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8 Early 2018 Fantasy Football Predictions

Jan 31, 2018

Odell Beckham’s season was cut short, but a 2018 bounce-back should be expected

The Super Bowl may be Sunday but it is never too early to start thinking about next fantasy football season. While there will be loads of moving parts between now and then (as evidenced by the Alex Smith trade which broke just minutes ago), we know enough to make educational predictions about landing spots and the fantasy implications that follow. Make sure to tell me about your 2018 fantasy football predictions on Twitter @BobbyFantasyPro and let me know what you think of these eight.

#8 Saquon Barkley won’t be the top scoring rookie running back
There is no way to spin it, Saquon is not only far and away the best back in this draft class, but probably the best prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson. You can say what you want about his mediocre vision, but the kid has a power/speed combo that hasn’t been seen since Bo Jackson. The issue here is that so much of a running back’s production comes as a result of the opportunities they see and the scheme they are in. His volume won’t be an issue as he is quite clearly a three-down workhorse. The scheme, however, will be a different story. He is most likely to end up on the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets or Tampa Bay Bucs where touchdowns will be more difficult to come by and the offensive lines need some work, especially if Joe Thomas retires. If you are convinced that a running back’s talent can overcome any situation, I implore you to take a look at 2016 Todd Gurley versus the 2017 version. Even Bo Jackson himself wouldn’t have been able to overcome a Jeff Fisher offense or DeShone Kizer calling the plays with stacked boxes and a lousy offensive line. My pick to finish as the top rookie running back can be found at the bottom of this article.

#7 Odell Beckham will finish the season as the top fantasy receiver
Sure, the diva wide receiver has dealt with some soft tissue injuries and had a tough break this season, but he has already put up video game numbers and just turned 25 years old. It is quite possible that his best football is ahead of him which is ridiculous considering he averages 94.1 yards per game over his career which is quite a bit more than these legends:

Antonio Brown: 86.2
Calvin Johnson 86.1
Marvin Harrison 76.7
Jerry Rice 75.6
Larry Fitzgerald 71.3

The matter of the fact is that we may be talking about the greatest wide receiver of all-time when it is all said and done. Josh Rosen (or whoever they draft) may not be an upgrade from Eli Manning right away, but you’d better believe they will beef up their offensive line and invest in a more stable running game which should help the Giants’ passing attack quite a bit.

#6 DeShaun Watson won’t be a top 12 quarterback
Prior to his injury, Watson was on pace to have the best rookie season of all time for a quarterback. The problem here is that his fantasy numbers were not supported by underlying stats so massive negative regression is likely on the way. He threw for just 242.7 yards per game which was in the same neighborhood as Case Keenum, Derek Carr, Eli Manning and Blake Bortles. Not only that, but the number was inflated by unsustainable yards after catch rates. If that wasn’t enough, he only completed 61.8% of his passes which was again, was near identical to Eli Manning and Jay Cutler. What he had going for him in 2017 were high touchdown rates and plenty of rushing yards. Seeing that the great Tom Brady “only” has thrown 5.5% of his career passes for a touchdown, it seems probable that Watson’s absurd 9.3% mark will be virtually cut in half over a larger sample size. Plus, if you think he will rush for 40 yards per game just months after a torn ACL, you’ve got a big surprise coming. I’ll be avoiding him if he is being drafted in the top 10 rounds this season, and seeing that his ADP will likely be in the top 70 overall, you’ll be better off avoiding him as well.

#5 Kareem Hunt will be the biggest non-injury bust
Over his first six games this season, Hunt went nuts for 777 total yards on 120 touches. Oh wait, that wasn’t Hunt, it was Spencer Ware in 2016. My point is that while Hunt was superb this year, he virtually the same player as Ware in terms of efficiency. The difference, of course, was that Ware sustained a significant concussion and wasn’t the same in the second half then missed a few games. If this were any other team with any other coach, I’d just admit that Hunt won himself the bell cow’s job. This isn’t any other team, however, and Andy Reid isn’t any other coach. Prior to 2016 when Jamaal Charles‘ lingering injury forced the Chiefs to use Ware as a work-horse, Reid employed a strict 60/40 dual running back system. In 2014, Jamaal Charles had 206 carries, Knile Davis had 134. The following season, it was split 160/72/71 between three backs. If you draft Hunt in the first round next season, it should be with the understanding that he will likely see 80 to 100 fewer touches in 2018.

#4 Jacksonville’s DST will be even more dominant than it was in 2017
If you watched every snap of Jags football like me this year, you’d know that their league-leading 8 DST touchdowns could have very easily been 11 or 12 had it not been for premature whistles. I’ve never advised anyone to draft a defense, let alone take one before the 15th round. Next year will be different, however, as they return their 10 best defensive players and are still young enough that we likely haven’t seen the ceilings of Jalen Ramsay (23 years old), Myles Jack (22), Yannick Ngakoue (22), Dante Fowler (23) and perhaps even Telvin Smith (26) or A.J. Bouye (26). What’s more, is that not only do they have by far the best secondary and the top pass rush, but after acquiring Marcell Dareus, they went from a bottom-five run defense to top-five over the remainder of the season. They are expected to have near 50 million dollars to spend too so don’t be surprised to see them add yet again to an already historical unit.

#3 Aaron Rodgers will prove worthy of a first round pick
I understand the sentiment on waiting for a quarterback, but in regards to Aaron Rodgers, the idea is vastly overblown. No, I am not advising selecting Rodgers with your first round pick, or even second, as he will surely be there for you in the third. What I am predicting is that he will finish the season as a top 12 VBD player. If you didn’t already know, VBD stands for value-based drafting and the number is derived from how many fantasy points you produce above the 12th ranked quarterback, or in a running back’s case, RB24. It is the most reliable and widely accepted metric to determine a fantasy player’s value over the course of a season. Check out where Rodgers has ranked on the leaderboard over his 10-year career:

  • 2008: #11 overall
  • 2009: #4
  • 2010: #17
  • 2011: #1
  • 2012: #11
  • 2013: injured
  • 2014: #12
  • 2015: Nelson injured
  • 2016: #6
  • 2017: injured

You may have thought this one is a long shot, but Rodgers has actually been a top 12 fantasy player in 6 of his 10 seasons. In fact, he has averaged 95 VBD per season when he is healthy over a full decade, which would have been good for #9 last season. As you might imagine, that is by far the best average mark in the past decade.

#2 Hunter Henry will finish as a top 3 tight end
Antonio Gates is expected to retire this off-season and with that, Henry will be let loose to wreak full havoc on the NFL. Through his first two seasons, he has 81 receptions on 115 targets and 1,057 yards with 12 touchdowns. Those aren’t incredible counting numbers, but you’ll notice that the efficiency is just bonkers. To put into perspective just how well he has performed in his limited opportunity, line them up next to the last 115 targets for Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce:

Henry: 81 rec, 1,057 yards, 12 TD
Gronk: 73 rec, 1,150 yards, 8 TD
Ertz: 78 rec, 871 yards, 9 TD
Kelce: 78 rec, 998 yards, 8 TD

Henry just turned 23 years old. He missed three games to injury and split snaps with Gates over the first eight weeks, so you’ve got to think we will see a significant bump from 62 targets to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100. If that is indeed the case, we’ll have a superstar tight end on our hands.

#1 Lamar Jackson will finish the season as a QB1
For the life of me, I can’t understand why he isn’t viewed in the same light as the other electric dual-threat quarterbacks to come into the NFL draft. Perhaps post-injury RG3 ruined the image of these players, but that shouldn’t be the case because he had an impressive fantasy campaign his rookie season just like the others:

You could even stick Tim Tebow and Marcus Mariota up there, as both had 17.5 or more fantasy points per game in 12 starts which would have been top 7 if extended to a full season. The only miss of the bunch (for obvious reasons) has been Johnny Manziel. Now take a look at how Jackson’s college numbers line up against a similarly difficult strength of schedule to a trio of (former) stars.

  • Lamar Jackson (So/Jr): 26 gm, 57.7% comp, 7,203 pass yds, 57 TD, 19 INT, 8.6 Y/A, (3,172 rush yds, 39 rush TD)
  • Russell Wilson (So/Jr): 25 gm, 58.8% comp, 6,590 pass yds, 59 TD, 25 INT, 7.3 Y/A, (695 rush yds, 13 rush TD)
  • Robert Griffin (Jr/Sr*): 26 gm, 69.5% comp, 7,794 pass yds, 59 TD, 14 INT, 9.1 Y/A (1,334 rush yds, 18 rush TD)
  • Michael Vick (Fr/So**): 22 gm, 56.0% comp, 3,299 pass yds, 21 TD, 11 INT, 9.6 YA, (1,299 rush yds, 17 rush TD

*Griffin was injured as a sophomore and played in a gimmick college offense while throwing to Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams (really!)
**Vick entered the NFL draft after his sophomore season

The obvious takeaways are that Jackson stats translate to a competent NFL passer and he may just break records with his legs. A large part of it will come down to the team he ends up with and if they allow him to start right away.

Bold Bonus Prediction: The Steelers will have a top 5 RB and it won’t be Le’Veon Bell

Let’s start with a game. I’ll give you two running backs from the same team and you tell me which you’d rather have.

  • Player A (22.4 rush/gm, 97.1 rush yds, 33.9 rec yds, 1.5 TD, 31.3 team points per game, 9 and 2 record)
  • Player B (20.8 rush/gm, 101.3 rush yds, 41.8 rec yds, 0.7 TD, 22.8 team points per game, 11 and 7 record)

Player A is De’Angelo Williams from 2015 and 2016. Player B is Le’Veon from 2015 and 2016. They both played for the Steelers and the difference is negligible. Apparently, Bell is asking for 14 million per season, which when you consider the numbers above and the numbers below, seems like a fool’s investment for the Steelers:

  • Ezekiel Elliott this year: 191 carries, 58.1% success rate, 4.1 yd/carry
  • Alfred Morris & Rod Smith: 127 carries, 57.5% success rate, 4.8 yards/carry
  • Leonard Fournette: 249 carries, 43.4% success rate, 3.9 yd/carry
  • Other JAX RBs: 192 carries, 43.2% success rate, 4.6 yd/carry
  • Todd Gurley (2017): 279 carries, 1,305 rush yards, 788 rec yards, 19 TDs
  • Todd Gurley (2016): 278 carries, 885 rush yards, 327 rec yards, 6 TDs

*Credit to @LateRoundQB on the wild Cowboys/Jaguars numbers.
If you haven’t spotted the trend, it is that an offensive scheme and strong supporting cast are much more important than the individual back’s talent. My bold forecast is that the Steelers will move on from Bell and he will sign with the Broncos. The Steelers will then select Rashaad Penny in the second round and he will be a star from the get-go, primarily because he is a part of a strong Steelers’ offense.

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, please check out the FantasyPros Football Podcast (below) that I co-host with Mike Tagliere. Good luck this season.

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