Alright alright alright, it's Bold Predictions time! This post always seems to be the most popular post I write each year (I guess that's not saying much, since I average about 2-3 posts a year). Fantasy football season is in full swing, with many drafts taking place this week/weekend and next. So let's make some predictions. As I did last year, I will check back in during the season to see how these predictions are looking. And a reminder - I'm trying to be bold here. Saying that Calvin Johnson will be a top 5 fantasy WR is not bold. If I get 1/3rd of these correct or mostly correct, that would be surprisingly good.
Again, props to ESPN's Matthew Berry, as this post is basically a combination of his "Love/Hate" and "You Heard Me" columns. So, without further ado, my bold predictions for Fantasy Football 2014, team by team:
Arizona Cardinals: Last year I said that the addition of Carson Palmer would help restore Larry Fitzgerald's fantasy value and he would end up as a top 3 WR. I was wrong. However, Palmer did help the Cardinals passing game, and after a year of getting comfortable with his new weapons, I think it'll be WR Michael Floyd who benefits the most. Floyd will pass Fitz as the best Cardinal WR, and will end up top 15 in fantasy points at his position.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons were terrible last year, mostly due to injuries. This year the weapons are healthy again and while a trendy prediction would be for Matt Ryan to bust out and be a top 5 QB, I still think he's only a borderline starter in 10-12 team leagues. But that won't stop Julio Jones from staying healthy and finishing as the top scoring WR in the NFL. Yes, #1.
Baltimore Ravens: Should I go for 3 years in a row predicting that Torrey Smith will be a stud fantasy WR? Nah, I'm over him. Instead, I think the 2 game suspension for Ray Rice will signal the passing of the torch. Grab Bernard Pierce as your flex, because I think he will thrive as the starter and emerge as a top 20 RB at season's end.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills made a huge move on draft night, trading up to the 4th pick and grabbing stud WR Sammy Watkins. I love Watkins and think he will be a perennial top 10 fantasy WR. Just not this year. The fantasy draft price for prized rookie WRs is always high and very rarely do they pan out. So let someone else draft Watkins as a top 20-25 fantasy WR because he won't finish inside the top 30. Unless you are in a keeper league, then go nuts.
Carolina Panthers: I'm about to contradict myself in back to back predictions here, as I think the Panthers' rookie WR, Kelvin Benjamin, IS worth drafting in hopes that he is flex worthy for your fantasy team. Benjamin is being drafted 50 spots later than Watkins, so there is real value here. The best reason to draft Benjamin is that the Panthers literally have NO ONE to catch passes from Cam Newton. So why can't that person be Benjamin, who is almost as much of a beast as Watkins? I say Benjamin does end up as a top 30 fantasy WR this year, outscoring Watkins.
Chicago Bears: Last year I said that RB Matt Forte would finish as a top 7 RB, despite being drafted in the 11-15 range for RBs. I was right on that one (he finished 3rd), so I'm going to double down this year in a big way: Matt Forte will finish the season as the #1 fantasy RB. He is currently being drafted in the 4-6 range. I wouldn't necessarily take him 1-3, but man do I hope to get the 4th pick in my draft this Saturday!
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals overpaid for Andy Dalton's services this offseason, giving him a massive contract despite the fact that he only has average talent. The Bengals also changed up offensive systems, moving to a more run-first offense. While I think the change will benefit Gio Bernard, who I think can be a top 10 fantasy RB, I'll be even bolder and say that the change will negatively effect stud WR AJ Green, who will finish the season outside of the top 10 fantasy WRs. I will happily take Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones and even Jordy Nelson ahead of Green in drafts this year.
Cleveland Browns: Can I make a prediction here without mentioning rookie QB Johnny Manziel? Oops, guess not. I like Manziel but don't see him being a relevant fantasy QB (draft him as a backup if you get a stud like Manning/Brees/Rodgers). Other than Manziel, Ben Tate is the shiny new toy in town, expected to be the workhorse #1 RB for the Browns this year. The bad news is that Tate simply can't stay healthy. And this will open the door for rookie RB Terrance West to take the job and run with it to a top 25 fantasy RB season.
Dallas Cowboys: I love the Cowboys offense this year, mostly because their defense is going to be SO bad that the offense will be playing from behind most of the year. But also because they have studs at all the key positions. I believe that the Cowboys will end up with a top 10 performer at QB (Tony Romo), RB (Demarco Murray), WR (Dez Bryant) and TE (Jason Witten) this year. Not bold enough? Ok, how about WR Terrance Williams finishing as a top 20 WR? Because that is gonna happen. Also, I like the name Terrance.
Denver Broncos: Last year I predicted that Knowshon Moreno would lead the Broncos in RB points in 2013; maybe my best prediction of the year. Moreno is gone, and so Montee Ball will be the featured RB for Peyton Manning's offense in 2014. Ball is significantly more talented than Moreno and I don't expect the Broncos' offense to miss a beat. Do the math, and it adds up to Montee Ball being a 1st round pick and top 5 fantasy RB.
Detroit Lions: I just cannot win on my Lions' predictions. Titus Young in 2012 and then Ryan Broyles in 2013. Ouch. This time, I WILL triple down and say that the Lions new offensive weapon, WR Golden Tate, will thrive next to Calvin Johnson and catch 90 balls for 1200 yards and 9 TDs, good for a top 15 fantasy WR season. Also, I think rookie TE Eric Ebron will finish as a top 10 fantasy TE.
Green Bay Packers: I had no faith in RB Eddie Lacy last year, predicting that he would finish behind Jonathan Franklin here and drafting RB David Wilson over him in my long running keeper league. Lacy is now a consensus top 5 fantasy RB in drafts this year and I agree with that. I also agree with anyone who thinks that WR Randall Cobb is an emerging star. With WR James Jones heading west to Oakland, Cobb should see his targets increase, leading to a top 10 fantasy WR season.
Houston Texans: I like Arian Foster to have a bounce back year and finish as a top 10 RB. I also like Andre Johnson to bounce back and have a top 10 WR season. But those aren't really bold. Instead, let's get a little nutty here and say that the Houston Texans D/ST will finish as the top scoring fantasy defense. I still wouldn't draft them until the second to last round, but can anyone stop JJ Watt and Jadaveon Clowney?!? Yes, picking a defense is boring, so let's also say that WR DeAndre Hopkins will break out in a big way and have a top 20 fantasy WR season.
Indianapolis Colts: Remember that Trent Richardson trade and how everyone (including me) thought he would thrive with the Colts and battle for the best fantasy RB title last year? I drove the Richardson bandwagon bus last season and let's just say that the bus is now a pile of ashes at the bottom of the cliff. Rising from those ashes, however, is a now underrated Richardson. He's being drafted as a non-starter in 10 team fantasy leagues (outside the top 20 RBs), and I think that makes him a great value pick. I would take him as a top 15 fantasy RB and will boldly say that he'll finish in the top 10.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I hyped RB Maurice Jones-Drew here last year and he made me look like an idiot. However, that won't stop me from once again hyping up the Jaguars #1 RB. It just so happens that their #1 RB is not MJD, but rather Toby Gerhart, the backup RB to Adrian Peterson for the last 3 seasons. Gerhart is now a true workhorse #1 RB and I think he will be a great RB2 for fantasy purposes. I'll say that Gerhart, being drafted 26th at the position will finish as a top 15 fantasy RB.
Kansas City Chiefs: Can I get a redo on my Dwayne Bowe prediction from last year? I drafted Bowe whenever I could get my hands on him in drafts last year and man did he disappoint. Everything else for the Chiefs went well though, as Charles finished as the top fantasy RB and Alex Smith was even a little fantasy relevant at times. I don't see that good fortune continuing. RB Jamaal Charles will be that fantasy player that ruins teams in 2014 as he will finish outside the top 15 fantasy RBs.
Miami Dolphins: Here is what I wrote last year: "I do love 2nd year RB Lamar Miller. The Dolphins keep saying that Miller and RB Daniel Thomas will split carries, but I think that is BS. Look for Miller to grab the starting gig and never look back. Lamar Miller finishes 2013 as a top 15 RB." Ditto, except replace "2nd year" with "3rd year", "Daniel Thomas" with "Knowshon Moreno" and "2013" with "2014."
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings brought in Norv Turner to run the offense, and that has caused many of the Vikings offensive weapons to shoot up draft boards. I still love RB Adrian Peterson as the #1 overall fantasy pick. But again, that isn't bold (though I've seen him drop to 4th in some mock drafts). How about two of the Vikings receiving options both finishing top 10 at their respective positions: WR Cordarelle Patterson and TE Kyle Rudolph. Love them both.
New England Patriots: I love Rob Gronkowski - he's probably the most talented all around TE in the game and if he played a full 16 game season, I don't doubt that he'd finish as the top scoring fantasy TE. The problem is, he just can't stay healthy. And you shouldn't waste a pick in the top 3 rounds on a guy who might give you 8-10 games. So pass on Gronk, because his ADP (average draft position) of 35.6 is too risky. He won't finish the 2014 season as a top 10 TE.
New Orleans Saints: Draft your Saints early and often. Drew Brees will finish as the top fantasy QB in 2014. Marques Colston will be a top 20 WR. Rookie WR Brandin Cooks will be a top 30 fantasy WR. RB Pierre Thomas will be a top 20 fantasy RB. And TE Jimmy Graham will once again be the top scoring fantasy TE. Draft him in the 1st round in 12 team leagues. He's that good.
New York Giants: Eli Manning was terrible in 2013. Really terrible. And it obviously had a negative effect on his weapons - mainly WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is now in Indianapolis (and I like him to have a sneaky top 30 fantasy WR season - current ADP is 45th at the position), but Cruz is still around, and really, his stock can only go up from here. Cruz was an absolute stud prior to last season, and I think he returns to that level, finishing as a top 10 fantasy WR. He's currently being drafted 18th at the position.
New York Jets: Would you believe me if I told you that RB Chris Johnson finished last season tied for 8th in fantasy points at the RB position? Well, it's true. Look it up. I'll wait. He's now in New York, and while the Jets offense isn't any better than the Titans, I don't see why Johnson can't repeat his 2013 numbers. He's being drafted as the 22nd RB taken in ESPN fantasy drafts, but I'd happily take him as my RB2 this year. Because guess what? He's gonna finish as a top 10 fantasy RB again in 2014.
Oakland Raiders: Honestly, I won't draft a single Oakland Raider on my fantasy teams this year. If I have to make a prediction (and it's my post, so I say that I do have to), I'll say that RB Latavius Murray will end up leading the Raiders RBs in fantasy points. He's being drafted 61st at the position, which basically means he isn't being drafted in most leagues. I'm fine with that. But when Jones-Drew and McFadden get hurt, grab Murray because he could be fantasy relevant down the stretch. Let's say he finishes as a top 40 fantasy RB, someone you can plug into your flex spot as a bye week fill-in and be happy about it.
Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly really impressed as the offensive guru everyone hoped he'd be last year. And as a result, RB Lesean McCoy and WR Desean Jackson had the best seasons of their careers. McCoy is now being drafted #1 overall in a lot of leagues, and Jackson (now with the Redskins) is a consensus top 20 fantasy WR. I want to say that WR Jeremy Maclin will step up in Jackson's place and post a top 15 fantasy WR season. But the guy just cannot stay healthy. Instead, I'll be waiting until the late rounds of my draft and snagging TE Zach Ertz, who will finish as a top 5 fantasy TE.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Antonio Brown proved me wrong last year in a big way, finishing the season as the 6th highest scoring fantasy WR. I won't let that happen twice. I think Brown finishes as a top 5 fantasy WR, someone who I will happily draft late in the 2nd round as my #1 WR.
San Diego Chargers: I nailed my Ryan Mathews prediction last year, as he finished with the 11th most fantasy points from the RB position. That's not happening again. He will fight with Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead for touches and struggle to be fantasy relevant. The same can't be said for the great year WR Keenan Allen had in 2013. He's due for a repeat and will finish as a top 10 fantasy WR (currently being drafted 16th at the position).
San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick finally has a bunch of healthy weapons, and I like him to finish inside the top 10 fantasy QBs. But, maybe shockingly to those of us who owned him last year, he finished top 10 in 2013 too. I think the reason he'll repeat that performance this year is the emergence of WR Michael Crabtree as a top 10 fantasy WR. When healthy, Crabtree was awesome last year. And guess what? He's healthy. Don't draft him as a top 10 WR - he's being drafted outside the top 20 - but I would happily draft him as my WR2 and watch him put up WR1 numbers.
Seattle Seahawks: There is something about WR Percy Harvin that makes him overrated every year in the draft. This year, it's his awesome Super Bowl performance last season. Unfortunately, the guy simply cannot stay healthy and thus cannot be relied on as a starting fantasy WR. He's being drafted 20th at the position, and I think that is probably where you need to draft him if you want him. But I'll be avoiding him while he finishes outside the top 30 fantasy WRs.
St. Louis Rams: Heck of a year for Zac Stacy last season. In limited duty (he only took over as the full time starting RB about halfway through the season) he posted top 20 fantasy RB numbers and is being drafted as a RB1 option this year. I'll pass. I think Stacy played a bit over his head last year and will have to fight off rookie RB Tre Mason as the season wears on. I'd be happy with him as my RB2 or flex, but that just means I won't ever have him on my team (ADP 25, I wouldn't draft in the top 40).
Tampa Bay Bucs: Doug Martin is healthy again, has a clear path to the full time RB1 gig in Tampa and should return to his 2012 ways, where he was a top 5 fantasy RB. Only I don't believe that at all. I don't think Martin is that good, and I don't think the Bucs offensive line is any good either. Martin is being drafted as a top 10 RB, but I think he'll finish outside the top 20.
Tennessee Titans: Rookie RB Bishop Sankey is the sexy name right now and is being drafted as if he'll carry the RB load for the Titans this season. His only competition, RB Shonn Greene, is anything but sexy and has never been able to keep a starting RB job. That said, I think Greene will play well enough to keep Sankey in a reserve role and to post top 25 RB numbers. Draft Greene as your 3rd RB and actually be happy about it. Yes, for real. I also really like WRs Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. I think they post WR2 and WR3 numbers respectively.
Washington Redskins: RGIII will be the 2nd highest scoring guy in all of fantasy football for 2014. Bold enough for ya?
And that's a wrap. Good luck in your drafts and in your 2014 fantasy football leagues. Just remember, you can't win your league with your first two picks, but you can absolutely lose it.