone didn’t blow up last year, the odds are they aren’t considered important. This is a crazy mindset, and David Johnson is here to prove it to us. Let’s take a look at his career stats thus far:
David Johnson has only played two full seasons–in 2016 and 2018. I look to 2016 as an example of the player he should be in 2019. He was a full-fledged workhorse and he was active in the passing game. He was close to the 1,000/ 1,000 pace then, missing it by only 121 receiving yards. What about 2018? The Cardinals were a laughably bad offense and Johnson still managed to finish top-10 among running backs. Whatever you think of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, I doubt they could be that bad. If the Cardinals offense ended up league average this year, I could see Johnson’s carries ending up right around last year’s numbers (think something around 260 carries), and his receptions should go up big time. Used correctly, Johnson should be seeing 15-18 carries a game and 5-10 targets a game. This would put him back on that 2016 pace, and it would give him a real chance at the elusive 1,000/ 1,000 club. What if the Cardinals offense is as ground-breaking as some say? The ceiling could be much higher. Either way, I think 2018 was the absolute floor for a healthy DJ.
So what about Johnson’s competition? If DJ is going back to the top, then I have to give you a good reason to fade the “Big 4” running backs. Here’s my two cents:
- Saquon Barkley is going to be playing in a really bad offense. Eli Manning is well past his prime, and I expect him to lose the job before year’s end. Daniel Jones (his heir-apparent) was a reach in the draft, and GM Dave Gettleman hardly reassured me about the pick when he said that he knew based on seeing one series during a practice at the Senior Bowl. Bad offenses make it hard for running backs to succeed, and I would completely focus on Barkley if I was an opposing defense. All that attention has the makings of a sophomore slump.
- Ezekiel Elliott is a monster on the field, but he’s a disaster off the field. He’s constantly getting himself into trouble, and now he’s holding out for a huge new deal. Zeke lacks the passing upside of the other backs on this list, so I still think DJ’s ceiling is higher even if they both play a full 16 games. Zeke being an off-field distraction simply seals it for me.
- Christian McCaffrey saw just about everything go perfectly for him last year. Cam Newton was hurt which made for frequent dump-off passes to the running back. As a result, McCaffrey saw 124 targets and he caught 107 of them. He also had 219 carries en route to 1,098 yards on the ground. How could I possibly be selling McCaffrey? First, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are both excellent receivers in their own right, and they should but cut into that target share. Second, Greg Olsen is back and he should be fighting McCaffrey for those shorter targets. Third, Newton likes to huck the ball downfield. Now that he’s healthy I expect fewer dumpoffs and more big shots. McCaffrey will still have value, but not like last year.
- Alvin Kamara is another target monster at running back, and he put up 81 receptions for 709 yards. He is a skilled runner at the same time (194 carries for 883 yards) and his talent is undeniable. Still, the Saints have yet to prove they are willing to give Kamara the full workload. He has yet to see 200 carries, and this diminished role makes it hard to end up#1 overall. I love Kamara’s talent, but his situation will remain his crutch. Expect Latavius Murray to be a goal line vulture
All this being said, what do I expect from David Johnson? I’m predicting around 250 carries for somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 rushing yards to go along with 80-90 receptions for 1,000 receiving yards. These stats, with the addition of what touchdowns come his way, will make David Johnson the RB1 for 2019.
Mitch Trubisky (ADP qb21) finishes as a top-5 QB
I dipped my toes into the homer picks with Allen Robinson earlier, so let’s jump fully into the deep end. It’s time to talk about my man: Mitch “Mr. Biscuits” Trubisky. The Bears were comic relief for many football fans when they traded up in the 2017 draft from the 3rd pick to the 2nd pick to grab their quarterback. Chicago gave up a lot to jump that one spot, but it’s always worth it to get your guy if he’s that good. How good has Trubisky been so far? Let’s see:
In a terrible offense spearheaded by Lame-duck Coach John Fox, Trubisky looked bad in 2017. Anyone watching could see it. So, the Bears went out and hired their dream coach (Matt Nagy) and he started building a whole new system. Chicago looked like a cutting edge team in 2018, running plays that few in the league would dare. Trubisky improved across the board (W-L record, completions, attempts, yards, TDs, yards per attempt, QBR, sacks taken) and showed that he could find success in the league. I still don’t believe he fully bloomed, however, thanks to the complexities of learning an entire system in the span of one offseason.
On top of the new playbook, Mitch Trubisky was throwing to almost exclusively new weapons. Here are the players that joined the Bears between before the 2018 season:
- Allen Robinson (free agency): 754 yards, 4 touchdowns
- Taylor Gabriel (free agency): 688 yards, 2 touchdowns
- Anthony Miller (draft): 423 yards, 7 touchdowns
- Trey Burton (free agency): 569 yards, 6 touchdowns
That list represents 76% of Trubisky’s passing yards and 80% of his touchdowns. The only significant receiving weapon Trubisky carried over from 2017 was Tarik Cohen. It must be hard to enter an offseason with all new faces, especially when you are learning an entirely new offense. Luckily, Trubisky has the luxury of an almost completely returning supporting cast. The only new face on offense is David Montgomery, who already looks like a much better pass catcher than Jordan Howard ever was.
On top of the improved supporting cast, Trubisky still hasn’t played a full season, and he still hasn’t attempted a full slate of passes. If we projected out a full 16 game stat sheet for last year, Trubisky would have attempted 496 passes, or 16th most in the league. If this number jumped to put Trubisky at just 12th most, he would have attempted 554 passes last year. Let’s imagine what a 16 game season from Trubisky would have looked like last year with exactly 554 pass attempts:
This complete season stat line, with a bump to passing attempts but no bump in any other stat (completion %, yards per attempt, TD%, Int% all stayed the same), would have been good enough to put the Bears QB into 6th place last season. I didn’t even bother to touch his rushing stats–though he might go even further up the list. So where is Trubisky being drafted this year? QB21. That’s insane! Have you ever needed a reason to wait at quarterback? Grab Mitch Trubisky and enjoy a breakout season for pennies on the dollar. He’ll finish top-5 this season, and you can thank me when he does.
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)