You heard me!
I think the important part is the label. Announcing up front that: Hey, this is a bold prediction.
Because if I don't give that heads-up, well, confusion reigns. These days, there are a lot of people, both in the world of fantasy football and in general sports commentary, who are so outrageous with their opinions and predictions that it's hard to figure out if they are being serious or if they are being "bold" just to draw attention/clicks/ratings.
So even though the idea of a "bold prediction" is overdone these days, it's crucial to add that caveat. Understand the point of view of the person giving the opinion, so as to accurately judge it.
So, allow me to welcome you, in big bright letters, to the 12th annual "You Heard Me!" -- my bold predictions column.
For those new to the column, the premise is simple. Pretend we are friends. And there we are, hanging out in real life and everything. We are at a bar, and somehow we manage to both put our phones down at the same time. I turn to you and say something crazy.
Me: You know, I think the Redskins win the Super Bowl!
Me: You heard me!
It's an outrageous and unlikely prediction, but it's not impossible. They have some talent and came within a hair of making the playoffs last year. I would be shocked if it happened -- I've only used the same example for three years straight, and it's a fairly good bet I'll be able to do so again next year -- but it's not totally outside the realm of possibility. I mean, hey, at this point, all 32 NFL teams technically have a chance, right?
Anyway, as I have written before, that's the idea here. To actually be a bold prediction it has to be, well, bold. By definition, it needs to be unlikely to occur. Saying Tom Brady will finish as the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy is not bold -- it's very much within his range of outcomes and is more likely than not. A bold prediction would be to say Brady finishes outside the top 20 at the position. I'm not saying that, by the way, because Brady is my No. 1 quarterback.
I have a ton of predictions this preseason with still more to come. Many of them come on The Fantasy Show, which airs Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. With a lot of sporting events, rainouts and the season starting soon, the show has been a bit all over the map, but once the season kicks off, we should settle into that Monday-Friday slot at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Set your DVR to just record The Fantasy Show whenever it airs!
(By the way, the idea that I would promote something in this column would NOT, in fact, have been a bold prediction. Did you take the over? You should have taken the over, because you should really download the free ESPN Fantasy App. And the ESPN App, if you haven't already. They're free and awesome.)
OK. So, the point is, I have made a lot of predictions and will make hundreds more throughout this NFL season. Some will work out, some won't, but all of them are steeped in research, scouting, sources and facts that suggest it is much more likely to happen than not.
Well, actually all of my predictions, barring this column. This is swing-for-the-fences territory, where trying to hit for contact would be much more likely to find success. The idea for this column is NOT to nail outrageous predictions, but rather to highlight players whom I have strong feelings about, one way or another. Scenarios that are actually NOT likely to happen, but aren't impossible either.
And honestly, it's not important whether I get it right.
You heard me.
Because that's NOT the point here. Last year, in my "You Heard Me" column, I wrote this:
"I say Tyrod Taylor finishes the season as a top-five fantasy QB."
Taylor was going late in drafts as a QB2, if he was drafted at all, and technically, I got that wrong. He finished as QB8 overall and QB7 on a points-per-game basis. So not top five. But certainly, if you used a late draft pick on him, you were very happy, as he returned tremendous value. So I count that prediction as a "win," and so should you, if you're using this column correctly.
I had a pretty good season in 2016. Among the not-obvious things at the time that I wrote in last year's version:
• I said Terrelle Pryor Sr., then being drafted as WR66, would finish as a top-30 WR. (Finished WR18)
• I said Dez Bryant, then being drafted as a top-seven wide receiver, would finish the season outside the top 20. (Finished as WR26, I mentioned injury as a concern.) • I said Jordy Nelson, then being drafted as WR8, would finish the season as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy. (Finished as WR2, 0.4 points behind Mike Evans.)
• I said Frank Gore, then being drafted as RB25 in the eighth round, would finish with at least 160 points, which last year was RB8. (Finished with 176.2 points in non-PPR.)
• I said Stefon Diggs, then being drafted outside the top 40 at WR and who had just lost his starting quarterback for the season, would have 1,000 yards and at least six touchdowns. (Finished with 900 yards and three scores in 13 games.)
• I said Martellus Bennett, then being drafted as TE14, would finish the season as a top-five fantasy tight end. (Finished as TE7)
• I said Ben Roethlisberger, then being drafted as QB6, would finish outside the top 12 at the position. (Finished as QB18)
• I said Kirk Cousins, then being drafted in the 11th round and 53 picks behind Ben Roethlisberger, would outscore Big Ben and finish as a top-six fantasy QB. (Finished as QB5)
However, I also predicted big years for players such as Torrey Smith, Christine Michael, Travis Benjamin, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Virgil Green and Tyler Boyd, among many other misses. Yeesh. So understand that this is definitely high-risk, high-reward territory here.
Again, please use this column as intended: to highlight players I have a strong feeling about one way or another, to make you feel better about your own predictions and to blatantly plug that I have an awesome premium fantasy football site called RotoPass.com that has everything you need for the season to help you win!
In each of these, I used ESPN.com ADP.
So here you go. One bold prediction per NFL team, in alphabetical order, with my thinking behind it:
My thinking: A top-five quarterback in 2015, he is healthy once again, and with defenses focused on David Johnson, passing lanes once again become wide open for a QB and head coach who love to sling it. Plus, have you seen the Cardinals' schedule? It's -- what's the phrase? -- very "fantasy friendly" for the most part.
My thinking: There is one running back with at least 50 catches and 400 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons. That same running back is the only player with 1,000 rushing yards in each of those seasons. There's lots to like about Freeman, skill-set wise, and I'm on the "Tevin Coleman will regress bandwagon," but look closer. When you need wins to lock up a playoff game in Weeks 12-14, Freeman plays nothing but home games (since 2015, he is RB2 at home). Even better, Freeman's four games against the Bucs and Saints (both of whom finished as bottom-10 defenses versus fantasy RBs) also come in Weeks 12-16.
My thinking: The Ravens have led the NFL in pass attempts the past two seasons, there are more than 300 targets available from last year (when Wallace finished as WR23 in PPR in his first year with Baltimore), and the other two times he has been a second-year wide receiver on the same team (Pittsburgh in 2010 and Miami in 2014) he was a top-20 WR. Criminally undervalued.
Buffalo Bills: I say Zay Jones, currently being drafted as WR52 in the 14th round, finishes as the No. 1 WR in fantasy among rookies and with more than 200 points in PPR scoring (which would have made him last season's WR25).
My thinking: They have to throw to someone. Reunited with his wide receiver coach from college, the rookie has impressed during camp and will be the Bills' No. 1 threat on the perimeter. More than 240 targets from last year are available, and the sure-handed Jones will see a significant portion of them.
My thinking: Coming off a season during which he had career lows in rushing attempts, yards per carry, rushing yards and was tied for a career low in rushing touchdowns (and still got injured), I expect the Panthers to let McCaffrey and Stewart do the heavy lifting. And if he's just throwing, well, he's not a QB1.
My thinking: Reunited with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, (with whom he had 94 receptions and 1,079 yards in 2013) Wright is the most accomplished wideout on the Bears and a chain-moving, short-pass-catching asset to try to control the clock, as Chicago works the run game and tries to keep its defense off the field.
My thinking: Last year's QB12, who had guys such as A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard miss significant time, now gets all of them back plus talented rookies John Ross and Joe Mixon. Always an underrated fantasy QB, this is the season the Red Rifle returns to fantasy glory. Also, I've talked up Mixon enough this preseason.
My thinking: It's all about his rushing. Remember, even Tim Tebow was a productive fantasy QB. Colin Kaepernick was a very good fantasy QB last year for a month or so as well. Rushing for almost 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in two years at Notre Dame (and going 8-for-47 with a score in the preseason), he'll be running behind a very good offensive line. Hue Jackson will certainly take advantage of his athleticism.
My thinking: I think Prescott is a very good NFL quarterback, but fantasy wise, he has regression written all over him. If you haven't been paying attention, there are red flags when it comes to his unsustainable rushing numbers. He ran for six scores last season, but only three quarterbacks have multiple seasons with five-plus rushing scores over the past 15 seasons, and only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (minimum of 450 pass attempts) have had a single-season TD/INT rate higher than Prescott's over the past 15 seasons. As the turnovers rise, the possessions fall, and the 'Boys ranked 30th in pass attempts in 2016 as it was. One more stat for you: Prescott ranked fourth in completion percentage off of play-action, something that will be tough to repeat with Ezekiel Elliott slated to miss the first six games.
My thinking: Check out these blind resumes for the 2014-2015 seasons:
• Player A averaged 4.76 yards per carry (2.05 yards after first contact), ran for 11 touchdowns and gained five-plus yards on 36.2 percent of his carries.
• Player B averaged 4.74 yards per carry (2.08 yards after first contact), ran for 13 touchdowns and gained five-plus yards on 37.2 percent of his carries.
Player B is C.J. Anderson. Player A? Le'Veon Bell.
Those were the only two seasons that we have seen Anderson play at least half of the season. Anderson was RB14 during that stretch, and we've seen nothing to suggest that he can't sustain that level of production when given the lead role (12 rushing touchdowns and 4.7 yards per carry in his 11 career regular-season games with 15-plus carries). New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was the Chargers' head coach from 2013-16 ... and his Chargers ranked second in time of possession over that stretch. Denver is going to run the ball often. Anderson just needs to stay healthy.
Stafford failed to throw multiple TD passes in seven of his last 10 regular-season games (also threw zero in their playoff loss to the Seahawks). The Lions went 2-5 in the regular season when Stafford threw 40-plus passes and 7-2 when he threw fewer than 40 times. Stafford no longer needs to ball out to get paid, he just has to play ball-control offense so the Lions' defense can stay off the field.
Green Bay Packers: Martellus Bennett, being drafted as TE9, finishes outside the top 20 at TE this year. You heard me.
My thinking: Green Bay does not use their tight ends in significant ways. Remember how fired up people were about Jared Cook last year? (For the record, I wasn't one of them.) He finished as TE36. Aaron Rodgers hasn't had a top-10 tight end in total points and points per game since Jermichael Finley in 2011. Not starting now.
Houston Texans: Instead of doing a bold prediction here, thought I'd let you know that if you are so inclined, there are many fine organizations working hard to help the City of Houston and its inhabitants as they deal with the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey. I urge you to do a little research before giving blindly, as there are definitely some organizations that have proved more effective than others in disaster relief.
One idea to consider is, if your league has an entry fee this year, maybe play for pride and send the league dues this year to a charitable organization helping the relief efforts. There are many, many deserving charities and organizations, so that's a good idea no matter what, but you'd have to be made of stone to not be effected by the images out of Houston. God bless Houston.
My thinking: I've listed the stats ... Andrew Luck loves the tight end. Here's more proof of that:
• 79 catches for 1,369 yards and 10 touchdowns ... 275.9 PPR fantasy points
• 94 catches for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns ... 259 PPR fantasy points
Pretty similar stat lines, right? Slight edge to the first set of numbers, but nothing major. That is Rob Gronkowski's production over his past 127 targets compared to the collective production of Dwayne Allen/Jack Doyle on the 127 targets they saw last season. In the 11 games Doyle was targeted at least four times, he produced 52 catches for 508 yards and five touchdowns. That works out to 12.1 PPR fantasy PPG, or the per-game average of Gronkowski last season. I'm not saying Doyle is Gronk, of course, and he was hurt some last year, but still. A better pass-catcher than he gets credit for, Doyle is going to be one of the focal points for Luck and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I'm not going to force one here. Look, I love Fournette but what am I going to say? He's going as an RB1. I don't believe anything great will happen with Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson or even Marquise Lee, who I do like a little. And their ADP is already low enough I can't trash them. I'll say that if Corey Grant ever gets real run in the NFL (unlikely as long as Fournette is healthy), he'd be pretty good. This team will be about a solid defense and Fournette.
Kansas City Chiefs: I say Kareem Hunt, currently being drafted behind Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, finishes as the No. 1 rookie RB this year in both PPR and non-PPR and flirts with top-five running back numbers.
My thinking: A talented kid, who was already drawing rave reviews before Spencer Ware's injury now gets the starting gig to himself. The No. 1 back in an Andy Reid offense has been top 10 in nine of the past 13 seasons. This year, it becomes 10 of 14.
My thinking: Not injury prone but unlucky (come on, who gets a lacerated kidney?), Allen stays on the field this year, and when you look at his per-game averages with Rivers over a 16-game season, you get a star WR1. That happens this year.
My thinking: Jared Goff is a dink-and-dunker, and with Kupp working out of the slot, Goff will dump off to Kupp much more than he'll throw deep to Watkins. Assuming, of course, that Watkins is on the field and healthy, which is no sure thing.
My thinking: I have to be on Parker as a sleeper this year. It's right there in the fantasy analyst handbook and everything. Big, fast and now healthy, he is exactly the kind of receiver that Jay Cutler likes to throw to, especially in the red zone. The "Parker reminds me of a faster Alshon Jeffery" quote was no accident.
My thinking: Working out of the slot more should benefit Thielen's skill set as well as his fantasy production, as Sam Bradford will look there often in his second year in Minnesota. The Vikings thought enough of Thielen to give him a three-year extension this offseason, so they, too, are literally buying what they've seen.
My thinking: He's finally healthy -- like, fully healthy, like actually played in the preseason healthy -- and a potent offense will now run through him as Brandin Cooks opens up the offense. Gronk's incentive-laden contract gets paid out in full.
New Orleans Saints: I say Ted "%&*!!#$" Ginn Jr., currently going as WR52, has the best fantasy season of his career (WR33 in 2015) and turns into Ted "%&*!!#$ Good" Ginn. To put it another way, I also say he has a better fantasy season than Willie Snead (currently going as WR34).
My thinking: That felt dirty to type, but listen, Drew Brees' greatness will make you do funny things. Ginn has never seen 100 targets in a season, but the Saints have had three 100-target pass-catchers in consecutive seasons. Considering how often the Saints go deep (and Brees' success at it), Ginn will see more targets and a higher quality of throws than he ever has in his life while playing for a more fantasy-friendly passing offense.
My thinking: A crazy-easy schedule per our own WR/CB matchup expert Mike Clay, the best QB he has ever played with, a coach who loves to throw in the red zone, a team that can't run and an elite receiver on the opposite side all means that Marshall sees more single coverage than ever before.
My thinking: Someone has to catch it there. A talented player who, by all accounts, seems to have turned things around, has a connection with Josh McCown back to their days together in Tampa. I see the Jets going very ball control, short passes, trying to grind out wins with their defense and running game, which means short passes over the middle to a guy who will be their best red zone threat.
My thinking: Given how beat up he got in Seattle, I say the year off helped him. And now he is running behind a strong Raiders offensive line that returns all five starters from a group that last season increased the Raiders' rushing yards per carry before first contact by 16 percent from 2015. They were top six in the NFL in rushing attempts last season.
My thinking: Coming off a season when Wentz threw for the fourth-most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history and the fifth-most pass attempts in the league, Wentz has now had all offseason and training camp knowing he's the guy. (People forget he was hurt most of last preseason and Sam Bradford was getting the first-team reps for much of the summer.) Now a really good offensive line plus weapons like Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have Wentz ready for a big breakout.
My thinking: Obviously, I think Dez and DeAndre are closer to the 2016 versions of themselves than the "monster" versions, but more important, it's a belief in Martavis' talent and his big-armed QB. The big-play ability of Martavis is all sorts of real, as he ranked third in yards per catch and fourth in air yards per target from 2014-15, and the Steelers' offense is still the vertically inclined unit that it was in those seasons.
My thinking: I've already talked up Pierre Garcon enough this offseason (I do love Garcon), so enter a very good pass-catching running back. Juszczyk was made the highest-paid fullback in the NFL for a reason and Kyle Shanahan is going to use him for a lot of short dump-off passes. (He has caught at least 37 passes the past two years). He'll also get some vulture touchdowns.
My thinking: He has impressed in camp and Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise all have had issues staying healthy. Seattle has shown a willingness to go with an unknown (like Rawls or Russell Wilson in his rookie year) in a primary position, so the opportunity is not out of the question.
My thinking: He has proved to be very effective when given a chance (RB13 on a points-per-game basis in Weeks 5-8 last season) and Doug Martin, who has been injury-prone and ineffective at various points in his career, is no guarantee to get his job back or keep it once he comes off suspension.
My thinking: Mariota was QB7 last year through Week 15 (was hurt in Week 16) and now, with another year in the league and a lot more weapons to play with, the sky's the limit.
Washington Redskins: I say Terrelle Pryor Sr. has a better fantasy season than either DeSean Jackson (career-best 2013: 82 catches, 1,332 yards, 9 TDs, WR12) or Pierre Garcon (career-best 2013: 113-1,346-5, WR11) ever have.
My thinking: I expect Pryor to combine the upside of Jackson with the consistency of Garcon in an offense that could lead the league in pass attempts. Pryor is four inches taller than Garcon and six inches taller (not to mention 53 pounds heavier) than Jackson, making him the unquestioned go-to option when Kirk Cousins wants to take a deep shot, and also a big threat in the end zone (along with Jordan Reed). And Cousins will take his shots; he led the league in completions on passes thrown 20-plus yards last season. Pryor scored more fantasy points last season than Jackson or Garcon despite playing for a team that ranked 24th in completion percentage. The Redskins ranked fifth and if that continues, Pryor might not only be their top receiver, he may be your WR1.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, also predicts everything on this list will come true and no one will have any issue with anything on this list. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.