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 negative outcomes. Click here for the brighter side of bold predictions.
Leonard Fournette falls outside the top-10 running backs
I’ve been on this island by myself all summer, and I’m not looking for a life raft now. I will admit, however, that the food supply feels like it might be running out. Fournette cut weight this offseason, which should help him avoid the ankle issues that plagued him last year, he remains the focal point of Jacksonville’s offense and the defense should again bless him with more than his fair share of positive game script. Still, he was one of the least efficient high-volume backs last year, and there’s reason to be concerned about an offense led by Blake Bortles. Fournette also won’t give you much in the passing game, and while he may not need major receiving production to be a top-10 back, it does help guarantee a high floor. Fournette won’t fall far out of the top 10, but with all the competition at the position he won’t quite make it in this year.
Carson Wentz is not a QB1
We’re on the eve of the NFL regular season, and Wentz still hasn’t been cleared for contact. He’s still less than nine months removed from tearing his ACL and LCL, a dual ligament injury that typically takes longer from which to recover than just an ACL tear. On top of that—and this is what the optimistic prognosticators seem to forget—he is a 25-year-old quarterback with an MVP ceiling who’s the future of the franchise. He is going to miss some time at the beginning of the season. That, in and of itself, is enough to fade him in fantasy leagues. Given that we don’t know how much time he will miss, or what he’ll look like when he returns, he is a huge risk. With a deeper quarterback pool than ever, Wentz will not return QB1 numbers, on either an absolute or per-game basis.
Christian McCaffrey is not a top-10 RB in PPR leagues, or top 20 in standard
I know the Panthers coaching staff keeps saying all the right things about McCaffrey, and I did move him up my rankings in light of that. I still can’t believe the volume is going to be there for him to clear either of these thresholds. I can’t believe that C.J. Anderson is going to be a glorified backup, competing more with Cameron Artis-Payne for touches than McCaffrey. The Panthers lost guard Andrew Norwell in the offseason, and the line has only gotten worse since then. Right tackle Daryl Williams is out for the season with a knee injury. Left guard Amini Silatolu tore his meniscus in early August. Jeremiah Sirles, a natural guard who is playing tackle because of all the injuries, left the team’s third preseason game with a hamstring injury. Left tackle Matt Kalil had arthroscopic knee surgery in the last week of August. This is the line that’s going to open holes for McCaffrey, who left a little to be desired as a runner last year? I don’t think so. Throw in some curbed touchdown upside because of Cam Newton’s goal-line prowess, and I just can’t get on board with McCaffrey this season.
Chris Hogan is not a top-30 receiver
The boldness of this prediction has less to do with Hogan than it does with the reaction to Julian Edelman’s suspension. Hogan’s ADP in August drafts is 59.76, which makes him the 26th receiver selected in a typical draft. I agree that Edelman’s suspension makes Hogan more valuable, but this is too much. Rob Gronkowski remains the dominant target in New England’s offense, especially in the red zone. Edelman won’t be gone forever, and we know what sort of on-field rapport he has with Brady. Rex Burkhead and James White will also be fixtures of the Patriots’ passing attack. Projecting a short-term volume increase is always more dangerous than it seems, notably on a team with a player like Gronkowski. Some players typically taken after Hogan I prefer include Michael Crabtree, Sammy Watkins, Devin Funchess, Emmanuel Sanders and Pierre Garcon.
Jimmy Graham gets outscored by at least 10 tight ends
Graham is essentially a touchdown-only player at this stage of his career. He remains dangerous in the red zone, and is quite good at what he’s still good at, but he’s no longer a significant threat between the 20s. He was a touchdown machine last year, scoring 10 times on 96 targets, and it’s tempting to say that he’ll be able to repeat that this season playing with Aaron Rodgers. Graham led the NFL with 14 targets inside the 5-yard line, five more than his nearest competitor, Rob Gronkwoski, and seven more than any receiver. Rodgers and the Packers throw as much as any team inside the 5-yard line, with Rodgers ranking in the top four in passes inside the five in his last three healthy seasons. Match made in heaven, right? I wouldn’t be so sure. Over the years, Rodgers has done most of his red-zone throwing to the outside, and while a lot of that was dictated by personnel, he has a ready-made replacement for former red-zone favorite Jordy Nelson in Davante Adams. Graham could still be among the league-leaders in targets inside the five with six or seven fewer than he had last year. That would, however, be a major hit to his touchdown upside, and that’s all he has to be a productive fantasy player. He’ll need another season with eight-plus touchdowns to be a top-10 tight end, and that’s going to be hard to come by with some real competition for goal-line targets.
Andrew Luck is no more than a streamer in traditional fantasy leagues
I want to believe in Luck’s comeback. I really do. No player has had his injury situation completely bungled by his organization quite like Luck has in recent memory. Yet, until we see him uncork a beauty on a nine-route or a deep out, I don’t see how we can have much confidence in his arm strength. Without that, it’s hard to believe he’s going to be the quarterback he was before the shoulder injury. Arm strength isn’t just about thowing the deep ball. It’s about having enough on a pass to get it to the sideline 18 yards down field. It’s about having enough zip on the ball to hit a square-in 20 or 25 yards from the line of scrimmage over the middle. If Luck can’t make those throws with consistency, he’s not going to be trustworthy as a regular starter in fantasy leagues. Until he proves to us he can make those throws, it will be nearly impossible to rely on him.
Joe Mixon isn’t a top-25 running back
So, let me get this straight. Mixon was outside the top-30 running backs in both standard and PPR leagues last year despite ranking 19th in touches per game, ahead of Alvin Kamara, Dion Lewis and Christian McCaffrey, among others. Some of that owes to a bad offensive environment, particularly an offensive line that never recovered from losing Andrew Whitworth to the Rams, but Mixon also ranked 43rd in Pro Football Focus’ elusiveness rating, and 40th in Football Outsiders’ success rate, among 47 backs with at least 100 carries. He has had a dreadful preseason, and while putting a lot of stock in those results could get us dangerously close to confirmation bias, it’s a troubling to see a 13-carry, 24-yard stat line after his performance last year. The Bengals signed left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafted center Billy Price, but Glenn missed 10 games due to injury last year, and five the year before that. And yet, he’s somehow a late-second-round pick by ADP. Forget about avoiding him at that price, there’d be reason to stay away if he were going two or three rounds later. I want absolutely no piece of Mixon.