For those of you who missed Part 1 of this bold predictions list, check out #10-#6 here. Some of the rhyme behind my “reason” is explained there, but in reality, we’re somewhere past the deep end at this point. Rhyme and reason are overrated. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Predictions of Honorable Mention
Half of the top 20 WRs come from the 2014 NFL draft class
Several of the wideouts from the legendary 2014 class are relatively “known” commodities — OBJ, Evans, Cooks, Robinson, Landry, Watkins and Adams currently hover right around Fantasy Football Calculator’s top 20 in ADP. The remaining three are where this prediction gets wild.
Martavis Bryant has 14 touchdowns in 21 career games but has struggled with off-the-field issues. He matures and nearly matches that TD total in 2017 alone.
John Brown has shown signs of elite explosiveness, but his 2016 season was plagued by unfortunate health battles. Word out of Arizona is that “Smokey” Brown is back to burning up the practice field, and with Michael Floyd gone and Larry Fitzgerald’s career winding down, he has a clear path to WR2 numbers.
Quincy Enunwa was a WR4 last year with Brandon Marshall and a few games of Eric Decker still around. Now, with New York jettisoning all their talent … uh, I mean veterans … expect the 6’ 2”, 225-lb Enunwa to receive about a 95% target share. Seriously though, Enunwa’s floor is 70 receptions, and I expect closer to 85 plus a handful of scores (and we’re talking 9.5-inch Enunwa handfuls).
Six tight ends finish 2017 with more than 223 PPR fantasy points (the highest total at the position in 2016) for the first time in history
If 2011 was the Renaissance for the tight end position, last year was the Dark Ages. Travis Kelce’s league-leading 223 fantasy points was the lowest by the No. 1 since 2006, and the aggregate score of the top five TEs was the lowest since 2010. The two players considered “elite” in last year’s drafts — Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed — missed eight and four games respectively, leaving us with names like Dennis Pitta to fill out the top ten. Still, it will take more than a positive regression to the mean for this truly insane prediction to come true, considering it’s never happened. The closest year was 2015 when five guys topped 223 PPR points, but even then the sixth was well off the mark with 191.5 points.
That will change in 2017. We’ve already covered Gronk and Jimmy Graham in Part 1, so the remaining four will be the real test.
Give me Reed, Kelce, Tyler Eifert and dark horse Zach Ertz. Reed is nearly a lock if healthy, considering he put up 244.2 in only 14 games in 2015. Kelce is also a good bet to improve on his 2016 total, following the departure of Jeremy Maclin from Kansas City. Eifert’s only real challenge will be staying on the field, having missed 27 of a possible 64 career games. But take his last 16 full games, and you have 838 yards and 15 TDs on 66 catches (239.8 fantasy points). Finally, I’m calling from a breakout year from Ertz, who’s posted 75+ catches and 800+ yards each of the last two years. He’ll bump those number to 85 and 1,050, and finally break his four-TD ceiling with a respectable six scores.
And now, we’re finally here. Welcome to the top five most insane fantasy predictions of 2017.
#5. Robert Woods finishes as a Top 16 WR w/ 78 catches / 1,140 yards / 6 TDs
You are now entering the Twilight Zone. Here, a fifth-year receiver with career-highs of 65 catches and 699 yards can join the team with the second-least passing yards in the NFL and magically become a WR2. Hey, the headline says insane, what did you expect?
First, Woods seems to be a lock to lead the Rams in catches, with Kenny Britt and Brian Quick gone and 5’ 9” Tavon Austin forever relegated to a gadgety, low-volume role. While generally playing second-fiddle in a run-first offense in Buffalo, Woods has shown the ability to be a reliable possession receiver. Now, with a nearly-guaranteed career-high in targets coming in 2017, he has every opportunity to catch 75+ balls.
Second, the coaching staff has seen a massive overhaul. Sean McVay, the league’s youngest head coach, will bring a vibrant offensive mindset to LA after the long-awaited departure of fantasy sinkhole Jeff Fisher. He’s also added a quarterbacks coach as the new offensive coordinator (Matt LeFleur), and brought in a new quarterbacks coach in Greg Olson. All signs point to a heavy focus on developing Jared Goff ASAP after the Rams traded the farm and all the kids to take the youngster first overall in 2016.
If the staff succeeds, and Goff takes a sizeable leap towards franchise QB status, his primary receiver will reap the benefits en masse. Woods can be had so low in drafts that he carries literally zero risks, and fantasy owners willing to join me in my madness will be heavily rewarded.
#4. Derrick Henry outscores Demarco Murray in total fantasy points
We know it’s going to happen at some point, so the insane prediction here is that it happens in 2017, when Murray is going as a second round stud in fantasy drafts. Despite clear signs that Murray is the lead back, Derrick Henry is still going in the 7th round per FFC. Strange, considering there are backs with much clearer paths to fantasy-friendly workloads going later — Frank Gore, Latavius Murray, and Jonathan Stewart, to name a few.
Why the inflated ADP? Because, deep down, everyone else fears what I know: Demarco Murray’s time is ending. A running back’s prime falls roughly between 24-28, but at 29 and beyond there is a steep dropoff in top-tier fantasy production. Murray is, you guessed it, 29 years old, but that’s not even the full story. He has also battled injury throughout his career, missing an average of two games per season, and has often shouldered extremely heavy workloads, including the famous 392 carries in 2014 and 293 for Tennessee last year.
Tell me this scenario isn’t at least dangerously plausible: Murray suffers a minor sprain shortly into the season, and sits out a few games to recover. In his absence, Heisman-trophy winner Derrick Henry steps up, takes his 20 attempts per game and 6’ 3” 250-lb frame, and pummels the defenses of the Dolphins, Colts and Browns for 300+ yards and a couple touchdowns. When Murray gets back, the Titans attempt to ease him into action but find he’s just not as effective as their breakout second-round draft choice. The backfield becomes a committee with Henry at the helm and the sophomore star wins the fantasy point race.
Scary, isn’t it? Well, if you pick up Henry in the middle of your draft, the only thing to be feared will be your running back corps in the fantasy playoffs.
#3. Andy Dalton has more yards than Aaron Rodgers, more TDs than Andrew Luck, fewer INTs than Drew Brees, finishes as a top-four QB
A quick look at the Red Rifle’s 2016 fantasy finish is less than inspiring. He was a QB1 (just barely, at No. 12), but posted a mere 18 passing TDs on 4,206 yards. A career low in interceptions per attempt (1.42%) and a career-high in rushing yards and TDs (184 and four) could be called “silver linings,” but they aren’t enough to suggest elite fantasy value in hiding.
So why the optimism? As the wise Confucius once said, “Man with rifle and rounds is useless without targets to shoot.” Okay, that wasn’t Confucius, it was me, but the point remains: Dalton’s receiving corps in ‘16 was conspicuously absent.
Superstar AJ Green missed six full games and most of a seventh with a hamstring problem. Touchdown-artist Tyler Eifert only really played seven games due to a litany of injury issues. Even pass-catching back Giovani Bernard was sidelined the last six games of the season by a torn ACL. That’s essentially 22 missed games from what would have likely been Dalton’s top three targets, leaving Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd to pick up the slack.
Not so in 2017 (fingers crossed). Cincinnati spent their top two picks on WR John Ross and RB Joe Mixon and added five-star WR recruit Josh Malone in the fourth round. Ross is the new record holder for the NFL combine 40-yard dash and Mixon is considered by many to be the most well-rounded back in the entire rookie class. The overall boost in offensive talent is nearly guaranteed to open the field for Dalton and makes his arsenal one of the most explosive in the league.
With Green back and the influx of skilled targets, we can project a modest five percent bump in yards, putting Dalton at 4,416 — very much in Mr. Rodger’s neighborhood. The TDs are going to depend somewhat on Eifert’s health, but when the 26-year-old tight end finally swats the injury bug away, Dalton will throw for a career-high 29 scores, enough to outdo Mr. Luck. And the interceptions are already in the bag, considering Dalton has three straight years with fewer picks than Mr. Brees. Put it all together, and you’re looking at the biggest QB surprise of 2017.
#2. Danny Woodhead is the No. 3 RB in PPR
Perhaps the most insane part about this prediction is its level of sanity, considering that it’s actually happened before. Just two years ago, Woodhead produced 1,091 total yards and nine TDs with a monstrous 81 receptions, trailing only Devonta Freeman and Adrian Peterson in PPR scoring. Now, he finds a new home in Baltimore, where targets and running back jobs are waiting to be snatched like Blake Bortles interceptions. Jeremy Maclin should pick up some of the slack left after the departure of Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken and Kyle Juszczyk (whose targets made up 48% of Joe Flacco’s 2016 attempts), but it won’t be enough. And given Flacco’s recent penchant for safety valves, Woodhead could actually surpass his 2015 reception total.
On top of that, the Ravens’ running back situation is far from solid, considering their projected RB1, Kenneth Dixon, is a sophomore suspended for the first four games of the season. Woodhead may have never played in a backfield this open for business and will see a career-high 120-130 carries as a result.
After David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, no top-15 back reached 55 receptions last year. Give Woodhead a healthy 85 and that’s the equivalent of a five-TD advantage in PPR scoring. Add in the aforementioned carries, with Woodhead’s career 4.3 yards per attempt, and you’ve got over 500 rushing yards to boot. Crunch the math with a decent eight total touchdowns and you’re looking at more than 250 PPR points. Combined with predictions in part 1, the absence of Zeke, the aging LeSean McCoy, and Demarco Murray (also see above), Woodhead’s numbers will be enough to catapult him to the third best finish at the position in 2017.
#1. Tom Brady breaks the QB fantasy points record currently held by Peyton Manning (410)
Tom Brady is already the greatest ever in the minds of most, but has yet to crest Manning’s single-season record for fantasy points by a quarterback. By this point, we have learned to laugh in the face of sane assumptions. So let’s break down just how Brady can fulfill this prediction and obtain the one G.O.A.T. trophy missing from his case.
In 2013, Manning threw for 5,477 yards, 55 TDs and 10 interceptions, adding -31 rushing yards, one rushing score and six fumbles (every stat counts in this throwdown). Now, over the past decade, Brady has averaged 8.4 interceptions, 5.4 fumbles, 57.3 rushing yards (that’s positive, by the way) and 1.6 rushing TDs per 16 games played. Give him those numbers in 2017 and he gains a 16.8 fantasy point advantage over Manning’s 2013 in these extraneous categories. That means he can afford around four fewer touchdowns, or 420 less passing yards, or some mixture thereof (told you it adds up).
Taking all this into account, the stat line I’d project for Brady’s record-breaking season would be 4,908 yards, 56 TDs (a new single-season record), eight INTs, five fumbles, 57 rushing yards and two rushing scores, for a grand total of 412 fantasy points.
To achieve the numbers we just proposed, Brady’s going to need some help. In 2013, Manning enjoyed a star-studded receiving corps led by Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, and complemented by the running game of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.
In 2017, Brady’s staff will likely be led by Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, plus an impossible-to-predict RB stable of Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. That’s only one Pro-Bowler and First-Team All-Pro: Gronkowski. That’s two Pro-Bowlers (Thomas and Thomas), and one First-Team All-Pro (Welker earned the honor twice with … Tom Brady).
While the easy answer is that Manning’s wideouts were stronger overall, Gronk is an absolute game-changer, as he draws focus and opens the field in ways Julius Thomas could only dream. Additionally, James White is a proven pass-catching maven, while Moreno’s career-high coming into 2013 was 37 receptions.
Perhaps more telling is a comparison of Brady’s 2017 roster to that of 2007, the year he scored 390 fantasy points (fourth most by a QB).
While Moss and Welker made a killer combo at the top, this year’s team is deeper and more well-rounded. And having the most dominant tight end in NFL history cannot be overstated.
Manning’s 2013 season didn’t have much of a driving story. He was only 37 at the time, and was already known as the superior stat-maker in the constant comparison with Brady. Manning had also already proven he still had game in 2012 after missing the previous season (neck injury), and it was pre-horrific-loss-to-the-Seahawks-in-Super-Bowl-XLVIII.
Brady’s 2017, on the other hand, is already surrounded by a narrative. Is this the greatest Patriots team yet? Can they go 19-0? Will Brady always be known as the winner, but not the statistical king? And most importantly, does Tom Terrific fall off the 40-year-old cliff that everyone is harping about? We already know Brady can be straight fire when given a chip to shoulder — 2007 after Spygate, 2016 after Deflategate, the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI after trailing 28-3. Now, as whispers of the Garoppolo era itch his ears, you can bet Brady will come out slinging in 2017.
The pieces are there. The bar is impossibly high. But if there’s one man who knows how to defy expectations, it’s Number 12.
Agree with any of these insanely bold predictions? Desperate to tell me just how crazy I am? Let me hear about it @FantasySensei on Twitter!