As the calendar turns to 2016, what a better way to mark the new year than looking ahead to the next fantasy football season.
It may seem premature - teams play their final game of the current season this weekend, the coaching carousel has yet to spin, and free agency and the draft are months away. But immediately turning the page to next year has therapeutic and cathartic value for the litany of fantasy owners who just suffered through a grueling and injury-riddled season that ended in defeat in the playoffs - or worse, not even qualifying for the tournament.
A few quick thoughts on next year: It's safe to say that wide receivers will be all the rage next year, to the point that the first round will be filled with wideout selections. Owners will tread lightly with running backs after the rash of injuries in 2015 and predictably overlook players who had down years like Andrew Luck.
So in the spirit of looking ahead - way ahead - here are some predictions on the 2016 fantasy season:
Rams phenom Todd Gurley seems to have an inside track for the top pick in 2016, but he will have some stiff competition from wide receivers. We may even see wide receivers taken No. 1 overall, and Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Julio Jones will be top five picks. And A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins won't be too far behind them. As for other running backs in the mix in the first round, Doug Martin will be taken much higher next year, and owners will have a major dilemma with Devonta Freeman in the late first round.
Remember Josh Gordon? What about Kelvin Benjamin? Brown has been suspended for the past year, but will return in 2016 and surely force some fantasy players to reach in their drafts to get him if there is positive news about his down-time conditioning. Benjamin was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver for the Panthers before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He will be back in the fantasy mix as well, along with Green Bay's Jordy Nelson.
ON THE UPSWING
Trivia question: Name the leading rusher in the AFC in 2015? Answer: Latavius Murray with 1,035 yards. Chris Ivory is second. It's a reminder about how low NFL rushing yards are this year - Adrian Peterson could win the rushing title and not eclipse 1,500 yards. Murray's year could portend an even better 2016. He came on strong late in his rookie campaign in 2014, topped 1,000 yards in his sophomore season, and will undoubtedly get drafted much higher next year. Other players on the upswing: Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker. Cooper has started to fade down the stretch, but he will have lots of upside next year. DeVante Parker will be on sleeper lists next year as he has shown some flashes in the final month for the Dolphins.
PENDULUM THE OTHER WAY
Green Bay players were must-have for fantasy owners during the 2015 draft. Players were wildly reaching on Davante Adams and, to a lesser degree, for Randall Cobb. Eddie Lacy had an abysmal campaign. Luck, the Colts quarterback, was largely ineffective when he was playing this year, and missed considerable time with injuries despite being a trendy first-round pick. By next year, short-sighted owners and fantasy publications will cause the pendulum to swing the other way for these players, and you'll probably be able to get them for a relative bargain in drafts.
We are really getting ahead of ourselves in forecasting which rookies might be big producers, considering colleges are still playing bowl games and no one has been drafted. A few names that could be in the mix: Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott; Heisman winner Derrick Henry; Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell; and Oklahoma wideout Sterling Shepard. It all depends on where they're drafted.
AP NFL websites: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL