Bold fantasy football predictions for 2013
Bold fantasy football predictions for 2013 (cont.)
The ink is hardly dry on the 2012 fantasy football champion's check -- assuming it hasn't already been spent -- but there's no better time than now to going out on a limb and forecast the biggest breakthroughs and surprises of the 2013 season. It is the extremely early version of SI.com's bold fantasy predictions, where we fly against the grain of public perception and make the unheard-of seem completely logical.
While these top 10 predictions may be bold now, when you're done reading this column you will think all of them are rather obvious because the argument is so darn logical. We're just that good.
Let's start by debunking the most obvious bold prediction everyone is already making, or at least thinking about:
1. Adrian Peterson won't come close to Eric Dickerson's record.
After coming nine yards short of Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105 yards), A.P. (or if you prefer the nonsensical A.D. nickname) won't even come close. Heck, he'll even struggle to get halfway to the yardage mark.
Here is the reason: Breaking records is more of a function of an offensive imbalance than invincibility or potency. "You play to win the game."
Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record because the Lions had nowhere else to go with the ball. The Lions' running game still isn't prime time caliber, and their next three (or four) best targets went down this season. Rice, himself, set the record because John Taylor's career flamed out that year, while first-rounder J.J. Stokes wound up being a rookie wide receiver bust.
Similarly, Peterson came close to the Dickerson record because he was the only way the Vikings could move the ball. After Percy Harvin (ankle) went down in Week 9, Christian Ponder become one of the weakest quarterbacks in football, passing for some hideously low yardage totals (63, 91, 119, 131, 159 ... yadda, yadda, yadda). Perhaps it was due to the elbow issue that kept him out of the Saturday's playoff game?
Week 9 and beyond, not surprisingly, is when Peterson went off, rushing at a ridiculous record-breaking clip (182, 171, 108, 210, 154, 212, 86 and 199 in his last eight games). That is 775 yards in the eight games with Harvin and 1,322 without him. Peterson had more rushing yards than Ponder had passing yards in four of those games. That is unheard of in this modern-day NFL, where passing and the quarterback are kings.
A healthy Harvin and Ponder and an improved passing game (expect the Vikings to add some other outside weapons to compete for a championship) will keep Peterson closer to 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns -- still No. 1 overall worthy in fantasy but not close to the Dickerson record.
For those still skeptical, just look at the way Peterson ran in Week 17. In the final minute, Peterson took the ball to the left for a 26-yard run to the Green Bay 11. The Vikings still had time, not to mention a timeout, and could have lined up for one more Peterson run in the record books. An 11-yard touchdown would have won the game and set the record, and the way Peterson was gashing them, who really thinks he wouldn't have at least taken it to the goal line? But the smart play was to eschew any record bid and run the clock down to 0.0:03, call timeout and attempt a game-winning field goal by an incredibly accurate kicker. Teams don't play for records, they play for championships.
It should also be reminded that only three times has a running back won a rushing title and a Super Bowl in the same season. That fact won't be lost on the Vikings this postseason or the offseason. They are going to fix the problem that ails them: A one-dimensional attack.
More passing will keep Peterson fresher and even make him a candidate to break a different (and more important to fantasy) record: LaDainian Tomlinson's 31 touchdowns in 2006. That should be the bold prediction with Peterson, not yardage.
2. Robert Griffin III will be the most overdrafted quarterback.
This will easily draw the most ire among readers. Everybody loves RGIII -- assuming he is healthy. But fantasy owners would be wise to remember the disappointing start of Cam Newton. While Newton didn't disappoint like we predicted he would for the full season, his modest start statistically revealed some vulnerabilities.
On the opposite end of the calendar, RGIII's final five games showed him more of a modest fantasy starter:
• Week 13: Eleven quarterbacks outscored him
• Week 14: Nine quarterbacks outscored him
• Week 15: He sat out due to injury and 35 quarterbacks outscored him
• Week 16: Eleven quarterbacks outscored him
• Week 17: Fifteen quarterbacks outscored him
That should nix any argument RGIII belongs in Round 1 or even 2. First, quarterbacks generally don't belong there in fantasy unless they're of the Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (in his prime) ilk. You draft a quarterback in the top five at that position to throw for 30 touchdowns and 4,000-5,000 yards -- not 20-some touchdowns and 3,500.
Here are the myriad reasons RGIII will disappoint, if not go bust:
A. Injury: Unlike Newton, RGIII has a slight build, a la Michael Vick, that will leave him more susceptible to missing time in games, if not full games. If you watched that Redskins game Sunday and were shaking your head like us, you don't need any further reason to be wary of him.
B. Offensive approach: Peterson all but broke Dickerson's record and the Redskins still finished with as the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL. Granted, a good portion of that were the yards RGIII racked up in the read-option scheme, but we will point back to No. 1 directly above: His own skill is also his biggest potential danger.
C. Receiving corps: Aaron Rodgers has four receivers (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb) who can potentially reel in 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns if Jennings returns. Drew Brees has the best passing offense in the NFL and gets offensive guru Sean Peyton back from suspension. Tom Brady is arguably the most consistent fantasy quarterback of all time. Peyton Manning has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown threats. RGIII, like Newton, has one good receiver (Pierre Garcon, if he can stay healthy for a full season) and a lot of mediocre ones. It will make it tough for him to reach 25 touchdowns and 3,500 yards.
D. Schedule: Like Newton, RGIII racked up his huge rookie numbers against a last-place schedule. Next season, the Redskins will pay a first-place schedule, and judging by the production of RGIII in those playoff-like games down the stretch, he is going to be playing in tighter games, fewer shootouts and few blowouts.
E. General overhype: The offense RGIII runs, while incredibly awesome in its execution, is also incredibly simple. Read-option: Hand off to Alfred Morris. Read-option, play-action: Deep ball. Read-option: QB keeper. Read-option: Handoff to Morris. Play action: Quick pass, mostly in crossing routes. RGIII seldom has difficult throws to make. Also, his No. 1-ranked running game rarely leaves him in those incredibly tough 3rd-and-long situations that make the truly legendary quarterbacks great.
Yes, RGIII will get there, but his simplicity right now is going to be figured out by defenses. Unless he drops past those first two rounds, grit your teeth and let RGIII go by early in the draft.
3. Arian Foster will hit a career wall.
We'll go a step further: Foster will be the player who suffers a catastrophic injury.
We are not rooting for any player to be injured here, but it is an NFL fact of life. Like a baseball pitcher who hasn't yet blown out his ulnar-collateral ligament in his elbow, Foster is a huge injury waiting to happen.
We even say this as Foster heads into his age-27 season. Though we already boasted that Peterson and Johnson were 27 years old as they hunted down the record books, Foster's workload in recent years will have him hunting down second opinions.
Foster led the NFL with 351 carries and 391 touches (adding his 40 receptions). Recent history is not kind to those that are coming off leading the league in carries and touches.
• 2011: Maurice Jones-Drew went bust in 2012.
• 2010: Foster missed three games in 2011.
• 2009: Chris Johnson, while solid, went from CJ2K to CJ1.364K and yearly fantasy frustration.
We have already seen Foster's per-carry average decline in each of the past three seasons. Even if he avoids the big injury, we should expect his yards-per-carry to dip to a very un-elite level of below 4.0. He'll produce more on a Trent Richardson-like level.
4. No rookie will be worth drafting as a starter in fantasy next season.
In addition to seeing 27-year olds Megatron and A.P. chase the record books, we saw yet another record year for the fantasy rookies. (David Gonos breaks down the legendary class of 2012 here.)
Doug Martin and the Redskins' Morris are lead-pipe locks for the first round next fall, while RGIII and Trent Richardson won't make it through the middle of Round 2, if they don't go in Round 1 like some others suggest they might. (See our early 2013 mock draft.)
Potentially four sophomores going in Round 1? Unreal.
That will lead many to react and overdraft rookies next fall in fantasy. It will be a big mistake.
Save for a couple of receivers, most early 2013 mock drafts have little in the way of skill-position players going in Round 1. Sure, there will be some running backs that find their way into potential starting situations, but banking on another year like 2012 is a bad move for fantasy owners.
This was a rare year, not a trend. With South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, who would have been a first round candidate, rehabilitating another gruesome knee injury, we will be so bold to predict there won't be a rookie next year that performs like a fantasy starter.
5. C.J. Spiller will become the No. 1 fantasy running back.
We already knocked down the expected No. 1 pick in Peterson and the likely No. 2 overall pick, Foster, a few pegs, so which running back do we actually like?
Let's go with the Bills' Spiller, who will get to be the leading man finally in a run-oriented Doug Marrone offensive system. Spiller tied Peterson for a very elite-like 6.0 yards per carry and did it with far less wear and tear (141 less carries). He clearly is a game-breaker. With the right new system, he can be the highest-scoring back in football and he'll do it being drafted after the likes of Peterson, Foster, Martin, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice and perhaps even Morris, Richardson and LeSean McCoy. Might we have a new CJ2K?
6. David Wilson will become an elite fantasy running back.
Right now, explosive rookie Wilson -- picked just one spot after rookie-leading Martin -- won't even be drafted as a fantasy starter, maybe not even in the first 10 rounds. But he has the potential to produce on a top-10 level next year.
Eli Manning took a large step back this season with his erratic play, and the Giants figure to turn the offense over more to the running game. Also, starter Ahmad Bradshaw has never stayed healthy for a full season and is due to make $3.75 million if he sticks around next season. That prompted general manager Jerry Reese to proclaim Wilson is capable of becoming the "lead dog."
"I don't think there's any question that he can be that," Reese said last week. "It's a two- and three-back league nowadays, but do I think he can be a lead dog? I do think that."
7. Mark Ingram will become a fantasy starter, finally.
Pierre Thomas turns 29 this year. Darren Sproles turns 30. And the Saints' Sean Payton loves to mix backs into a wide-open passing game. Ingram is not yet a receiver, or much of a part of the offense yet, but the disappointing first-round pick is primed to break out at the prime age of 23.
Here is an early (bold) projection for Ingram, who is going to be drafted modestly in the middle rounds: 250 carries, 1,100 yards rushing, 45 receptions for 300 yards and 12-plus touchdowns combined. He is going to be a great value relative to draft position and might even be able to trump those incredibly optimistic totals.
8. Larry Fitzgerald returns to the elite.
Imagine Fitzgerald with any quarterback not named John Skelton or Ryan Lindley.
Fitzgerald offered an incredibly honest prediction for his 2012 season when he said publicly he would draft Megatron over himself because of his own quarterback uncertainty. If nothing else, the Cardinals will have to find a signal-caller this winter. It should help Fitzgerald return to 100 catches for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers good enough to make him a top-five fantasy receiver again.
9. Dwayne Allen will finish as a top-five fantasy tight end.
This one isn't necessarily a promotion for Allen's talent as a pass-catcher. It is more of a knock on the awfully inconsistent depths at the tight-end position in 2012 and a salute to the burgeoning stardom of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Outside of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Aaron Hernandez, the consensus top four at the tight end position, there is little certainty who checks in at No. 5. Many are going to be picked ahead of the Colts' Allen, namely: Tony Gonzalez (if he doesn't win a championship and retire), Vernon Davis, Heath Miller, Greg Olsen, Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Kyle Rudolph, Jermaine Gresham, Antonio Gates, Brandon Myers, Martellus Bennett, Jermichael Finley, Brandon Pettigrew and even Fred Davis (coming back from a season-ending injury).
The bold prediction here, because the position proved to be so erratic and generally untrustworthy, Allen will outscore that entire group with a surprising 75 catches for 800 yards and eight touchdowns. He'll be a great fall-back option as you skip out on all the risks next fall.
We could add an 11th prediction and say: Not all of this will come to fruition, but that wouldn't be bold as much as obvious. Bold predictions rarely pan out. It's better to side with the wisdom of the crowd than any one wild theory, but hopefully the picks above might alter the way your perceive fantasy reality (not an oxymoron) in 2013.
10. Jamaal Charles is headed for a career year.
Charles has already rushed for 1,500 yards a year after reconstructive knee surgery, doing it a lot more quietly than Peterson did. But Charles has never been a truly game-breaking fantasy player because his offense was inconsistent, his touchdown totals were low and his touches tend to come and go week to week.
That last point won't happen with Andy Reid bringing his West Coast scheme to Kansas City. Reid is nothing if not an offensive catalyst, and he has made Bryant Westbrook and LeSean McCoy touchdown hogs even if they were similarly underutilized in the running game. Charles is going to remain a huge factor in the rhythm passing game, so he won't disappear from the stat sheet when the score gets out of hand, like this year.
Charles, a track-star back still blowing away the legendary Jim Brown's per-carry rushing average (5.8 to 5.2), looks like he will gain far more catches and receiving yards than any rushing yards he loses when Reid brings his pass-happy ways to the Midwest. Let's go with these projections: 275 carries, 1,265 yards, 65 receptions for 500 yards receiving and 12 combined touchdowns.
Those put him in the Peterson and Spiller category.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Whether it is baseball or football season, you will get invaluable advice from one of the most experienced fantasy analysts in the business. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).