Willem Dafoe said here in this ad, bold choices take you where you want to be. Maybe, maybe not. But making bold predictions for the upcoming fantasy football season always puts me in my happy place.
Of course bold doesn't mean stupid. I discuss a pair of running backs in these predictions, but it does not mean I am planning on selecting the one with the later ADP first. However, my bold prediction keeps me happy and becoming despondent. I am less concerned about missing out on what is typically a top-three pick. I take solace knowing the other RB is still on the board when I pick later in the round.
I've got you curious, don't I? Well, you will have to read on to see what that bold prediction is. But we will start our bold predictions at the glamour position in football, the quarterback.
Bold Prediction #1
Lamar Jackson will not double his passing yards from last year. He will
Predicting Lamar Jackson to double his passing yards to 2,400-plus would be a disappointing season for both him and the Ravens. Both those within and outside of the Ravens organization are likely expecting around 3,000 yards. But I think he easily tops that. I've discussed some of the reasons earlier this preseason why Jackson will out-produce his ADP. Allow me to expound on that.
For one, his schedule is quite passer-friendly. He squares off against the Chiefs, 49ers, Jets, and twice versus the Bengals. Those five games are all teams that were in the top quarter of most fantasy points given up to opposing quarterbacks last year. Conversely, Buffalo in Week 14 seems to be his only matchup against one of the top five stingiest teams in giving up quarterback fantasy points. Furthermore, some of Baltimore's tougher games like Houston and New England are at home.
It is also worth noting that the Ravens brought in Greg Roman as offensive coordinator. Tyrod Taylor, who has a weaker arm than Jackson, threw for 3,000-plus yards for the first time under Roman's direction. Roman also was with San Francisco when Colin Kaepernick threw for nearly 3,400 yards as well. Around 3,600 is certainly a high bar for Jackson to reach, but one he could easily hit this season.
Baltimore brought back Willie Snead, who seemed to connect with Jackson late last season. In Weeks 13-14, Snead totaled 10 catches for 119 yards in the Ravens' low-volume passing attack. Snead led all Ravens with 91 targets. Snead will see his numbers rise as Jackson takes a step forward as a passer. But it is worth noting that the Ravens also brought in undrafted free agent Jaylen Smith, who was a teammate of Jackson's at Louisville. Even if Smith makes the final roster, I don't see him taking away targets from Snead. However, I do see the addition of Smith as trying to make Jackson as comfortable as possible throwing the ball.
Speaking of a WR and QB connecting...
Bold Prediction #2
Dede Westbrook will be a top-12 WR, i.e. a WR1.
Let's start with the obvious. When a receiver goes from the disappointment that is Blake Bortles to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback like Nick Foles, his numbers should spike. Are fantasy owners forgetting how good the Philadelphia wide receivers were with Foles at the helm? Foles targeted his slot receiver 56.8 percent of the time last year. Westbrook ran from the slot 73.9 percent of the time last year. You don't need a mathematician or a crystal ball to see Westbrook and Foles quickly being on the same page.
Secondly, Westbrook has the whole "3rd Year WR" phenomenon going for him as well. His numbers have steadily improved and they should continue their upward trajectory.
Third, Westbrook IS a talented wide receiver. He led the Jags in nearly every receiving category last year. Some might say that's like being the thinnest kid at fat camp. Yet Westbrook does have the pedigree. He was a Biletnikoff finalist at Oklahoma. If however, you don't want to take my word for it, take John Defilippo's:
And remember, Defilippo's been around some pretty good wide receivers named Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, both of whom have been WR1s. Given the usual turnover at WR1 every year, Westbrook might easily be crashing that party this year.
Of course, sometimes people celebrate certain entities too much, which is why...
(Photo courtesy of jaguars.com)
Bold Prediction #3
The Chicago Bears will not be a top-five fantasy defense this season.
I've got the Rams, Ravens, Jaguars, and Vikings all higher on my draft board. Of course "outside the top four" sounds stupid. But that's not all. Antonio Brown acting like a diva would surprise me more than seeing some other D/ST that is getting little attention (Dallas or New Orleans perhaps?) to jump the Bears as well. I could spend pages praising the virtues of those other five or six options, but let's limit the discussion to just the Bears.
Let's start with an area that the Bears were particularly strong in last year — points allowed. They allowed the fewest amount of points per game last year, but the last team to repeat in fewest points allowed was Seattle's Legion of Boom defense, one of the greatest defenses of all time. Like that Seattle squad, the Bears are returning most of their starting defense. However, they did lose starting safety Adrian Amos to the division rival Packers. Amos had 58 solo tackles last year. His solid and dependable contributions will be missed, especially given that the Bears did very little to bolster to their defense this offseason and made improvements to the offense.
Of course, why would you need to boost a unit that was third in the league in sacks (50) and led the league with 27 interceptions? But those 27 INTs is an unsustainable rate of nearly two per game. No other team last year had a rate better than 1.5 per game. Expect that number to slip this year. With the Bears offense likely to stay on the field more this year, the number of opportunities for the Bears defense to save the team will decline. Fewer interceptions here, a few more points scored there, and possibly an unexpected injury (the Bears were particularly healthy on defense last year) and the Bears will fall out of the top five for fantasy purposes.
(Photo courtesy of chicagobears.com)
Bold Prediction #4
There's a TE that wasn't even drafted in your league who you will wish you did.
Okay, fine, I'm not talking to you Travis Kelce owners. If you review my TE tiers, you know that I think Kelce is worthy of a first-round pick. But were Eric Ebron and Jared Cook drafted in your league last year? Was Jason Witten taken in 2017 after two years in a row of just three TDs each? How about Jack Doyle in 2016? Yet each of these players finished as a top-10 tight end those respective seasons. And how many of you had fantasy seasons ruined because you selected Greg Olsen last year? Or perhaps during either of the last two seasons, you selected future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, who absolutely fizzled. I think I have made my point.
The question, however, is who will this comes-out-of-nowhere TE be? I'll be honest I don't know. But looking outside of the top 25 TEs by ADP (as of Aug. 27) I will say my three favorites are Darren Waller, Gerald Everett, and Jordan Thomas. I can't tell you I will be right. However, my leaguemates will all tell you that I was high on George Kittle last year, so ignore me at your own risk. Speaking of risk, let's talk about running back who has seen his fantasy stock tumble due to injury concerns...
(Photo by Zach Tarrant, courtesy of houstontexans.com
Bold Prediction #5
Todd Gurley will score more touchdowns than Christian McCaffrey.
Yup, you read that right. The back nearly always going within the top three of all drafts will be outscored by the back sometimes going in the second round. I know, you would love to hear me explain this.
Let's start with the fact that Gurley has a better offensive line, which always helps. FootballOutsiders ranked the Rams as the No. 1 OL back in April while the Panthers were simply a solid 11th.
Secondly, nearly 18 percent of McCaffrey's carries came with less than three yards to go. Furthermore, six of seven of McCaffrey's rushing touchdowns came within four yards or less. That's critical because Carolina has openly said they would like to reduce the number of plays for McCaffrey:
Jordan Scarlett does not have near the athleticism that McCaffrey does. He is however bigger and showed good straight-line speed (his 40 time was 4.47) at the Scouting Combine. Add that information together and you don't need to be a bird watcher to see Scarlett becoming a TD-vulture. Let's say McCaffrey only loses three or four rushing touchdowns to Scarlett. That is still going to make it hard for McCaffrey to score more than a dozen times.
Meanwhile, even if Gurley scores 25 percent fewer touchdowns this year than he has either of the last two years, he is still looking at about 15 visits to the end zone. McCaffrey might end up with more yardage but Gurley is a scoring machine who has an absolute nose for the end zone. Gurley scored on 26.54 percent of his carries inside the 20-yard line. That was second last year only to James Conner (29 percent) and considerably better than McCaffrey (15.22). And we know Gurley can score from beyond the red zone:
Is picking Gurley to score more than McCaffrey bold? Obviously. But it's just one of my many bold predictions. And I could always use the pick-me-up, so let me know what your bold predictions are!
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.