2018 Fantasy Football Bold Takes For Every Team: NFC

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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.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Michael Gallup will be the Cowboys only top-36 wide receiver. 

Quarterback Dak Prescott has only been able to support one top-36 wide receiver in each of the first two seasons of his career. In 2016 it was Cole Beasley. In 2017, Dez Bryant. This largely due to the Cowboys becoming a run-first offense. They finished second in rush yards in each of the last two seasons while finishing 23rd and 26th in passing yards. Runningback Ezekiel Elliott, who was taken in the first round of the same draft as Prescott, leads the league in rushing over the past two seasons. He has averaged over 100 yards per game in his career.

There was a lot of change in the Cowboys passing game in the 2018 offseason. Bryant was released. Tight end Jason Witten retired. Wide receiver Ryan Switzer was traded. Former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns signed as a free agent. Wide receiver Michael Gallup was drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft. Gallup was PFF’s number one wide receiver entering the 2018 NFL draft. His last two seasons in college, Gallup accumulated 2,690 yards and 21 touchdowns at Colorado State. He was also good at making receptions downfield, finishing in the top-10 his last two college seasons in yards per route run. The  Cowboys need to get back to throwing the ball downfield more often. In 2017, Prescott placed 20th in yards per attempt, whereas he finished fourth in 2016. Gallup has been showing in camp and preseason games that he can make plays downfield.

Pushing for a starting job, Gallup should continue to build chemistry with Dak throughout the season. Gallup will finish as the Cowboys top receiver in 2018.

New York Giants

Eli Manning finishes as a top-12 quarterback.

Last season, New York Giants Eli Manning finished as the QB23. In 2016, he finished as QB20. Many would say Manning is entering or has entered the twilight of his career at age of 37. I think he has at least one season left.

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Last season, the Giants suffered a lot of injuries at wide receiver. According to football outsiders, the Giants had the second most adjusted games lost at wide receiver in the league. Likely due to these injuries, Manning also had the most passes dropped in the league. Now with the return of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a hopefully healthy season from wide receiver Sterling Shepard, another season from tight end Evan Engram, and the addition phenom running back Saquon Barkley, Manning likely has the best set of skill position players he has ever had.

The Giants also hired a new coaching staff in the offseason. New head coach Pat Shurmur helped lead the Minnesota Vikings to the 2017 NFC championship as offensive coordinator. Under Shurmur’s tutelage, quarterback Case Keenum had the best season of his career. With arguably equally talented skill players as the 2017 Vikings and Pat Shurmur as his coach, Eli Manning will finish as a top-12 quarterback in 2018.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jay Ajayi finishes as a top-12 running back.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Jay Ajayi might be one of the most disrespected players in fantasy entering 2018. After all, he is only one season removed from only the fourth ever season with three or more games of 200 or more rushing yards. Ultimately Ajayi produced 1,272 yards and 8 touchdowns en route to a fantasy RB11 finish in 2016. All despite the offensive line being ranked 30th by PFF. The reason Ajayi was so good in 2016 was his ability to force missed tackles and gain yards after contact was

2017 started off rocky for Ajayi. While he started the season off great with a 122-yard performance in week one, Ajayi only broke 100 yards and 4.0 yards per carry once more time in the first half of the season. Ajayi was traded to the Eagles. Ajayi enjoyed a much better second half of the season with Eagles. To put it into context, in seven games with Miami Ajayi gained 465 yards on 138 touches. In seven games with the Eagles, he gained 408 yards on 70 carries. The Eagles offensive line was head and shoulders better than the Dolphins offensive line in 2017, ranking first versus 29th. Dolphins running backs averaged 0.59 yards before contact, which was last in the NFL.

Ajayi shared lead back duties with LeGarrette Blount. With Blount gone, Ajayi takes over the backfield. Ajayi is also a free agent in 2019, so the Eagles have no reason to not run him into the ground. All of this combined will allow Ajayi to finish as a top-12 running back in 2018.

Washington Redskins

Jamison Crowder will be the top Redskins wide receiver.

After a breakout 2016 season for Washington Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder, 2017 was disappointing. However, the 9 weeks of the season saw Crowder produce 81% of his total yardage and all three of his touchdowns. Likely, this had something to do with the injury to Chris Thompson.

The Redskins traded for Alex Smith in the offseason. Smith’s 2017 season is an anomaly. Smith graded out as PFF’s best deep ball passer. He really has earned his nickname “Captain Checkdown”. Smith routinely finishes in the bottom half to bottom third of the league in yards per attempts, average depth of target (aDOT), air yards per attempt, and first down percentage. Meanwhile, Crowder finished 48th in yards per target last season. What this says is that Smith will likely return to his dink-and-dunk ways and Crowder will be one of if not his main target. For these reasons, Crowder will be Smith’s top receiver in 2018.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Jordan Howard will finish as a top-10 running back in PPR. 

I am not sure how “bold” this take is either. Despite not being known as a pass-catcher, running back Jordan Howard has finished as RB14 and RB10 over the past two seasons in PPR scoring. This is due to 1,120 and 1,313 rushing yards in those seasons respectively. Fellow running back Tarik Cohen showed a lot of promise in the first half of 2017 before an inept coaching staff decided not to use him the rest of the way. Entering 2018 with a new, offensively creative head coach in former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, Cohen is drawing comparisons to Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. While there is a lot of excitement for Cohen, Howard is being underrated and under-drafted in fantasy.

The Bears made a lot of additions, and improvements, on the offensive side of the ball in the 2018 offseason. Adding wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton, and drafting wide receiver Anthony Miller along with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should allow the Bears to play from ahead more often. This will allow them to run the ball more often, giving Howard more carries. Howard also seems to be working on his pass catching, catching 200-300 extra balls after practices. With this comes the news that Nagy thinks Howard will play on third downs. Expect Howard to lose some touches to Cohen, but he should see enough passing down work to mitigate those losses.

Detroit Lions

Marvin Jones finishes outside of top-24 wide receivers.

Wide receiver Marvin Jones had a phenomenal season in 2017, finishing as WR11. He did so with only 107 targets on the season, averaging 18 yards per reception, the highest in the league. There are a couple reasons to believe Jones cannot repeat his 2017 performance. First, his numbers with fellow wide receiver Kenny Golladay in the lineup. Using RotoViz’s game splits app, we can see that Marvin Jones produced 5 PPR points less with Golladay than without. This was due to receiving four fewer targets per game. Admittedly, this is a small sample size.  Jones and Golladay have relatively similar athletic profiles with Golladay having a slightly larger build. They also play similar positions on the field. I expect Golladay to continue to eat into Jones’ target share in 2018.

Second is the Lions’ recommitment to the running game. The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2013 by Reggie Bush. Incidentally, that was also the last season the Lions had a 100-yard rusher. In 2017, Lions running backs averaged just 0.96 yards before contact, second worst in the league. This is a testament to how bad the offensive line and running backs played. Seemingly, this has made the Lions attempt to recommit to the run game. In the 2018 NFL draft, the Lions selected Arkansas Razorbacks center Frank Ragnow in the first round. They then selected Auburn Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson. The Lions also added running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency. With this recommitment to the run, I expect less passing attempts for the Lions. Coupled with Kenny Golladay eating into his targets, Marvin Jones will finish outside of the top-24.

Green Bay Packers

Ty Montgomery finishes as the top Packers running back.

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This bold take is also for PPR formats. Last season, running back Ty Montgomery started out as the Packers lead back and bell-cow. In the first three games of the 2017 season, Montgomery participated in 85% or more of the Packers offensive snaps. Montgomery then suffered broken ribs and seceded rushing duties to running backs, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. After returning, Montgomery injured his wrist, which required surgery and ended his season.

Since converting from wide receiver, Montgomery as proven effective as a running back, but has not been durable. In an effort to increase his durability, Montgomery bulked up in the offseason. The Packers seem to be ready to enter the season with a full-blown committee. Jones is suspended for the first two games. Williams will likely enter the season as the first and second down role, getting a majority of the carries. Montgomery has been getting most of the no-huddle and two-minute drill work, where his receiving skills will be most useful. He should also receive the change-of-pace work. With the potential of receiving a lot of targets as well as a decent amount of carries, Montgomery is a late round value and will lead the Packers backfield in fantasy in 2018.

Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook finishes outside of the top-12 running backs.

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Do not get me wrong, I love Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. But, he is coming off of an ACL tear and subsequent surgery. Running backs who have suffered an ACL tear from 1999 – 2013 have seen a reduction in touches, yards, yards per carry, touchdowns, games played, and, most importantly, fantasy points.

On top of the return from ACL surgery, there have been rumors that Cook and fellow running back Latavius Murray will split carries this season. Last season, Murray split the backfield touches with Jerick McKinnon and saw 216 carries, producing 842 yards and 8 touchdowns. While Murray won’t receiver near the work with Cook’s return, he was signed in 2017 more for short-yardage and goal-line situations. In those situations, Murray has found success. So, while Cook should see a bulk of the carries and targets, Murray could take goal-line carries, which could limit Cook in 2018.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Calvin Ridley will finish as a top-24 wide receiver.

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was largely considered the most NFL ready wide receiver in the 2018 draft class. He is also considered the most polished route runner in the class. The last time quarterback and Matt Ryan and the Falcons supported two top-24 wide receivers was in 2014, with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Ryan was able to support two top-24 wide receivers three times in the five years Jones and White were together. White was also known for his superior route running. While Mohamed Sanu has been serviceable the past two seasons as the Falcons WR2, finishing fantasy WR30 in 2017. But Sanu isn’t White nor Ridley. With a Jones and now Ridley, Ryan should be able to support two top-24 wide receivers again.

Carolina Panthers

Greg Olsen will finish outside of the top-12 tight ends. 

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Tight end Greg Olsen is 33 years old. He is coming off of a season where he suffered a fractured foot that required surgery. He is also coming off of the least productive season of his career. Even before fracturing his foot, Olsen’s highest reception yards in the four games he played were 18. In six of the seven games Olsen played in last season, he received 27 yards or fewer. In his last 17 games, Olsen has one touchdown as well.

The Panthers have added multiple pass-catchers over the past two seasons. Running back  Christian McCaffrey received 113 targets in 2017. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel was starting to get more usage before injuring his ankle and losing the rest of the season. 2018 first-round draft pick DJ Moore was the first wide receiver off the board. Moore also had a 97th percentile dominator rating and 98th percentile breakout age in college. Fourth-round draft pick Ian Thomas is Olsen’s eventual replacement. Third-year wide receiver Devin Funchess had a breakout campaign in 2017. All of this points to Greg Olsen seeing a reduced target share. Coupled with his age, Osen is a player to avoid this season.

New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara finishes as a top three running back.

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This may not seem bold seeing as New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara finished as the RB3 in 2017. This was largely due to his record-setting efficiency. In 2017, Kamara had the fantasy points per touch and second-most yards per touch for running backs since 1970. Kamara is ripe for negative regression.

However, Kamara should also see an increase in touches in 2018. In the first four weeks of 2017, Kamara was competing with fellow running backs Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson for touches. In those four weeks, Kamara averaged 8.8 touches per game. Peterson was traded during the bye week in week five of the NFL season. After the Peterson trade, Kamara averaged 13.8 touches per game. Kamara also saw an increasing percentage of the snaps throughout the season and increasing number of touches per game while Ingram’s dropped. The final two weeks of the season, Kamara even out-touched and out-snapped Ingram.

Ingram is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. While head coach Sean Payton says he will not give Kamara the bulk of Ingram’s carries, I expect he will get a partial share. If this is the case, the increased touches will mitigate the regression in efficiency Kamara is bound to see. Due to this, Kamra will finish as a top-three running back in 2018.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin finishes as a top-36 wide receiver.

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The first half of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin’s rookie season was uneventful. In his first eight games, Godwin received only 10 targets. The second half of the season was a different story, with Godwin receiving 45 targets. This included two double-digit target games. Godwin also produced 84% of his yards and caught his only touchdown in those eight weeks. Godwin was also efficient in his rookie season, posting 2.03 yards per route run.

News out of training camp has only been positive for Godwin. Godwin has become the starter opposite Mike Evans, passing DeSean Jackson. With the ascension of Godwin in the second half of the 2017 season and bypassing Jackson on the depth chart, Godwin is in for a productive season. He will finish as a top-36 wide receiver.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson will finish as THE fantasy RB1. 

This is a relatively mild take. Running back David Johnson is considered a consensus top-4 running back in 2018. In 2016, Johnson finished as the fantasy RB1 with 411 fantasy points, nearly 90 points ahead of Ezekial Elliott. This was also almost 20 points more than 2017’s RB1 Todd Gurley. Johnson is so good because he not only can run the ball, but he is arguably the best pass receiving running back in the league. PFF gave him a 90 grade in the passing game, which is elite on their scale. Johnson has stated that he wants to be the third ever player to eclipse the 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving mark, and he can very well do it. In 2016 he nearly did it with 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards. Entering 2018, the Cardinals do not have any reliable skill position players outside of Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. This likely means volume for Johnson.

The Cardinals also have a new quarterback in Sam Bradford. In Bradford’s last healthy season, he placed 36th out of 36 quarterbacks in average depth of target (aDOT). If Bradford were to get injured, which there is a high probability, rookie Josh Rosen would step in. Rookie quarterbacks aDOT is approximately 4% lower than an average quarterback, which means that he is likely to rely more on short quick passes. What all of this means is that Johnson will likely see a ton of volume in 2018 and end up as the fantasy RB1.

Los Angeles Rams

Robert Woods will finish as the Rams WR1.

Los Angeles wide receiver Robert Woods’ career started off poorly. Drafted by the Bills in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, Woods did not break the 700 receiving yards mark in his first four seasons. Of course, Woods had some things working against him. First, the Bills passing yards per game ranks from 2013-2017 were 29, 18, 28, and 30. The Bills were a run-first team in Woods’ tenure. Second, for three of those seasons, Woods played second-fiddle to wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

The script flipped in the 2017 season. Woods signed with the Rams in the offseason. Watkins joined him in training camp when the Bills traded Watkins to the Rams. In the 2017 season, Watkins played second, and really third, fiddle to Woods and Cooper Kupp. Woods enjoyed the best season of his career with 781 yards and 5 touchdowns in only 12 games. This equates to 1,040 yards and 7 touchdowns in 16 games. He finished at RB18 in points per game. One of the best things about Woods’ season was his week to week consistency.

In the 2018 offseason, the Rams traded for former New England Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks. While one can argue that Cooks is better than Watkins, it doesn’t change that Cooks will have relatively the same role of Watkins in 2017. According to Matt Harmon’s (@MattHarmon_BYB) Reception Perception, Cooks’ best skill is his speed and the deep ball. Meanwhile, Woods is more of a technician and creates separation, which is perfect for the type of quarterback that Goff is. This will equate to Woods being the WR1 for the Rams in back-to-back season.

San Francisco 49ers

Marquise Goodwin finishes as a top-12 wide receiver.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is fast. He is fast enough to have qualified for the London Olympics. He has the second fastest 40-yard dash time measured at the NFL combine of all-time. Even though he was fast, Goodwin was never really prolific producer on the football field. In college at the University of Texas, his most yards received were 421, his most touchdowns caught were three. In Goodwin’s first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, he accumulated 780 yards and 6 touchdowns on 79 targets. Part of the reason for Goodwin’s meager stats was his battles with injuries. But, Goodwin still was not used heavily in Buffalo.

In the 2017 offseason, Goodwin signed with the 49ers. With the 49ers, Goodwin was given a lot more volume, resulting in 962 yards. Goodwin was a home run hitter for the 49ers, averaging 36 yards per reception on post routes. However, it wasn’t until the 49ers traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that Goodwin really realized his potential. Before Garoppolo, Goodwin only saw a catchable ball on 53% of his targets. After Garoppolo took over as the starter, he saw that rate go to 76%. Using RotoViz’s game splits app, Goodwin saw a nearly three target, 27 yards, and over six fantasy point bump with Garoppolo. This rapport has continued into the 2018 preseason. Look for Garoppolo to feed Goodwin to the tune top-12 wide receiver finish.

Seattle Seahawks

Nick Vannett finishes as a top-12 tight end.

The Seattle Seahawks saw 198 targets vacated in the 2018 offseason. This includes a league-leading 26 red zone targets.

Tight end Nick Vannett is essentially going undrafted in fantasy football. I recently wrote on why he is a late round tight end candidate. Vannett is a mountain of a man at 6’6″ and 260 pounds. This makes him a perfect candidate to receive a majority of those vacate red zone targets.

Even with the additions of tight ends Ed Dickson in free agency and Will Dissly in the draft, Vannett is the best receiving option. Dickson was PFF’s top-graded tight end in pass blocking. The Seahawks ranked 29th in pass-blocking efficiency. Dickson is needed to help block. Dissly was considered the best blocking tight end in the 2018 class. Thus, Vannett is the pass-catching tight end. With the number of overall and red zone targets available, Vannet will finish as a top-12 tight end.

Started playing fantasy football with my dad 15 years ago. Still have no idea what I am doing. Just trying to pass on any analysis I can to help you win.