7/02 - Bold Predictions AFC (NOAH)

by Noah Pires July 02, 2019

7/02 - Bold Predictions AFC (NOAH)

Everybody loves a good bold prediction, but not when they're unreasonable. If I went ahead and wrote about how I really believed Carlos Hyde could steal Damien Williams' job and rush for 2,000 yards, you'd click off this quicker than than the Chiefs cut the 6th year back. I'm here to spit facts, but also get a little wild...a little. All of these predictions have a sliver of a chance to hit so these writeups aren't completely useless for evaluating certain prospects for 2019. Enjoy.

AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Donte Moncrief leads the team in receiving TDs, making him a top 24 receiver.

Loss of AB frees up not only 169 targets, it also opens 24 RZ looks. Juju already had 29 last season, so I don't see that number increasing. Their other receivers aren't necessarily red zone threats (Diontae is 5'10, James Washington is 5'11) and Moncrief has shown an ability to produce in that area of the field (2016, when he had Luck, Moncrief turned 10 RZ tgts into 6 TDs, 2015 turned 12 RZ tgts into 5 TDs). We haven't seen Moncrief with a competent QB since 2016 and I think, tethered to Big Ben, Moncrief certainly has double digit TD upside. He also had a 6 game stretch last year where he topped 75 receiving yards five times, showing he still has some juice left (extremely athletic).

Moncrief also had 21 deep targets (led his team, 19th in league) but only eight were catchable. Big Ben had 3rd most deep attempts and most deep TDs (15).

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Nick Chubb enters 2020 as a consensus top-5 pick

Hyde had 23 RZ rushes, 11 of which came from inside the 5 (in just 6 games). As a whole, Cleveland had 63 red zone rushes. As a single entity, that would have ranked only behind Gurley (64). No other RB on this roster topped five RZ carries, so it's not unreasonably to think Chubb can flirt with ~50 carries inside the 20, especially with an improved offense. 

He averaged 19.6 touches (20.4 opportunities) per game after Hyde left, including 32 reception pace. Him reaching that number would put him in the conversation of where we saw Fournette last season where the TD upside trumps the lack of receptions a guy like CMC or Barkley would get.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Joe Mixon ends the season as fantasy's RB1 in all formats.

Mixon showed he can produce on the ground by leading the AFC in rushing yards in just 14 games last season, what separates him from the top 4 is TDs and receiving. He averaged over 30 receptions per season in college, and now with Zac Tayloy coming in, his receiving #s are bound to increase. Gurley went from 43--->64 once McVay came to LA, and with Mixon already being on pace for 49 catches in 2018, he could easily flirt with 65-70 receptions (especially since they don't have a consistent 3rd WR/TE). 

His TD #s are still lacking, but he was on pace to score 10 tugs and with what should be a better offense, I'd expect his to AT LEAST match these numbers, and if he scores 10-12x while totaling ~1,800 YFS with 65 receptions, he could be the RB1.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

No skill position player ranks inside the top 30 (at their position) at the end of the seasons.

Mark Andrews was productive when Jackson took over (on pace for > 700 yards) but had an 11.4% target share during that span (and scored just once). They also have a ton of tight ends which would take food off eachother's plate.

Their wide receivers are pedestrian at best with their #1 weapon being an undersized rookie dealing with a foot injury. Miles Boykin is an athletic freak but he only had one good season in college. With Jackson not being the most polished passer, I'm not sure he'll be able to get the most out of him.

Mark Ingram is the most surprising one to fall outside the top-30, but there's a possibility Jackson steals red zone carries from him. Jackson had 37, 16 more than any RB (they did run through a few backs) as well as four carries inside the five. Gus Edwards averaged 17.5 touches/game when Jackson was behind center, yet scored just two times in that seven game span. Along with lack of TD upside, Ingram was on pace for just 28 targets while playing for a QB who is known for throwing to RBs, and now, he heads to Baltimore where LJax targeted backs just 15.2% of the time, meaning, if Jackson throws 400x next season, runningbacks would total just 61 targets. Sharing the backfield with Hill and Dixon, two backs who are better pass catchers, I'm not confident Ingram tops 35 looks.

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Damien Harris leads the backfield in fantasy points.

James White played > 50% of snaps in 7 of first 10 games, then after their bye, hit that mark just twice and was on pace for just 56 receptions. Last year was also the first time he surpassed 6 total TDs and with Edelman back, drafting Harry, and healthy Burkhead, I'm not sure he is a top-24 RB this szn.

As for Burkhead, he is clearly (at least) the 3rd back in this rotation, and with his injury history, I wouldn't be surprised if this role continues (in an attempt to keep him healthy).

Sony Michel is obviously the favorite to lead all backs in touches/points for New England, but this is a guy who not only failed to produce in the passing game, he has also had an injury plagued history that resurfaced last season. Prior to 2018 kicking off, Michel had surgery on his knee that kept him inactive for a handful of weeks and caused him to miss the Pats' debut game. He even missed two games during the season with a knee strain, and during his time at Georgia, dealt with a myriad of injuries such as ankle and knee strains. Michel even tore his ACL in high school, and according to sportsinjurypredictor.com, Sony has a 67% chance of injury this season while being projected to miss three games.

If Michel goes down, I think it will be their third round selection out of Alabama, Damien Harris, who will take lion's share of touches. He showed this past season he could catch passes out of the backfield and even outproduced first round pick Josh Jacobs, so he certainly has the ability to perform at the next level. His receiving ability will further suppress White's value, as he won't NEED to be taken out in passing down situations (although I'd imagine White would be their best option in these situations, it's not like Harris would be a liability). 

NEW YORK JETS

Robby Anderson ends the year as a WR1.

Sam Darnold posted the highest QBR from week 10 on last season, and after he returned from injury in week 14, Anderson was cooking. Albeit a small sample size, Robby was on pace for a (156) 92/1,344/12 receiving line all while playing Buffalo, New England, and Houston over that span. Le'Veon Bell comes into town, a well-known pass catcher, but over that aforementioned span (14-17), the RB position was targeted 24 times, which is 6/game. A 16 game pace would work out to 96 targets, and with Bell's career high topping out at 106 looks, it shouldn't be expected that his presence out of the backfield will limit Anderson too much.

Both Enunwa and Crowder have topped 100 targets just once in their careers and Herndon was used inconsistently, so Anderson should have zero issues securing the #1 job.

Anderson had the 6th most deep targets last year (30), and caught only SEVEN of them (dropped only one). This was due to lack of accuracy, as only eight were catchable. Over his last four weeks, Darnold ranked 9th in deep accuracy (and 7th in deep attempts), and as he improves this offseason he and Robby could build a real connection.

Robby has never been much of a RZ threat, but did gather 8 RZ targets over his last four weeks after being thrown to inside the 20 just once in weeks 1-13.

BUFFALO BILLS

Josh Allen rushes for < 400 yards this season.

Why 400 yards? Idk, it sounds good. What I'm trying to get at is I don't think Allen will be nearly as valuable on the ground as he was last season. A lot of factors work into this prediction, such as their improved offense and what caused Allen to run in 2018.

Obviously they've added John Brown and Cole Beasley, two receivers who not only give them depth, but also two men who play important roles stretching the field and working underneath out of the slot. These additions will add a new dynamic to this offense where Allen will have weapons working all over the field as opposed to last year when he had to either throw to Robert Foster 30 yards downfield or pinpoint a pass to Zay Jones in the intermediate game. Along with their new receivers, they also drafted Devin Singletary and brought in Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon. Again, moves that bring depth and also add value through the passing game out of the backfield where last szn McCoy was running (jogging) on fumes. 

Sure, none of these players are "elite", but it's a fuckton better than what Allen was exposed to last year, meaning JA likely won't have to run for his life after spending four seconds in the pocket to realize nobody is open.

The final reason why his rushing upside is due to regress is because of two points that work together. Firstly, Josh Allen scrambled on 11.9% of his dropbacks, a rate that was last matched by Michael Vick. Not Vince Young, not Cam Newton, not Tyrod Taylor....Michael fucking Vick. The GOAT. Paired with this, Allen averaged 10.8 yards per scramble, the highest mark over the last 10 years. Even if he does match Mike Vick's scrambling % again, which is highly unlikely, what chance does he have of averaging this lofty of a Yard Per Scramble again? I'll answer; very unlikely. This is because with their improved weapons, he likely won't have the tuck the ball and run since one of their 15 receivers who runs a 4.4 will get at least a little bit of separation. Secondly, they have a vastly improved o-line, adding six new linemen including second round selection Cody Ford and PFF's 23rd best pass blocking guard, Quinton Spain.

It's not like Allen is getting many designed runs, so if there's no reason for him to scramble with his improved receiving core and line, I think his rushing numbers are bound to plummet. Yes, he's still #elite with the ball in his hands and a complete electric factory, but you don't draft a QB with the 7th overall pick to have him get his head bashed in by 250 pound behemoths week in and week out. Expect his production on the ground to decrease, and if his accuracy doesn't improve, then he won't be on anybody's fantasy radar this year.

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Josh Rosen finishes as a top QB1 on a PPG basis.

I say on PPG basis because I'm not convinced he begins the year as the starter, but with the Dolphins likely having nothing to play for, he should certainly get reps in to at least see what the team has.

He was a consensus top 5 pick heading into the 2018 draft before he fell down boards and had everything working against him last season. He was thrown in during the fourth quarter against the Bears to begin his career - not nice - and his OC limited a dynamic player in David Johnson as a receiver.

Now, he has a bunch of weapons who certainly have the potential to create a really solid receiving core. Hype is always surrounding DeVante Parker, and even though he has been a disappointment, he's at least a warm body on the outside. Kenny Stills provides a good enough deep threat, Albert Wilson led the league in YPRR (among WRs with >30 targets) and is electric after the catch, Mike Gesicki is an extremely athletic tight end who was underutilized as a rookie, and Kenyan Drake is dynamic out of the backfield. They don't have a single stud, but all together they're a solid unit.

Not to mention the possibility of a ton of garbage time, where a guy like Blake Bortles took advantage of and finished as a QB1 on multiple occasions.

AFC SOUTH

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Three Jacksonville receivers finish inside the top-36.

Last year, DeSean Jackson finished as the WR36 (1/2 PPR) with a 41/774/4 receiving line. Without a real pass catching runningback and lack of tight end, the Jaguars receivers will need to carry the load in the passing game. Yeldon leaving town frees up 78 targets and Moncrief's 89 looks will likely be overtaken by Marqise Lee, who had averaged 100.5 targets over his previous two seasons. It's reasonable to think Dede can replicate his WR32 finish even if there is another receiver in the mix due to improved QB play, and with Keelan Cole proving at both the end of 2017 and start to 2018 that he can be a solid producer at the NFL level, he should see an increase in volume (70 targets last year). Even if that doesn't pan out, with Nick Foles at QB, combined with Cole's impressive 15.5 career YPR, he can convert a handful of splash plays that will boost his point total, similar to what DeSean Jackson managed to do last year.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Keke Coutee catches 75+ balls.

Coutee runs the majority of his routes from the slot, and although Fuller may be seen as the clear #2 in Houston, he not only can't stay healthy, but he was also out targeted by the rookie on a per game basis in 2018. Fuller is more of a boom/bust player, but is seems as though if Watson is playing, he's all boom. Well, that insane efficiency is bound to regress, and even though Watson loves looking his way deep down the field (13.8 aDOT), Coutee still produced when WFV was active (and actually did better in that scenario).

Coutee was actually on pace for 109 targets and 75 receptions last year, albeit on a small sample, but after showing out in the playoffs (11/110/1 receiving line) and the Texans not investing in another wide receiver, I think there's a good chance he can match his projections in 2019.

Paired with an elite young QB, Coutee certainly has the ability to surprise people next season and be a PPR stud. His 5.1 aDOT makes him an easy target for Watson, who has battled accuracy woes early in his career, and stands behind a line that doesn't give him much time to throw. Sure, he can create time and throw a bomb downfield to Fuller, but in situations where he has to play it safe or everything on the outside is covered, he'll have his safety blanket in Keke creating space underneath.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Devin Funchess finishes within 20 1/2 PPR points of TY Hilton.

Does 80/1,300/6 seem like a reasonable statline for Hilton? It's basically what he put up last year, so I'll save you your breath and answer for you: Yes. Without 100 yard bonuses, or 60+ yard touchdown bonuses, or whatever rules your league may implement, that receiving line translates into 206 fantasy points (40 points for receptions, 130 points for yards, 36 for TDs). This would mean Funchess needs 186 or more points to fulfill my prediction. I honestly don't think it's unreasonable. 

The guy has commanded 28 red zone targets over the past two seasons despite missing two games and being relegated to a part-time role in 2018, and now, he gets to play with one of, if not, the best QB in the league, one who threw 33 touchdowns inside the 20 last season. Sure, Eric Ebron is a beast, but I'd put my house on him not sniffing 13 receiving scores this season, especially with the acqusition of DFunch. With Funchess' size, which no other wideout on the team boats, he has a real chance at scoring double digit TDs and has already proved earlier in his career he can produce in other aspects of the game, totaling 840 receiving yards just two years ago. He's still only 25 years old, and on a one year deal, he can take advantage of his situation, playing with an elite QB, and show out. 

Luck threw the ball 639 times last season, which basically means a fuckload, so if we're conservative and say he *only* slings it 600 times this season, with an 18% target share (2% more than what he saw last year, 5% less than he saw in 2017), Funchess would be thrown to 108 times. He turned 111 targets into 63/840/9 two years ago, which comes out to 169.5 fantasy points, so with an objectively better QB in Andrew Luck, in a high-powered, high-volume offense, I don't think 65/900/10, or 182.5 fantasy points. Technically, that would be 23.5 less than Hilton, but you get the point. Take away 50 of Hilton's yards and we hit our prediction. TY's inconsistent hamstring will likely get the job done.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Marcus Mariota becomes a top 10 QB for 2020.

For as poor as he has been throughout his career, Mariota hasn't been put in the best situations. Other than Delanie Walker, he hasn't had a consistent piece in the passing game (unless you want to count the two seasons with Rishard Matthews), and as of late, injuries to himself and teammates have really impacted his growth.

This is the last year on his contract, and if he doesn't live up to expectations, he's as good as gone. It's a bold prediction, so it's a stretch that he lives up to a top-10 QB's status, but with his arsenal and health, it isn't out of the question.

Last year, he injured his elbow in week one and apparently couldn't feel his fingers for almost the entire year. Not good for a quarterback. He also lost his favorite target, Delanie Walker, in that same game; another harsh blow. Even in 2017, a terrible year for MM, his would-be #1 receiver, Corey Davis, strained his hamstring in the preseason, not only hindering his own growth, but also diminishing the amount of targets Mariota had at his disposal.

Now, he has a legitimately good slot receiver in Adam Humphries, someone who has topped 600 receiving yards each of the past three seasons, Corey Davis, a former top-five pick who had somewhat of a breakout season in 2018, and rookie A.J. Brown, who although is most effective in the slot, showed he could win anywhere on the field due to his rare combination of size and athleticism. Even out of the backfield, Dion Lewis is one of the better pass catching RBs in the league, and although he is far from being an everydown back, his presence on 3rd downs just gives Mariota another weapon who he can trust. As for the tight end position, Delanie is going to be 35 when the season kicks off and is coming off a major injury, and Jonnu Smtih, an athletic freak, tore his MCL in Week 14, so I'm not factoring either into MM's upside; that's too bold.

Along with the weapons Tennessee has acquired, Mariota has also topped 300 rushing yards each of the past three seasons and only missed the mark as a rookie due to him missing four games. His career average of 22.7 rushing yards per game adds over half of a passing TD worth of value on a weekly basis, helping build upon his seemingly low floor.

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Chiefs' highest scoring WR is not currently on their roster.

With uncertainty surrounding Tyreek Hill's status, Sammy Watkins' lack of production and injury history, and Mecole Hardman being an unproven asset, I'm fairly confident the Chiefs may go out and make a move to bolster the position.

Who, you may ask? Well, I don't know, but it's somebody. Maybe it's one of two Eagles' receivers. They just drafted JJAW, who is sort of a redundant player for a roster who already boasts Alshon, so maybe they'd be willing to get rid of him for cheap, especially because of his hefty contract. To be quite honest, I'm not sure what it would take for the Chiefs to open up cap space to acquire a player with his price tage, but as it stands, KC is 11th in cap space, so I'd assume it wouldn't be impossible. Maybe if Alshon is too expensive, they pivot to Nelson Agholor, who is on the last year of his deal and is a bit cheaper (< 10 mil). He has a skillset that would fit Mahomes to perfection; a player who can win deep while also providing value underneath...basically 75% of Tyreek Hill.

If they want extremely cheap options, maybe they look at a guy like Jakeem Grant, who is about as close to Tyreek as you can get for under $1 million.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers' D/ST will rank #1 by season's end.

Last year, the Chargers finished 14th in fantasy points after ending as the 4th highest scoring unit in 2017. They intercepted only 13 passes, in comparison to their 18 from the year prior, and their sack total dropped from 43 to 38.

Joey Bosa missed over half the season, so with him being 100%, he and Ingram should cause havoc off the edge. They also drafted Jerry Tillers in the first round, a pick which will hopefully sure up their run defense, a major weakness of theirs, and also added Nasir Adderley in the second round to bolster their already elite secondary.

They have all the pieces necessary to be elite, and even brought in veteran Thomas Davis in the linebacking core to pair with Denzel Perryman, who, when healthy, is a stud.

They ran four defensive lineman and seven DBs in the playoffs last season, a formation which, if it works, has potential to force a ton of turnovers. Typically doing this would sacrifice muscle in the running game, but with the flexibility of Derwin James, Adrian Phillips, and maybe even Nasir Adderly, it will likely not be too much of an issue.

On top of their defense, in the return game, they utilize both Desmond King and Travis Bejamin. King averaged the 3rd most yards per return and totaled the 3rd most punt return yards while also scoring a TD, giving the Chargers weekly upside to net you at least six points. He also averaged the 8th most yards per return on kickoffs, and although he didn't take any to the house, his 23.7 YPR should give hope in maybe achieving one in 2019.

The Chargers were far from an elite fantasy defense last season, but keep in mind the Bears jumped from 8th in 2017 to 1st last year, and the Jags improved from 25th to 1st in 2017. Both teams boasted elite an elite pass rush and DBs who could force turnovers, both of which are aspects the LAC defense has at their disposal.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Antonio Brown finishes as the WR1 in all formats.

Saying this from 2013-2018 would be the least bold call of all time, but now, he's being taken as the 7th WR off the board and is just 8 picks away from the WR11. The apprehension likely stems from AB going to a new team and being > 30 years old, but with the lack of weapons in the passing game competing with him for targets, Mr. Big Chest has a chance to dominate the target share in Oakland.

Last year, Derek Carr attempted 34.6 passes per game, and with a reasonable target share for AB slotting in around 30% (a very elite number, but lack of WRs/TE makes it possible), he'd be set to see ~10 targets/game, or ~166 on the season. With his 65.6% career catch rate, this target total could be turned into 109 receptions, and with his 13.4 YPR, could produce upwards of 1,400 yards.

These receiving numbers, paired with the fact that he is basically a lock for 10+ scores not only makes Brown an extremely safe bet, but also one who's upside is that of the #1 WR in fantasy.

Obviously, the change of QB play is a factor in his price, but it's not like Big Ben is on another planet in comparison to Carr. Sure, last year DC was pretty bad, but other than Jared Cook, what did he have? A 43 year old Jordy Nelson? Fuck outta here. Two years ago, when Carr had more than one receiver who could catch (honestly debatable since his top two options were Cooper and Crabtree), he attempted the 10th most deep balls (63), and even though he trailed Roethlisberger, Carr's accuracy outshined Ben 38.1% to 31.8%. The year before that? Carr threw an accurate deep ball on 51.8% of his attempts, albeit on a slightly smaller sample (56 deep attempts). How about one more #tbt? In 2015, Carr threw an accurate deep ball 47% of the time on 66 attempts. AB was used heavily in this phase of the game for the Steelers, and with speedsters like J.J. Nelson and Tyrell Williams who can stretch the field, the offense should be well equipt to play into Carr's strengths, which just so happens to also benefit Brown.

DENVER BRONCOS

Courtland Sutton finishes as the #1 scoring Sophomore receiver.

Over Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, Christian Kirk, Dante Pettis, and Anthony Miller? Yes.

Despite Sutton's size and ridiculous catch radius, he commanded only 8 red zone looks, the same amount as Devontae Booker and four less than Jeff Heuerman. Inside the 10, he was 3rd on the team in targets, trailing the sub-6 foot Emmanuel Sanders (5), Jeff Heuerman (7), and matched Matt LaCosse's four looks. I'd have to assume this number would increase as he's easily their biggest receiver and showed in college he has a nose for the end zone (averaged over 10 touchdowns per season over his last three years).

Now tethered to Joe Flacco, who was on pace for 91 deep attempts last season, Sutton's ability to win deep (16.5 YPR throughout college, 16.8 as a rookie) should be in play again, as even last year playing with Keenum, Sutton ranked 9th in deep targets with 25.

According to PlayerProfiler, the Broncos ran 38.9 passing plays per game, but because Sutton only commanded a 14.7% target share, he did not have the volume necessary to fully "break out" as a rookie. Even if their passing volume decreases to 35/game, if Sutton can command a 20% target share, certainly not unreasonable due to the lack of weapons outside of DaeSean Hamilton (and depending on Sanders' health), that would mean he'd see 7 passes per game, or 112 for the season. His 50% catch rate was pretty awful last year, but if it bumps up to 55% (just below Mike Evans' career average), that would mean he would catch 62 balls, and with his 16.5 YPR, would translate to 1,023 yards. If...IF the Broncos use him in the red zone, or happens to turn a 40+ yard bomb into six points, I don't think eight scores is beyond his range of outcomes.



Noah Pires
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