Monday, September 4, 2017

Fantasy Football 2017: 10 Bold Predictions for the Upcoming Season

There's a balancing act when making a bold prediction be "bold" enough without being outrageous at the same time.

In this post of 2017 fantasy football bold predictions, my goal isn't to be 100-percent accurate with our predictions -- otherwise, they aren't bold. In turn, the goal isn't to be so outlandish that these turn out to be an 0-fer (0 for 10) either.

Ultimately, the predictions below will need some things to break our way for them to become reality, but there's a decent chance that we get a few of them correct.

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With that said, here are 10 bold predictions in fantasy football for the upcoming season:

Marcus Mariota will finish as a top-four fantasy QB in 2017.

The second-year quarterback scored the 12th-most fantasy points in 2016, but we got a glimpse of how good he could be during an eight-week stretch (Weeks 5 to 12). A weekly top-11 fantasy QB in all of those games, Mariota scored more fantasy points than any other quarterback and was second to only Drew Brees (24.50) in fantasy points per game than Mariota (24.19) over that eight-game span.

Even though the Titans are a run-first team, they have put the pieces in place for Mariota to take a major step forward in his age-24 season. Not only do the Titans have one of the league's best offensive lines, but they used three top-100 draft picks on pass-catchers in the 2017 NFL Draft. In addition, they signed Eric Decker after he was released by the Jets. Not only has Decker scored double-digit touchdowns in three of his past four full seasons, but Mariota has been virtually flawless in the red zone: 33 TDs and zero INTs in his two seasons.

There is a clear top-three among fantasy QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Brees. After that, it's wide open in my view. With an improved supporting cast around him, the sky's the limit for this ascending dual-threat quarterback.

Jay Ajayi will lead the NFL in rushing (yardage).

There were four 200-yard rushing games last season and Ajayi had three of them. (Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell had the other.)

Getting double-digit carries every week starting in Week 5, only Bell (243) had more carries than Ajayi (242) from Weeks 5 to 17 last season. Meanwhile, only Ezekiel Elliott (1,219) rushed for more yards than Ajayi (1,197) during that span.

Entering 2017 as the team's bellcow back, Ajayi could challenge for the league lead in carries and rushing yards in 2017.

Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson will both finish as top-15 fantasy running backs in 2017.

If Ingram doesn't finish as a top-15 fantasy running back in 2017, it will be the first time that he's failed to do so in four seasons. In fact, he has finished as fantasy's RB10 last season.

Playing a full 16-game season for only the second time in his career, Ingram posted career highs of 1,043 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 10 total touchdowns in 2016. The concern, of course, is for Peterson to steal touches.

Over the past three seasons, New Orleans ranks 22nd in rush attempts (1,207), but fourth in rushing touchdowns (49). With Brandin Cooks in New England and Willie Snead suspended for three games, it's possible that the Saints run the ball more than usual.

Durability may be a concern with Ingram and Peterson, who's now 32 years and has missed the majority of two of the past three seasons. That said, Peterson has scored double-digit touchdowns every year that he has played at least four games.

In the high-scoring, high-powered, Drew Brees-led offense, it's not out of the question that both Ingram and Peterson exceed expectations.

Christian McCaffrey will finish outside the top-25 fantasy running backs (standard scoring) in 2017.

A dynamic player that broke the collegiate single-season all-purpose record previously held by Barry Sanders, I like McCaffrey much more in PPR formats. Using an early third-round pick on him in a non-PPR format, however, seems a little too rich for my blood. Ultimately, I think he could turn out to be better for the Panthers as a real football player than he will be in fantasy football.

As versatile as any running back, McCaffrey may find touchdowns hard to come by as Cam Newton may be the best goal-line "back" in the league. And Jonathan Stewart is still going to be plenty involved in the running game, especially more so than McCaffrey near the goal line.

The Panthers will certainly design ways to get McCaffrey the ball in space. But when push comes to shove, can we count on Cam dumping the ball off to McCaffrey as opposed to scrambling/running himself? After all, do you "expect a lion not to roar?"

Danny Woodhead will finish as a top-10 PPR running back in 2017.

Woodhead is 32 years old with some durability struggles. Missing the majority of the 2014 and 2016 seasons, Woodhead has played just 21 games over that stretch. When healthy, however, he has been highly productive.

Even more valuable in PPR formats as one of the league's top receiving backs, Woodhead has finished as a top-24 fantasy running back (standard scoring) in each of his past three full seasons. But he finished as the RB3 in PPR formats behind only Devonta Freeman (first) and Peterson (second) in 2015.

Woodhead has 75-plus receptions in each of his past two full seasons. Meanwhile, no team has thrown the ball on a higher percentage of their plays than the Ravens (65.99%), who seem to run the ball only reluctantly. Given the season-ending injury to Kenneth Dixon, Woodhead is a solid RB2 with PPR top-10 upside.

Jordy Nelson will finish as fantasy's WR1 in 2017.

Nelson missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL, but his last two full seasons were nearly identical:

Fantasy Points230 (WR2)208 (WR2)

While his yards per reception dropped significantly to 13.0 from 15.5, I'd expect year-over-year improvement now that he's another year removed from his torn ACL. Some touchdown regression may occur, but Nelson has 13-plus TDs in three of his past five seasons as the go-to receiver of the league's best quarterback.

Having finished as the WR2 in fantasy in each of his past two seasons and in three of his past five seasons played, he has the upside to finish as the WR1 in standard.

Robby Anderson will finish as a top-35 fantasy wide receiver in 2017.

Brandon Marshall? Gone. Eric Decker? Gone. Quincy Enunwa? On IR.

By default, Anderson is the last man standing. Granted, the quarterback situation is a mess (well, what part of the team isn't?), but Anderson's positioned to see an enormous volume of targets as the Jets should be playing from behind most weeks.

Anderson had a few bright spots last season as he exceeded the 60-yard mark in four of five games during one stretch. Meanwhile, ESPN's Rich Cimini recently wrote that Anderson "stacked a few good weeks, separating from the rest of the receiving corps. He improved as a route runner and adjusted nicely to off-target throws."

DeVante Parker will finish as a top-15 wide receiver in 2017.

Like many others, I was way too high on Parker last season. Although there was no breakout for Parker in 2016, could the former first-rounder break out this year?

By all accounts, Parker had a really good offseason and that led to teammates, coaches and media suggesting a breakout was on the horizon. Here's what the OC said of him earlier this spring:

We've seen some positive chemistry between Jay Cutler and Parker this preseason and perhaps that's a sign of things to come. At a minimum, he's more willing than Ryan Tannehill to take chances down the field and allow Parker to make plays.

Jordan Matthews will score more fantasy points than Sammy Watkins.

Both players were impacted by trades late this preseason.

One of the league's most talented receivers when healthy, Watkins missed eight games last season and five games the season before. While he's healthy now, foot injuries are tricky for wide receivers so there is at least some reason for caution on that front. In addition, the move out west presents him with a quarterback downgrade as he tries to learn a new offense. At a minimum, there could be some struggles to hit the ground running when the season begins.

On the other hand, Matthews gets a bump in his move from Philadelphia to Buffalo. There was some concern about his role (before the trade) and the trade of Watkins could lead to Matthews becoming the most-targeted of Buffalo's wide receivers.

Travis Kelce will break the single-season yardage record for TEs.

Back in 2011, Rob Gronkowski (1,327) and Jimmy Graham (1,310) became the first tight ends to ever exceed the 1,300-yard mark. This year, Kelce becomes the third?

Last season, Kelce finished with 85 catches for 1,125 yards and four touchdowns. His yardage total was the 17th-most by a tight end ever. Over the final 10 games of the season, Kelce eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times. Not only did Kelce lead the NFL in 100-yard games during that span, but only two players -- Nelson (four) and DeSean Jackson (four) -- had more than half as much over that span.

With Jeremy Maclin now in Baltimore, Kelce is set to be the focal point of the passing game even more so than he was last season.

Our 2017 Fantasy Football Rankings:
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