Below are my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming fantasy football season. I acknowledge these are things that are unlikely to happen – they are bold predictions, after all. They are however things that COULD happen at the extremes of a player or player(s) expected range of outcomes. I want to use them to highlight some players I feel strongly about. ADPs referenced are from FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Let’s get to it!
1. Brandon Marshall OUTSCORES Odell Beckham Jr.
Let’s go completely off the deep end right at the start. Bold is beautiful. The Giants are somewhat of a dark horse Super Bowl contender with a smothering, star-studded defense, an impressive group of pass catchers, and a QB that has already won the big one twice. What they don’t have, however, is a good offensive line. Or even an average one. Eli was constantly under pressure last year, and when ODB couldn’t break free of his defender downfield, the offense often stalled out. Enter Marshall, who gives Eli a massive target he won’t have to scan downfield for. I expect Marshall to get peppered with targets as the pocket will be consistently collapsing. As for Marshall as a player, I think he is going to be balling out this year as he makes one more go at a playoff appearance. He will likely be the first read at the goal line and I have a feeling he can still play. Odell will still be great but he is going to be sharing the pie for the first time, and it’s not completely outside of the realm of possibility that Marshall bests him in targets, red zone targets, or touchdowns. I love Marshall this year, going 56.1 overall per fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
2. Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard both fall outside the Top 20 at RB
These two were fantasy darlings last year, the kind of waiver-wire heroes that turn shrewd owners into champions. They combined for 4 200 yard performances and were likely on many league-winning squads. I am fading both this year, as their early 2nd-round ADPs leave no room for profit and open you up to tons of downside.
Jay Ajayi couldn’t beat out Arian Foster to start for his team last year (Foster retired mid-season.) He was not only a healthy scratch week 1 but was not even permitted to travel with the team due to his pouting. Once he finally got a shot, he ran all over the Steelers, Bills, and Jets for 500+ yards and four TDs over the course of three magical games. He also ran for another 2 hundred against Buffalo later in the season. HOWEVER, he only cleared 60 yards three times in all of his other games combined. He is relatively unproven, has a spotty injury history with his knees, and his QB isn’t scaring anyone. His inconsistency, lack of track record, and weak supporting cast make me think his 12.3 ADP is too rich.
Howard was a little more reliable, but his success was perhaps even more improbable than Ajayi’s. The NFL is littered with players making good after being underdrafted. Scouts whiff all of the time, and they missed on Howard- he lasted until the fifth round. Once the Bears stopped stubbornly giving work to the plodding Jeremy Langford and the underwhelming Ka’Deem Carey, Howard went bananas. He may well repeat – but I want to see him do it again before believing in his talent. Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky will be quarterbacking the offense and number one wideout Cameron Meredith just went down for the year. If Howard is going to repeat his awesome 2016 he’s going to have to do it against stacked boxes and defenses that he won’t again be able to sneak up on. Maybe he does it, but I’m not paying an early second round pick to find out.
3. The AFC North Produces Four Top-Twelve Running Backs
You don’t need me to tell you that Le’Veon Bell is mm-mm good. But Danny Woodhead, Isaiah Crowell, and Joe Mixon are some of my favorite RB targets in the early-mid rounds this year.
The Browns dramatically improved their offensive line this offseason by adding C J.C. Tretter from Green Bay and punishing RG Kevin Zeitler from the Bengals. Throw in the perennially excellent Joe Thomas and you have a line that could sneakily be among the best in the league. We know Coach Hue Jackson loves to pound the rock, and I expect Crowell to get a lot of run as the unquestioned bell cow with rumors floating that second stringer Duke Johnson Jr. will be playing some wideout this season. Finally, I like that Deshone Kizer won the job out of camp – we have seen many times in the past that a QB with wheels can keep defenses off balance and open up nice running lanes for the halfback.
Danny Woodhead has already been a top 12 back, a scant two years ago with the Chargers. He has been somewhat taken down by injury of late but as long as he is on the field I like him to produce. He does have to compete with Terrance West for carries but I expect him to get the bulk of the passing down work. And the Ravens love to throw it – catering more towards Woodhead’s skillset. The Ravens threw 679 times last year- more than anyone else. That will regress but they will likely remain pass-heavy. If Woodhead can haul in a bunch of those passes, a return to 2015 form isn’t out of the question.
Joe Mixon has done some despicable things off the field, but on the field his talent is undeniable. Marvin Lewis has a long track record of getting the most out of troubled players who slid in the draft or fell out of favor in the league due to character concerns (i.e. Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones) and I think Mixon is his next project. Standing in his way for touches are Gio Bernard – a scatback type coming off of an ACL tear and Jeremy Hill whom, since his rookie season, has proven completely inept at every aspect of football other than falling over the goal line. The Bengals lost two very important linemen in Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth, but I think they still have enough talent on the offensive side to move the ball and Mixon could explode in what should be a fun, productive offense.
4. Matt Ryan is NOT a Top 8 Quarterback
Fantasy players have short memories. Ryan was awesome last year, he’ll be awesome this year, right? I’m not buying it. Coming off what was clearly a career year, Ryan is a good-not-great-talent who struggled to learn former OC Kyle Shanahan’s scheme two years ago and will now have to hit the books again after losing Shanahan to a head coaching position. I expect the Falcons defense to improve and their offense to naturally regress resulting in closer games and less offensive fireworks. Anyone can get hurt, but any sort of injury to the decidedly not made of steel Julio Jones would likely send Ryan’s stock down the tubes. Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton, and Phillip Rivers are all QBs being drafted behind Ryan that I expect to out-produce him. I actually don’t even know how bold this prediction is – prior to last year Ryan finished as QB #13, #8, and #20 from 2013-15 in ESPN standard.
5. Keenan Allen is a Top 5 Wide Receiver
Injuries to his kidney, ACL, and hairline have perhaps unfairly labelled Allen as injury prone. He might be, but I’m willing to give him another shot. ESPN’s Stephania Bell has pointed out that a lot of Allen’s injuries have been of the more fluky variety and not necessarily the type of nasty, nagging soft-tissue injuries that can derail a players career.
That being said, Keenan Allen is flat-out dope at football. A God-like route runner with an uncanny rapport with QB Phillip Rivers, the only thing Allen doesn’t have going for him is luck. His last 9 games played (over the previous two seasons) extrapolate to a 1,400 yard pace. Give him any sort of luck in the touchdown department (career high of eight, way back in 2013) and we’re looking at someone who is an absolute stud WR1. His current ADP of 35.0 could wind up being a draft-day robbery.
6. Rob Gronkowski plays all 16 games and is the #1 scoring non-QB player
This one is more of a gut call and a bet on health rather than talent – it wouldn’t shock anyone to see Gronk have a crazy good season. He has long been making men look like boys and boys look like wriggling insignificant larvae. Still impossibly only 28, Gronk hasn’t played a full slate since back in 2011- a year in which he scored 17 touchdowns. I’m expecting something like that, and possibly better. He has long since shown an excellent chemistry with Tom Terrific and I expect Brady to lean on him to fill the target void left by the injured Julian Edelman. From a health standpoint, Mrs. Gronkowski’s favorite son is reportedly recovering extremely well from back surgery and has allegedly given up alcohol – if a boozy Gronk can crush anvils with his bare hands a sober Gronk may well will the Universe out of existence. Anytime you can get him after the first round is highway robbery and at his current ADP of 19.0 I’d happily take the plunge.
7. Rex Burkhead scores double digit touchdowns and is the Patriots highest scoring back
Whenever Bill Belichick goes out of his way to acquire someone, I take notice. He has pilfered many a no-name retread and brought them to fantasy relevance – Chris Hogan and LeGarette “Roll The” Blount come to mind most recently. So when I saw him grant a $3.15 million dollar contract to the relatively non-descript Burkhead early in the offseason – more than he has paid any back in years – I immediately took notice. He does have tons of competition in the backfield and the hierarchy is about as unclear as you would expect, but one or two of these guys is going to score gobs of points. I am betting on the versatile Burkhead to get a goal line carry here and there, catch a ton of passes, and maybe even score a special teams TD or two as the kind of hard-nosed swiss army knife that Belichick loves. Perhaps I am underselling the punishing Mike Gillislee or pass catching mavens Dion Lewis and James White, but I just have a hunch on Burkhead. I am emboldened by the fact that when Burkhead got the start in week 17 for the Bengals last year with Gio Bernard on the shelf with an ACL tear and Jeremy Hill nursing a lack of talent, he carried the mail 27 times, ran for over 100 yards, scored twice, and caught a couple passes. With an ADP of 120.7, Burkhead is a high upside lotto ticket and a cheap way to grab a piece of what is likely to be an insanely productive backfield.
8. Robbie Anderson leads the league in targets
Robbie Anderson is literally the only pass catcher on the Jets. No, seriously. With Quincy Enunwa out for the year, Brandon Marshall chasing a ring for Big Blue and Eric Decker dragging his large endowment to Tennessee, the Jets are going into the season with one receiver on their roster. Now, obviously this is not true, but I expect the tanking Jets to be behind early and often and sometimes these dumpster fire teams can produce fantasy relevant receivers through volume alone. I expect Anderson to be a high end WR3 just due to the sheer amount of work he’ll get. Bilal Powell and Matt Forte will likely see an abundance of targets as well, but I expect whatever sad combination of Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty Gang Green decides to trot out to be looking for Anderson with a comical frequency. What else are they going to do, throw it to Austin Seferian-Jenkins?
9. Sammy Watkins is not a thing (Translation – Top 40 WR)
I’m sure Sammy Watkins is a nice guy but I just don’t think it’s going to happen for him. He still has tons of theoretical upside as an incredible prospect coming out of college but at this point if he finally makes good it won’t be on any of my teams. Health has been his main bugaboo and as NFL players age they don’t get more healthy – they get less healthy. In 3 years he has missed eleven games with foot injuries and although he is healthy now he is in my (incredibly non-medical) one step away from the trainer’s table. I don’t buy the”fresh start” narrative for him either – he is moving from one inept offense to another and will be playing with a quarterback who literally doesn’t know from which direction the sun rises.
10. Despite hours of painstaking pre-season analysis and a dedication to fantasy football bordering on unhealthy, you will unquestionably lose multiple times to the guy/gal in your league who auto-drafted their team
This is more of a personal one.