In today’s limitless pool of fantasy research, filled to the brim with ADP lists and consensus rankings, everyone enjoys a rousing “Bold Predictions” article. They’re usually a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stale offseason months (when comments about Jonathan Stewart’s workload are considered “big news”). With audacious challenges to the status quo, these pieces take us on an exciting roller coaster ride of guesswork and hyperbole.
This is not one of those articles. Here, we are going where no right-minded analyst has gone before and making ten (plus) predictions that can only be classified as insane. We’re ditching fresh air for straight fire and roller-coaster rides for a ticket on the Crazy Train. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll crash into some cold, hard fantasy truth. After all, what sane person would’ve projected Jordan Howard as the RB9 or top-drafted QB Cam Newton as the QB19?
Every QB taken in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft starts at least one game and scores at least 20 fantasy points
Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Deshone Kizer aren’t too much of a stretch to start a game, considering their paltry competition, but Patrick Mahomes is. Fortunately, I’m taking the easy route and slotting Mahomes into a Week 9 spot-start for a then-concussed Alex Smith. The others will likely accumulate their 20 points over a couple games, but Mahomes will put on a show against the Cowboys, scoring two TDs through the air and one on the ground.
Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram finish 2017 with identical PPR fantasy points
That’s right, All Day and The-Guy-Payton-Hates will end the season with the exact same fantasy point total. AP’s will come from more rushing yards and goal line scores, while Ingram’s higher reception total will make it a tie in PPR.
Okay, this may be a bit of mock-prediction, but the real takeaway here is that neither will be a true stud. Fantasy owners beware, loss of hair is imminent.
And now, to the real insanity.
#10. Gronk and Graham challenge their 2011 dominance with a combined 585 PPR fantasy points, finishing as TE1 and TE2
The 2011 season was a renaissance for tight ends, as we witnessed the blossoming of juggernauts Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. The pair put up two of the top three TE performances in history that year, combining for 189 catches, 2,637 yards and 28 TDs.
Prepare to witness the re-awakening.
Gronk will stay healthy and be even more of a matchup nightmare than normal on a Patriots team overflowing with talent. Meanwhile, his counterpart in Seattle will rebound from a 2016 season limited by inefficiency. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham finished with the worst drop rate of any TE with 85+ targets, and he caught only 35.3% of 17 targets in the red zone. Only Brandon Marshall had a worse rate on more than 15 RZ targets. In 2017, Seattle will realize the value of targeting Graham in scoring range, his red zone targets will increase to New Orleans levels (around 25), and those efficiencies will positively regress to the mean.
Result: the Gronk-Graham monstrosity averages 88 catches, 1,265 yards and 13 TDs. We will likely never again see a one-two punch at TE like this duo was in ’11, but this year’s sequel will come close.
#9. Keenan Allen and Pierre Garcon both finish higher than any WR on a California team since Terrell Owens in 2003
California is far from a breeding ground for elite fantasy receivers in recent years. Since TO finished as the No. 11 WR in fantasy in ’03, Vincent Jackson in 2009 (WR13) represents the closest competition, followed by Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin as the WR15 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. All that changes in 2017 with the arrival of Pierre Garcon in San Francisco and a miraculous healthy season from Keenan Allen.
Let’s start with Garcon, who is reuniting with offensive and fantasy production wizard, Kyle Shanahan. The last time the pair was together, Shanahan called the plays for the Redskins in 2013 and Garcon posted 113 receptions for 1,346 yards and 5 TDs. This year, Garcon is the first, second and third receiving option on a 49ers team now sponsored by Waste Management (#garbagetime). In addition, he will catch passes from a potentially underrated fantasy producer in Brian Hoyer (see DeAndre Hopkins in ’15). The veteran wideout will likely need to compile around 250 PPR fantasy points to pass Owens’ WR11 finish, and with 100+ catches and the consequent yards and scores, he’ll do just that.
As for Keenan Allen, the real reach here is that he’ll play the entire season — something he’s never done before. Heck, Allen hasn’t even played an entire game since November 2015. But when he does, watch out. Even with consistent injury hampering his opportunity to settle into a groove, Allen’s averages over his first 40 contests equate to 15.4 fantasy points per game, fringe WR1 numbers. As he plays the entirety of 2017 and cements his rapport with Philip Rivers, look for Allen to break into the top ten.
#8. Ezekiel Elliott finishes outside the top 24 RBs after missing eight games due to suspension and injury
At the time this article was penned, recent comments by ESPN’s Adam Schefter regarding potential NFL discipline for Ezekiel Elliott have the fantasy community in a state of pandemonium. Schefter said of the ongoing investigation into Zeke’s conduct, which spans back to a domestic abuse case from last summer, “This is a situation that has gone back and forth so many times. I’ve spoken to some people within the league who, during the course of the offseason, got a sense that some form of discipline could happen.” Days later, Schefter noted, “I think that there’s a growing sense that he could face some sort of short suspension here in the coming weeks … once the NFL wraps up its investigation.”
Well, I clearly forgot to drink my sanity juice this morning, so here it is: by August, Elliott will be suspended four games, just short of the NFL’s six-game policy for first-time abuse offenses. You heard it here first. Experts guessing at the likely outcome have largely limited a supposed suspension to a game or two, but I think Goodell goes hard in his ongoing vendetta to appear “tough on crime.” As a result, Elliott will come into the season slightly out of shape, which will lead to a minor soft-tissue injury and another set of missed games. With the half the season lost, even Zeke’s elite production will not be enough to return RB2 value for the season, making him the single biggest bust of 2017.
#7. Terrelle Pryor scores the fourth most fantasy points among Redskins pass-catchers
With the highest ADP of any Washington receiver (38th overall per FFC), Pryor is clearly expected to play the same role for the Redskins as he did for the Browns in 2016 (where he finished as the WR19).
Here’s the problem. Pryor’s competition in Cleveland consisted of Gary Barnidge, Duke Johnson, and ten games of Corey Coleman. Things will simply not be that easy in Washington. Jordan Reed is the clear-cut focal point of the offense and will force Pryor into a reduced role in terms of catches. Jamison Crowder, who broke out in 2016 and is entering the legendary “WR third year,” will excel further as a deadly weapon out of the slot.
Then there’s Josh Doctson, a second-year receiver drafted 22nd overall in 2016. While Doctson doesn’t have the big-play speed Pryor does, his other skills point to an equally vital role: king of the red zone. Scouts raved about his ability to win jump balls and make contested catches, and his 2016 combine results (elite 41-inch vertical was best in the class, 131-inch broad jump was second best) show his measurables fit the bill. We’re looking at a not-so-poor-man’s Dez Bryant in Doctson, whose prowess in the end zone will limit Pryor’s scoring chances.
Pryor is big and fast, and he’s the best bet to fill DeSean Jackson’s deep-threat role, but that doesn’t mean as much as it used to. DJax did lead the Redskins in yards last year, but guess where he ranked on the team in per game PPR scoring. Fourth. Plus, let’s not forget, Pryor is a converted third-round-of-a-supplemental-draft quarterback who only transitioned to receiver two years ago. This may be an unusually hot take, but one decent season with the Browns does not a WR1 make.
#6. Matt Ryan’s throws double his 2016 interceptions, falls outside the top 12 QBs
See if this sounds familiar: solid, if slightly inconsistent quarterback suddenly produces an MVP season, goes on to lose the Super Bowl to a Hall of Fame signal caller and is drafted as an elite QB1 in fantasy the following year. In 2015, that was Cam Newton. As we mentioned at the outset, Newton severely underperformed the next year, posting the lowest completion percentage, second lowest passing TDs and second highest interception total of his career.
This year, the Matt Ryan train is speeding along an eerily similar track. To make matters worse, the Falcons lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (see above), whose second year in control of the Atlanta offense was largely responsible for Ryan’s ascension from the QB19 in ’15 to the QB2 in ’16. We’ll see how new OC Steve Sarkisian steers the play calling, but odds are he will be less successful than Shanahan, whose offensive scheme is considered one of the most effective in the league.
Ryan’s 2016 was so full of outliers in nearly every relevant stat, we must either accept that he’s transformed into an elite presence under center or recognize that the year was an outlier itself. Apologies to Mr. Ryan and his lovely MVP trophy, but I’m going with the latter. Regression across the board — particularly from a career-low seven interceptions to his median of 14 — will combine with an atrocious “Super Bowl hangover” from one of the worst losses in NFL history. Both will bring Matty Ice back to earth, and the pendulum swing will carry him just out of QB1 range.