With just one month to go until the 2018 NFL Season, it’s time for some bold fantasy football predictions. Besides the Hall of Fame Game, we haven’t even seen teams hit the field for preseason action (which might make this more of a challenge), but how I feel about players won’t change much based on exhibitions. Also, keep in mind that these are bold predictions, not projections or anything in line with my rankings, which you can access now with Fantasy Consigliere.
Arizona Cardinals: Sam Bradford will finish as a back-end QB1
In 16 games that he started and finished for the Vikings over the past two seasons, Sam Bradford completed 72.3% of his passes for 4,223 yards and a 23:5 touchdown-interception ratio, which would have made him the QB11 in 2017. Now in Arizona, Bradford has a scheme that will allow him to dissect the defense with a short-passing game centered around Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, and the complimentary pieces (Christian Kirk, Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, etc.) can also make plays. If he stays healthy, Sammy Sleeves is a lock to rocket past his No. 32 ADP at the position.
Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones will break Calvin Johnson’s single-season yardage record (1,964 yards)
I was going to be a little concerned about Julio Jones this season if his contract dispute lingered deep into training camp, but he didn’t miss any time last month when the team moved some money around to pay him more in 2018. Still, people are concerned about Calvin Ridley being added to the roster and others potentially taking a step up, but it’s Julio Jones we’re talking about here; are the Falcons suddenly going to scale back their targets for him in a contract year? Plus, the superstar receiver has a soft schedule this season, so he could consistently put up crooked numbers and parlay it into a record-setting deal.
Baltimore Ravens: Alex Collins will lead the league in rushing
Last year, Alex Collins was cut by Seattle on the second day of September, signed to Baltimore’s practice squad three days later, and promoted to the team’s active roster before Week 2. All he did after that was finish as the overall RB15 in standard leagues while playing on one of the worst offenses in football without All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda for the final 14 games of the year. Collins, who doesn’t turn 24 until the end of the month, is a good bet to see lighter boxes after the Ravens remade their offense with Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead at receiver, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews at tight end, and possibly some sprinkles of Lamar Jackson at quarterback to keep defenses honest. Collins should also have better blocking up front to build on his 212 attempts for 973 yards (4.6 YPC) and six touchdowns from a season ago.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen will be a top-12 fantasy quarterback if/when he starts
I was probably a bigger supporter of Josh Allen in the pre-draft process than anyone, and there is a chance he wins the starting job outright and has immediate success. That said, I think Buffalo will end up sitting him for at least the first three weeks of the season so he’s not thrown into the fire against three of the league’s best defenses (@ BAL, v LAC, @ MIN); but after that, the Wyoming gunslinger could be unleashed as a dual-threat star. If you didn’t know it because all the negative, group-think evaluations about him, Allen is a Cam Newton-like runner in the open field and in short-yardage situations, so fantasy owners should be excited about the rookie’s potential.
Carolina Panthers: Curtis Samuel will outscore D.J. Moore
A 2017 second-round pick outscoring a 2018 first-round pick wouldn’t seem too bold, but while some believe D.J. Moore could end up as Carolina’s No. 1 receiver, Curtis Samuel isn’t even on the fringes of fantasy relevancy in redraft leagues. I had Samuel very close to Moore as a prospect, though, and the former Ohio State star could earn significant playing time with a strong preseason to end up ahead of Moore, Torrey Smith, and Jarius Wright on the depth chart. For what it’s worth, Randall Cobb—who was my comparison for Samuel last year—broke out in his second season with an 80/954/8 line despite Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones all being on the roster.
Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky will top Jared Goff’s 2017 numbers
The Bears have been compared to the Rams often over the past few months, as a young offensive coordinator being hired as head coach along with bolstered weaponry caused Jared Goff to make a 2017 jump, and the same could be true with Mitchell Trubisky this year. I would argue that Chicago’s upgrades at receiver (Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel; and Kevin White could even be included in that group) were actually better than LA’s, so Trubisky has a real shot to surpass Goff’s 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns from last year to put himself on the QB1 map.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon will finish as the top fantasy scorer in his class
So that means Mixon will have more fantasy points than Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt, all of whom either dominated all year or showed extended flashes of greatness as rookies. Mixon was held in check with 178 carries for 626 yards (3.5 YPC) and four touchdowns in 2017, but he just turned 22 and has all-around, workhorse ability similar to division rival Le’Veon Bell. In an up-tempo offense with A.J. Green and John Ross on the outside, Mixon should have plenty of room to operate in Year 2.
Cleveland Browns: Antonio Callaway will lead the Browns in fantasy points
Last night’s trade of Corey Coleman to the Bills has created a wide-open path for Antonio Callaway to start and become a big-time contributor as a rookie. The troubled receiver was a legitimate first-round talent that I thought would go undrafted based on off-field concerns, but Cleveland taking him early on Day 3 shows that they have a vision for him in 2018 and beyond. Whether or not Josh Gordon returns soon, Callaway will start in three-wide sets, and he is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott will repeat his overall QB6 finish from 2016
I am probably too low on Prescott in a loaded quarterback group, as he has finished as the QB6 and QB11 to start his career; and last year, Dak averaged 20.5 fantasy points per game over the first eight games of the season (which would have made him the overall QB2 over 16 games) before Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension finally kicked in and he struggled down the stretch. Zeke is back and won’t have legal troubles looming over his head in 2018, so a focused runner will undoubtedly be a boost to Prescott, who has a career 45:17 touchdown-interception ratio with 12 scores on the ground.
Denver Broncos: DaeSean Hamilton will finish as the team’s No. 2 fantasy receiver
The hype for second-round pick Courtland Sutton has been building since camp started, but I think fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton will be at his best when the pads come on for game action this month. The former Penn State standout is an exceptional route runner from the slot and should become a favorite for Case Keenum in key situations if he can find his way onto the field, which I think he will if Denver goes to more four-wide sets as expected. Don’t be surprised if Hamilton is the team’s most productive receiver behind Demaryius Thomas in 2018.
Detroit Lions: Kenny Golladay will go for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns
I think it’s wise to simply bet on talent above all else, so fantasy owners shouldn’t be hesitant to target Kenny Golladay with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate ahead of him on the depth chart. The second-year receiver caught 28 passes for 477 yards (17.0 average) and three scores as a rookie, and he did it while battling hamstring issues that forced him to miss five games. As we’ve seen with others (top-ten picks Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross in 2017 alone), rookies can often struggle if injuries hit, so Golladay’s production speaks to hit talent as a downfield threat at six-foot-four.
Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams will score 18+ touchdowns
Originally, I was going to say “Davante Adams will score 15+ touchdowns”, but I decided it might not be bold enough, as Dez Bryant just scored 16 times in 2014. Instead, my prediction is that Adams will have the most receiving touchdowns since Randy Moss’ historic season in 2007 when he caught 23 scores; and this would also make Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver the fifth player in NFL history to catch 18+ touchdowns in a season, joining Moss, Jerry Rice, Mark Clayton, and Sterling Sharpe. Those with stock in Adams should be more excited about Jordy Nelson being gone than they are concerned about Jimmy Graham signing with Green Bay.
Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson will NOT finish as a QB1
It was only a six-game sample size, but Deshaun Watson took the NFL (and fantasy world) by storm last season with an off-the-charts 26.7 fantasy points per game in Bill O’Brien’s offense. The Clemson legend threw for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, also rushing 36 times for 269 yards and two more scores. But can it continue? Watson’s touchdown percentage of 9.3% would be one of the best in league history, and defensive coordinators will have had a whole offseason to prepare for him. Deshaun was my No. 2 overall prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, so I love his long-term outlook, but he could easily fall out of the top ten at his position in 2018.
Indianapolis Colts: Deon Cain will provide low-end WR2/FLEX value as a rookie
Cain never developed into the bona fide No. 1 receiver like others before him at Clemson, but he landed in the perfect situation with T.Y. Hilton being the clear top option in the passing game for Indy, not to mention a wide-open depth chart behind him. There has been buzz surrounding the rookie all offseason, including the Colts’ belief that they got a “massive steal” with him in the sixth round, and I expect Cain to start and become a significant factor in an offense orchestrated by Andrew Luck.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dede Westbrook will be the league’s top fantasy receiver over the final five weeks of the season
We will have to see how the receiving corps for Jacksonville shakes out over the next few weeks, but if last year was any indication, Westbrook should thrive in August game action after 1/41/1, 6/131, and 6/115/1 lines as a rookie last preseason. However, even if he doesn’t start in two-wide sets to begin the year, I think the former Heisman finalist should be able to work his way up the depth chart by December. And he will have plenty of opportunities to get behind the defense down the stretch with games against the Colts, Titans, Redskins, Dolphins, and Texans, all of whom I think could struggle with the deep ball. Owners looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs should keep Westbrook’s name in mind.
Kansas City Chiefs: Sammy Watkins will finish as a top-eight fantasy receiver
The lone season for Sammy Watkins in Los Angeles didn’t go according to plan with just 39 receptions for 593 yards, but he did catch a team-high eight scores while showing he could be a real threat in scoring territory. Now in Kansas City, Watkins is making plays all over the place in practice, and it sounds like Andy Reid wants to use him in a variety of ways this year. The former No. 4 overall pick isn’t ranked as a top-25 fantasy wideout, but he has immense upside with risk-taking Patrick Mahomes under center.
Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Gordon will be the first running back since 2006 to score more than 20 total touchdowns
Of course, 2006 is the year that LaDainian Tomlinson set the NFL record for total touchdowns in a season with 31 scores, including 28 on the ground. It seemed like the days of backs dominating was over, but David Johnson (20 touchdowns in 2016) and Todd Gurley (19 touchdowns last season) have both shown that’s not the case. I think this year could be the perfect storm for Melvin Gordon to set the record for this decade behind an improved offensive line as the team’s main touchdown threat, especially after emerging tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL in May.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff will lead the league in touchdown passes
People somehow still aren’t sold on Jared Goff as a star quarterback, as many are predicting him to take a step back after an extremely efficient 2017 season. I seem to be alone in thinking there’s another level to Goff’s game that could be unlocked in the second year under Sean McVay, as the head coach’s complex system will only be opened up more with the 23-year-old gaining experience and confidence. If Goff is even among the league leaders in touchdown passes, he will at worst be a solid QB1.
Miami Dolphins: Mike Gesicki will finish as a top-five TE1
The No. 42 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Mike Gesicki profiles as an immediate double-digit touchdown threat, and Adam Gase is the ideal head coach to allow him to reach his potential. I had Gesicki as a top-15 draft prospect, and if Julius Thomas can score 12 touchdowns with Gase as offensive coordinator in Denver, the talented rookie can potentially do the same in Miami. And I’m not concered about the blocking for the former volleyball player, as he makes up for it with toughness as a receiver in traffic.
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray will both be top-20 fantasy running backs
The biggest purpose of this article is to highlight certain players that I might be higher or lower on than most. First, let’s look at 2017, as when Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL in Week 4, Latavius Murray finished with 10.7 fantasy points per game the rest of the season, which would have made him the RB9, and Jerick McKinnon finished with 9.4 fantasy points per game the rest of the way, which would have made him the RB14. So, while Cook is deservedly ranked as a top-three pick in all leagues, why is Murray a borderline pick in 10-team leagues? As we saw last year, I think there is room for both to contribute, as Cook is a dynamic talent that can beat defenses in a variety of ways, while Latavius is arguably the best goal-line back in the league and will be used more than people expect to keep the starter healthy.
New England Patriots: Phillip Dorsett will threaten Brandin Cooks’ 2017 numbers
Bill Belichick is always looking ahead, and he probably had Brandin Cooks’ impending free agency in mind when he acquired Phillip Dorsett from the Colts last September. When called into action, Dorsett made plays for New England in his first year with the team, and he could step right into the deep-threat role that led to a 65/1,082/7 line for Cooks in 2017, especially with Julian Edelman suspended to begin the year. As we have seen time and time again, the sky is the limit in a Tom Brady-led offense.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram will lead the league in fantasy points after his suspension
There has been talk that Mark Ingram could be cast aside even when his four-game suspension is over, but I don’t believe that for a second. Still just entering his age-28 campaign, Ingram has been one of the NFL’s underrated stars over the past two seasons with 205 carries for 1,043 yards (5.1 YPC), and six touchdowns in 2016 followed by 230 carries for 1,124 yards (4.9 YPC) and 12 touchdowns in 2017. He’s also gone for respective receiving lines of 46/310/4 and 58/416 while helping to carry the offense at times with game-breaking plays. Alvin Kamara is the back to own for the Saints and should be a first-round pick in all formats, but I wouldn’t sleep on Ingram coming back determined and angry in Week 5.
New York Giants: Sterling Shepard will finish as a WR1/WR2 option
Pat Shurmur’s offense is designed to hit the open man, and more often than not, Odell Beckham Jr. will have quite a bit of attention around him. That could lead to Eli Manning looking Sterling Shepard’s way after he was a trusted target in each of the past two seasons, as the Oklahoma product will get to beat up on No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks in single coverage with defenses possibly stacking the box against Saquon Barkley and putting a safety over the top of OBJ. Every year, several players surprise and finish as a starting option at their position, and Shepard could be one of them in 2018.
New York Jets: Thomas Rawls will lead the Jets running backs in fantasy points
Even with Elijah McGuire’s foot injury potentially putting the start of the regular season in jeopardy, Thomas Rawls doesn’t seem to be assured of a roster spot in New York’s backfield. However, I’m simply going with talent for this prediction, as I think the former Seahawks standout is a better early-down option than Isaiah Crowell, and if he ends up earning a significant role, Rawls should be able to take advantage if he can stay healthy. If Rawls ends up getting cut, a bonus prediction (but maybe not that bold) would be Quincy Enunwa going over 1,000 receiving yards.
Oakland Raiders: Doug Martin will finish as a top-15 fantasy running back
Just three years ago, Doug Martin was a first-team All-Pro selection for Tampa Bay after rushing 288 times for 1,402 yards (4.9 YPC) and six touchdowns, but I think a fresh start was the best thing for his career after averaging below 3.0 yards per carry in each of the past two season with the Bucs. Now, he has apparently looked great in Silver and Black under head coach Jon Gruden—a guy that will play whoever gives him the best chance to win. If 32-year-old Marshawn Lynch lost a step, Martin has a chance to takeover the backfield and return to fantasy relevancy.
Philadelphia Eagles: Nelson Agholor will finish as a WR1
In my pre-draft rankings last year, I had Nelson Agholor ranked about where he is this year (Round 11) according to the consensus, and he turned into a WR2 with a breakout 62/768/8 line. So, while everyone else is apparently just catching up to Agholor’s potential, I am higher on him than everyone else once again, as we could see Doug Pederson consistently play the former first-round pick in two-wide sets to keep the offense among the league’s best and most dynamic attacks. Plus, Agholor’s confidence will be at an all-time high after being an overlooked hero of Super Bowl LII, which could lead to him becoming a fantasy star in 2018.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger will have the best year of his career
The best season for Big Ben came in 2014 when he completed 67.1% of his passes for 4,952 yards, 32 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, so those numbers could easily be surpassed for several reasons. First of all, former offensive coordinator Todd Haley is now in Pittsburgh, which could lead to Roethlisberger airing it out more often because he simply wants to compile some numbers as he nears the end of his career. Also, I think the team upgraded at receiver with James Washington replacing Martavis Bryant. And most importantly, Roethlisberger should be able to carry the momentum of a strong finish last year (his 22.1 fantasy points per game in the second half of 2017 would have made him the No. 1 overall fantasy player over 16 games) into a hot start in 2018 against a soft early-season slate (@ CLE, v KC, @ TB).
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo will be a borderline QB2 option
On the other hand, I’m not sure about Jimmy Garoppolo turning into a superstar fantasy option just yet. Garoppolo has the least amount of game experience out of the unprecedented group of potential QB1 options, and the Niners have a really tough start to the season against the Vikings in Minnesota, and then games against the Chargers, Rams, and Cardinals (twice) are scattered across the first half of the schedule. It’s also worth noting that Jimmy G’s non-qualifying 8.8 yards per attempt from last year is basically a lock to go down (Drew Brees led the league with 8.1 YPA), and I’m not sold on San Francisco having a reliable No. 1 receiver between Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon.
Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Marshall will score double-digit touchdowns
The Seahawks have a big need in scoring territory after losing Jimmy Graham in free agency, and that’s doubly true when you consider their running game was one of the worst in football and got worse in the red zone. He isn’t the athlete he used to be at 34-years-old, but I think Brandon Marshall can still do damage with size and body positioning combined with the accuracy and touch of Russell Wilson. If he makes the team, Marshall would be worth a late-round flier in standard leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin will outscore Mike Evans
Based purely on ADP (Evans: 24th overall v. Godwin: 316th overall) and general expectations (clear No. 1 receiver v. possible No. 4 receiver), this is probably the boldest prediction in the article. However, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if it came true, even without an injury to Evans. Coming out of Penn State, I had Godwin as my No. 22 overall prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, but despite no character or injury concerns, he fell all the way to the No. 84 pick. It didn’t matter, though, as Godwin was arguably the most impressive rookie wideout in his class with a 34/525/1 line in limited action, and I think he will push DeSean Jackson as a starter opposite Evans.
Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis will finish as a top-8 fantasy wide receiver
I wasn’t very high on Corey Davis coming out of Western Michigan (definitely not high enough to warrant a top-five pick), but playing favorites and sticking to them isn’t a winning strategy for fantasy owners. No matter what I thought of him as a prospect, Davis is clearly talented, and he could be in for a huge year as Marcus Mariota’s No. 1 receiver in a new, versatile offense. The small-school product should also be more acclimated to NFL speed, and he is coming off the best game of his career in a playoff loss to the Patriots with five receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns, which could be a huge confidence-builder.
Washington Redskins: Derrius Guice will break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record (1,808 yards)
I’m not necessarily higher of Derrius Guice than others are, but his ADP is surprisingly creeping towards the fifth round, so I wanted to highlight him on a team I had a difficult time coming up with a bold prediction for. And while I thought this was too unrealistic at first, it’s starting to make more sense, as Guice is a pure runner that should be fed for a team looking to make the postseason and prove they made the right choice with Alex Smith at quarterback. Furthermore, the Redskins have one of the best offensive lines in the league to open holes for their violent rookie back, who will have a chip on his shoulder after falling in the draft.