8 Really Bold Fantasy Football Predictions
With the regular season mere days away, and the majority of fantasy drafts wrapping up this weekend, we’ve all read our fair share of hardcore analysis, in-depth player profiles, and thoughtfully worded projections for the upcoming season.
This, my friends, is a whole ‘nother ball game. This is bold prediction territory, where the unimaginable and sometimes unspeakable becomes reality. Moreover, we’re taking an extra step as we produce a really bold prediction from each division in the NFL. Hold onto your hats, it’s about to get wild.
Rob Gronkowski outscores the No. 4 WR in fantasy points
Let’s take a quick trip in the Fantasy Time Machine (trademark pending). The year is 2011. Rob Gronkowski rewrites the record books with 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. The only wide receiver to outscore him is Calvin Johnson, and the next best guy wasn’t particularly close.
Fast forward to the present. With the loss of Julian Edelman, Gronk is likely Tom Brady’s most trusted pass-catcher. New weapon Brandin Cooks should siphon more defensive attention from Gronk than any Patriot weapon he’s ever played with. The big tight end played in the preseason for the first time since 2012 and has adopted parts of Brady’s unique workout and diet plan in an effort to finally remain healthy. His contract is laden with incentives to stay on the field, and it will pay off (literally) in 2017.
With 16 healthy games under his belt, Gronkowski will be among the most valuable players in fantasy. He won’t quite hit his 2011 numbers, but he won’t need to in order to fulfill this prediction. The 28-year-old will rack up at least 1,250 yards and 15 TDs, outdoing all but the top three receivers in non-PPR fantasy points.
Joe Mixon is least productive of Big Five rookies, ends outside RB3 territory
Coming out of the NFL draft, many experts tagged Joe Mixon as the most complete running back in this class and raved about his fantasy outlook on the Bengals. I wasn’t sold pre-preseason and I’m not sold post-preseason.
Look, Mixon is talented, there’s no denying that. But there are three big problems – and their names are Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, and Marvin Lewis. Hill and Bernard are going to see the field, plain and simple. Hill has seen early down and goal line work in the preseason and has run well enough to continue earning carries. Bernard is excellent as a pass-catching back and will see third-down work despite Mixon’s ability to fill that role as well. And Lewis has shown a maddening proclivity to ignoring talent in rookie running backs and force-feed his more experienced runners.
Mixon will perform well with his touches, but quality will not overcome the lack of quantity. Capped at 150 touches by the system and surrounding pieces, he will end the year behind Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Kareem Hunt, and fail to break the top 36 at the position in general.
Marcus Mariota reaches 40 total touchdowns
“Impossible,” you say? “Run-first offense,” you say? Fair enough, this is a really bold prediction after all. Hear me out.
Mariota had 26 passing TDs in 15 games in 2016. Since then, the Titans have added Eric Decker, something of an end zone savant, as well as top-drafted rookie receiver Corey Davis and preseason standout Taywan Taylor. Mariota, still only 23-years-old, has also gained a year of experience and should improve as an NFL quarterback in his third season.
This Titans offense will move the ball in 2017, giving Mariota plenty of chances in the red zone, where his efficiency has been astronomical (64 percent completion rate with 33 TDs and zero interceptions in his career). It’s a stretch – but not necessarily an outlandish one – to project Mariota for 36 passing touchdowns as he takes the next step in his already impressive development. From there, it would take four rushing scores to get to 40 total. Mariota has reached paydirt twice on the ground in each of his first two seasons, but his rushing ability could quickly translate to double that seasonal average if given the chance. The young gunslinger will step into the elite class in 2017 as the Titans offense opens up behind their new weaponry.
Keenan Allen leads the league in receptions and receiving yards
This one seems hard to swallow because of Allen’s recent injury history. He hasn’t played a full NFL game in almost two years and has missed 26 of a possible 64 games since entering the league. However, a little research shows that Allen’s missed time can be attributed to unique injuries that are unlikely to repeat (i.e. a lacerated kidney and torn ACL over the last two seasons). Unless he is just cursed with bad luck, Allen should not be viewed as a high injury risk heading into 2017.
With that in mind, take a gander at Allen’s numbers in 2015, the last season he played at least one full game: 8.4 receptions, 90.6 yards, 0.5 TDs on average (in eight games). Projected to a full season, that would be 134 catches for 1,450 yards and eight scores. We’re talking No. 1 WR numbers, people. Philip Rivers will absolutely feed Allen as long as he’s on the field and the offense as a whole is a force to be reckoned with this season. Allen will help lead the charge (pun intended) en route to a massive breakout season.
No Eagles RB reaches the top 30 on the season
Philadelphia was expected to sign a productive free-agent back in the offseason but ended up settling for LeGarrette Blount. Blount is coming off an 18-touchdown season, but that was on the back of a league-leading 68 red zone carries for the high-flying New England Patriots. He will be hard-pressed to reach even half that total in 2017 and has averaged 2.8 yards per attempt this preseason rushing in an Eagles system that doesn’t fit his style.
Behind Blount is a hodge-podge of Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, and Darren Sproles. While Sproles makes for an interesting value play in PPR leagues and Smallwood could be enticing if he wins the job outright, it looks like no back will see enough work to truly produce in fantasy. Unless there are some surprise cuts in the next week, or Blount suffers an early injury, the Philly backfield projects as something of a Patriots-lite this year. In other words, it will be hard to find consistent production and the usage will shift around enough to make all the Eagles RBs “avoid” targets for 2017.
Ameer Abdullah produces the third most yards from scrimmage (behind Johnson and Bell)
Forgotten by the fantasy community at large, Ameer Abdullah was and is a dynamic talent who missed the majority of 2016 to an unfortunate Lisfranc tear. That said, he is far from injury-prone and still possesses the skills that made him one of the hottest draft commodities of 2015 (taken a round ahead of David Johnson). He is also the clear RB1 on a fast-paced, high-scoring offense in Detroit. While some are put off by Theo Riddick’s presence in the passing game, it’s important to note that Abdullah is an extremely capable pass-catcher and can stay on the field on all three downs if he shows the resiliency to do so.
Other doubters will point to Abdullah’s small size (5’8″/200) as an insurmountable roadblock to this kind of production. Interesting, considering the size of another Lions running back with shifty moves and explosive big-play ability from years past. (Hint: His name rhymes with Larry Flanders and he was 5’8″/200). I’m not saying Ameer Abdullah is Barry reincarnate, but don’t forget that while Sanders wasn’t always a touchdown machine, he did average almost 1,800 yards from scrimmage per season.
Abdullah has already shown flashes of his potential this preseason, with 99 total yards on 13 carries and three catches last week. Give him 13-16 carries and four or five catches per game and you’ve got plenty of opportunity for elite level yardage.
Before you pull out your pitchforks and torches, let me offer you a brief education. Brandin Cooks was drafted 20th overall in 2014 and projected as a small, quick, dynamic receiver with 4.33 speed, who would likely be a big-play threat in the NFL. Ted Ginn Jr? Drafted ninth overall in 2007, projected as a small, quick, dynamic receiver with 4.3’s speed (he missed the NFL combine), who would likely be a big-play threat in the NFL. Seriously.
While most of the fantasy community was hyping Willie Snead this offseason, I somewhat quietly touted Ted Ginn Jr. He’s a surprisingly natural drop-in replacement for Cooks (now in New England), which makes him the most likely option to pick up Cooks’ production. For now, Ginn is officially listed as the No. 2 on the depth chart behind Michael Thomas and has been used more often and more effectively in the preseason than Snead – who, incidentally, was recently served a three-game suspension for substance abuse.
Ginn still has the explosiveness that earned him a first-round pick 10 years ago, as evidenced on the reverse he took for 48 yards in the third preseason game. The Saints offense always has room for multiple productive fantasy receivers, and if Ginn can cement his role across from Thomas, there is no reason he can’t approach Cooks’ 1,173 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Russell Wilson is the top fantasy QB in the NFC
Here’s an interesting note. Wilson has already finished ahead of all three of them once before. In 2015, Wilson was the No. 3 QB in fantasy on the merits of 4,024 passing yards, 553 rushing yards, and 35 total touchdowns. That was the year Marshawn Lynch missed the majority of the season and Wilson was called upon to carry the Seahawks’ offense. This year, the Seattle RB corps is riddled with question marks and the offensive line is poor at best, which may again lead to a greater reliance on the 28-year-old signal caller.
More importantly, though, Wilson has looked lights out in the preseason. He is fully healthy after battling through injury in 2016, has consistently escaped the pressure allowed by his aforementioned O-line, and has been on the money through the air. Through three games, he is 29-41 (70.7 completion percentage) for 447 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions.
Wilson has matured into a passer in a league with the best at his position. Plus, his legs add additional upside that Rodgers, Brees, and Ryan don’t have. In 2017, he will fuse both into a fantasy finish that crowns him king of the NFC.