By: Sam Lane (@FFStompy)
It’s an unoriginal concept. The fantasy football community is full of those making “hot” takes daily to try to make a name for themselves. Then there are those of us trying to gain the upper hand in our fantasy leagues. We consume these “hot” takes to find the next breakout candidate, the next late round rookie surprise. So I thought I would give it a shot and try to help your fantasy teams. While some of these takes are bolder than others, what I am attempting to do here is effectively predict the future. I will try to do so using statistics and analysis. As we enter the final week of the preseason and the final week of fantasy drafts, I hope you find these useful. So, without further ado, here are my bold takes for each team for the 2018 season.
Kelvin Benjamin will finish as a top-24 wide receiver.
People seem to have forgotten how successful wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been in his short career. This is likely due to his poor 2016 and his reputation for showing up to offseason workouts overweight. Before last season, Benjamin combined for 1,949 yards and 16 touchdowns in his two healthy seasons. Before the 2018 mid-season trade to the Bills, Benjamin was on pace for 950 yards and 4 touchdowns with the Carolina Panthers. The trade sent Benjamin to a new and much worse offense on both a yards and points basis. Benjamin also tore his meniscus, missing two games before playing the rest of the season. He underwent surgery in the offseason. The combination of the trade and injury derailed the second half of his season.
In the 2018 offseason, the Bills traded starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, signed former Cincinnati Bengal AJ McCarron and drafted Josh Allen. They let offensive coordinator Rick Dennison go and lost three starting offensive linemen to trade or retirement. What all of this likely means is that the Bills will be less effective running the ball and will play from behind more often, therefore throwing more often. With Benjamin being the top receiver on the team, this means more targets and more production.
Albert Wilson will lead the Dolphins in catches.
The Miami Dolphins traded away wide receiver Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. They also let tight end Julius Thomas and running back Damien Williams leave via free agency. These, among other moves, vacated 290 targets from 2017 To fill the void left by Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins signed former Kansas City Chief Albert Wilson and former New England Patriot Danny Amendola.
This take is a little bolder than most because Wilson has been working behind wide receivers DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills as well as Amendola. However, Wilson has been learning all three receiver positions, split end, flanker, and slot. This will prove valuable, as Parker and Amendola have extensive injury histories and Stills has been battling an ankle injury. Wilson has demonstrated his potential value to the Dolphins in their second preseason game, catching five of seven targets for 39 yards. Wilson’s extreme efficiency in his career, combined with the vacated targets, wide receiver injuries, and his versatility will allow him to see the field more often, resulting in higher target share and ultimately a higher number of receptions.
New England Patriots
Julian Edelman finishes outside of the top-36 wide receivers.
There seems to be an assumption that New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will return to form as Tom Brady’s favorite wide receiver coming off of an ACL tear in the 2017 preseason. This is evidenced by the fact that Edelman is being drafted as the WR30 in redraft leagues.
Edelman is entering his age 32 season coming off of a torn ACL. While ACL tears are not nearly the death knell for players’ careers these days, age is still a factor. A study conducted on 34 wide receivers who have suffered a torn ACL since 2013. 13 of those wide receivers saw a production decline or never returned. The average age of those 13 wide receivers was 27.8 when they tore their ACLs. The average age of the six who saw an increase in production was 25.2. Edelman is also suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy. Edelman is overvalued where he is being drafted.
New York Jets
Quincy Enunwa finishes as a top-24 wide receiver.
New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is one of my favorite sleepers for 2018. I have been writing about him all offseason. Enunwa is a physical freak, running a 4.45 40-yard dash at 6’2″, 225 pounds. That equates to a 96th percentile speed score. He was also productive in college with a 41.7% college dominator. This seemed to translate to the NFL. In his second season in 2016, Enunwa led the Jets in receiving with 857 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did so on 25 fewer targets than wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Enunwa was also relatively productive despite his quarterbacks. The Jets 2016 quarterbacks were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and Bryce Petty, all of whom started. These quarterbacks combined for the worst passer rating in the league, worst interception percentage, and second-worst completion percentage.
Unfortunately, Enunwa lost the 2017 season to neck surgery. Coming back in 2018, Enunwa is the Jets most versatile wide receiver. In 2016, Enunwa worked primarily from the slot with 428 snaps versus 111 outside and 28 inline. However, Enunwa also had the highest deep catch rate in 2016. Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Robby Anderson remains under review for two arrests in nine months and could be suspended for one or two games during the season. Also, free agent signee Terrelle Pryor has been nursing hip and ankle injuries all offseason, the rest of the wide receiving corp has been unimpressive this offseason, and the tight end situation is nonexistent. Enunwa has a real chance to be the WR1 for the Jets and will put up WR2 numbers in 2018.
Quincy Enunwa will be the Jets top target in 2017. He led the NFL in deep catch rate a season ago pic.twitter.com/Phk1hAqVgE
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 3, 2017
Alex Collins will finish as a top-10 running back.
2017 saw running back Alex Collins and Buck Allen finish as fantasy RB19 and RB24 respectively. After serving as the change of pace to Allen for the first few weeks, Collins took over the Ravens backfield ultimately grading out as the best runner by PFF.
Collins didn’t start receiving the majority of the carries until week 5. Despite this, he ended the season with 973 yards on 221 carries. While Allen received a majority of the running back receiving work before the bye week. From weeks 11-16 (Collins didn’t play in week 17), however, Collins out targeted Allen 31-9. Collins did all of this without the Ravens best offensive lineman in Marshal Yanda. Yanda fractured his ankle in week two of the season. Yanda’s return will mean better run and pass blocking for the Ravens.
All of this points to Collins receiving a bell-cow workload in the 2018 season. And no, I am not concerned about Kenneth Dixon.
Alex Collins was the NFL's highest graded runner in 2017! pic.twitter.com/VkNAsS0NLf
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 28, 2018
Tyler Kroft will finish as a top-12 tight end.
This is one of my bolder bold takes. This one is really contingent on a starting tight end Tyler Eifert injury, which is very possible. Eifert has played a total of 10 games over the past two seasons. He never played a full season in his career. The past two seasons Eifert has been battling back issues, having gone through two surgeries. This offseason, Eifert didn’t participate in minicamp and missed the week of camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
In Eifert’s absence, tight end Tyler Kroft had a breakout season. In 15 games, Kroft received 62 targets, catching 42 for 414 yards and 7 touchdowns. Really, he did it in 13 games as Eifert started the first two. 2017 was also a down season offensively for the Bengals. The Bengals finished last in total yards and 26th in points. The Bengals should see positive regression in 2018. Another thing going for Kroft, and other Bengals tight ends, is tight end usage under quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton’s tight ends have season an above average target share in five of his seven seasons and above average touchdown percentage in six of seven.
I am a proponent of late round tight ends if you don’t draft the top three. You can find other late round tight end targets here. Kroft is a good late round tight end candidate and could end up being a TE1 in fantasy.
Tyrod Taylor will finish as a top-12 quarterback.
The Browns traded with the Buffalo Bills for quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the offseason. Taylor will seemingly be a bridge quarterback as the Browns also drafted Baker Mayfield. Mayfield will have to wait a year. Along with the addition of two new quarterbacks, the Browns added two new running backs in Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb, as well as wide receiver Jarvis Landry. With the return of running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Josh Gordon for hopefully a full season, Taylor has the best set of skill positions he has ever had in his career.
Taylor has been relatively productive as a starting quarterback fantasy wise. This is because of his rushing ability. In his three years starting for the Bills, Taylor never ran for less than 427 yards and 4 touchdowns. Though not the best, Taylor is not a bad passer either. He has only thrown interceptions in the past three seasons. His lowest PFF grade over those same years was 83.2 in 2016, which ranked 13th that season. With Tyrod’s ability to run, not turn the ball over, and the best skill positions he has had in his career, he will finish as a QB1 in fantasy.
Le’Veon Bell finishes outside of the top six running back.
This may not seem like much of a bold take. But in three of the last four seasons, Bell has finished in the top three of fantasy running backs. In the fourth season, he tore his ACL. Bell is so prolific because of his ability to both run and catch the ball. In his last three healthy seasons, Bell has averaged over 290 carries and over 100 targets with 81 receptions. Thus, Bell not finishing as a top-three fantasy running back is a big deal.
In 2017, Bell surpassed 400 touches with 321 carries and 85 receptions. The 400 touch barrier as only been breached 43 times by 27 players. In 17 of the 23 cases of 400 touches, the running back’s yards per carry dropped in the following season by approximately half a yard. Total yards from scrimmage also saw a 22% drop. Injuries are also an issue, with 11 of the running backs missing one game, and seven missing four or more.
Bell is also sitting out camp for the second season straight season. While it ultimately didn’t affect him last season, he did start off slow. He may be pressing his luck sitting out a second training camp. According to a study conducted in 2013, players who sat out most or all of training camp averaged 7.61 games played that season versus 12.48 in seasons they did attend camp. With an increased chance of injury, or even just a slow start, plus the chance of a decrease in production, Bell will finish outside of the top six running backs in 2018.
Lamar Miller will finish as a top-12 running back
While not exciting, Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller has finished with 1,200+ yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in the past four seasons. In those seasons he has finished as fantasy RB9, RB5, RB19, and RB16. Despite this, the Texans drafted running back D’Onta Foreman in the 2017 NFL draft. Foreman showed some promise in the 2017 season but tore his Achilles tendon on a touchdown run in week 10, ending his season. Research has shown that linebackers and running backs who return from Achilles surgery have a significantly worse postoperative performance versus preoperative performance. Foreman will likely begin 2018 on the PUP list, which means he will miss at least the first six games of the season. Foreman likely will not affect Miller’s production in 2018 and may have a hard time making a come back in subsequent seasons.
Last season, quarterback Deshaun Watson had an immense on Miller’s production. According to RotoViz’s game splits app, with Watson, Miller produced nearly five more fantasy points than without. If you extrapolated Miller’s numbers with Watson over a 16 game season, Miller would have finished as RB13. Mind you, this was when Foreman was taking touches away from Miller. Head coach Bill O’Brien has said that Miller is a three-down back. If Miller receives a bell-cows worth of work, which he should, he will finish as an RB1.
Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron both finish as top-24 tight ends.
For any other team, this is a bold take. For the Indianapolis Colts, it’s actually relatively mild. The last two healthy seasons for quarterback Andrew Luck, 2014 and 2016, he has been able to support two top-24 tight ends. In 2014, Coby Fleener finished as TE9, Dwayne Allen as TE19. In 2016, Jack Doyle finished as TE13 and Allen as TE23.
The Colts signed former Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron in 2018 free agency. While Ebron has been disappointing relative to his draft position, 10th overall, but he has still been productive the last three seasons. In those seasons he has finished as TE13, TE14, and TE13. The Colts also hired a new head coach in Frank Reich. In three of the four seasons as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers (before they moved) and Philadelphia Eagles, Reich’s second tight ends have finished as TE25, TE34, and TE30. The one thing that could affect the two tight ends’ productivity is the emergence of a WR2. Wide receiver Ryan Grants seems to have emerged as the WR2 next to TY Hilton. While Grant was relatively productive for the Washington Redskins last season, Luck does not support his WR2s. In all but one season, when he had Hilton and Reggie Wayne, Luck’s WR2s have finished as fantasy WR51 or worse.
With a new head coach and two talented tight ends, Luck will lead Ebron and Doyle to TE2 finishes or better.
Keelan Cole will be the Jaguars top wide receiver.
The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver situation is a mess. At the beginning of training camp, one could have made an argument for Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, or Keelan Cole to finish as the Jaguars top wide receiver. Lee has since suffered a knee injury and has been placed on IR. Westbrook is a former Biletnikoff Award winner as the nations’ best receiver in college. Moncrief is a physical freak who flashed as a red zone weapon for the Colts but could never stay on the field. Cole went undrafted in the 2017 draft and doesn’t have a very good athletic profile.
Yet, Cole has been running with the starters in training camp alongside Lee. With the Lee injury, Cole may be pushed into the top wide receiver role. Cole demonstrated his upside at the end of 2017. In the last five weeks of the 2017 season, Cole produced WR2 numbers in four of the five games and WR1 numbers in two of the five. He was the top wide receiver in week 15 and the WR5 over weeks 13-17. With the injury to Lee and his emergence at the end of 2017, Cole will lead the Jaguars receiving corp and has fantasy WR1 potential.
Marcus Mariota finishes as a top-12 quarterback
The Tennessee Titans offense had a down year in 2017. This is especially true for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who saw his touchdown percentage cut enough from 2016 and his interception percentage jump. His yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt also dropped. Part of the issue was luck or lack thereof when it came to interceptions.
In the 2018 offseason, the Titans changed the coaching staff. Former Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel was hired as head coach. Former Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur was hired as offensive coordinator. This means the Titans get to move away from the Exotic Smashmouth. This likely means that the offense will move towards a more balanced attack, which means more passing plays. The Titans will also have better pass-catching weapons in 2018. Corey Davis enters the season much healthier than he did in 2017. With a healthy Davis, tight end Delanie Walker, wide receivers Taywan Taylor and Rishard Matthews, and former New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis, Mariota should see greater success in 2018. Combined with a more balanced offense and a positive regression, Mariota will finish as a top-12 quarterback.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will both finish as top-24 wide receivers.
I wrote about the Denver Broncos wide receivers in more detail here. The Broncos quarterback situation has been awful for the past three seasons. Since 2015, the Broncos quarterbacks have finished in the bottom third of most major statistical categories. Despite this, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been productive. In 2015 and 2016, Thomas and Sanders finished as WR9/WR18 and WR15/WR20 respectively. Thomas finished as WR16 in 2017 while Sanders battled injuries.
The Broncos signed quarterback Case Keenum in the 2018 offseason. Keenum is coming off of the best year of his career with the Minnesota Vikings. In 2017, Keenum was able to support two top-24 wide receivers in Stefon Diggs (WR19) and Adam Thielen (WR8) and a top-8 tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Keenum enters a similar situation in Denver. The Broncos have two great wide receivers who demand a majority of the targets, a good defense, and are focused on the run game. With a much more stable quarterback situation, Sanders and Thomas should be able to return to form.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes will finish as a top-five quarterback.
If you have been following me on Twitter, you will know how much I have bee preaching this bold take. I even wrote an in-depth article on why I think Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be a top-5 quarterback in 2018. Mahomes inherits one of the best offenses in the league. The Chiefs also added wide receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency, which actually improves on a top-five offense in yards and top-six in scoring. The Chiefs also get running back Spencer Ware back after he lost his 2017 to a torn MCL and PCL. This makes the Chiefs arguably the strongest team in the league at the skill positions.
Mahomes is more equipped to use Watkins and fellow wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s strength; speed. While former quarterback Alex Smith finished as the top deep passer in 2017 according to PFF, he has never been known for his deep ball or arm strength. On the other hand, Mahomes is known for his arm strength, and it was on full display in the Chiefs preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. Mahomes threw a pass 69 yards in the air to Hill for a touchdown.
This throw by Patrick Mahomes is ridiculous. 70 yards in the air 👀 pic.twitter.com/SuWGVXwW1X
— 360°FantasyFootball (@360FFB) August 18, 2018
The Chiefs also traded away their best cornerback in the offseason and look to have a poor defense entering 2018. This could result in playing from behind and having to throw more often. With his arm strength, stable of skill players, and the Chiefs poor defense, Mahomes will finish as a top-five quarterback in 2018.
Los Angeles Chargers
Tyrell Williams will finish as a top-24 wide receiver
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver seems to be a forgotten man. Posting a 1,059 yard, 7 touchdown season without fellow wide receiver Keenan Allen in 2016, Williams saw a dip in production in 2017, producing only 728 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, he was productive on a per target basis, having only received 69 targets in 2017. On top of Allen’s successful return, the Chargers 2017 first round draft pick, wide receiver Mike Williams, enters the 2018 season healthy after fighting injuries the entirety of his rookie season. This has left T. Williams as the Chargers third wide receiver in most people’s minds.
T. Williams has been extremely efficient in his career. Last season, T. Williams ranked third in playerprofiler.com‘s production premium. Production premium measures a player’s outcomes on all plays in different game situations against league average. He also ranked fourth in yards per target, 12th in QB rating when targeted, ninth in target separation, and 12th in fantasy points per target. T. Williams is also the number two wide receiver for the Chargers, starting alongside Allen in two wide receiver sets.
However, the Chargers will likely be running a lot of three wide receiver sets with tight end Hunter Henry lost for the season due to an ACL tear. This means that more targets will be available. T. Williams should benefit from those available targets in route to a top-24 wide receiver finish.
Derek Carr will be nothing more than a streaming option at quarterback.
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has never broken 4,000 yards passing in his career. The best statistical season of his career was 2015 when he threw for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns. 2015 was also his best finish in fantasy as QB14. Last season, Derek Carr suffered a back injury. Despite playing in 15 games, he was affected by the injury and finished as fantasy QB19.
A lot has changed for the Raiders in the offseason. First, they hired Jon Gruden. After being hired, Gruden said he wanted to “… throw the game back to 1998…” He then proceeded to sign 29-year old running back Doug Martin to play behind 34-year old Marshawn Lynch, 33-year old Jordy Nelson to replace 30-year old Michael Crabtree, and among others in a seeming effort to roll back the clock to a more powerful (and slower), run-heavy offense.
The Raiders also traded with the Steelers for wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Carr has arguably his worst set of skill position players in his career. At the very least, the oldest. With Gruden and the Raiders seemingly recommitting to the run and the lack of reliable weapons on offense outside of wide receiver Amari Cooper, it is best to stay away from Derek Carr.