Predictions and projections for the upcoming fantasy football season. Some bold, some basic, but stepping out on a limb and answering the lingering questions on fantasy football owners’ minds.
Let’s be honest: predictions aren’t worth the price of the paper on which they’re written. Everybody’s got them and few are consistently accurate.
You could take a blindfolded monkey, sit him in a bunkered office on the night of a lunar eclipse, spin him around in a chair and let him fling his dung at a bulletin board full of Post-it notes and he might out-predict the experts.
Still, there’s something oddly appealing about predictions, and here’s my random flinging at a cork board … maybe some of it will stick.
Prediction: Carson Wentz will go overlooked … again
Last year I predicted that Wentz would be drafted as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback, but would finish with No. 1 stats. *mic drop* Wait, let me pick that back up; I’m not done yet. Wentz was rolling all season and was in the MVP picture, and likely would have won the award had he not gotten hurt. Now that he’s returning from a knee injury, a lot of fantasy owners will shy away from him and let him slide. I predict he’ll be ready for the season and will put up solid fantasy stats again.
Prediction: Jimmy Garoppolo will get overdrafted by the hype machine
A lot of fantasy football owners are drinking the Jimmy G Kool-Aid because he’s a Tom Brady disciple. There have been many quarterbacks who have served as Brady’s backup throughout his illustrious career and most of them have gone on to fail in their attempts to become a starter elsewhere. While I believe Garoppolo is in the best position to have success as a starter now with Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers, he’s not Tom Brady. I’ve seen him selected as high as the fifth round in fantasy mock drafts so far, and if that trend continues throughout the offseason, I predict that will be too high for him.
Prediction: Andrew Luck will provide a nice mid- or late-round steal
Luck has experienced a devastating fall from grace since the 2016 season, when he threw for 4,240 yards, 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, with a 96.4 passer rating. He missed the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury and still isn’t throwing in offseason workouts. If healthy, Luck would have been a Top 5 fantasy quarterback. But because there’s a dark cloud of uncertainty hovering over the beleaguered quarterback, he’s going to continue to slide down draft boards into the late rounds. I would not select him as your No. 1 option due to that risk, but I predict a return to health and a pretty damn good season will follow, if he stays on the field.
Prediction: Kirk Cousins will not be the Vikings’ — or fantasy football’s — savior
The Minnesota Vikings went as far as journeyman quarterback Case Keenum could take them last year, but just couldn’t become the first team ever to be a hometown Super Bowl participant. Keenum actually put up respectable fantasy numbers in former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense, surrounded by weapons like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph. The theory is that a better Kirk Cousins and a healthy Dalvin Cook in the backfield should push the Vikings over the edge, right? That’s not exactly how it works, as football is not defined with simple equations. I predict Cousins will put up QB1 stats but will not be what many in the football world think he’ll be.
Prediction: Kareem Hunt will experience a backslide
If you were one of the shrewd fantasy football owners who drafted Hunt — either before or after Spencer Ware’s injury — bravo to you. If you were one of the lucky lottery winners after Hunt’s explosive Week 1 debut (i.e. you held the No. 1 priority in your league’s waiver wire system), you were basking in the jackpot after that week. Now that the rookie went on to become the NFL’s rushing champion and a bona fide fantasy stud, he’ll instantly be vaulted into the top half of the first round of almost every fantasy draft out there. While I still expect Hunt to put up RB1 fantasy numbers, just beware that the chances of him putting up back-to-back seasons of the same echelon are a bit on the smaller side, and I predict that he’ll fall back a little into the mid-RB1 range.
Prediction: Saquon Barkley’s stock will be too high to buy
I’m actually quite surprised by the hype level surrounding Barkley this offseason and I’m seeing him fly off fantasy mock draft boards really fast at this point. I think the comparisons to Ezekiel Elliott are a bit premature right now, and I feel the success of last year’s crop of rookie running backs — Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, among others — is skewing the predictions for Barkley in perhaps an unrealistic direction. I feel that Barkley is a low-RB1, high-RB2 back at this point and should be drafted accordingly. However, I predict he’ll be taken as a cornerstone player on many fantasy owner’s teams without adequate depth behind him, leaving those owners scraping the waiver wire if he’s not as great as anticipated.
Prediction: Christian McCaffrey will not encroach RB1 territory
I love the versatile McCaffrey’s skill set, and as a staunch advocate for PPR fantasy leagues, McCaffrey will be a valuable option for your team. McCaffrey finished behind only Le’Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara in receptions for a running back in 2017, and he finished 14th overall in that category among all players. He finished the season as an RB1 last year, so why don’t I think he’ll cross that territory this year? Well, for one, I think the entire Panthers offense will be more balanced. Greg Olsen returns healthy, the team added rookie D.J. Moore and veteran Torrey Smith to their depleted wide receiver corps, and they signed veteran running back C.J. Anderson to bolster the running back depth. McCaffrey likely will not reach 80 receptions again, nor will he hold up as an every-down back shouldering the load. I predict he’ll put up good numbers, but will not finish as an RB1 fantasy player.
Prediction: D’Onta Foreman will start or receive the majority of work
Last year, the veteran Miller started and accounted for 53% of the team’s rushing attempts. Rookie backup D’Onta Foreman received just 17% of the team’s carries, but averaged 4.2 yards per carry compared to Miller’s 3.7. Expect that workload to be more balanced this season, with the possibility of Foreman receiving as much or more work than Miller. There have been some rumors that Miller could be cut before the season if the Texans believe in Foreman’s ability to shoulder the load. Whether or not that happens, I predict Foreman will start at some point this season, or, at the very least, garner the lion’s share of the workload — pending health, of course.
Prediction: Mike Evans will re-emerge as a Top 5 wide receiver
In 2016, Mike Evans was the most targeted player in the NFL, had the second-most touchdown receptions, the fourth-most receiving yards, and the sixth-most receptions. Last year, he slipped considerably, finishing with just 71 receptions on 135 targets, for 1,0001 yards and 5 touchdowns — not exactly WR1 numbers. The Buccaneers bolstered their backfield for the 2018 season to help take pressure off Jameis Winston and the passing attack. They’re expecting big things from their tight end position and the offense should look more polished in general. I predict that Winston and Evans will find their groove again and Evans will vault back into the Top 5 of NFL wide receivers.
Prediction: Alshon Jeffery/Amari Cooper will be picked too soon
I love big-bodied wide receivers who can box out smaller cornerbacks and win jump balls, thus, I’ve had an affinity for guys like Jeffery and Cooper. And while I think they’re excellent NFL wide receivers, their fantasy stock has been falling at a dramatic rate. Jeffery joined an explosive offense with a great quarterback in Carson Wentz, and yet his numbers looked only marginally better than his prior two seasons in Chicago. In 2015, he played in just 9 games and caught 54 balls for 807 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 2016, he caught 52 passes for 821 yards and 2 touchdowns in 12 games played. But last year with the Eagles, he played in every game but caught only 57 passes for 789 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s being overvalued at this point. As for Cooper, he’s put up modest numbers in his three years in the league. He’s never had more than 7 touchdowns, never caught more than 83 balls in a season, and has maxed out at 1,153 yards in a given campaign. Now the Raiders have added Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson? I predict these two again will be selected too early this year.
Prediction: Corey Davis will provide great value later in draft
As the first wide receiver off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft, selected by a supposedly blooming Tennessee Titans offense, Corey Davis was supposed to be an emerging star in the making. But after suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason, Davis appeared in just 11 games, starting 9 of them, and caught just 34 balls for 375 yards and no touchdowns. As a result of that slow start to his career, combined with coaching staff changes, plus relative impatience among the fantasy football community, Davis has been sliding down draft boards this offseason. I predict that Davis will emerge as the team’s No. 1 receiver at some point during the season, post WR2 numbers in new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense, and will add great value to your roster later in your draft.
Prediction: Demaryius Thomas will have a bounce-back season
Not since Peyton Manning was slinging passes in Denver has Thomas eclipsed the double-digit touchdown mark. He has declined in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in each of the past four seasons. Because of this decline, in conjunction with the memory and popularity of his early career, Thomas has been overdrafted in fantasy drafts and as a result of that has disappointed his fantasy owners. But the irony is that he has still been a reliable fantasy contributor if he hasn’t been your No. 1 wide receiver. Last season, the worst of his past four campaigns, he still finished with high WR2 numbers. I predict you will see an incline in those falling statistics as he’s paired with a better quarterback in Case Keenum than he’s had in the past few seasons.
Prediction: Jimmy Graham will do what Martellus Bennett could not
Martellus Bennett was a rising star at the tight end position, so it was natural to expect him to excel with one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Aaron Rodgers throwing to him in Green Bay last season. That, however, did not pan out. Bennett — as has been discovered — is a bit of head case and often times is accused of loafing on the field. Bennett didn’t last one season with the Packers. This season, the Packers let go of veteran receiver Jordy Nelson and brought in tight end Jimmy Graham. They don’t play the same position, but Nelson was Rodgers’ favorite target and that opens up a major opportunity for Graham to secure some looks this season. I predict Graham will step in and post Top 5 fantasy football stats for a tight end.
Prediction: George Kittle will emerge as a borderline TE1
If you’re looking for a potential sleeper — that is, unless he draws too much attention throughout the duration of the offseason, training camp and preseason — then San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle just might be your guy. Kittle flew under the radar for much of last season, starting in just 7 games but catching 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns. When Jimmy Garoppolo entered the starting lineup and the Niners reeled off five straight victories to close the season, Kittle’s role began to polish and he even tallied 100 receiving yards in the Niners’ Week 17 victory over the Rams. I predict that Kittle will draw near — if not eclipse — that TE1 threshold as he and Garoppolo grow more comfortable together in Season 2.
Prediction: O.J. Howard will be drafted too high, and Cameron Brate too low
Howard was a hot draft pick as a rookie a season ago, selected 19th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming out of a successful Alabama program. Unfortunately for those owners who drafted Howard too high — something I warned against in last year’s predictions — the Bucs were not ready to kick Cameron Brate to the curb in favor of the rookie, and Howard had an underwhelming fantasy season. In his second season, expect Howard to get an even bigger role, but I wouldn’t go drafting him to be your top tight end. Not with Brate signing a six-year, $41 million extension in the offseason. In mock drafts so far, I’ve already seen Howard going too soon and Brate going too late — if at all. I predict that both players’ fantasy stats will reflect improper draft positioning when it’s all said and done.
Prediction: Ricky Seals-Jones could be your league’s late-round steal
Another sleeper at tight end to keep an eye on is Arizona Cardinals tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. Last year, the rookie played in only 10 games, starting just once, catching only 12 passes for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those are hardly earth-shattering numbers and no one knows what kind of offense to expect from the Cardinals in the post-Bruce Arians, post-Carson Palmer era in the desert. The Cardinals signed veteran quarterback Sam Bradford in the offseason and selected Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick in April’s draft. With all this uncertainty, Seals-Jones likely will slip in most fantasy drafts — perhaps completely off some boards entirely. But he’s the best tight end option the Cardinals have and the tight end position is a quarterback’s best friend in new offenses.
For reference (or sheer curiosity), here were my predictions a season ago:
Prediction: Matt Ryan will be overdrafted in far too many fantasy leagues
Ryan was a perfect sleeper quarterback last year. He slipped by in many fantasy football drafts and the prudent fantasy owner swooped in and picked him up and reaped all the rewards. This year, thanks to his MVP season, he is going to be drafted way too early and crush a lot of owners who draft him.
Prediction: Blake Bortles will have a rebound season
Bortles was a fantasy football darling last offseason as fantasy owners were eager to pick him up and watch him build upon his 2015 success. That did not happen, though, as his fantasy stats tanked, which led to his job being in jeopardy. That’s going to slide him all the way down draft boards and give owners the opportunity to get a potential steal. And if he busts again, you’re no worse off having spent a late pick on him.
Prediction: Fantasy owners will get nostalgic about 2015 MVP Cam Newton
I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that Newton’s 2015 MVP season was a fluke. Last year, Newton proved it. He’s been in the league for six seasons and only one of those seasons was “great” by fantasy standards. He’s a good player, his legs give him added fantasy value, but he’s not some fantasy superstar.
Prediction: Carson Wentz will be drafted as a backup but produce like a starter
Wentz is ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack of quarterbacks, and justifiably so. But he showed good progress in his rookie season and now the team has added playmakers around him, which will give his stats a boost. He shouldn’t be drafted as anybody’s starting quarterback, but he just might conclude the season as one.
Prediction: Marshawn Lynch will not return to “Beast Mode”
First, there’s the prospect that Lynch turned 31 in April and 30 seems to be the proverbial “wall” for running backs. Then, there’s the fact that Lynch last played football in Nov. 2015. Some might try to make the argument that “he’s fresh” now, but I don’t buy it. Lynch might have a modicum of success, but he’s not going to be a reliable fantasy option.
Prediction: Todd Gurley will show much improvement in 2017
Gurley was a major disappointment in 2016. Selected by many fantasy owners as their first-round draft pick, Gurley proceeded to tank many fantasy teams last year. But he’s too good not to rebound and post some respectable fantasy numbers. RB1-worthy? Maybe, maybe not. But he’ll certainly push that threshold.
Prediction: Adrian Peterson is done
Peterson recently claimed that he is aiming to play five more years, but I’ve got some news for the 32-year-old back: 1.9 yards per carry — which is what he averaged in three games last year — is not going to keep you on a roster for that long. Some think Peterson has defied the age barrier for running backs, but I don’t see how he has good fantasy success at his age in a pass-happy offense.
Prediction: C.J. Anderson will provide great late value
When a fantasy football owner sees a player at the top of his cheat sheet who is a member of a running back committee, that fantasy owner tends to pass right by that player to the next on his list. And yes, Anderson will be part of a committee that includes Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles. But as Anderson slides down the boards, his value increases and he’ll be a nice late-round pick for one lucky owner.
Prediction: The Ty Montgomery Running Back experience will suffer a setback
After the Packers slotted him in the backfield last year when their running back depth took a hit, Montgomery had moderate success in his transitional role. This offseason, they officially moved him to running back where he’ll start the season. Fantasy owners will see “starting running back” and “good offense” and snag him when available. And while I think he’ll show some flashes of playmaking ability, he’s not going to last.
Prediction: T.Y. Hilton’s numbers will take a significant hit in 2017
With fellow receiver Donte Moncrief missing time due to injury, Hilton had a solid season seeing more balls thrown his way. He caught 91 balls and led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,448. But a healthy Moncrief will steal attention from him and Hilton will be drafted too high in too many leagues.
Prediction: Brandin Cooks will have sizzling numbers
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the New England Patriots, the model of consistency and franchise-building through the draft, do not trade assets for veteran players unless they have every intention of using that player. Cooks is going to post big numbers as the Patriots make yet one more Super Bowl push with Tom Brady at the helm.
Prediction: Jarvis Landry will earn that big contract he seeks
Landry is seeking a big contract at the end of this season, and that typically has a way of motivating a player not to take plays off and “do all the little things” to make him a success. Landry has always been targeted inside the Dolphins’ offense and he provides a nice weapon to Adam Gase’s offense.
Prediction: Martellus Bennett will post Top 5 fantasy numbers
Bennett is one of the most versatile tight ends in the league and he has a tremendous ability to pick up yards after the catch. In an offense with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball to him, that means many more plays where Rodgers keeps a play alive with his feet leading to broken coverage and huge plays down field.
Prediction: O.J. Howard will get drafted too early in non-dynasty leagues
Howard will be one of the best dynasty league values a team can secure as the versatile, athletic tight end makes a name for himself in a solid crop of tight ends. But as he finds his NFL footing this season and tries to secure targets in the midst of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and fellow tight end Cameron Brate, the “shiny new allure” of his talent will cause owners in redraft leagues to select him too high.
Prediction: Julius Thomas will resemble his Denver Broncos days
Poor Thomas. When he signed a contract with the Jaguars two seasons ago, he didn’t realize that Jacksonville is the place talented players will usually languish. After securing 12 touchdowns in both 2013 and 2014 with the Broncos, Thomas caught only 9 combined in his two years in Jacksonville. Now reunited with Adam Gase in Miami — who was Thomas’ offensive coordinator for those two solid years in Denver — Thomas will look more like his Broncos self.