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Fantasy Football: 14 Bold Predictions for 2017

Over the course of the last couple of months, I’ve made a lot of statements that reflect my thoughts on the values of various players for the upcoming fantasy football season. Some of the statements I have made have been rather chalky and some have been a little bit bolder. When it comes to fantasy football, the truth is that fortune does favor the bold. Most leagues offer payouts to fewer than half of the teams, and most savvy fantasy owners have access to the same information. In order to succeed, you have to be willing to stand out on your own, take some risks, and go with your gut. Sure, you may crash and burn, but you also may find yourself holding all of the chips once the final hand is dealt. In my Draft Do’s and Don’ts column, I speak about taking ownership of your decisions for better or worse. Trust me, the only thing worse than making a wrong call is making a wrong call you weren’t fully invested in. With that in mind, here are some of my bold predictions for the 2017 fantasy football season.

Andy Dalton (ADP: 159.01, QB20) will be a Top-10 quarterback this season
Andy Dalton is currently being drafted as the 20th quarterback off the board. On average, he is being drafted in the 14th round of a 12-team league. This is far too low for the Red Rifle. Dalton finished just 18th in points per game last season, but top targets A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert combined to play only 18 games due to injuries. In 2015, the duo combined for 29 games. Dalton finished eighth in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks that season. Dalton arguably has more talent around him than ever in 2017. In addition to Green and Eifert, the Bengals drafted John Ross and Joe Mixon in this year’s draft. The rookies are dynamic playmakers who can score from anywhere on the field. Brandon LaFell and 2016 second-round pick Tyler Boyd round out the receiving corps. I can see Dalton approaching 30 touchdowns and eclipsing 4,000 yards this season. If Dalton reaches these numbers, he will likely be a top-10 fantasy quarterback.

Brian Hoyer (ADP: 223.65, QB30) will finish within five spots of Cam Newton (ADP: 109.66, QB11)
Cam Newton comes into the 2017 season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. He’s attempted only two passes this preseason, and head coach Ron Rivera admits to not knowing quite what to expect from his star quarterback. Newton finished 2016 17th among quarterbacks in total fantasy points. This fall from his prior season’s ranking as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback was in large part due to Newton running less than in previous years. Rivera has also expressed a desire to have Newton run less this season, so I do not expect that to change. Meanwhile, Brian Hoyer reunites with Kyle Shanahan to lead the San Francisco 49ers this season. I don’t see Hoyer lighting the world on fire, but he will be in a familiar system on a team that expects to see a lot of negative game scripts. Hoyer threw for 300 yards in each game he started and finished last year on an equally bad Bears team. Hoyer also had more 300-yard passing games (4) than Newton did (3) last year, despite starting 10 fewer games. I believe that Newton remains in the 16-20 range among quarterbacks this season and that Hoyer finishes somewhere between 21-25.

[the_ad id=”384″]David Johnson will lead the Arizona Cardinals in receptions and receiving yards
David Johnson is usually going first overall in fantasy drafts this season, and rightfully so. The stud running back scored twenty touchdowns and exceeded 2,000 total yards a season ago. Even if the touchdowns come down a bit this season, the production will be there. This is because of Johnson’s increasing role in the passing game. Johnson has set his sights on finishing this season with at least a thousand yards both on the ground and through the air. Coach Bruce Arians seems to want to make this a reality as well. The seemingly ageless Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions last season. While Fitzgerald’s role won’t change, perhaps Johnson will take a few targets here and there to help preserve the veteran throughout the course of the season. Johnson out-targeted Fitzgerald 58-51 over the final seven weeks in 2016, a trend I see continuing in 2017. Fitzgerald’s yards per catch has dipped from 12.4 in 2014 to career-lows of 11.1 in 2015 and 9.6 in 2016. I think both players catch 90 passes this season, but I give the slight edge in both receptions and yards to Johnson.

Jonathan Stewart (ADP: 109.32, RB36) will be a top-20 running back
Last season, Jonathan Stewart finished 22nd in total fantasy points among running backs and 21st in points per game. He comes into this season as an afterthought among many fantasy owners. This is primarily due to the buzz surrounding Christian McCaffrey. We’ve seen what McCaffrey can do in college and thus far in the preseason, and he’s certainly impressive. However, I don’t see him cutting into Stewart’s workload. Over the past two seasons, Stewart has seen an average of 17.7 carries, compared to 5.8 for all other Panthers running backs. That ratio may change slightly, but not enough to ignore Stewart, particularly in standard leagues. McCaffrey will thrive in PPR formats, but I don’t see him getting more than 5-8 carries per game. Stewart will remain the primary ball carrier. Stewart tied for fifth in the NFL in goal-line carries last year and tied for third in goal-line touchdowns. With Cam Newton being less active on the ground and without Mike Tolbert around to potentially vulture goal-line looks, Stewart should put up 8-10 touchdowns this season. His high-touchdown upside makes Stewart a great mid-round pick, and he should settle in as an RB2 throughout 2017.

Jamaal Williams (ADP: 155.08, RB50) will lead the Green Bay Packers in rushing yards
There are many Ty Montgomery truthers out there, but I remain skeptical. Yes, I saw the game against the Bears. However, I would remind you that that game was against the Bears. Fine, I’ll concede that Montgomery was fantastic in that game. However, I also saw the five games after that, including the playoffs. In those five games, Montgomery totaled 158 rushing yards. That was 41 yards more than Aaron Rodgers. The Packers drafted three running backs this year to challenge Montgomery. He has also struggled with pass protection, and his health is always a concern, as Montgomery has the sickle cell trait. Though we certainly hope that Montgomery remains healthy, it’s far from a certainty. It’s a situation the Packers try to monitor as vigilantly as they can. Montgomery had only one game (yes, the Bears game) in which he had more than 11 carries last season. I don’t think the Packers will put too much on Montgomery’s plate at once. I think they will rotate running backs fairly frequently, and Williams will get the call more often than Montgomery. I still think Montgomery will be the best Packers’ running back to own in fantasy due to his versatility. However, Williams will not be far behind, and I think he will lead Green Bay in rushing yards and attempts this season.

Rex Burkhead (ADP: 158.83, RB52) will have 1,000 total yards
Rex Burkhead joins arguably the most crowded and talented backfield in the NFL as a member of the New England Patriots. Fantasy owners were intrigued when Burkhead first signed with New England. However, those hopes were largely dashed when the Patriots then signed former Buffalo Bill Mike Gillislee. I think the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Gillislee is back in camp after missing several weeks with a hamstring injury, but he “still has quite a ways to go,” according to head coach Bill Belichick. I think Burkhead will still have an impact even if Gillislee starts the season as the starter. Burkhead can also help replace the loss of Julian Edelman in the slot in addition to carrying the football. I think there’s a very good chance we see Burkhead gain 1,000 total yards this season. There were only 22 running backs who eclipsed that total last year. This would put Burkhead squarely in weekly Flex consideration in standard leagues.

Darren Sproles (ADP: 165.39, RB54) will outscore LeGarrette Blount (ADP: 86.55, RB31)
Darren Sproles averaged fewer than 10 touches per game and scored only four touchdowns last season. However, he still did enough to earn a top-30 finish among running backs. Sproles is entering what will presumably be his final NFL season. The Eagles backfield is crowded, but Sproles’ role shouldn’t change. If anything, Sproles could see more work. He will likely look to go out strong and empty the tank knowing his retirement is imminent. Newest Eagles’ running back LeGarrette Blount has reportedly struggled in camp and has split supposed first-team reps with Wendell Smallwood. However, given the Eagles’ pass-happy scheme, I think Sproles ends up being the best fantasy running back in Philadelphia this season. Darren Sproles will be in weekly Flex consideration and will easily destroy his ADP.

DeAndre Washington (ADP: 188.36, RB66) will outscore Marshawn Lynch (ADP: 33.15, RB14)
DeAndre Washington heads into the 2017 season as Marshawn Lynch’s primary backup. I don’t think it will take long for Washington to change that. Perhaps it’s Lynch himself who ends up changing that. I just don’t see Lynch as an elite running back at this stage of his career. He was away from the game for an entire year, and he wasn’t particularly effective in 2015. I predict that Lynch will struggle to start the season, paving the way for Washington to get increased touches. If Washington outplays Lynch as I suspect, the coaches will have no choice but to give Washington the bulk of the carries. Lynch’s contract is incentive-laden and contains no guaranteed money beyond this year. Simply put, if Lynch isn’t producing at a high level, he won’t be on the field. Washington will take the job and run with it. Behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Washington will lead the Raiders’ backfield in fantasy production this season.

Robert Turbin (ADP: 227.65, RB85) will lead the Colts’ backfield in fantasy points
Even though I’m driving the anti-Frank Gore bus this offseason, I really hope I’m wrong about this. Gore has been a consummate pro throughout his career, and I want him to remain healthy and productive for as long as possible. But I really think this is the year Gore finally shows his age. Gore is trying to do something that no other running back in NFL history has done. He’s trying to become the first running back ever to have at least 250 carries in five straight seasons after the age of 30. It’s very possible that I can be right on Gore and still wrong on this prediction. Though Gore’s ADP is relatively depressed (89.01, RB28), it’s Marlon Mack and not Robert Turbin who many owners are turning to as a pivot from Gore. I still think Robert Turbin is the running back you want to own in Indianapolis. He impressed the coaching staff last year and put up good numbers in limited work, particularly in scoring position. I see Turbin starting the year as an 8-10 touch player with Mack the clear No. 3. Mack may earn more chances as the season moves on, but Turbin will take over as the lead back if and when Gore falters or gets injured. Turbin is a zero risk pick at his current ADP and can very easily bring RB2/Flex value for a large stretch of the season.

DeVante Parker (ADP: 82.2, WR32) will outscore Jarvis Landry (ADP: 52.24, WR22)
This might have been considered a little more bold had I mentioned it a month ago, but the Devante Parker hype train is in full steam. It’s time to jump on board and enjoy the ride. The Dolphins’ new quarterback Jay Cutler has shown a willingness to go down the field with the football. He’s also shown a propensity to lock in on his primary outside target, a trait that directly benefits Parker. Those factors, along with Parker’s natural progression approaching his third NFL season, mean the stars are aligned for a breakout year. Jarvis Landry, on the other hand, is in a little bit of limbo at the moment. He’s without a contract for next year and has been the subject of recent trade rumors. Cutler’s arrival in Miami does not bode well for Landry’s prospects either. Cutler is a gunslinger who forces the ball downfield. Landry does the vast majority of his damage underneath and in the slot. Landry will still be serviceable in PPR leagues, but Parker will be the Miami wide receiver you want to own in standard leagues in 2017.

Jamison Crowder (ADP: 84.55, WR33) will outscore Terrelle Pryor (ADP: 42.79, WR16)
The Redskins lost Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson this season. They signed Terrelle Pryor away from Cleveland to plug one hole and theoretically have Josh Doctson to fill the other. Doctson is recovered after missing most of 2016 with an Achilles injury. However, he has not impressed head coach Jay Gruden this preseason. Gruden even said recently that Doctson “hasn’t done a lot.” Though Pryor should have a fine season as Kirk Cousins’ newest outside weapon, we must consider the potential pitfalls. It’s easy to forget considering how well Pryor played last year, but this will still only be his second season as a full-time wide receiver. He’s still learning the position and now must learn a new system along with it. Meanwhile, Jamison Crowder and Cousins have had a great rapport over the past couple of seasons. Last year, Crowder had 847 receiving yards, a number that should only increase this season. I think Crowder is a sneaky bet to top 100 receptions this season and will be Cousins’ primary read from the slot.

Pierre Garcon (ADP: 104.5, WR37) will have 90 catches and 1,200 receiving yards
The aforementioned Garcon heads to San Francisco after spending the past five seasons in Washington. Two of those seasons featured new San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator. Shanahan loves to feature the “X” receiver, and Garcon thrived during the time they worked together. In 2013, Garcon had 113 catches for 1346 yards and was targeted a ridiculous 181 times in Shanahan’s offense. Garcon will likely not repeat those numbers, but he is the best of a bad lot in San Francisco and figures to get all of the targets that he can handle. There were only five wide receivers who caught 90 passes and had 1,200 receiving yards last season, and I see Garcon hitting those numbers in 2017. That doesn’t make him a top-10 wide receiver, but Garcon is going way too late in fantasy drafts and is a potential PPR monster.

Robby Anderson (ADP: 148.25, WR51) will have 1,000 receiving yards
Robby Anderson will be the No. 1 wide receiver for the New York Jets. I have been a Jets fan my entire life. I don’t know if I can ever remember starting a season with such low expectations, and that’s saying something. Here’s all you need to know: Robby Anderson has 42 career catches. If the Jets cut Kenbrell Thompkins this week (and they should), Anderson would have the most career catches of any Jets’ wide receiver. It’s going to be bad, folks. Anderson will clearly have plenty of opportunities because the Jets do not have any proven options and will be playing from behind a lot. Another thing to consider is that Anderson has good chemistry with Bryce Petty, who hopefully will be starting games soon. Anderson had 241 total yards in the three games Petty started and finished last year. Only 23 wide receivers had 1,000 receiving yards last year, and I think there’s a decent chance Anderson gets there in 2017. That does not make him a WR2, however. He doesn’t figure to score much on such a lousy offense. But he could be a nice Flex or bye week option, particularly later in the season.

George Kittle (ADP: 312.1, TE37) will outscore O.J. Howard (ADP: 128.45, TE12)
I could have very easily listed about 10 other tight ends who are currently being drafted behind O.J. Howard who I feel will outperform Howard in 2017. But let’s end this piece with a bang. Or at least as loud a noise as you can make when discussing two tight ends who should both be left in the free agent pool. I’ve stated before that I don’t even think Howard is the best fantasy tight end on his own team this season. Cameron Brate is still my preferred Tampa Bay tight end. Kittle recently jumped to the top of the San Francisco 49ers’ depth chart following the trade of Vance McDonald. Kittle is very similar to Howard with regards to both their physical tools and their prowess as blockers:

I wouldn’t drop anyone of consequence to acquire Kittle’s services quite yet, but I also wouldn’t touch Howard at his current ADP, either. Kittle is essentially going undrafted. I think that given the plethora of options in Tampa Bay and the relative dearth of options in San Francisco, Kittle can realistically outperform Howard as a fantasy tight end in 2017.

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