In 2017, Alex Smith scored the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks and the fifth-most points overall. Yes, thatAlex Smith. Case Keenum, an NFL journeyman, scored more points than the previous year's MVP, Matt Ryan. Alvin Kamara, a rookie running back, had more catches than all but 10 wide receivers, including fantasy stars like Doug Baldwin, A.J. Green, Mike Evans, and Dez Bryant. Speaking of stars, what the heck happened to Drew Brees, DeMarco Murray, Jay Ajayi, Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper and Jordan Reed? I can't tell you why all of this happened, but I can tell you one thing.
Predicting the future is hard.
Come on, do you think Nostradamus could have foreseen the fantasy impact of Jared Goff last season? Whether it's 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, predicted that "guitar groups were on their way out." One might assume Mr. Rowe went on to a career of selling used cars after that regrettable prediction, but he kept his job and actually signed the Rolling Stones years later.
Win some, lose some.
Fantasy sports are no different. Using facts, statistics, trends and any number of other different 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 Leonard Fournette emerged as a fantasy superstar during his rookie season. Of course, there are also those prognostications that went horribly wrong. Like predicting that Todd Gurley was worth the first overall selection in standard re-draft leagues ... in 2016. Forgive me, I was one season too soon. It happens.
While I have lots of stats, facts, and trends to back up my fantasy predictions, sometimes those predictions go straight to hell in a handbasket. In some cases, they're laughably wrong and result in the words "moron" and "idiot" showing up on my social media timelines. It's part of the job. So, I'm going to play devil's advocate. What if we looked at the opposite of the popular or consensus prognostications that are floating around the fantasy world? What would happen if some of the information we entered our fantasy football drafts with is destined to go sideways (and some of it will)?
Well, here's a look at 20 important fantasy predictions you'll see analysts (including myself) make for the 2018 NFL season ... that could devastate fantasy football teams if proven incorrect.
1) Missing training camp isn't a real concern for Le'Veon Bell. I love Bell (who doesn't?), and I'd select him with the first overall pick in drafts. Any intelligent fantasy owner would. But what if he holds out of training camp and the preseason again? He wants a lot of loot, and the Steelers might not give it to him. I get it, he did the same thing last year and went on to produce a monster campaign. But there have been plenty of past instances where a player has held out and seen his numbers fall. Is Bell just so good that he will once again dodge the trend that has dogged the likes of Larry Johnson, Chris Johnson, and Darrelle Revis in the past ... or are we simply tempting fate?
2) Todd Gurley is a lock to repeat his 2017 fantasy numbers. Gurley is coming off a magical season in the stat sheets, finishing with 19 touchdowns and 383.30 PPR points. But ... what if there's some regression, especially in the touchdown department? Take this into consideration. Since 2000, there have been 23 instances where a running back has scored 18 or more total touchdowns. In only four of those instances (LaDainian Tomlinson twice, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander) has the runner scored more touchdowns the following year. What's more, almost half of those instances were followed by a campaign with a decline of 11 or more touchdowns. Gurley has a tough act to follow.
3) Tom Brady will again continue to defy Father Time. Brady has established himself as the greatest quarterback to ever lace up the cleats, both in the real world and in fantasy land. Last season he produced the best stats of any field general his age (40), and no one doubts that the ageless wonder will prove to be just that ... ageless. But could this be the year where, as we've seen from so many elite quarterbacks in the past, Father Time finally wins? It's almost blasphemous to question Brady at this point in his illustrious career (and most of us don't), but any statistical decline would do a lot of damage to the prominent fantasy football players in New England.
4) Alvin Kamara should be the first pick in fantasy drafts. The suspension of Mark Ingram has created a major buzz around Kamara, who finished last season ranked third in PPR scoring among running backs. What's more impressive is that he achieved that feat despite the fact that he had just 201 touches (tied for 24th). While we can all agree that far more touches are coming, can Kamara retain his 20.02 PPR points-per-game average while seeing more opportunities? What's more, will he sustain a projected increase in carries (he averaged just 7.5 per game in 2017) once Ingram returns to the field? Kamara is a first-round lock across the board, but is he worth the top overall pick?
5) Saquon Barkley is a lock to bust out in his rookie year. If you listen to analysts, fantasy or otherwise, it is a virtual guarantee that Barkley will come right in and set the league ablaze. In fact, he's projected to be a re-draft first rounder across the board and the top overall choice in dynasty leagues. Heck, I have him ranked seventh in my list of the top 200 fantasy players for 2018. While we have seen rookie backs make a major impact in recent seasons, what would happen if Barkley is less Ezekiel Elliott and more Ki-Jana Carter? Could he fall into the curse of Penn State running backs (Curtis Enis, Carter, Blair Thomas, D.J. Dozier)? I don't see it, but anything is possible.
6) Allen Robinson will be a targets machine for the Bears. Most fantasy folks expect Robinson to lead the Bears in targets this season, which is a no-brainer when you consider he'll be the top wideout on the roster. However, is he a lock to turn those opportunities into fantasy points? After all, Robinson is coming off an ACL tear. He also has just one big season on his resume. The Penn State product will be fighting for targets in a passing game that has improved greatly with the additions of Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and rookie Anthony Miller. Robinson will also need his quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, to take a Jared Goff-like leap in his sophomore year if he's going to make an impact.
7) Rashaad Penny will shine as the top runner in Seattle. The hype surrounding Penny continues to rise, as head coach Pete Carroll has mentioned using him as a three-down back several times since the NFL draft. That alone makes the San Diego State product an exciting option in the world of fantasy football, and someone most drafters will target in the top 50. Of course, Penny didn't catch a lot of passes at the collegiate level, was not the most consistent back in pass pro, and most NFL scouts didn't see him as a first-round talent. What's more, the Seahawks have some major question marks on their offensive line. The opportunities will be there for Penny, but there are still no real guarantees.
8) Rookie running backs will rule the roost (again). I believe this will be the case, as I have mentioned for both Barkley and Penny. But there's also a lot of hype around Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones II, Sony Michel, and Royce Freeman. I would agree with the fantasy universe that all four should be ranked higher at the position than veteran incumbents like Chris Thompson, Peyton Barber, Rex Burkhead and Devontae Booker. But you have to wonder ... will we see six rookie backs lead their respective teams in touches in 2018? And that doesn't include Kerryon Johnson and Nick Chubb. I side with youth and upside, but some fans will get burned by unrealistic expectations.
9) JuJu Smith-Schuster will continue to break out in 2018. We saw the beginnings of a JuJu surge during this rookie season, as he averaged five catches for 91 yards and scored five times in his final eight games. Now that the Steelers have parted ways with Martavis Bryant, there's an even bigger ceiling for Smith-Schuster in the eyes of fantasy fans everywhere. That's obvious. But what if I told you that 47 percent of his PPR points (Weeks 1-16) came in just four games, two of which were played without Antonio Brown and a third when Brown missed two-plus quarters? I'm a fan of JuJu, but how many fantasy points can he score with Brown and Bell leading the offense?
10) LeSean McCoy is a bust candidate among running backs. McCoy has long been one of the best fantasy backs in the NFL, but will his numbers decline in his age-30 season? While he finished seventh in PPR scoring a season ago, McCoy had a career-low 4.0 yards-per-carry average. He'll also be playing behind a questionable offensive line and alongside either A.J. McCarron or rookie Josh Allen. On the flip side, the veteran should once again be the centerpiece of an offense that will lean on the run under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. So if McCoy can produce one more year of top-10 PPR production, he could wind up being a bargain at his current second-round price.
11) Dak Prescott's fantasy value is on the decline. Even as a die-hard Cowboys fan, this one is hard to argue. The third-year pro lost his top two options in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten this offseason. In their place, the team added Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson and rookies Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz. Lots of question marks. However, Dak has the one tool that can help keep a quarterback's value afloat even if his weapons aren't projected to be great ... he can run with the football. And with Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield, defenses can't afford to overlook Prescott's skills as a runner. Maybe he won't be a top-10 option, but what says he can't be 2015 Tyrod Taylor?
12) Jerick McKinnon will produce his best fantasy campaign. When McKinnon signed with San Francisco, he immediately became a favorite breakout among analysts (including myself). It's not a surprise, as he's a perfect fit for the offense of head coach Kyle Shanahan. Furthermore, Shanahan's system has produced a top-eight PPR back in each of the last three years. That just makes McKinnon more attractive, which has pushed his average draft position (ADP) into the third round. Of course, McKinnon was unable to hold a featured role in Minnesota even when the starter (Adrian Peterson, Dalvin Cook) went down. He even lost work to Matt Asiata, who was a plodder with limited upside.
13) Deshaun Watson is going to light the world on fire. Watson's pace in his six rookie starts would have resulted in the best fantasy season ever ... from any player. Seriously. But can we expect him to average almost 30 fantasy points a game again, one season removed from the second major knee reconstruction of his career (he suffered an ACL tear in 2014, too)? I'm a huge fan of Watson, as he brings a multi-dimensional skill set to the table that can result in oodles of fantasy points. However, there's no guarantee that he won't be the next Robert Griffin III (I don't see it, but it's possible). Much like the rest of the quarterbacks, I wouldn't reach too high for Watson on draft day.
14) Kenyan Drake is going to be the featured back in Miami. The Dolphins traded Ajayi last year and lost Damien Williams to the Chiefs, so Drake figures to see an uptick in the 15.8 touches he averaged in his final 10 games of 2017, right? You would figure that to be the case, but are we overlooking the addition of Frank Gore? I get it, he's ancient for a running back and has failed to average more than four yards a rush since 2014. But he's still a capable runner who finished in the top 20 in PPR scoring in each of his three seasons in Indianapolis. Based on his resume at the NFL level, would it be a shock to see Gore and not Drake listed atop the depth chart when camp opens?
15) Jarvis Landry won't skip a PPR beat in Cleveland. My guess is that the general consensus is that Landry will in fact regress, but you always have those who believe in him as a WR1. Well, the Browns added 280 targets this offseason (based on 2017 totals) and had a net target gain of 150, and that's with a limited sample from Josh Gordon. So as good as Landry was last year, he has almost no chance to reach the 161 targets he recorded. Furthermore, it would be a shock to see him score another nine touchdowns. His previous career high was five, set during his rookie season. Go ahead and call me a negative Nancy, but you have to set your expectations for Landry a little bit lower.
16) Alex Collins could become a fantasy draft bargain. Collins was tremendous in the second half of last season, averaging 20 touches over his final nine games as the lead back in Baltimore. And while the team showed a lot of faith in him by not adding major competition (even after the retirement of Danny Woodhead), the return of Kenneth Dixon and the presence of Javorius Allen could be a cause for some concern. Dixon was considered a big-time sleeper coming out of college (2016), and Allen showed off his pass-catching chops with 46 receptions a season ago. While I am definitely on that Collins bandwagon, a backfield committee is possible if he falters as the main runner in 2018.
17) Patrick Mahomes will be this season's Jared Goff. Remember last season when fantasy fans (including myself) had concerns about Goff's abilities and how he might affect the Rams offense? Yeah, I'd say he did all right. Now it's Mahomes who is in that position. The cannon-armed but inexperienced quarterback has the keys to one of the best offenses in the league, making him a prime sleeper. But if the Texas Tech product falters, one has to wonder if Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins can live up to their expectations. I can promise you this ... no one wants to see Chad Henne under center for the Chiefs if Mahomes can't get the job done. No one.
18) Jimmy Graham is a lock for at least eight touchdowns. How could he not hit that mark playing alongside Aaron Rodgers? Believe me, I'm of the same mindset. I mean, he's scored at least nine touchdowns in four of his last six seasons as a member of the Saints and Seahawks. The Packers also released Jordy Nelson, who accounted for a good percentage of Rodgers' touchdown throws during their time together. With that said, the team also added another red-zone threat in Marcedes Lewis. Could he dig into Graham's end-zone visits? And don't forget about Davante Adams, who has scored 22 touchdowns in his last 30 games. Graham still looks like a lock to me, but you never really know.
19) Marlon Mack is the Colts running back to draft. This appears to be the popular opinion in the fantasy universe as it pertains to the Indianapolis backfield, as Mack will be mentioned among 2018's best sleepers. He didn't explode during his rookie season, however, as he averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt and lacked in terms of pass protection. While Mack did show some skills as a playmaker, the Colts might have given us a hint into their comfort level with him in the NFL draft. The team added both Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, who both figure to join veteran Robert Turbin in a backfield battle worth watching this summer. A sleeper might emerge here ... but it might not be Mack.
20) This is a lock ... the NFL will be unpredictable. Year in and year out, lots of weird stuff happens in the world (fantasy sports or otherwise). Look at the Las Vegas Golden Knights! An expansion team in the finals of any major sport? It almost never happens! If you predicted that, well, you might want to start playing the lottery. At the end of the day, lots of predictions will go right and a bunch will go backwards. It happens. Just remember that if predicting the future were easy, a lot of us would be a whole lot richer ... and let's be honest. Fantasy sports wouldn't be as much fun.