Early 2020 Bold Predictions (Fantasy Football)
If someone would’ve told you prior to the start of the season that Lamar Jackson would finish with more fantasy points than anyone in NFL history through the first 16 weeks, you probably would’ve said that’s a hot take based on what we saw in 2018. What if they said Aaron Jones would’ve finished as the No. 2 running back, Jarvis Landry would be a top-12 receiver and D.J. Chark would be a top-18 receiver, while Odell Beckham would finish outside the top-24 receivers despite playing all 16 games, or that JuJu Smith-Schuster would finish outside the top-60 receivers? You would’ve looked at them like they were crazy. But the truth is that these things happen every year.
If you guys have followed me for a long time, you know that I’m too analytical to have hot takes or bold predictions most of the time. But I want that to change a little bit this offseason, so I asked to do this piece on early bold predictions for the 2020 season. Let me be clear when I say that these are by no means concrete predictions, but things that have a much stronger chance than some will think, or draft position suggests. When I hear the term ‘bold predictions’, I like to think of it as something the public believes has a less than 20 percent chance of happening. Here are some things I believe have a better chance than most expect.
1. Calvin Ridley pulls a Chris Godwin and overtakes Julio Jones as the top receiver on the Falcons.
I’m the biggest Jones fan out there, as he may be my favorite football player of all-time. The fact that he’s going to be 31 years old remains and it’s natural for those who have the freakish size/speed combo he does to decline rather quickly. There were 5-of-13 games that Ridley saw eight-plus targets, which is elite territory, and heading into his third season is where explosions tend to happen. This may be more of a 1A and 1B situation.
2. Joe Mixon finishes as the RB1 in fantasy football.
If you watched Mixon playing over the second half of the season, you know why I’ve been telling everyone that he’s a top-five talent at the running back position for years. I also said that if he were on the Steelers instead of Le’Veon Bell, he would’ve posted similar numbers. After watching him down the stretch on what was the worst team in football, he might just be the best running back in football. From Week 8 through the end of the season, he ranked as the No. 4 running back behind only Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, and Ezekiel Elliott. So how is the No. 1 finish possible? Read the next bold prediction.
3. The Bengals finish as a top-10 scoring offense and produce multiple fantasy options.
Not many have sat down and realized just how much happened to the Bengals from an injury standpoint this year. They didn’t have their starting left tackle Cordy Glenn for the first eight games. They didn’t have their first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams all year, who had to have shoulder surgery. They also had Clint Boling, their starting left guard, retire at just 30 years old. There were other injuries on the line that had other starters missing games. That’s just the offensive line. Then there’s injuries to A.J. Green, John Ross, and Auden Tate. Given they have the first pick in each round, the Bengals are an offense that should grow in year two under Zac Taylor, as not many would’ve succeeded with what he had to work with this year. It also doesn’t hurt that their defense is horrendous, which allows for plenty of volume in the passing game. With A.J. Green requiring double coverage most of the time, John Ross‘ ability to rip the top off the defense, Tyler Boyd‘s ability to play the possession role, and Joe Mixon as a true three-down option, the Bengals offense is looking up in 2020.
4. Marquise Brown becomes a top-24 fantasy receiver.
Any time a receiver is coming off foot surgery, it’s usually best to give them a year to heal and let someone else draft them in fantasy football. Brown overcame a lot to be on the field in Week 1 and rack-up 233 yards and two touchdowns over his first two NFL games, but things went downhill shortly after as he dealt with nagging injuries all year. The growth by Lamar Jackson as a quarterback was promising, and they’ll have a full offseason to work together, something they didn’t have last year as Brown recovered from foot surgery. The player I compared to DeSean Jackson could be a steal late in drafts.
5. Odell Beckham finishes as a top-five receiver while Baker Mayfield finishes as a top-10 quarterback.
I’ve heard some people say the Browns should move on from Mayfield now that John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens are gone. I don’t think those people realize just how much a coach can derail an offense. Do we remember how the Rams offense looked under Jeff Fisher with both Todd Gurley and Jared Goff? How about Ryan Tannehill, Devante Parker, and Kenyan Drake under Adam Gase? You can’t erase what was the best fantasy wide receiver over a five-year period on a per-game basis due to one season under Kitchens. Mayfield is more of a question mark, but with a healthy Beckham, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb, this offense should be dynamic, provided they hire a competent head coach.
6. Corey Davis finishes as a top-30 wide receiver.
There are a lot of fantasy owners who’ve simply given up and moved on from Davis, though I’m not one of them. He’s far too talented not to produce in this league. We saw A.J. Brown struggle with Marcus Mariota, so why should Davis be treated differently? “But Mike, Brown dominated with Tannehill while Davis didn’t!” This is true, though there are some factors that play into that. Brown was not a starter at the beginning of the year, which means he was working with the backups (Tannehill), so it’s possible those two developed a connection while Davis was practicing strictly with Mariota. If you go back and watch when Brown’s breakout took place, it was when Tannehill took over. When the season started, Mike Vrabel said that Davis was far-and-away their most talented receiver. He may have underestimated Brown’s talent, but Davis is someone who might surprise fantasy owners in 2020 similar to the way Devante Parker did in 2019.
7. D.K. Metcalf becomes the No. 1 receiver in the Seahawks offense and finishes as a top-15 wide receiver.
Remember when Metcalf was a developmental project who would take time to develop as a route-runner before contributing on a regular basis? Yeah, neither do the Seahawks. Not only that, but he had his knee scoped just two weeks prior to the regular season starting. He wound-up posted 75 yards and/or a touchdown in eight of the last 10 games and was more consistent than Tyler Lockett. There were just five games where Metcalf totaled less than 11.0 PPR points while Lockett failed to hit that mark six times.
8. The Chiefs draft a running back and he finishes as a top-15 option.
I don’t even care who the running back is at this point, but the Chiefs are going to draft one, and he’s going to walk into the starting job. This was the first year that I can remember Andy Reid’s offense didn’t provide us with a consistent RB1 or RB2 option, and I’m not betting on that happening again in 2020.
9. The Dolphins don’t draft a quarterback.
This one might sound off-the-wall to some, but the 2021 class of quarterbacks is expected to be just as good (if not better) than the 2020 class. They don’t have an offensive line in place, they have little-to-no defensive talent, and they are not in a position to win in 2020. With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen under contract, they shouldn’t be reaching on a quarterback in this draft, but rather building the rest of the team that’s depleted of talent, then bringing in their franchise quarterback in the 2021 draft.
10. David Johnson gets traded to the Bucs and reunites with Bruce Arians, while Kenyan Drake finishes as a top-10 running back with the Cardinals.
There are a lot of moving parts here, which makes this one particularly bold, but that’s the idea, right? Johnson has a big contract that makes him tough to trade, the Bucs have salary issues, and Drake is an unrestricted free agent. But seeing what Drake did for the Cardinals offense down the stretch has to resonate with the Cardinals front office, and Drake himself has to appreciate the opportunity to run with the job, something that didn’t happen with the Dolphins. If the Cardinals do retain Johnson, expect him to be used quite a bit as a slot receiver.