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Four Bold Predictions for the 2017 Season

Now that the NFL season is nearly here, it's time to put away our spreadsheets and calculators, and let's rip a few bold predictions.

I think that in order to be considered bold, a prediction has to be unlikely, so I'm not expecting a great success rate here. On the other hand, these aren't ridiculous propositions either. They're all within the realm of possibility.

Ready? Brace yourselves. Here we go.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!


Charlie Kleinheksel's Bold Predictions

1) The Top Five Running Backs by ADP Will Finish Outside of the Top Five in Fantasy Points

Right now the top five by ADP in PPR leagues are David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman, and Melvin Gordon. What would it take for all five to finish worse than the RB5 in total seasonal points?

  • Injury - Sports Injury Predictor gives McCoy a 93 percent chance of injury this season, and predicts an injury to cost him over five games. Gordon has a 60 percent chance of injury, and Johnson has just over a 50 percent chance of missing more than two games. Bell has a lower risk, but sitting out training camp and most of the preseason could be a red flag. Will he be game ready when the season starts?
  • Offensive struggles - Buffalo shipped out their best wide receiver, and almost let their starting quarterback go this offseason. Maybe they should have - he hasn't looked great this preseason. Their tight end has bad knees and their new top wide receiver is already injured. McCoy will get work - running into stacked boxes. The Falcons are due to regress anyway, and breaking in a new offensive coordinator could cause more hiccups, further reducing Freeman's opportunity. The Cardinals QB is old and struggled last year. Their top wide receiver is aging, and their No. 2 WR isn't fully back. Things could go bad in a hurry. Pittsburgh looks loaded but Ben Roethlisberger has missed time each of the past two seasons; over the past five seasons, the Steelers average under 20 points per game without him. That would mean fewer opportunities for Bell to score points. The Chargers look like a good offense but have the fifth-toughest schedule, which could hurt Gordon.
  • Positional volatility - Melvin Gordon was terrible as a rookie and great as a sophomore. Which version do we get this year? Ditto Freeman. Odds are good that several of the top five underperform. Odds are even better some other RBs emerge and take their place. Each year, about half of the top fantasy RBs are replaced. It wouldn't be surprising if DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, or Todd Gurley had a top-5 season, and there are plenty of other capable backs. If they go up, someone has to go down.

Add it all up, and I'll boldly predict that 2017 will be apocalyptic at the top of the RB ranks - and in your fantasy leagues, as owners of the most expensive RBs scramble to find production elsewhere.


2) Eli Manning Will Lead the NFL in Passing

Giants fans will love this one, but others may be just a tad skeptical. Why do I think Manning can top the charts this year?

  • Better wide receivers - No need to say anything about Odell Beckham, but Brandon Marshall is a Hall of Fame caliber WR. He may be on the backstretch of his career but he's still very good. Sterling Shepard had a promising rookie season and now has some experience. This WRs corps is deep and very good.
  • Better receiving weapons elsewhere - Shane Vereen returns, and Evan Engram was drafted. Both are upgrades over the players they replace.
  • The schedule - Vegas projects the Giants to win 8.5 games. That means lots of close games, which is good for Manning. In Manning's 2011 career season, the Giants finished 9 - 7, with a total point differential of just six. A mediocre record and close games is a great recipe for lots of passing volume.
  • Luck - The obvious candidates to lead the league in passing yards are Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The Saints signed Adrian Peterson and nobody will mistake Ted Ginn and Coby Fleener for Brandin Cooks and Jimmy Graham. I expect Brees to still have a great season, but it's reasonable to expect his numbers to come down. It's tougher to argue against Brady, but if Rob Gronkowski misses time (Sports Injury Predictor gives him a 78 percent chance of missing over three games), that hurts Brady. In the past eight games he's played without Gronk, Brady has averaged 35 fewer passing yards.

All the elements are in place for Manning to have a great season, and with a little luck, he could finish atop the QB passing leader board.


3) Giovani Bernard Will Outscore Joe Mixon

Mixon looks like a great prospect on the field, but I think rookie fever has gone a bit too far in re-draft leagues. Here's why I think Bernard will score more fantasy points than Mixon.

  • Jeremy Hill - The team says Hill is still the starter, and Hill has indeed started both of the team's preseason games. I know that can change in a hurry, but every snap Hill takes is one that Mixon doesn't. The longer Hill stays relevant, the more Mixon's stats will suffer. That gives Bernard a head start.
  • Rushing TDs - Hill entered the NFL in 2014. Since then, the RB with the most rushing TDs is...Jeremy Hill (tied with LeGarrette Blount at 29). Since 2014, Hill's rushing TD rate (4.3%) trails only David Johnson (5.7%) and Blount (4.7%). Hill's not a one-year wonder either. He's scored TDs on more than 4% of his runs in each of his three seasons. He's one of the best TD-scoring RBs in the NFL and will continue to get scoring opportunities.
  • Bernard is a stud receiver - Bernard is an amazing receiver (and great pass protector) out of the backfield. He is one of just 11 RBs since 2013 to average a per-game line better than 3 catches, 25 yards, 6 yards per target, with a receiving TD rate of 2% or better. Maybe you've heard of the other 10: David Johnson, Danny Woodhead, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Devonta Freeman, Theo Riddick, Pierre Thomas, Charles Sims, James White, and Dion Lewis. When Mixon's not busy fighting off Hill for scoring chances on the ground, he'll be contending with one of the game's elite options for pass targets.
  • History - Bernard averages 13.1 PPR points per game in his career. That's a 16-game pace of about 209 points. Since 2000, 40 RBs have been drafted in the second round, like Joe Mixon. Only 17 of them (about 42%) have managed to score half as many points (105) in their rookie season. In other words, even if Bernard has a terrible year, and only scores half as many points as his career average, he's still got better than a 50/50 chance of outscoring Mixon.

Hill will sap some work from Mixon on the ground, and Bernard will dominate the passing game work. Mixon might become an all-around back eventually, but he'll be hard pressed to outscore Bernard in 2017.


4) Neither Leonard Fournette nor Christian McCaffrey will be the leading rookie rusher.

Both were taken with early first round picks, and Ezekiel Elliott sets a great precedent. But I don't think either of these guys will be the leading rookie RB in the NFL this year. Here's why.

  • Offensive problems - If you haven't seen Blake Bortles yet this preseason - spare yourself. If the Jaguars can't get things figured out, defenses will just stack the box against Fournette.
  • Injury - Fournette has managed just 12 preseason snaps. He's already been ruled out for the important third preseason game, and hasn't practiced since August 13th. Why? He's dealing with a foot injury. The same foot injury that led him to miss six games last year at LSU.
  • Competition - In Carolina, McCaffrey needs Cam Newton to stop rushing so much, and Jonathan Stewart to cede most of his work. Usurping Stewart may happen but can Newton change who he is as a player? Since Newton joined Carolina in 2011, No Panthers RB has topped 1,000 yards in a season, and only one (Jonathan Stewart, 2015) has gone over 900 yards.
  • History - Since 2000, 30 running backs have been drafted in the first round. Only 10 of them led their rookie class in rushing yards.

I like both Fournette and McCaffrey long term, but I think the odds are against either being the leading rookie rusher in 2017.


More Bold Predictions for NFL 2017

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