Predicting the future is hard.
Come on, do you think even the great seer Nostradamus could have foreseen the fantasy impact of Tyreek Hill last season? I think not! Whether with real-life events or sports, you're going to have your share of good and bad prognostications. Did you know that in 1962, the Decca Recording Company declined to sign the Beatles? That's right, Dick Rowe, who agreed to give the band an audition, famously predicted that "guitar groups were on their way out." One might assume Mr. Rowe went on to a career of selling used cars somewhere after that regrettable prediction, but he kept his job and actually signed the Rolling Stones years later.
Win some, lose some.
Remember JaMarcus Russell? A lot of NFL analysts loved him coming out of college. So did the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 2007. How'd that work out, Raider Nation? You know who the so-called "experts" didn't love? Like not at all? A skinny dude out of Michigan named Tom Brady. He was a sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots in the 2000 NFL Draft. Now, entering his 18th NFL season, Brady is considered the greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron. Oh, and how did all of those predictions of a surefire Democratic landslide win turn out in the last Presidential election?
Fantasy sports are no different. Using facts, statistics, trends and any number of other sources of information, analysts like myself try our absolute damndest to accurately predict player values from one season to the next. Some picks are easier ... it was a shock to no one that Ezekiel Elliott, a stud out of Ohio State, emerged into a fantasy superstar during his rookie season in Dallas. Of course, there are also the prognostications that went horribly wrong. Like predicting Todd Gurley was worth the first overall selection in standard re-draft leagues. Yeah, um ... I'm still sorry about that one.
While correct predictions can be the difference between a good fantasy team and a great one, incorrect picks can also cause a devastating blow to your league championship hopes. You know this feeling all too well if you drafted Gurley or any number of "superstar" wide receivers last season. Despite all of the research that's done, a fair share of predictions, no matter how relevant or based on facts and stats, no matter how we might twist the numbers to back our points, are going to be wrong. And in some cases, those predictions will be embarrassingly wrong.
Why is that the case?
Well ... the one thing that's predictable about the NFL is that it's often times unpredictable. That's a lesson I've learned over and over again in my nearly two decades of making fantasy picks. I mean, DeAndre Hopkins finished 36th in fantasy points among wide receivers last season behind Rishard Matthews, Jamison Crowder and some dude named Adam Thielen. You know him now, but did you know him last summer? Heck to the no. Several predictions you'll hear now and leading up to your fantasy drafts, while sound, thoughtful and intelligent (at the time), are going to blow up in our (and your) faces. Some more than others.
With that in mind, here's a look at the 10 most important fantasy predictions you'll see analysts (including myself) make for the 2017 NFL season that could devastate fantasy teams if proven incorrect.
Le'Veon Bell will avoid injuries and continue to be a fantasy stud. I love Bell, and I'd take him with one of the first three overall picks in re-drafts. Any intelligent fantasy owner would. But what if he just isn't durable? Hear me out. I know, he's missed some time due to league suspensions in recent seasons. But Bell has also been sidelined more than a few times with knee problems, and he ended the 2016 playoffs with an injured groin that would have cost him playing time had it been suffered in the regular season (he needed surgery to repair the damage). If the worst-case scenario does happen and Bell gets hurt again, owners won't have DeAngelo Williams to save their bacon either.
Michael Thomas will avoid a sophomore slump with Brandin Cooks gone. Thomas was tremendous as a rookie, finishing ninth in fantasy points among wide receivers. Now that Cooks is in New England, it only makes sense for the talented former Buckeye to see an increase in his target share and as a result, an increase in fantasy production. Plus, he has a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees throwing him the football. Seems like a no brainer, right? Yes, it seems like it to me too. Thomas can't miss. And then I remember what happened to dudes like Terry Glenn, Michael Clayton, Mike Evans and Cordarrelle Patterson (to name a mere few) after successful rookie seasons, and I realize there are no "sure" things.
Marshawn Lynch will return to "Beast Mode" after a full season off. Lynch's return to the NFL deepens the running back position and puts another stud in the draft stable. After all, he's had a full year without football to rest, and he's joining a Raiders offense with one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league. Heck, Latavius Murray had 12 touchdowns on the ground last season! But what if Lynch, 31, is past his prime? Remember, he missed nine games due to injuries and averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt in what was his final season in Seattle (2015). We also know what can happen to runners after age 30, don't we? Maybe DeAndre Washington is a sleeper.
Leonard Fournette will make an immediate fantasy impact as a rookie. Running backs can make a major impact during their rookie years, maybe more so than any other offensive skill position. Look at Elliott and Jordan Howard a season ago. Over the last five seasons, a combined 17 first-year backs have finished in the top 25 in fantasy points. In 2012 alone, Doug Martin (second), Alfred Morris (fifth), Eddie Lacy (sixth) and Trent Richardson (ninth) all finished in the top 10. Fournette, however, will be running behind a questionable offensive line and could still lose at least some work to veterans Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. I like Fournette a whole lot, but there are some cons.
Rob Gronkowski is 100 percent and will again be the same old Gronk. Gronkowski hasn't had a quiet offseason, as he's been seen in World Wrestling Entertainment rings and partying all over the place like only the big man can. All reports have him back at 100 percent health too, and he better be if he's enjoying all of these offseason shenanigans. But let's not forget that this is the same Gronkowski who missed eight games a season ago due to back problems. He's also missed at least half of two of his last four seasons and his playing style isn't any less punishing. The Patriots also have more weapons on offense than ever before with the addition of Brandin Cooks to goal along with incumbent Julian Edelman.
Joe Mixon will take the featured role in Cincinnati and run with it. Mixon's disgusting behavior caught on video should not be forgotten, and hopefully he has learned from that terrible mistake. But in terms of real football, there's no denying that he was one of the most talented running backs in the entire 2017 draft class. That talent has analysts, including myself, gushing over this fantasy potential. It would be foolish to not think of a scenario, however, where Mixon lands in a backfield committee with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. I mean, Hill has rushed for a combined 20 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Such a result would make Mixon a bust based on his rising average draft position.
Adrian Peterson is old, overworked and won't make a real impact. The last time I doubted Peterson was in 2012, when he was coming off major knee reconstruction and had a quick turnaround before the new season started. I called him a third- or fourth-rounder. He went on to rush for 2,097 yards with 12 touchdowns and was the No. 1 runner in fantasy land. (Nice prediction there, Fabiano). Now 32, All Day has missed most of two of the last three seasons including a 2016 campaign that saw him average 1.9 yards a carry. But what if Peterson pulls a Curtis Martin? What if he overtakes Mark Ingram, who is going ahead of him in drafts? It's not a hard scenario to envision.
Christian McCaffrey will become the No. 1 running back in Carolina. McCaffrey is easy to root for if you're a fantasy fan. He's not a big dude, he's not a strong dude, but man can he run and catch a ball and make spectacular plays on the gridiron. Most analysts, including myself, have him leading Carolina's backfield in touches as a rookie. It should be easy, right? After all, the Panthers did take him at No. 8 overall in the NFL draft. But let's not forget about Jonathan Stewart, a popular veteran in the locker room who rushed for nine touchdowns a season ago. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if Stewart kept the starting job and shared the workload with McCaffrey. That would limit the rookie's ceiling.
Odell Beckham's targets will remain the same as in past seasons. OBJ has compiled one of the greatest first three NFL seasons from a statistical perspective, ever. We're talking Randy Moss-level stuff here. And over the last two years, he's averaged 164 targets. We all believe he'll continue to receive that high number of opportunities in 2017 ... won't he? The Giants did add Brandon Marshall, who had received a combined 301 targets in his previous two seasons with the Jets, and rookie tight end Evan Engram. Oh, and did I mention Sterling Shepard? He had eight touchdowns on 105 targets in 2016. I love Beckham Jr., but there are a whole lot of mouths to feed in that pass attack.
Dalvin Cook will emerge as the starting running back in Minnesota. The Vikings traded up in the second round to land Cook, who some projected to be a first-rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft. Now in the good old purple and yellow, most fantasy folks are projecting him to become the team's lead runner sooner rather than later. That makes all the sense in the world to me, but lest we forget about Latavius Murray? I mean, the Vikings did sign him to a three-year, $15 million contract. So unless he suffers a setback in his return from ankle surgery, would we be surprised if he opened the season as the starter or at least earned a committee role? Jerick McKinnon is on the roster there too.
And ... here's a bonus prediction:
DeAndre Hopkins will re-emerge into a solid fantasy wideout. We can all agree that Hopkins drop in the wideout ranks last season had a lot to do with the ineffectiveness of Brock Osweiler. With Osweiler now in Cleveland, most of us think Hopkins is a cinch to get back to his previous status as a fantasy star. But are we overvaluing Tom Savage, who isn't what you would call an experienced NFL starter? Do we know without a shadow of a doubt that DeShaun Watson can come right in and make am impact like Dak Prescott? Fantasy analysts are putting a lot of value into a questionable situation.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to **@Michael_Fabiano** or send a question via **Facebook**!