Fantasy Football Time Capsule

What makes a good fantasy football analyst?

Predicting the future?

Let’s be honest, that’s impossible. A large component is merely entertainment. No one wants to read (or listen to) boring analysis, no matter how accurate it is.

Of course, being “right” reasonably often is important, though that’s hard to quantify. First, an analyst must make specific predictions. Then, those predictions must be graded later.

What’s that, little birdie? You think I should write neatly organized predictions that can be scrutinized later, presumably to my own own painful demise? Why … that sounds like a great idea!

Now for the most part, there are two types of predictions in the fantasy football community. There are the mainstream predictions, ones that are shared by the majority of writers. These are pretty safe, because if they’re wrong (i.e. Trent Richardson last year) then the reaction is “well, we were ALL wrong.” Alternatively, there are the “bold” predictions. These are safe, too, because if they’re wrong, the reaction is “well, they were meant to be bold, not necessary correct.”

My time capsule is meant to be the best of both worlds. I’m going to agree with some common opinions and I’ll disagree with others. They might not be “bold,” but at the end of the season I’ll revisit them and summarize what we’ve learned. If I nail them all, I might throw a parade for myself, but more than likely I’ll be eating crow. I’m an unaccomplished writer, so what do I have to lose?!

Randall Cobb will finish with more points than Jordy Nelson. This one will be close. Before his leg was broken in Week 5, Cobb had the most targets on the team. TDs have never been a problem for him, and getting violently speared by Matt Elam doesn’t make him “injury prone.” There’s little to no downside with Cobb. Nelson, on the other hand, has struggled with hamstring injuries at times, but he’s a near lock for top 10 numbers when healthy.

So what? I don’t mind if you prefer Jordy Nelson, but the key here is to not get tunnel vision for one or the other. Boykin is okay, but with James Jones gone, Nelson and Cobb will both be studs in fantasy football this year. Heck, if you can, I’d start them both on the same fantasy team!

Less than 4 PPG will separate the top five quarterbacks. In 2013, Manning finished with a massive 31.0 PPG; Brees was a distant second with a still impressive 27.3; and down at the five spot, Cam Newton trailed Manning by 8.5 PPG. Don’t overreact: 2014 will be more like years past. In 2011 and 2012, only 2.9 and 3.9 PPG separated the top five QBs. Though 2010 was another outlier, when Michael Vick’s renaissance put him on a points-per-game pedestal.

So what? As I learned in my mock draft, don’t spend a first round pick on Peyton. Barring injury, he WILL have another great season. I would love to have him on my team. BUT, it won’t be another record-breaking season. He might not even be the top scorer. The benefit of owning him over Brees or Rodgers will not justify the steep cost.

Jimmy Graham will have more points than Jimmy Graham. Confused? What I mean to say is that the 2014 paid-like-a-boss version will outperform the already-great 2013 version. (Since JG got paid, can I call him JG Wentworth?) He only caught 60% of his targets last season AND he played through a plantar fascia injury. I think it is entirely possible for him to not only dominate the TE position, but actually exceed his production from 2013.

So what? Ranking Jimmy Graham as the #1 TE is a far cry from a bold prediction. The takeaway here is that, unlike Peyton Manning, picking Graham in the first round is a wise investment. He’s in a tier all by himself.

Joique Bell will finish with more points than Reggie Bush. This might sound familiar if you read my running back primer. The Lions are looking for a nearly even split of carries this year. They both catch passes. Bell is more powerful than Bush and gets most of the goal line work. Advantage: Bell.

So what? With guys like Bell available after the first 40 picks, you can sign and seal some quality RB depth. RB2 by committee is a viable approach.

The Seahawks will finish outside the top 5 fantasy defenses. Last season the NFC West locked up a large portion of the top 10 fantasy defenses. The Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers finished 2nd, 4th, 5th and 10th in standard scoring, respectively. Mighty impressive, no? Buyer beware. This year the division is matched up with the AFC West and NFC East, which include some daunting offenses. Seattle is a great “real life” defense, but not worth the early pick in fantasy football this season.

So what? The Seahawks and the Niners are the popular picks out of this division, being picked in the 5th and 8th rounds respectively (irrationally weighted by playoff success, I presume). However, the Rams can be had in the 10th round or later with similar (or better) fantasy performance. Aim for this less popular NFC West team and reap the rewards.

Ageless San Francisco wonders Anquan Boldin and Frank Gore will finally wind down, finishing outside the top 20 at their positions. These studs have been getting the job done for a decade, but I think their time has finally come. Their wheels aren’t going to totally fall off, but their stats will decrease. Even if he stays healthy, Gore is looking at a reduced workload. Meanwhile, Crabtree is looking to triumphantly return in a contract year, and I expect Stevie Styles to steal some of Boldin’s targets.

So what? I’d rather give up on them a year too early, than be a year too late. Carlos Hyde will get his opportunity to prove he’s the 49ers’ RB of the future, and Michael Crabtree will hopefully stay healthy and perform like a legit WR1.

Jordan Matthews will be at least second on the Eagles in receiving yards. Jordan Matthews is a beast. He may not be the most physically gifted specimen, but he consistently gets the job done. He plays through double teams, injuries, heartbreak, plague, gorilla warfare … Maybe I’m embellishing, but basically he has what it takes. Unlike his experience at Vanderbilt, he won’t be the only threat on offense (obviously). Single coverage will be a breath of fresh air for the young man.

So what? I’m not buying Jeremy Maclin as a breakout candidate coming off his second ACL tear. Even if he manages to stay on the field, he has undoubtedly lost some ability. Cooper, McCoy, Sproles, Ertz, and Celek will all get their slice of the pie, but also help to draw attention away from the youngster. During camp, McCoy said Matthews is the best receiver of his draft class. I think Brandin Cooks is better, but I agree that Matthews shouldn’t be overlooked.

**Note: I wrote this before his monster 9/104/0 game in week 2 of the preseason, which obviously did nothing to change my mind.

Bishop Sankey will be the most productive rookie and finish as a top 20 RB. Shonn Greene’s role in this offense is being overstated. He’s knees are falling apart and he’s just not talented, end of story. Some people are down on Sankey’s overall skill set, but this hoss ran for 3310 yds and 36 TDs in two years at Washington. He’s obviously got some skills.

So what? It’s well known that running back is the NFL position with the quickest learning curve. Do not be afraid to take Sankey ahead of more established backs like Spiller, Gore, or Rice. Last season, five rookie RBs finished in the top 25. I don’t expect quite that level of success, but fellow rookies Hyde, West, and Hill are in favorable situations, and I expect all three to finish within the top 35.

Cam Newton will finish with the worst statistical year of his short career. Sore ankle, worst receivers in the league, bad offensive line. That’s 3 strikes against Newton. Sure Kelvin Benjamin is talented, but he will struggle under the physical and mental pressure of being their No. 1 WR. Cotchery and Olsen will provide some relief, but not enough. The bad O-line and Cam’s tender ankle will limit his rushing production. I’m predicting passing stats of 3200/22/14 and an additional 500/5 rushing.

So what? The QB position is very deep, so why waste an early pick on a QB tied to a questionable offense? You’ll be better off with Andrew Luck, who I predict will have his best year as a pro.

Tom Brady will finish outside the top 10, again. This offense just isn’t what it used to be. Sure, they could pile on the points if Gronk, Vereen, Amendola, and Edelman all stayed healthy. But, we all know how that story ends. Also, in contrast to Peyton, Tom isn’t exactly a fine bottle of wine that’s improving with age. Surprisingly, the Patriots have become somewhat of a running team, with their rushing attempts ranking in the top 10 each of the last two years (to be fair, they pass a lot too).

So what? Stop me if I sound like a broken record. The QB position is deep, so take a QB with upside. What? You’ve heard that before? Okay, I’ll stop. Good day sir!