Posted: Friday August 17, 2012 11:29AM ; Updated: Friday August 17, 2012 4:26PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

Bold fantasy football predictions

Story Highlights

Michael Turner's age, Falcons' new pasing focus could make Matt Ryan fantasy star

Robert Griffin III may not perform to the level where he will need to be drafted

Knee injury could see rookie Trent Richardson struggle to meet lofty expectations

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Being bold in football usually means doing something the late Al Davis would have done. It is often construed for doing something dumb. But bold doesn't have to be dumb; it just has to be a bit unorthodox or against the grain.

We spend a lot of our time in SI.com's fantasy football preview explaining how the masses view and value players. Here, in our bold predictions for 2012, we shift gears to things you might only see on our pages.

We are not doing this for effect. Like Davis' drafting of Todd Marinovich in Round 1 -- as goofy as that was -- we truly believe in these prognostications.

Just remember, you heard it here first.

1. Matt Ryan will be fantasy MVP

Why is this bold?

Seven quarterbacks outscored Ryan in a standard scoring league a year ago. As many as 10 QBs might be picked ahead of him on draft day, when you add in a returning Peyton Manning and rebounds by the likes of Michael Vick and Philip Rivers. The Falcons notoriously have been a run-oriented team, relying on the thick, sturdy legs of running back Michael Turner.

Why is this going to happen?

Well, Turner is now 30, the age of breakdown for NFL backs, and the Falcons are going with a more up-tempo, wide-open passing scheme. Also, Julio Jones looks capable of becoming the next big thing in fantasy at receiver, while veteran Roddy White is no slouch in his own right. You combine these factors and 5,000 yards is possible at the incredibly capable hand of Ryan. He also happens to be 27, the age of reckoning for professional athletes.

Ryan should be available in Round 5 or later in almost all formats, but Ryan is going to perform on the level of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, two Round 1 QBs. Ryan's value relative to draft position will be unmatched this year.

What should we do about it?

It seems this is the year to pick a QB in Round 1, particularly with the amount of injury questions with the top RBs like Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson, DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and Fred Jackson. But why miss on their potential and pick a QB who is going to wind up being outscored by the ready-to-pop Ryan? Once you get a pair of backs or receivers, or a combination of both, make Ryan your pick in Round 4. You can thank us later for that pearl of wisdom.

Check out our QB rankings review.

2. Darren McFadden plays 16 games

Why is this bold?

In his four seasons, the oft-injured McFadden has missed three games, four games, three games and nine games, respectively. Clearly, we cannot expect a 16-game season from the talent that was supposed to be the next LaDainian Tomlinson/Priest Holmes/Marshall Faulk fantasy bell cow. Remember that era in fantasy, when the backs carried the load? If it seems like a generation ago, it is because it actually is. This is a passing league now, and partially because backs are proving ever more incapable of staying healthy for a full season.

Why is this going to happen?

Well, we have no medical evidence to show McFadden is healthy now, much less will be healthy through a 16-game grind. We do know McFadden is at a prime RB age of 24 and certainly due to avoid the misfortune of an injury. McFadden is one of the rare explosive backs in the league who can avoid contact like L.T. did for so many years, high-stepping out of bounds, into the end zone and diving for first downs into open spaces. McFadden has always had that, but his body is now also conditioned not to be his own worst enemy.

What should we do about it?

Make McFadden your first-round pick if you don't get Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson. Sure, you might point to the fact we have a few other backs ahead of McFadden in our current Top 200, but we are being bold here. Take a shot on the incredible upside of this potential fantasy game-changer. A 16-game season from McFadden will mean 300 carries, 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. Write it down, even if only in pencil.

Check out our RB rankings review.

3. The new No. 1 WR in fantasy is ...

Why is this bold?

Not since some of the record-breaking smash seasons of Randy Moss have we had such a unanimous No. 1 WR in fantasy, Calvin Johnson. Megatron was unstoppable last year and the further maturation of Matthew Stafford should keep him atop the list. The next few receivers on most rankings include the likes of Larry Fitzgerald (bad QB situation), Victor Cruz (competes against an elite teammate for targets), Greg Jennings (same), Roddy White (same) and Andre Johnson (never healthy). All of those guys have warts, so it appears Johnson will keep his firm hold on being the best WR in fantasy.

Why is this going to happen?

Let's throw out the old cursed Madden Jinx that makes everyone who adorns the Madden cover disappoint in fantasy the following year. That cannot be a reason to avoid an early-round talent like Johnson, who looks so flawless. Instead, we're going with the field here, if only because it tends to go that way at WR every year.

We wouldn't be so Al Davis-like to bet against Megatron. That is a sucker's bet. The bet here is we see someone like Hakeem Nicks or the aforementioned Falcon Jones rise to the elite. Since Nicks is going to be an early season injury question mark -- like he has been throughout his brief career -- we are going to say it is going to be impossible to keep up with the Jones. Let's pencil in Johnson levels for Jones: 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 15 TDs.

What should we do about it?

Well, you shouldn't pass on Megatron in the middle of Round 1, but you should pass on the others in that thickening second tier of elite receivers. With Jones' hype and star steadily rising, you'll have to pick him in Round 2 to get him before the fantasy gem-miners lock him up. You might not like doing that, so do the next best thing: Draft Ryan at QB in a round shortly thereafter. At least you will get a piece of the monster that will be the high-flying Falcons.

Check out our WR rankings review.

4. RGIII to be the third-best rookie QB

Why is this bold?

Robert Griffin III is joining the league on the heels of a record-breaking rookie season by Cam Newton. It figures there are many expecting immediate greatness from a player who is similarly so multidimensional. There couldn't be anything you saw at Baylor that would make you think anything but that. Also, you might like Andrew Luck, but you probably cannot think much of Brandon Weeden or Ryan Tannehill vs. the running-and-gunning of Griffin.

Why is this going to happen?

Rookie seasons like Newton's at the QB position just don't come every year. They are more of a once-in-a-generation like thing. Also, it is being forgotten that Luck, not RGIII, was the first overall pick in the draft. The key to this is seeing Weeden or Tannehill, if the latter even starts out of the gate, outscore RGIII, too.

Coach Mike Shanahan has to hitch his wagon to his rookie passer, but the coach has been anything but loyal to his passers in recent memory. Griffin is the rookie QB that might have the shortest leash and quickest hook, particularly since he plays for a potential contender in Washington. Also, veteran Rex Grossman might be capable of carrying the team until Griffin adjusts to the pro offense. (Yes, we can hardly believe that statement, too, but remember, we are being bold here.)

What should we do about it?

Let someone else take the risk on RGIII. After all, you will have to draft him as a fantasy starter in the round you'll need to grab him. There are just too many veteran QBs to choose from, and some are ready to erupt from the depths of the position, like Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler. No, you shouldn't pick Luck, Weeden or Tannehill over RGIII, but at least those rookie passers don't have to be drafted in a range that sets them up for severe disappointment. Those rookies are going to be picked conveniently as fantasy backups, and you can wait on using until the bye weeks.

 
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