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Bold fantasy football predictions

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Why is this bold?

Richardson was drafted because he is a man-child, one capable of carrying the Browns' offense as a feature back -- rushing and receiving. Cleveland also figures to have a run-heavy scheme, if only because the receiving corps has so many warts and question marks. Richardson, sight unseen, has been going in Round 1 in many leagues, so obviously many people see him as more stud than dud. The masses cannot be wrong, right?

Why is this going to happen?

Richardson was drafted after having a knee surgery in January and not performing at the annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis after the Super Bowl in February. Then, Richardson's knee balked right after starting contact early in camp and going into real contact in preseason games. He needed another surgical procedure that knocks him out of debuting before Week 1 of the regular season. His knee just isn't right apparently. That is a bad body part for a RB to have questions about.

Even if he gets healthy, Richardson will be rushing for one of the sketchiest offenses in football. He could get a ton of carries, but yards and touchdowns just never are easy to come by in modern-day Cleveland. Remember Peyton Hillis and company a year ago?

What should we do about it?

Whether you pick Richardson in Round 1 or 2, you are going to have to do it without seeing him carry a football against live NFL competition. That should really worry you. Instead, pick backs you have seen play well, like: Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and even the Bills' Fred Jackson.

Check out our Top 200.

6. MJD will be outscored by a RB on his own team -- Rashad Jennings is already slated to open the season as the Jags' starter amid Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout. And when MJD does come back, he will have to re-earn his job. Chris Johnson was 2011's cautionary tale on RB holdouts in fantasy. Avoid MJD.

7. Jacob Tamme will finish top-five at TE -- Peyton Manning's best friend is his tight end. No, really, Tamme has hung out and watched video in Manning's dorm room late nights in camp, sharing the popcorn. Tamme is going to be targeted more than all tight ends other than Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.

Check out our TE rankings review.

8. Joe Flacco will rise to fantasy stardom -- There was talk Ravens fans wanted to run Flacco out of town. That is balderdash, and merely a function of him not having a long-term contract extension yet. Flacco isn't getting pushed out of town. He will be pushed to the elite of the QB position as the Ravens open up the offense and allow him to reach 4,000 yards and 30 TDs. He is also going to become a very rich man.

9. Cam Newton will perform like fantasy backup QB -- This is a pass-happy league and there are a number of QBs, likely even 12, who will throw for more yards and touchdowns than the second-year beast. Remember how Vick's rushing TDs disappeared suddenly a year ago? If you take away Newton's record rushing scores, he is more of a fantasy backup QB, particularly if you see the likes of Manning, Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger re-emerging and Flacco and Cutler taking a step forward.

Check out our nightmare scenarios.

10. Adrian Peterson will return to the elite -- A.P. should be on the PUP list right now. Instead, he is in the Vikings' huddle, running reps with the first team in practice -- with coaches shouting: "If you touch Peterson, we'll cut you." Peterson's quick return from ACL surgery is a bit inhuman. He will perform like he is otherworldly, to the tune of 1,100 yards and 12 TDs.

Check out our RB health report.

11. Big Ben will get his clocked cleaned -- Roethlisberger has long taken a lot of hits and that was when the Steelers had a running game. Now they plan to pass more with an offensive line that makes the Bears' porous unit look safer to stand behind. Big Ben won't play 16 games this season, and that is ignoring the fact he never had surgery on his partially torn rotator cuff (right/throwing arm).Check out our QB health report.

12. Peyton Manning will play 16 games -- He is coming off career-threatening, maybe even life-threatening, neck surgery. His shoulder was too weak to throw passes a year ago; yet, Manning looks healthy enough to throw for 4,000 yards and 25 TDs, even for a run-oriented coach in John Fox.

Check out our preseason Week 1 observations.

13. Darren Sproles will be the second-best RB ... on his own team -- Sproles was a miracle late-round pick, maybe even a waiver claim a year ago in Brees' record-breaking passing offense. Sproles will never be mistaken for an every-down back, or capable of taking a lot of punishment. Also, a healthier Ingram trumps Sproles in fantasy production.

Check out our doomsday scenarios Part II.

14. Isaiah Pead will be the top rookie RB -- The rookie RBs you expect to star usually never do. Instead, the top rookie RB comes out of seemingly nowhere. Well, Pead is backing up a 29-year-old Steven Jackson with a lot of wear on the tire. Pead was also called the next Chris Johnson by a guy who should know: Jeff Fisher, who used to coach CJ2K. Consider Pead a very important late-round pick on draft day.

Check out our sleepers.

15. Andre Johnson goes bust -- Johnson is learning life after 30 is a lot tougher than even imagined. He just cannot stay healthy, and after an injury-plagued year, he is having an injury-plagued camp. His legs again, and apparently he hasn't taken enough care of them. Avoid him and go with healthier WR options that have a more elite QB and a pass-heavy scheme.

Check out our bust candidates.

Not all of these bold predictions will come to fruition. But all of Al Davis' outside-the-box moves didn't work out either. Without them, though, the game would just be a bit too vanilla. These predictions will definitely spice things up, even if only with all the hate mail this writer just assured himself.

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