Bold Fantasy Football Predictions for Every Team
With the NFL preseason just around the corner, it’s time to get excited about fantasy football again. Among the endless parade of analysis these days, is there any better way to get the blood boiling than a grand list of bold predictions? Join me on a 32-team journey as we postulate wildly at the biggest fantasy stories of 2017.
John Brown overcomes injury concerns and finishes as a top-24 WR
Brown played through a gamut of unusual medical issues in 2016, producing poor numbers that have deflated his ADP (WR47). Recent news of quad concerns for Brown are likely to lower that ADP even further, but reports out of Arizona have expressed confidence that “Smokey” seems past his long-term health concerns.
Brown bulked up to 185 pounds and literally lived with Carson Palmer in the offseason. If he does beat the injury bug, all signs say the speedster can top his strong 2015 numbers (65 catches, 1,003 yards, seven TDs).
Matt Ryan doubles his 2016 interception total, finishes outside the top 10 QBs
Ryan’s biggest foe in 2017 is going to be a mathematical reality called “regression to the mean.” Over the first eight years of his career, Ryan averaged a 64.3 completion percentage, 7.2 yards per attempt and 13.4 interceptions. Last season, those numbers jumped to 69.9%, 9.3 Y/A and seven INTs — all career bests by far.
Chances are slim that Ryan has suddenly transformed into an elite QB, particularly minus Kyle Shanahan. As such, those numbers and more will plummet in 2017, returning Matty Ice to the fringes of QB1 territory in fantasy.
Danny Woodhead leads the team in catches, TDs and, yards per rushing attempt
The Ravens lost Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and Kyle Juszczyk in the offseason, plus Kenneth Dixon to season-ending surgery in July. Joe Flacco will be desperately seeking a reliable pair of hands for the 362 targets those guys commanded last season.
Enter Danny Woodhead. An absolute pass-catching maven out of the backfield, Woodhead has been an RB1 multiple times in PPR formats and has a career 4.3 Y/A. Considering Baltimore’s limited weaponry on offense, the 5’9″ RB is easily capable of more than 80 receptions, 1,000 total yards, and eight touchdowns.
Tyrod Taylor tops 34 total touchdowns, outscores Cam Newton in fantasy
Since joining the Buffalo Bills in 2015, Taylor has shown solid flashes of QB1 potential. Combining a reliable arm (62.6 completion percentage, six INTs per year) with dangerous rushing ability (60 yards per game, 10 rushing TDs) over that span, Taylor has merely been capped by Rex Ryan’s unimaginative offense and star-receiver Sammy Watkins’ spotty health.
Now in a new system, under a new long-term contract, Taylor is poised to step up into the elite tier of dual-threat quarterbacks. With a healthy Watkins, the 28-year-old QB could easily leapfrog Cam and push toward Russell Wilson territory.
Jonathan Stewart holds off the Christian McCaffrey hype, posts his best fantasy season since ’09
Carolina has made no secret of its crusade to protect Cam Newton. Ron Rivera intends to reduce Cam’s rushing and the organization drafted a pair of high-profile, underneath-receiving specialists in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.
Flying under the radar through all this is veteran RB Jonathan Stewart. Never a pass-catching consideration, Stewart makes his living off early-down, short-yardage and goal line work — all of which should increase with Newton’s contribution dialed back. This will translate to a surprising 1,000-yard, double-digit TD season for Stewart, despite McCaffrey’s likely dominance on third down.
Kevin White finally fulfills draft potential, outplays Cameron Meredith for WR1 role
When the Bears took White with the seventh-overall pick in 2015, they were drafting a 6’3″, 215-lb beast with outstanding combine numbers. Since then, White has missed all but four games due to injury. Fantasy owners have abandoned ship on the third-year wideout, leading to an ADP of 159th overall (WR57).
And yet, reports out of minicamp have said White is running at full speed and impressing with explosive routes. If he finally blossoms into the talent he could be, White would easily pass undrafted free agent Cameron Meredith to assume lead receiver duties in Chicago.
Andy Dalton thrives with explosive receiving talent, returns to the top-five QBs
That’s right. Returns. Dalton was the No. 5 fantasy QB in 2013 on the back of 4,296 yards and 33 TDs despite 20 INTs. Entering 2017, his weapons are even better than they were then. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard will return from 2016 injuries and Cincy added the explosive duo of John Ross and Joe Mixon in the draft.
With what is quietly one of the most balanced offensive arsenals in the league at his disposal, Dalton will have a clear path to career numbers. And even if he only repeats his ’13 stats with a more manageable interception total, 300-plus fantasy points are well within reach for the Red Rifle.
Isaiah Crowell posts career highs in every major rushing category, slips into top eight RBs
Though limited by poor game script in 2016, Crowell posted 4.8 Y/A and seven touchdowns on 198 carries. Head coach Hue Jackson has been vocal about committing to the run this year and believes Crowell can take it to another level. With Pro Football Focus’ second-best offensive line and a more Jackson-esque carry total around 250, there’s no reason he can’t.
The Browns won’t be much better as a team, which prevents Crowell from making the top five. But even with minor gains — to around 1,150 yards and 10 scores — he will far exceed his current ADP of RB15.
Dak Prescott’s efficiency numbers plummet, but passing yards and passing TDs increase
With a 67.7 completion percentage and a Brady-like four INTs on the season, Prescott’s rookie year showcased elite efficiency. But so did Nick Foles’ 2013. Unless Dak really is the next Brady, we can expect defenses to figure him out and tear those numbers down to earth.
That said, we are looking at a Dallas team severely lacking on defense, likely missing Ezekiel Elliott for a few games, and facing one of the toughest schedules in the league. Translation: more passing game scripts, more volume for Dak and despite the lowered efficiencies, more yards and scores through the air.
Jamaal Charles makes a full recovery, capitalizes on opportunity to rush for more than 1,000 yards
Despite a career 5.5 Y/A, a 1,500-yard season in 2012 following a torn ACL, and a clear history of health issues across the rest of the depth chart, Charles is nearly invisible to fantasy owners (ADP, 126th overall). The 30-year-old sits six rounds behind C.J. Anderson, while Adrian Peterson — 32 years old with just as many major injuries — manages to slip a mere round or two behind Mark Ingram at RB26.
Charles and the Broncos are taking recovery steadily, but the veteran back is medically cleared and rearing to go. With the recent injury to Devontae Booker and a less than sturdy Anderson atop the depth chart, Charles will flip a window of opportunity into RB2 production and massive draft-day value.
Eric Ebron finally lives up to expectations, catches 10 TDs en route to No. 4 TE finish
The Eric Ebron hype-train has done so many circles since he was drafted 10th overall in 2014, it’s a wonder it hasn’t left the rails completely. Ebron disappointed each of his first three seasons in the NFL, but don’t lose hope just yet. Tight ends usually take awhile to graduate to greatness (unless their name is Rob Gronkowski), so I’m willing to give the 24-year-old one more chance.
Without Anquan Boldin (team-high eight TDs in 2016), Matthew Stafford will need a new body to target in the red zone. At 6’4″, 250 lbs, Ebron is clearly the best option and should be eager to impress in the last year of his rookie contract.
Green Bay Packers
The backfield is a split committee, holding Ty Montgomery short of RB21 ADP in std. leagues
The fantasy community is pretty split on Montgomery’s potential as a legitimate lead back. He performed well filling in for Green Bay last year (5.9 Y/A) but is still a converted WR with only 80 NFL carries to his name. Although he has clearly put effort into improving as a running back, the Packers did spend three draft picks on the position. The most threatening of the trio is Jamaal Williams, more of a typical bruiser whom the Packers likely see as a strong early-down option.
While Montgomery should have plenty of catches out of the backfield, the presence of Williams and the likely dominance of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game will limit his carries and his ceiling.
Deshaun Watson is the starter by Week 1, guides Texans to AFC Championship game
For now, Houston is listing Tom Savage as the nominal starting quarterback, under the philosophy “start the game manager, let the defense win.” In reality, I think the Texans are tired of squeaking into the postseason as a Wild Card and losing in the divisional round. Watson has championship talent and pedigree. He can actually produce on offense, and head coach Bill O’Brien is already hailing him for developing well ahead of schedule.
Not only will Watson leapfrog Savage by the end of preseason, he will put up numbers reminiscent of Russell Wilson’s rookie season (3,118 yards, 26 TDs passing, 489 yards, four TDs rushing), and lead Houston to a meeting with the Patriots in the conference championship.
Jack Doyle compiles 68 receptions, 745 yards, and five TDs to crack top eight TEs
Undrafted free agent Jack Doyle broke out last year and outperformed Dwayne Allen in targets, catches, and yards. With Allen gone to NE, Doyle is now Andrew Luck’s No. 1 tight end, ahead of former basketball-player Erik Swoope.
While Swoope has the chance to snatch up Allen’s six TDs from 2016, the bulk of the target share should go to Doyle. Given Luck’s track record for supporting tight end production, Doyle has a clear path to TE1 numbers.
Jaguars’ shift in offensive scheme translates to ROY and RB1 season for Leonard Fournette
If the hire of old-fashioned Tom Coughlin and the selection of feature-back Fournette with the fourth-overall pick weren’t enough to validate this claim, consider head coach Doug Marrone’s recent emphasis on the run. “For me, I like to run the ball every play,” Marrone said. “I want to go back to the old way.”
Last year, Jacksonville was fourth in pass attempts (626) and 24th in rush attempts (392). Expect those ranks to swap. Fournette is an athletic monstrosity who could easily rack up 250+ carries and lead the league in rushing scores. Plus, the O-line may be better than expected, earning a rank of 13th in the league per PFF.
Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Conley is most surprising team WR1 in the NFL, produces a top 24 fantasy season
For nearly everything you need to know about Conley, check out FantasyPros’ deep sleeper article on the kid. In summary, he is an athletic freak headed for the sacred “third-year WR breakout” in an offense otherwise devoid of a true WR1. Despite all the hype surrounding Tyreek Hill, Conley is just as explosive (4.35 in the 40-yd dash) and much better suited to a lead role from a size perspective.
Conley is going undrafted in fantasy but has legitimate WR2 upside. Don’t sleep too long.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon’s poor efficiency combines with a regressed TD total to drop him out of top 10
Following a 12-score season, Gordon is suddenly a first-round fantasy pick and the fifth RB off draft boards. All this, despite an abysmal career average of 3.7 yards per attempt. How quickly we forget that Gordon managed a grand total of zero touchdowns on 217 touches in his rookie season.
Neither of those TD totals should be expected in 2017. Instead, he’ll probably snag around seven to eight — technically an improvement on his career average. And unless we see a large uptick in his Y/A, Gordon will barely crest 1,000 yards. Unfortunately, those numbers aren’t good enough to finish among the elite at the position.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Woods is a PPR shocker, topping 80 receptions and 1,000 yards
No Kenny Britt. No Brian Quick. No Lance Kendricks. Those were the first, third and fourth most-targeted receivers in L.A. last year, and all have moved on. That leaves 5’9″ gadget man Tavon Austin and his 58 receptions as the only real threat to Woods in the Rams’ passing game.
The organization has poured heavily into developing Jared Goff as soon as possible, and a reliable possession receiver will be key to that process. Woods will be a sort of Jarvis Landry-lite and return insane dividends on a WR74 ADP.
Speaking of Jarvis Landry, he has lowest reception total of career (currently 84)
News out of Miami is that the Dolphins have placed little priority on extending Jarvis Landry as he enters a contract year. The organization seems keen to refocus on the run game and use gashing runner Jay Ajayi to set up up-and-comers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker on the outside.
For a PPR-stud who makes his living off of 96 catches per year, none of this is good news. Landry already lost 35 targets from 2015 to 2016. As the trend continues, he will shockingly fall short of 80 receptions in 2017.
Stefon Diggs has the most fantasy points of any WR from the 2015 draft class
That means Amari Cooper (and technically Ty Montgomery), who is being drafted three to four rounds ahead of Diggs in non-PPR. Diggs admitted that his poor recovery from a Week 4 groin injury last year was responsible for a lackluster season. Makes sense, considering he had 100+ receiving yards in a game twice before the injury and not once after.
Now committed to staying in better shape, Diggs is a serious threat for 100 catches. Plus, he doesn’t have the threats to touchdowns that Cooper does in Michael Crabtree and others. Diggs’ third-year breakout will be one to watch.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady breaks 40-year-old QB curse, has one of the best fantasy QB seasons in history
Easily the most polarizing player in football, Brady is now at the edge of the “QB cliff.” Debate rages daily over whether his production will plummet like previous Hall-of-Famers Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
The difference for Tom Terrific is an inhuman devotion to caring for his body, famously characterized by a stringent diet and resistance-band workout regiment. He has somehow managed to improve with age and now possesses the most overloaded arsenal of pass-catchers in his career. A repeat of his 2007 numbers may be a lofty goal, but it’s also surprisingly viable.
New Orleans Saints
Neither Mark Ingram nor Adrian Peterson finishes in the top 15 RBs
Ingram versus AP is probably the most-watched positional battle in fantasy this year. Both are former top 10 backs and either would be an RB1 lock in a more secure role. Unfortunately for them, and fantasy owners, the pair now shares a backfield in New Orleans.
While many are hoping one or the other runs away with the job, chances are this will be a hardcore committee. Peterson may see more goal-line work, but Ingram will almost certainly be more involved in the passing game. Each will eat into the other’s value, reducing both to low-end RB2s at best.
New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. falls short of double-digit TDs for the first time in his career
Predicting against OBJ is generally unwise, but there are a few warning signs in 2017. One, the Giants’ shaky offensive line saw little to no improvement in the offseason. With a PFF rank of 28th in the league, this unit is likely to hold back the offense, making it difficult for Eli Manning to put the ball in Beckham’s hands.
Second, New York did bring in WR Brandon Marshall (free agency) and TE Evan Engram (first-round pick in the draft). Marshall has been one of the NFL’s premier end zone threats for the better part of a decade, and Engram will easily catch more TDs than all the team’s tight ends in 2016 combined (only three). Result: OBJ’s TD total drops into single digits in 2017.
New York Jets
Austin-Seferian Jenkins overcomes off-the-field demons to lead New York in receiving TDs
If Eric Ebron is on his last leg with unrequited hype, ASJ is on his last pinky toe. The 24-year old has shown flashes of potential — four scores in seven games in 2015 — but has dealt with injuries and an ongoing drinking problem.
Now, according to reports, Seferian-Jenkins has been sober for months, dropped 25 unwanted pounds in the offseason and is impressing coaches at camp. With little to no competition on the entirety of the Jets offense, ASJ has every opportunity to dominate the red zone if he stays on the field.
Marshawn Lynch has less than 175 carries, single-digit touchdowns, RB3 finish
Mostly due to his hilarious persona and media antics, Lynch currently holds the No. 1 best-selling NFL jersey and the No. 24 overall ADP. Sure, some of it may be his bygone days of 1,500 yards and double-digit TDs, but we haven’t seen that Beast Mode since 2014. The optimistic expectation is that Lynch will slide into the Latavius Murray, 12-touchdown role. The pessimistic view is that he’s mostly there as a media draw and will be heavily limited on carries.
I lean toward the latter and don’t trust Lynch to hold up to a large workload even if he does get one. Steer clear of one of the biggest bust risks in fantasy.
Zach Ertz finally finds his stride in the end zone, catches career-best seven TDs
Ertz has been a frustrating tight end to own in fantasy, as he has posted 75 receptions and more than 800 yards two years in a row but has never scored more than four touchdowns. This will finally be the year for Ertz as he solidifies chemistry with second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz.
Ertz is fully capable of the kind of breakout year Kyle Rudolph experienced last season. Playing a key role in the Eagles offense, he just needs those TDs to finally break into the top echelon of fantasy TEs.
The Killer Bees all suffer a dip in fantasy production in Roethlisberger’s last season
Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are both considered among the best at their positions in fantasy, and Big Ben stands at the edge of QB1 territory (QB13 in ADP). Sadly, Roethlisberger seems on the verge of hanging up the cleats, especially following the recent release of a study on head trauma affecting NFL players.
Already a consistent risk for injury, Roethlisberger may now be less mentally invested in the 2017 season. Without an elite, focused Big Ben at the helm, Brown and Bell could be hard-pressed to live up to their draft capital and will finish outside the top five at their respective positions.
San Francisco 49ers
Pierre Garcon returns to high-end WR2 status in reunion with Kyle Shanahan
The last time Garçon and Shanahan paired up, the former Redskins wideout caught 113 balls for 1,346 yards. Now reunited in San Francisco, the duo will need to work up some offensive magic to keep the 49ers relevant.
Garçon is the only half-decent receiving option on the team (Bruce Ellington? Marquise Goodwin?), and Brian Hoyer is an underrated fantasy producer (see DeAndre Hopkins in 2015). The Niners will have to air it out early and often in 2017, and Garçon will feast.
Eddie Lacy carries strong yards per attempt from 2016 into 275 totes and 10 TDs in Seattle
For some reason, fantasy owners are harping on Lacy’s 2016 injury (ankle sprain in Week 5) but refuse to acknowledge his 5.1 yards per attempt through four weeks. Maybe more importantly, the Seahawks are taking a no-nonsense approach to his past weight issues, establishing contract incentives for multiple weight goals (two of which he’s met already).
Lacy is a more talented and established runner than Thomas Rawls and will win the lead back job by Week 1. On a talented offense with a tradition of pounding the ground game, Lacy will have an open door to a huge bounce-back year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DeSean Jackson has a revelatory age-30 season, hits 18 yards per reception and eight TDs
Jameis Winston ranked third in air yards last year (total passing yards minus YAC). DeSean Jackson was first in the league in deep receptions (targets 20 or more yards downfield) and second in catch rate among receivers with at least 20 such targets.
Mike Evans will draw heavy focus from opponents, freeing Jackson to do what he does best: burn defenses on the deep ball. The math isn’t hard. Look for the veteran to showcase every ounce of speed he still has in the tank.
Derrick Henry steals the lead back job from DeMarco Murray, blasts to a top 16 finish
We know this is going to happen eventually, but it will come as a shock to fantasy owners drafting Murray 13th overall in 2017. Whether it’s due to an early injury to Murray or just an undeniable gap in production between the 23-year-old and the 29-year old, Henry will take control of the lucrative Titans backfield.
Henry is a Heisman-winner out of Alabama and a terror to tackle at 6’3″, 247 pounds. Quite simply, he has the ability to wrench this role from anyone’s hands. If he does, a fantasy breakout is guaranteed.
Terrelle Pryor posts the third most fantasy points among Redskins pass-catchers
One decent season with the Cleveland Browns does not a WR1 make. Converted QB Terrelle Pryor is now the assumed top-dog in Washington and is somehow going as the WR18 in drafts. While he is physically imposing at 6’6″, Pryor has yet to prove he can lead a stable of legitimate NFL receivers.
The Redskins boast Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder, and even super-prospect Josh Doctson. All three are legitimate options to outperform Pryor in catches, yards, and TDs. Recency bias has made Pryor one of the most overvalued fantasy plays of 2017, so think twice before committing a fourth-round pick.