By: Jackson Marvin
10 Bold fantasy football predictions for the 2015-16 season:
- Eli has a better season than Peyton: Perhaps this is my inner-Giants bias coming out, but I truly believe Eli Manning is due for a better season than his big brother Peyton for several reasons. From weeks 9-17 last season, Eli was the sixth best fantasy quarterback while Peyton came in at ninth. Some blame Peyton’s lack of production on a torn right quad he had been playing with, but now entering his age-39 season, can we really bank on a 100% healthy season, let alone a season where he looks to repeat his 2013 production? It’s also easy to overlook that Eli’s best season in years since 2011 came in a brand new offense with an emphasis on the pass, whereas Peyton enters 2015 under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, known for making a star out of his running backs due to his run-heavy scheme. Nevertheless, Peyton is an elite talent and will certainly put up good numbers this season, but it’s Eli who looks primed for a better 2015.
- Jeremy Hill leads the NFL in rushing yards: Jeremy Hill owned the second half of the season after exploding onto the scene in week nine. From that point on he was fantasy’s fifth best running back, and lead the NFL in rushing yards with 929–over 100 more than second place Marshawn Lynch. Running behind the NFL’s fifth-best offensive line (according to ProFootballFocus), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hill get as many as 20 carries per game, especially with notoriously unpredictable quarterback Andy Dalton leading the offense, which would be over 1,600 yards on the season if he can match his 5.1 yards per carry from last year.
- Christine Michael leads the Cowboys in rushing yards this season: Michael was recently traded to the Cowboys after the Seahawks signed Fred Jackson and decided to stick with UDFA Thomas Rawls as their final running back on the roster. Michael has been a preseason darling since being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. Buried on the depth chart behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin in Seattle, the talented Michael is being blessed with the NFL’s best offensive line and an unimpressive running back corp in Dallas. A stand out at Texas A&M, Michael is definitely more talented at this stage in his career than underwear-stealer Joseph Randle, aged and crippled Darren McFadden, and third down specialist Lance Dunbar. He’s unlikely to suit up week one while he learns the offense, but the opportunity is there for him to finally showcase his potential. Michael has the ability to be a 1,000 yard rusher in Dallas if he can gain coach Jason Garrett’s trust.
- Calvin Johnson is not a top 10 WR: Three seasons removed from a record-breaking 2012, the soon-to-be 30-year old Johnson has been a lock as a top 10 receiver for five straight seasons. However, could this year be different? It’s not that Johnson has lost his insane catch radius or undeniable athleticism, but maybe there are just 10 better fantasy receivers than the injury-prone Johnson. It’s pretty fair to put the likes of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, and Odell Beckham Jr. ahead of Johnson, but perhaps this is the season where receivers with exceptional talent and great opportunities in 2015 surpass Johnson. Look at Mike Evans, who caught 12 touchdowns from backup-level quarterbacks, or Randall Cobb, who is now Aaron Rodgers’ undisputed number one target, or AJ Green, who only needs to stay healthy to enter the top five conversation, or even Alshon Jeffery and Deandre Hopkins, who enter 2015 as the team’s number one receiver after putting up monster seasons last year as the number two, as candidates to become top 10 receivers ahead of Calvin Johnson.
- Four rookie RBs become RB2 targets… none named Gurley or Gordon: Last season was the year of the rookie wide receiver, but this year there are plenty of opportunities for rookie running backs to become fantasy relevant. While Gordon and Gurley are talented runners that should receive plenty of fantasy attention in their careers, Gurley is still recovering from an ACL injury that should shelve him for at least the first four games, and even then he’ll have to deal with talented sophomore runner Tre Mason, and Gordon should render third down and red zone carries to receiving back Danny Woodhead. However, rookie running backs on other teams are looking poised for a surprisingly good year. Here are four running backs to keep an eye on this season:
Duke Johnson. The Browns’ has been dealing with a nagging hamstring issues and a concussion this offseason, but his skillset is very reminiscent of Lesean Mccoy. A shifty east-west runner with pass-catching ability, Johnson only has to beat out Isaiah Crowell for carries. While not a bad runner, Crowell does not possess the explosiveness or receiving ability of Johnson, which will be necessary on a Cleveland team that will struggle to score while playing from behind this season.
Ameer Abdullah. The Nebraska product lit up the preseason this year, averaging 6.8 yards per tote on limited carries. He’s certainly on the small side for a feature back in the NFL, but he still put up back-to-back 1,600 years in college and is a SPARQ–a test that evaluates overall athleticism–champion. He’s a strong receiver that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi loves, and he already has beat writers favoring him over former Lions back Reggie Bush. Incumbent Joique Bell will have his chance to retain his starting job, but lingering preseason injuries and being a much less impressive talent will lead to Abdullah taking the carries in this offense.
Matt Jones. A big, physical runner with exceptional hands, Matt Jones has the look of a feature back. Often compared to Marshawn Lynch, and not just because of the dreads, Jones is stuck behind Alfred Morris on the depth chart for now, but after a strong preseason showing and consistently impressing the coaching staff, Jones could land as the 1b to Morris’ 1a, while taking passing down situations. He’s a particularly good grab in dynasty leagues, since it seems unlikely the current Redskins regime resigns Morris, who was grandfathered in but doesn’t seem to fit the vision Gruden & Co. have for the future.
TJ Yeldon. Truly the only rookie to enter 2015 as a bellcow back, Yeldon has the touches available to be the premier running back of this year’s draft class. He’s drawn praise for his pass protection, an uncommon trait in rookies but one that will certainly keep him on the field. While not an explosive “homerun hitter”, Yeldon is a poor man’s Le’Veon Bell, but it’s easy to forget how much Bell struggled his rookie season. Jacksonville’s shaky offensive line will have to hold up in order for Yeldon to perform in 2015.
- Justin Forsett is a top five RB in PPR leagues: It’s not every year that a career backup emerges as an RB1, but out of nowhere Justin Forsett emerged as a legitimate top 10 runner. Entering his age 30 season it seems like he’s headed for an inevitable decline. However, as someone with only 742 career offensive touches, there’s not as much tread on the tires here. Running behind arguably the NFL’s second best offensive line, it’s not out of the question that Forsett repeats last seasons performance. However, Forsett’s catch total looks to spike upwards with Baltimore bringing in old Bear’s offensive coordinator Marc Tressman. Bears’ running back Matt Forte broke the NFL record for receptions for a running back last season under Tressman with a whopping 102 receptions. Forsett is unlikely to hit that nut, but after totaling 44 receptions last season, don’t be surprised if that number settles around 75 this season.
- Jimmy Graham finishes the year outside the top five TEs: It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be this season’s number one fantasy tight end. Most assume Graham will be number two, and after that a drop off to the Greg Olsen tier players and then a bunch of unproven talents. However, this offseason Graham goes from an elite passing offense in New Orleans to a run-centric team in Seattle. Last year Seattle’s leading touchdown receiver was Marshawn Lynch with four, and starting tight end Luke Willson drew only 40 targets on 556 snaps. Meanwhile, Greg Olsen became Carolina’s number one target with Kelvin Benjamin’s ACL tear, Travis Kelce was a stud despite being on the field for only 66% of Kansas City’s snaps last year, and figures to have that number raise significantly with the departure of Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett caught 90 passes last season despite being fourth on the team in targets, and should get more this year without Brandon Marshall this season, if guys like Zach Ertz, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph can stay on the field then they will be focal points in their respective offenses. Graham is still a legitimate double digit touchdown threat, but he could be in for more of a decline than people think.
- Charles Johnson, John Brown, and Tyler Lockett emerge as their team’s number one receiver: Currently listed as their team’s second, third, and fourth receivers, respectively, each one has the ability to take over as the number one on their team. Charles Johnson began the year off the radar in Minnesota, but once Teddy Bridgewater became the team’s consistent starter in week 6 Johnson emerged as the number one receiver, with head coach Norv Turner deeming him the best receiver they had. Despite signing Mike Wallace this offseason, beat writers have seen much more chemistry between Johnson and Bridgewater, and after working all offseason with Antonio Brown footwork coach Rischad Whitfield, Johnson could be Minnesota’s number one within a couple of weeks. John Brown experienced an up-and-down rookie season, but flashed his high ceiling by putting defenders on skates in the open field. The paper-thin wideout bulked up 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, and shined in minicamp and preseason, while number two receiver Michael Floyd broke his fingers. Larry Fitzgerald seems cemented in as Arizona’s pure number one, but proved to be ineffective without Carson Palmer, who probably already has his rehab scheduled for his inevitable injury. Finally, the Seahawks traded four late round picks to move up in the third round to take Tyler Lockett, and so far the huge investment is paying off. He was electric this preseason, making a big play every time he touched the ball. A small possession receiver, Lockett is sensational in the open field, and far more dynamic than Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Chris Matthews. The Seahawks will want this Percy Harvin-esque talent on the field as much as possible.
- DeMarco Murray and Lesean McCoy fall outside the top 10 RBs: First and second in the NFL in rushing since 2013, Murray and McCoy both found new teams this offseason. Murray had a historic campaign last year, rushing for over 1,800 yards behind a Dallas offensive line that featured four Pro Bowlers, while McCoy disappointed with “only” 1,319 yards. However, owners of both should expect a dropoff in production. Murray is on the McCoy-less Eagles now, and with offensive guru Chip Kelly coaching Murray seems like a surefire thing, except the Eagles high-powered offense might prove to be detrimental to Murray. Murray was the bellcow in Dallas, seeing the field for 73.8% of snaps, and taking 77.1% of the team’s carries. In Philly, however, Murray may only get 60% of the carries, as Kelly likes to keep a fresh, fast-paced offense. McCoy’s on the other end of the spectrum, leaving Kelly’s team to be the bellcow for Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills. No running back should see as many carries as McCoy, but that’s part of the issue. McCoy works well in space but is not known for getting many yards after contact. Last year, McCoy finished sixth in the league in percent of runs without any yards after contact, and that won’t change in Buffalo. Running with a much worse offensive line than the underrated one he worked with in Philadelphia, McCoy will face stacked boxes of seven or eight defenders anticipating the run in one of the worst passing offenses in the league.
- #1’s at each position: Luck, Peterson, J. Jones, Gronk, Bills D/ST, Gostkowski (K)
Luck: With T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Frank Gore, Andrew Luck has an embarrassment of weapons. Luck will take advantage of this and ride it to historic numbers.
Projection: 5,100 passing yards, 45 passing touchdowns, 250 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
Adrian Peterson: One of the greatest running backs of all time is back with a chip on his shoulder. Norv Turner is known for getting the most out of his running backs, especially in the passing game, and AP’s best is scary good.
Projections: 1,500 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 50 receptions, 450 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns
Julio Jones: Consensus pick Antonio Brown should dominate again, but Julio Jones is in for a career year. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is known for peppering the X-receiver relentlessly, and Jones may be his most talented one to date.
Projections: 120 receptions, 1,650 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns
Rob Gronkowski: No explanation needed. He will dominate even more now with Tom Brady ready to stick it to the NFL.
Projections: 90 catches, 1,300 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns
Bills D/ST: Fantasy defenses can be flukey, but the Bills truly have a shutdown defense. Defensive-minded coach Rex Ryan can bring out the most in promising young corners Ronald Darby and breakout candidate Stephen Gilmore.
Stephen Gostkowski: Great offenses generally have good fantasy kickers, and Gostkowski is consistently one of the league’s best.