Monday, September 3, 2018

10 Bold Fantasy Football Predictions for the 2018 NFL Season

When making a bold prediction, the goal isn't to be right 100 percent of the time.

After all, that would most likely indicate that the bold prediction was not actually "bold."

Keeping that in mind, I've put together a list of 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season in fantasy football. Most would -- and should -- view these predictions as unlikely.

In some ways, they are contrarian.

More than anything, however, they are a belief that is either (more) positive or (more) negative than most others. And if a few things fall into place, they are possible.

If I hit on three or four of the 10, it's a success; similar to a baseball player hitting .300 to .400.

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With all of that said, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2018 NFL season:

1. Andrew Luck will finish as a top-four fantasy QB.

The obvious concern with Luck is health. Not only did he miss all of last season, but their organization seemed to be less than forthcoming in terms of his 2017 status. And before that, Luck missed nine games in 2015. Given that he has played in this preseason, however, we know that he'll at least be under center in Week 1.

When healthy, Luck has been fantasy gold. In his past three full seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick has finished as fantasy's QB4 (2013), QB2 (2014) and QB4 (2016). In those three full seasons, Luck has averaged 4,274 yards and 31 TDs (passing) as well as 330 yards and three TDs (rushing). If Luck plays a full season in 2018, he has top-four upside, which would generate plenty of profit potential compared to his current ADP for fantasy owners.

2. Blake Bortles will finish as a top-10 fantasy QB.

No team ran the ball more last season. That led to a triple-digit drop in Bortles' volume of pass attempts. And the team's No. 1 wide receiver (Allen Robinson) tore his ACL in Week 1. None of those should suggest fantasy success for Bortles yet the much-maligned quarterback finished as fantasy's QB13 in 2017.

Going into 2018, Bortles will be without A-Rob (now in Chicago) and expected top receiver Marqise Lee, who tore his ACL last month. Finishing as a top-13 fantasy quarterback in three consecutive seasons, however, Bortles boosts his fantasy success with his legs. In 61 career games, Bortles has rushed for 1,410 yards and seven touchdowns -- or exactly 3.0 fantasy points per game from his rushing stats alone.

Not only does Bortles have fantasy's best strength of schedule, but the team may face stiffer competition with a healthy Luck and Deshaun Watson in the division and a first-place schedule. If so, it may necessitate a few more pass attempts than last season. Given that, a top-10 season isn't out of the realm of possibility for Bortles, who has been a favorite QB2 for me to target late in 2-QB leagues.

3. Leonard Fournette will finish as a top-four fantasy RB.

Todd Gurley. Le'Veon Bell. David Johnson. Ezekiel Elliott. The order may vary, but those are the consensus top-four fantasy running backs. I'm not sure which won't finish in the top four (and they currently make up my top four), but I'm a little higher on Fournette than most. Ranked sixth in my running back rankings (vs. eighth at his FantasyPros ECR), Fournette will be the 2018 NFL rushing champion based on my 2018 Fantasy Football Projections.

Playing on a run-dominant offense with an elite defense, the Jags should continue to feed Fournette the ball early and often. A couple of other positives for the big and powerful back is that he has shed some weight, which will hopefully help with durability and explosiveness, and the team has talked up his usage as a receiver out of the backfield. Playing at less than 100 percent and missing three games last season, Fournette finished as fantasy's RB8. Should we expect bigger things in 2018?

4. Mark Ingram will finish as a top-12 fantasy RB.

Clearly his four-game suspension means that Alvin Kamara will get more work year over year (and especially in the first four games) and Ingram will see his year-over-year total workload decline. In addition, I expect a decline on a per-game basis when he returns in Week 5.

That said, I have Ingram projected for the 12th-most fantasy points on a per-game basis and I think that could be somewhat conservative. Even with Kamara finishing as a top-four back last season, Ingram was sixth. Of the 28 running backs with 1,000-plus rushing yards over the past two seasons combined, none have a higher yards-per-carry average than Ingram (4.98). He's also top seven amongst running backs in touchdowns (22, T4th) and receptions (104, seventh) during that stretch.

For fantasy owners that typically make the postseason, Ingram is a blessing in disguise. You get back-end RB1-type production for when it counts at the cost of a back-end RB2.

5. Rex Burkhead will finish as a top-12 fantasy RB.

If this bold prediction holds true, the Patriots will have three consecutive (yet different) running backs finish as a top-12 fantasy backs -- LeGarrette Blount (2016), Dion Lewis (2017) and Burkhead (2018). With eight touchdowns in just 10 games and an average of three catches per game last season, the versatile back should get the majority of goal-line opportunities in New England's high-powered offense and perhaps more targets early in the season with Julian Edelman suspended. In addition, the uncertain status of first-round rookie Sony Michel (knee) for Week 1 only helps his outlook.

6. Giovani Bernard will finish as a top-25 fantasy RB.

In his five NFL seasons, Bernard has missed three-plus games twice -- three in 2014 and six in 2016. Even so, he's never finished worse than the RB44 (his 10-game season) and he's finished as the RB36 or better in all four of his other seasons. Currently drafted outside of the top-50 fantasy running backs based on current ADP data, Gio is a late-round bargain that could return flex value.

While teammate Joe Mixon missed a couple of December games, Bernard had a great five-game stretch in December. During that five-game span, Bernard gained 507 yards from scrimmage with 24 receptions and a 4.75 YPC. As much as I like Mixon this season, Bernard has some stand-alone value and plenty of upside if Mixon were to miss time again.

7. Demaryius Thomas will finish as a top-10 fantasy WR.

The Peyton Manning signing in Denver in 2012 coincided with DT's breakout. That season, Thomas finished with 94/1,434/10 and began a three-season streak where he exceeded 90 catches, 1,400 yards and scored double-digit touchdowns. In fact, it began a five-season streak with at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards that ended in 2018.

Coming off a disappointing 83/949/5 season last year, the Broncos have had less-than-mediocre quarterback play over the past couple of seasons. While Case Keenum is no Peyton Manning (in his prime), the team will have its most stable quarterback situation since the all-time great was under center. That's unlikely to return Thomas to the days of 1,400/10 seasons, but a bounce-back to 90-plus catches and 1,100 yards or so seems reasonable.

[On a related note, I expect a bounce-back season for teammate Emmanuel Sanders as well.]

8. Chris Hogan will finish as a top-15 fantasy WR.

With Julian Edelman suspended to begin the season, Hogan's per-game production in the first four weeks of the season may be more than his per-game production over the last 12 games. While Edelman (ACL) missed all of the 2017 season, Hogan got off to a hot start even with 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks still on the roster. In his first eight games, Hogan had a 33/438/5 line and he was a top-10 fantasy wide receiver during than stretch.

Of course, Rob Gronkowski will be the team's focal point of the offense (again), but that also opens up opportunities for the team's other weapons as Gronk draws double teams and especially for Hogan, who is clearly the team's top wide receiver when Edelman is sidelined. After all, the team's No. 2 receiver heading into the season will be Phillip Dorsett.

9. Kenny Stills will score more fantasy points (non-PPR) than Jarvis Landry.

Perhaps most won't realize this, but Stills has finished as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver in back-to-back seasons. That's even with Landry dominated targets and leading the NFL in receptions last year. Over the past two seasons, Stills has a combined total of 100 catches for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns.

With Landry now in Cleveland, many of his targets will go to newcomers Danny Amendola in the slot as well as Albert Wilson. That said, it's another season of not knowing what to expect from former first-rounder DeVante Parker. In fact, it's unclear if Parker (finger) will be ready for Week 1, but he wasn't having a great training camp before the injury. So, in other words, Stills should see a year-over-year increase in volume even if many of Landry's targets go to Amendola and/or Wilson.

While I have Landry ranked higher than Stills in both formats, it's not out of the question that Stills outperforms Landry in non-PPR formats in 2018 especially if Josh Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving several seasons ago, is able to stay on the field for a (relatively) full season.

10. Jimmy Graham will lead the league in receiving TDs.

Last season, Russell Wilson led the NFL in passing touchdowns and Graham accounted for 10 of them. That said, moving to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense means that Graham could potentially score double-digit touchdowns again, especially Jordy Nelson now in Oakland. Rodgers missed nine games last year, but he led the NFL in touchdowns (40) in 2016.

Since 2011, Rodgers has missed a half-season twice. In the five seasons he's played a full season, however, Rodgers has thrown 38-plus touchdowns four times. Since 2011, only three quarterbacks have multiple seasons with 38-plus TDs: Rodgers (four), Drew Brees (three) and Peyton Manning (two). Perhaps he'll trail Davante Adams for the team lead in receiving touchdowns, but Graham remains a threat for double-digit touchdowns in 2018.

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