To quote the great Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Making those predictions bold is even more difficult. At the risk of sounding a bit crazy, the goal of my 32 bold predictions for the upcoming NFL season is to highlight things that could happen—not necessarily things that will happen.
More important than the actual prediction is the thought process that led me to go out on a limb and make the prediction. If we make another parallel to baseball, a .300 hitter would be viewed as having a really good season. The goal with these predictions is to hit .300. If 10 or so of the 32 predictions come true, I will view that as a success.
Again, these predictions aren’t meant to be sure things (actually far from it), but here is one bold prediction for every NFL team in 2019:
Arizona Cardinals: KeeSean Johnson will finish 2019 as a top-50 fantasy wide receiver
Johnson had 95 catches for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns for Fresno State as a senior and has generated buzz all offseason despite being the third of their three receivers selected in the 2019 NFL draft. Speaking of Johnson’s route running and hands, ESPN’s John Weinfuss recently wrote the following: “Johnson may have had the best training camp of anyone on the Cardinals' roster, veteran or rookie alike.” If he secures and maintains a top-three role, there is plenty of upside in what should be a high-volume, fast-paced passing offense.
Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones becomes first NFL receiver to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark
No receiver in NFL history has reached the 2,000-yard mark, but Jones has come closer than all receivers not named Calvin Johnson. Jones had 1,871 yards in 2015, a league-high 1,677 last year and has led the league in yards per game in three of the past four seasons. Jones remains the likeliest of choices to lead the league in receiving yards again.
Baltimore Ravens: Miles Boykin will finish as a top-50 fantasy wide receiver in 2019
It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Boykin—not first-round rookie Marquise Brown—turned out to be Baltimore’s top-producing fantasy wide receiver and a top-50 performer. Boykin is a size-speed (6'4", 4.42) freak, and while his preseason performances haven’t been anything to write home about, he has generated some buzz in training camp.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen will have three QB1 weekly finishes in 2019
Inconsistent performances as a passer did not stop Allen, Buffalo’s 2018 leading rusher, from outscoring all other quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (24.2) over the final six games of the season. During that stretch, more than half of Allen’s fantasy points (12.93/G) were derived from his rushing production (576 yards and five TDs).
Only one quarterback—Patrick Mahomes, four—had more than two QB1 weekly finishes in 2018. Several others had two each and Allen himself was Week 17’s top-scoring quarterback. Allen has played well this preseason and the team’s added reinforcements to their receiving corps and offensive line bolsters his outlook.
Allen may still be too inconsistent to stomach as your every-week starter in season-long formats, but the strong-armed and mobile quarterback could have a few of tournament-winning outings for those that play daily fantasy.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton will finish 2019 as a top-three fantasy QB
While a shoulder injury slowed him down the stretch and then prematurely ended his season, Newton was third in fantasy scoring through Week 13. Before 2018, he had finished as the QB4 or better in five of his seven seasons in the league.
Not only is a 100/500/5 rushing line typical, but Newton also has a talented group of young playmakers that excel after the catch. Perhaps he rushes a little less in 2019, but a young, talented group of playmakers that excel after the catch could make life easier for the veteran signal-caller.
Chicago Bears: Mitch Trubisky will finish the season as a top-eight fantasy QB
The transition to a new coaching staff and offense led to a slow start in 2018 for Trubisky, but we got a glimpse of how productive he could be in the offense when things clicked. Blowing up for a 43.5-point fantasy performance in Week 4, Trubisky began a six-game stretch where he scored more than 27 fantasy points five times. From Weeks 4 to 10, no quarterback scored more fantasy points on a per-game basis than Trubisky (28.0).
For context, Patrick Mahomes led all quarterbacks with 26.1 points per game last season and Matt Ryan (QB2) averaged 22.1 per game. Especially if we see the consistency that eluded him last season, there is plenty of upside despite a bargain-basement price tag for Trubisky.
Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton will finish as a top-12 fantasy QB in 2019
Missing five games last year, Dalton had his worst season as a fantasy quarterback in 2018, but he was the QB16 through Week 12. Before 2018, Dalton had never finished worse than QB18. In other words, he has always been within striking distance of a top-12 finish, when healthy.
The health of his playmakers will be key and A.J. Green (ankle) should miss the first couple of games. But if Green can play 12 to 14 games and Tyler Eifert can stay healthy (another massive if), Dalton could flirt with top-12 numbers in 2019 as he plays for his first offensive-minded head coach since high school.
Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Landry will finish outside the top 40 fantasy wide receivers
Since entering the league (2014), only four receivers have more targets than Landry (719). Thriving as a volume receiver, Landry parlayed his 149 targets in his first season as a Brown into an 81/876/4 statistical line and a WR18 (half-PPR) performance in 2018. He now has four consecutive top-20 seasons.
While he may be thrilled to reunite with his former LSU teammate, it's unlikely that Landry gets the volume he needs to return his current draft-day cost. I currently project Landry’s target total to drop to 113, which leads to a 71/806/4 stat line. A few less targets than my projection could push him outside the top 40.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott will finish 2019 as a top-six fantasy QB
Yet to finish outside fantasy’s top 12 in his career, Prescott has been the QB6, QB11 and QB10 in his first three NFL seasons, respectively. Prescott has been both durable (no missed games) and consistent—six rushing scores and either 22 or 23 passing scores each season.
While he started 2018 slowly, the midseason trade for Amari Cooper was a major boost for Dak. With Cooper, Prescott scored 3.3 more fantasy points per game than he did without him. On a per-game basis, Prescott was fantasy’s QB23 without Cooper (Weeks 1 to 8) and then QB9 with him (Weeks 9 to 17).
Denver Broncos: Emmanuel Sanders will finish as a top-24 fantasy wide receiver in 2019
Sanders looked impressive in his return from a December Achilles tear, which is often a career-changing or career-ending injury. Before the injury last season, the 32-year-old performed as a top-20 wide receiver. As long as he doesn’t aggravate the injury, Sanders could vastly outperform his current ADP and a WR2 (top-24) performance isn’t out of the question.
Detroit Lions: Kerryon Johnson will finish as a top-eight fantasy RB
Playing just 10 games as a rookie, Johnson had exactly 150 touches—118 carries and 32 receptions. Averaging 5.4 yards per carry, Johnson was fantasy's RB16 through Week 11 before missing the remainder of the season. With the release of Theo Riddick, Johnson has true breakout potential and could approach or exceed 60 catches in his second season.
Green Bay Packers: Marquez Valdes-Scantling will finish 2019 as a top-30 fantasy wide receiver
Valdes-Scantling had the league's third-best separation rate (per PFF). MVS is blessed with impressive measurables (6’4”, 4.37 40 time) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has talked up the second-year receiver this offseason. At least one of Geronimo Allison and MVS could be destined for a top-30 season.
Houston Texans: Duke Johnson will finish 2019 as a top-15 PPR back
As the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain notes, Johnson is “going to get all the playing time he can handle” now that Lamar Miller (ACL) will miss the 2019 season. It’s possible that the team adds a free-agent back, especially after rosters are cut to 53, but Johnson’s receiving abilities (235 catches in four seasons) and expanded workload in a high-upside, Deshaun Watson-led offense could allow him to flirt with back-end RB1 PPR numbers.
Indianapolis Colts: Jack Doyle will score more fantasy points than Eric Ebron
Doyle (332) played more than double the amount of snaps as Ebron (165) in their six shared games played in 2018. As Ebron’s touchdown rate regresses, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he underperforms compared to his ADP and Doyle outperforms his. If so, the duo may not be too far apart in terms of fantasy production with Doyle having a shot to outperform his teammate.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dede Westbrook will finish as a top-20 fantasy wide receiver in 2019
Now coordinating Jacksonville’s offense after coordinating Minnesota’s (for most of) last year, John DeFilippo called Westbrook “the best route runner he’s ever been around.” Leading the Jags in receiving last year, Westbrook converted 66 of 101 targets into 717 yards and five touchdowns. With improved quarterback play, Westbrook should take another step forward in his third season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Darwin Thompson will finish as a top-30 fantasy running back in 2019
A sixth-round rookie out of Utah State, Thompson has sleeper appeal with Damien Williams lacking a workhorse track record and Carlos Hyde possessing an inefficiency track record. In fact, Hyde isn’t a lock to make the 53-man roster as The Athletic’s Nate Taylor left him off his latest projection. So far this preseason, Thompson has 12 carries for 60 yards (5.0 YPC) and three receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler will finish as a top-15 fantasy running back in 2019
Nearly doubling his workload (74 to 145 touches), Ekeler once again averaged more than 5.0 YPC and 10.0 Y/R. Ekeler missed a couple of games himself, but he ended 2018 as fantasy's RB24 and saw the bulk of work in three of the four games that Gordon missed. While Ekeler has stand-alone value either way, there is increased upside with Gordon currently holding out.
Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley will finish as a top-five fantasy running back in 2019
There are obvious concerns with the knee and the team will manage his workload, but it feels a little weird calling a top-five finish “bold” for last year’s top-scoring fantasy running back. That said, there is certainly upside for those bold enough to draft Gurley at his current ADP (outside the top five).
Even if he scores 20 percent fewer fantasy points in 2019 than he had last year, Gurley would finish the year with 274.16 (half-PPR) fantasy points—or drop from RB1 to RB5 based on last year’s scoring leaders. A 30-percent drop would push him down to seventh (239.82) on last year’s end-of-season ranking. Drafting Gurley as an RB2 at the beginning of Round 2 to pair with a safer option, such as James Conner or Joe Mixon at the end of Round 1, is worth the risk in my view.
Miami Dolphins: Kalen Ballage will score more fantasy points than Kenyan Drake
While Kenyan Drake (foot) has returned to practice, a “good sign for [the] season opener,” it was noted by ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe early in camp that Ballage had a “real chance to win starting RB job.” Averaging just 2.22 YPC on 18 preseason carries, Ballage was more efficient last season (5.3 YPC) on limited work (36 carries). A negative game script could work against the backfield in general, but if the duo’s workload turns out to be fairly close, the disparity in their average draft positions could turn out to be wider than warranted.
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook will finish as a top-six fantasy running back in 2019
After the top four or five running backs, it’s easy to see a path for a number of backs in the next tier emerge as a top-six or so fantasy back. The biggest challenge for Cook has been to stay on the field as he has missed more games (17) than he’s played (15) in his young career.
When he's been on the field, however, he's been efficient—4.68 yards per carry—despite a terrible offensive line. If Cook is able to stay healthy, the team's investment in their interior offensive line this offseason and the run-first approach they implemented at the tail end of 2018 could lead to a big season for Minnesota's featured back.
New England Patriots: James White will perform as a fantasy RB1 (top 12)
Is this cheating? Maybe. After all, White finished better than the 12th-best running back in all scoring formats last season. In half-PPR leagues, White scored the eighth-most fantasy points (233.1)—just behind Melvin Gordon (250.5, seventh) and in front of Joe Mixon (221.9, ninth) and David Johnson (221.7, 10th).
Shattering previous career highs, White had 181 touches, including 87 receptions, 1,176 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Both Sony Michel and rookie Damien Harris could get more carries than White, but it would be reasonable to expect him to be as involved in the passing game as he was last season given the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Even if he doesn’t perform as a top-12 back, he offers plenty of fantasy value compared to where he’s typically drafted.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees will finish fourth amongst NFC South QBs in fantasy points
While I expect the Saints to win the NFC South, it won’t take gaudy passing numbers from Brees to do it. In fact, the days of counting on Brees to lead the league in passing attempts have ended—only 489 attempts in 2018 and 536 the year before that. On the other hand, the Bucs led the league in passing in 2018, Matt Ryan scored the second-most fantasy points last year and Cam Newton has the upside to lead all of them in fantasy points.
New York Jets: Chris Herndon will score the eighth-most fantasy points from Week 6 on
Suspended four games and with an early-season bye (Week 4), Jets tight end Chris Herndon won’t be able to step onto the field in a meaningful game until Week 6. From that point on, however, he has a chance to become an every-week starter at a relatively weak position.
Rookie tight ends often fail to make significant fantasy impacts, but Herndon managed to score the sixth-most fantasy points at the position from Weeks 6 to 16. Perhaps that makes TE8 less bold, but he currently has an undraftable ADP, which means he’ll likely start the season on the waiver wire.
New York Giants: Evan Engram will displace one of the consensus top-three tight ends
Engram has missed six games in his first two seasons and left three other games early due to injury, but he has a minimum of four targets in all 23 of the other games he’s played. Returning to the field just as Odell Beckham Jr. missed the final four weeks, Engram amassed a 22/320/1 line as only George Kittle scored more fantasy points over that four-game stretch. With OBJ now in Cleveland and Golden Tate suspended the first four games, Engram should significantly outpace his 6.88 targets-per-game career average, providing him with both a high floor and ceiling.
Oakland Raiders: Darren Waller will finish as a top-12 fantasy tight end in 2019
Sitting atop Oakland's depth chart at tight end, Waller has a chance for a breakout year with Jared Cook now in New Orleans and Jon Gruden called him “one of our most impressive players” earlier this offseason. Cook led last year’s receiver-deficient Raiders team in receiving (68/896/6). With the offseason additions of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, the Raiders won’t need as much production from their tight end, but Waller has intriguing upside from his virtually-free ADP.
Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson will finish as a top-25 fantasy wide receiver in 2019
In spite of missing four games last year, Jackson still scored the 36th-most (half-PPR) fantasy points amongst wide receivers and was better on a per-game basis (top 30). Now back in Philadelphia, D-Jax gives the Eagles the deep threat they have lacked as he has led the NFL in Y/A three separate times—2018 (18.9), 2016 (17.9) and 2014 (20.9). The chemistry between Carson Wentz and Jackson has been strong and NJ.com's Mark Kaye recently wrote that the duo is "clicking like they’ve been together for years."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Both Donte Moncrief and James Washington will finish 2019 as top-36 wide receivers
Both are being drafted outside the top 36 receivers, but I could see both Moncrief and Washington carving out a large enough role to push for the top 36. The Steelers have 226 departed targets from last year’s roster and both Moncrief and Washington will see a significant share of those targets in 2019.
San Francisco 49ers: Jalen Hurd will finish as a top-50 wide receiver in 2019
A former running back at Tennessee, Hurd is a versatile player that could be used in a variety of ways by Kyle Shanahan. In his first preseason game, Hurd had three catches for 31 yards and two touchdowns. Trent Taylor’s foot injury could open up more opportunities for Hurd to make an early-season impact and Shanahan has complimented Hurd’s aggressive mentality as a pass-catcher.
Seattle Seahawks: Chris Carson will finish 2019 as a top-12 fantasy running back
Even though the Seahawks used a first-round pick last year on Rashaad Penny, it was Carson that dominated running back touches. In fact, Mike Davis (156) had the second most. The workload split between Carson (267 touches) and Penny (94) will certainly narrow in 2019, but Davis’ departure could lead to more work for both in what should be one of the league’s most run-heavy attacks. Carson’s targets may not double to 50 (from 24 last year), but that is what OC Brian Schottenheimer said he wants.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin will finish 2019 with 90 catches
Bruce Arians says that Godwin could be “close to a 100-catch guy” this year. Ninety is close to 100. Regardless of what the number turns out to be, there is plenty of breakout potential for Godwin in his third season with DeSean Jackson now back in Philadelphia.
Over the past two seasons, D-Jax has missed six games and Godwin has 98-plus yards in four of those games. Mike Evans may be the team’s clear No. 1, but the Bucs are going to find themselves on the trying-to-come-back side of many shootouts this season and Godwin should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that game script.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry will lead the NFL in rushing
As much as Henry disappointed for the majority of 2018, he was nothing short of dominant down the stretch. Over the final four games, Henry amassed 585 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and scored the most fantasy points among running backs during that span.
Going into 2019, the Titans will surely ride Henry and I have him projected currently for the third-most carries in the league. While he may not be the favorite to win the rushing title, it’s certainly within reach for Tennessee’s workhorse.
Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed will finish as a top-10 fantasy tight end in 2019
Seemingly every year, the phrase fantasy owners use with Reed is “only if” (as in “only if” he could stay healthy.) Before last season, he had played at least 12 games only twice and finished those seasons as fantasy's TE2 (2015, 14 games) and TE9 (2016, 12 games), respectively. Playing the first 13 games last season (and then missing the final three games), Reed was more solid (TE10) than great through Week 14.
Training, instead of rehabbing, for the first time in three years, Reed recently told ESPN's John Keim, "My feet are definitely getting stronger, way stronger than last year. I feel more explosive, and I feel a lot better." Take that with a grain of salt (as he’s recently been in concussion protocol), but there is little risk at his TE21 ADP and plenty of upside as the team’s best receiving option.
Kevin Hanson joins SI for the 2019 season. His fantasy rankings have placed him in the Top 20 in each of the past two seasons among all the industry experts tracked by FantasyPros.com, and he has been in the Top 25 in six of the past eight years.