Bold fantasy football predictions: Will Eli be elite again?

BY foxsports • August 23, 2016

We've got player rankings that pretty much speak for themselves. But have you seen any "bold fantasy football predictions" articles yet? Only 100? Good - that means you have room for one more.

OK, seriously ... these aren't outrageously unlikely, as in "RG3 will return to top 10 QB status." We'll suggest things that show how much we like some players, and could reasonably happen if things break right. Would I bet even money on any of them? No, but 5-1 or 10-1 odds (depending on the prediction) might work.

(Note: All ADP references are from FantasyFootballCalculator.com.)

Eli Manning will be a top-five fantasy QB.

Manning was fantasy's No. 7 quarterback last season, but he's being drafted 10th, behind the suspended Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Blake Bortles. Manning was fourth in the league in attempts with 618, is on a team that ranked second in pace of play in 2015, and gets an interesting new weapon in rookie wideout Sterling Shepard. If he's your fantasy starter, you'll be just fine. Getting to the top five would likely require an age-related decline from Drew Brees and maybe a Ben Roethlisberger injury (which isn't uncommon).

Jameis Winston will be a top-10 fantasy QB.

Winston probably won't run for six touchdowns again, but that shouldn't scare you off. Head coach Dirk Koetter - who was promoted from offensive coordinator to maintain continuity for Winston - said during that offseason that the Bucs would "test the boundaries" with their second-year QB, giving him more responsibility. That should equal more chances to throw, especially downfield.

Winston dropped about 20 pounds during the offseason, impressing the staff with his work ethic. Also, remember that he improved during the second half of last season, averaging 36 pass attempts per game for 268 yards, and throwing 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He'll be better - maybe a lot better. As the 17th fantasy quarterback off the board, Winston could be a significant bargain.

Lamar Miller will be fantasy's best RB.

Remember how we all spent the last two seasons angry at the Dolphins for not using Miller enough? In 2015, he was fantasy's RB5, scoring 10 touchdowns and racking up an impressive 1,269 yards from scrimmage. On a Texans' team that ranked first and fifth in rushing attempts in Bill O'Brien's first two seasons as head coach, 1,600 total yards doesn't seem like an aggressive estimate for Miller.

Miller will probably notch 40-50 receptions, and you probably won't be able to say the same about top-rated fantasy backs like Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson. There's huge upside in taking him near the end of the first round, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him lead the league in rushing.

Carlos Hyde will be a top-seven fantasy RB.

Remember the note above about the Giants ranking second in pace of play last season? Chip Kelly's Eagles ranked first, and that means Carlos Hyde will be busy. When an offense moves so quickly, there are two beneficial results for its running backs: They participate in more plays because there ARE more plays, and they tend to stay on the field because substitutions are difficult. The preseason has demonstrated this, with Hyde being on the field for some passing downs. Also, note that Kelly's teams in Philly ranked fourth, seventh and 11th in rushing attempts during his three seasons in charge.

There's been plenty of buzz about a possible breakout season for Hyde, making him very intriguing at his fourth-round ADP. Plenty of backs rank ahead of Hyde, but running backs can be very unpredictable. Beyond Gurley, Miller, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott, I don't trust any of them. Especially this next guy.

Adrian Peterson will not be a top-10 fantasy RB.

This is basically the same bet I made last season on Peterson: I'm not investing a first-round pick on a 31-year-old back with nearly 2,400 carries on his resume. This article demonstrates that a guy like Peterson having a big season at age 31 would be the exception rather than the rule, and this one suggests a cliff for running backs at 1,800 carries - far short of where Peterson is now.

You might recall that I lost the Peterson bet last season, but I'm doubling down at this point in his career. He's certainly a freak, the likes of which we have rarely seen. But as the saying goes, Father Time catches up with everyone, and a heavy, longtime workload can help that process along.

Bilal Powell will score more fantasy points than Matt Forte.

The 30-year-old Forte averaged 3.9 and 4.1 yards per carry over the last two seasons, and a Jets' beat writer said earlier this month that there could be something close to an "even carry split" for Forte and Powell.

Maybe that's an exaggeration, but you have to think that the Jets won't floor the gas pedal on an older back like Forte, and they showed a willingness to use Powell in the passing game last season (32 receptions in his final six games). This looks like it could be a one-two punch, and if Forte misses any time, it won't be a stretch to see Powell be more productive.

Melvin Gordon will score more touchdowns than he did last season.

Gordon scored zero TDs in 2015. Get it? Seriously, I like Gordon as a fifth-round pick, especially if you're pursuing a ZeroRB-type plan. The Chargers have a lot invested in Gordon, and some underlying numbers suggest that he might not have been as bad as we thought in 2015. The prediction above doesn't count as bold, but Gordon could realistically be among the top 15 or 20 RBs.

Sammy Watkins will be a top-10 fantasy WR.

Does anyone want to have fun cherry picking some numbers? After struggling through injuries, Watkins caught 35 passes for 699 yards and six touchdowns on 57 targets over his final six games last season. Extrapolate those numbers to 16 games, and he'd have had 93 catches (ninth among WRs), 1,864 yards (first), 16 touchdowns (first) and 152 targets (eighth). Fantastic, right?

We're obviously not going to use a six-game sample as gospel, but the target number stands out. A healthy Watkins is BY FAR Tyrod Taylor's favorite passing game option, and he'll be fed the ball as much as possible. This could be the breakout that Watkins fans have been waiting for, and he's certainly not a longshot to outperform top-10 ADP guys like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Mike Evans.

Kevin White will post better fantasy numbers than Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery struggled through injury issues in 2015, with the coaching staff getting "frustrated" at his recovery time. WGN Radio Bears' beat reporter Adam Hoge expects White to be a "really good number two" receiver, with plenty of catch-and-run opportunities (think bubble screens, per Hoge) coming his way following the broken leg that sidelined for his entire rookie season.

Remember that White was drafted seventh overall last year, while Jeffery is playing under the franchise tag, meaning that he'll probably be a free agent after the season. The Bears simply have more invested in White's future success than Jeffery's. If White plays well - he's reportedly been impressive this summer - the Bears figure to keep him busy.

Terrelle Pryor will be the Browns' best WR.

Hey, did you see Pryor's 50-yard touchdown catch against the Falcons last week? Even if you did, click here to watch him torch Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant again.

Pryor's improvement doesn't look like a fluke or a gimmick. He's listed as a starter on the Browns' depth chart, and should remain there at least until Josh Gordon returns in Week 5. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com wrote recently that "Pryor will be able to make big plays and score touchdowns on quality defensive backs this season." He just looks terrific.

We're not prediciting stardom for Pryor, but as a late-round WR5 with upside in Hue Jackson's offense? All we need to pave the way for this bold prediction's success is another extended absence from Gordon (common) and an up-and-down season from a rookie (ditto). No problem!

Dwayne Allen will be a top-six fantasy TE.

No need to be redundant - I explained some of my reasoning in this August 8 Q&A. Allen is being drafted as fantasy's 14th tight end, and that's way too low. Last year's fantasy TE6, Tyler Eifert, had 52 catches for 615 yards, and caught 13 touchdowns as a red-zone target. That's a lot of TDs, but couldn't Allen fill a similar role with the pass-happy Colts? It's not like mighty mites T.Y. Hilton and Philip Dorsett are fearsome near the goal line. Allen will only need to battle Donte Moncrief for Andrew Luck's red-zone affections.



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