Another fantasy football draft season is just about in the rear-view mirror. We’ve highlighted breakouts, sleepers and busts. We’ve found players likely to bounce back, and others likely to regress. We’ve broken down every draft slot, analyzed offensive coordinators, and took an in-depth look at every position. We ranked players, re-ranked them, re-ranked them some more, and then divided those rankings into tiers. In short, we’ve covered every single corner of the fantasy football world a few times over. All that’s left to do now is make some bold predictions.
This edition of bold predictions covers positive outcomes. Click here for the darker side of bold predictions.
Odell Beckham Jr. will be a top-five overall player
Beckham is now the most handsomely paid receiver in the NFL, and he will celebrate with the best season of his career. Beckham has been one of the most productive receivers since entering the league, averaging 6.7 catches for 94.1 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game. Over a full 16-game season, that averages out to 107 catches, 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns, rounded to the nearest whole number. There are six receivers in NFL history who have hit all of those thresholds in one year, and Beckham has a great chance to expand that club to seven this year. He is a touchdown machine who should approach a 30% target share in an offense that may be more diverse than it has been during his career, but could also face plenty of negative game script. It all adds up to monster season for one of the league’s truly elite skill players. Beckham will join Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Antonio Brown in the top five this season.
Lamar Miller will be a top-10 running back
Everything is coming together for Miller this season. With Deshaun Watson healthy, Houston’s offense should be among the most explosive in the league. In Watson’s six starts last year, the Texans averaged 34.7 points and 394.8 yards per game. We have plenty of evidence of the positive effects a rushing threat at quarterback has on his running back. With Watson opening lanes, Miller is in the best rushing environment of his career. D’Onta Foreman is likely to start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, and the next back on the depth chart is Alfred Blue. Miller is going to be a true workhorse playing next to a potentially elite quarterback in what may be one of the best offenses in the league. He should ride that setup to a top-10 season at the position.
Delanie Walker will be a top-three tight end
Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz are seemingly entrenched at the top of the tight end position, but I think they’ve got company in Walker. Perennially one of the most underappreciated players in the league, Walker has had at least 102 targets in all of the last four years. He has averaged 74 catches, 896.25 yards and five touchdowns per season in that span, which comes out to 119.63 points in standard-scoring leagues, and 193.63 points in PPR formats. With his target share largely unchallenged, he has one of the highest floors at the tight end position, and needs only some mildly above-average touchdown luck to challenge the Gronk-Kelce-Ertz triumvirate. The bet here is he will get it, knocking Ertz out of the top three this season.
Matthew Stafford will lead the league in passing yards
Stafford is coming off one of the most efficient seasons of his career last year, during which he completed 65.7% of his passes for 4,446 yards and a career-high 7.86 yards per attempt. He has thrived in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense, playing the cleanest, most consistent football of his career the last three seasons. Cooter took over as Detroit’s offensive coordinator before the eighth game of the 2015 season. Since then, Stafford has completed two-thirds of his pass attempts for 11,169 yards and 7.51 YPA. What’s more, after compiling a 2.8% interception rate with all previous coordinators, just 1.6% of Stafford’s passes have been picked with Cooter calling the shots. He has a great trio of receivers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, and a dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield in Theo Riddick. With a brutal schedule that includes two games against apiece with the Packers and Vikings, and individual matchups with the Patriots, Rams, Panthers and 49ers, Stafford could be looking at his first 600-attempt season since 2014. It’ll all add up to his second career 5,000-yard season and his first career yardage crown.
Stefon Diggs will be a top-10 receiver
I’ve been talking up Diggs all summer, so it was imperative to get him involved in bold predictions. Talent almost always wins, and every so often a player breaks through to another level without the statistical backing for doing so previously. That’s part of what’s at work with Diggs, who has had three good, but zero great, years in his career. One thing he did prove last season, though, is that he can make the tough catches. Pro Football Focus graded him the best receiver on contested catches last year, while NFL.com agreed, ranking him first in what it calls tight-window catches. With Kirk Cousins in and Case Keenum out, Diggs likely won’t have to make as many of those tough catches as he did a year ago, but the fact that he can may make Cousins more likely to force some tough balls his way. With Minnesota in a great spot and Diggs clearly on the ascent, the pieces are in place for him to find a completely new gear this season.
Eight receivers will catch at least 100 passes
In 2015, a record seven receivers caught at least 100 passes. Antonio Brown and Julio Jones led the way with 136, followed by DeAndre Hopkins (111), Jarvis Landry (111), Larry Fitzgerald (109), Brandon Marshall (109) and Demaryius Thomas (105). That group will be ousted from the record books this year.
There has never been a better time to build an offense around the pass in NFL history. Stylistic and rules changes have made the league pass-friendlier than ever before. At the heart of that is a group of quarterbacks and receivers more talented and refined than we’ve ever seen. Put those truths together, and you get a season that is primed to chase league-wide and individual records.
So, who will the eight receivers be? Brown and Jones are layups. We’ll also put Odell Beckham, and Michael Thomas in that group. Keenan Allen is poised for another 100-catch season as Philip Rivers’ go-to weapon, and DeAndre Hopkins played to a 101-catch pace with Deshaun Watson under center. Jarvis Landry has two 110-catch seasons in four years in the league, and has averaged exactly 100 grabs per season. He’s our seventh. Who gets us over the hump? How about Doug Baldwin, the top weapon Russell Wilson’s disposal in a season where Seattle could face more negative game script that at any other point in Wilson’s career. And just for good measure, we’ll get it to 10 by pushing Larry Fitzgerald and Golden Tate to the century mark, too.
Jordan Howard will lead the league in rushing touchdowns
Howard spent the first two years of his career playing for a team that went 8-24. He spent the first month of his career as a backup to Jeremy Langford, effectively playing just 13 games as a rookie. Despite all that, he has 2,435 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in his career, making him one of four players with at least 2,400 yards and 15 scores the last two years. The others are Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy. Finally playing in an offense updated for the 21st century, Howard is in the best scoring environment of his career.
You could say that Howard benefitted from John Fox’s and Dowell Loggains’ retrograde offense, and you wouldn’t necessarily be completely wrong. The Bears were seventh in the NFL in rushing rate last year despite going 5-11. All those carries, however, didn’t necessarily boost Howard’s touchdown bottom line. He got just nine carries inside the five, which tied him for 15th in the league, and were the third-fewest among all backs with at least 220 rushes. He had 10 carries inside the five as a rookie, fourth-fewest among backs with 220-plus totes. In other words, Howard didn’t simply volume his way to 15 touchdowns. Seven of his scores came from outside the 5-yard line, including four last year that were outside the 10. Now with a modern offense and total ownership of goal-line work, Howard’s touchdown upside is immense.
Drew Brees will be the No. 1 quarterback
This may not seem all that bold. After all, it’s Drew Brees. Last year’s 23-touchdown season, combined with the presence of Alvin Kamara, have seemingly knocked Brees a half-step behind his veteran peers at the top of the quarterback rankings. While Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton remain staples in the top five, Brees has an ADP that makes him the seventh quarterback off the board in a typical draft, and a FantasyPros consensus ranking of sixth at the position. That will prove to be a big mistake.
Brees’ 4.3% touchdown rate last year was suspiciously low. It was the lowest rate of his Saints career and didn’t fit at all with the rest of his numbers. Brees completed an NFL record 72% of his passes for 4,334 yards and a league-best 8.09 YPA. He was third in the NFL with 82 red-zone passes, 16 of which came inside the 5-yard line. On its face, that is not a 23-touchdown season. He also attempted just 536 passes, his fewest since 2009. You can place a lot of that on the Saints being one of the best teams in the league last year, and assume Brees is in for more of the same this year, but he threw 650 passes on an 11-5 team in 2013, and 657 on a 13-3 team two years earlier. The more you look at Brees’ touchdown rate from last season, the easier it is to see it was an anomaly. He should be back up near or beyond 30 touchdowns, with upside to push into the mid- and high-30s. That will give him his first No. 1 quarterback season since 2012.