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Bold Predictions for 2018 Fantasy Football - Phil Clark

After endless months of anticipation, we've now reached the threshold of the regular season. As part of the unrelenting efforts here at RotoBaller to provide you with statistics, analysis, and thoroughly researched recommendations, it is time to add our annual bold predictions into the mix.

Some of my colleagues have already provided you with their Bold Predictions for 2018, and now it is my turn to deliver some prognostications. One of those colleagues correctly stated that all of us make predictions every day as part of our efforts to help you win your leagues. In this particular case, we are expanding the boundaries in order to provide more courageous forecasts, which will be revisited later this year.

While I would be ecstatic if all of these predictions would come to fruition, some of what you are about to read may not age well once the season has ended. But always being correct in everything that you think, say, or do isn't easy. Just ask the NFL teams that drafted 74 players before Russell Wilson. Including Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden. And a punter (here's looking at you Jaguars). So let's have some fun.

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Phil Clark's Bold Predictions

Matthew Stafford will lead the NFL in Passing Yards

Pretty crazy, right? Or is It? Once we review some numbers, it might even be possible that this prognostication isn’t bold enough. Last year’s QB7 has exceeded 5,000 yards once during his career while accumulating nearly 32,000 yards since 2011 – which is an average of 4,564. He finished third in that category last season, (4,446), and has placed either second or third a total of four times during the past seven years.

He has manufactured those numbers despite not having the benefit of a ground game that opponents are forced to fear, as the Lions have ranked no better than 28th since 2014 (32nd/30th/32nd/28th), and have finished above 23rd just once since 2011. While that has entrenched Stafford as the centerpiece of Detroit’s offense throughout that span, it has also assembled a formidable hurdle in his ongoing efforts to generate passing yardage while spearheading what has occasionally become a run-averse offense.

While efforts were made during the offseason to bolster the run blocking along the offensive line and at tight end, an increase in usage for the members of Detroit’s overcrowded backfield will not deter the Lions’ robust commitment to their passing attack. Stafford also has not missed a game since 2010, and in a league with escalating uncertainty, both Stafford and his ability to accrue passing yardage provide a degree of reliability that exceeds what owners have learned to expect.

Christian McCaffrey will finish at RB7 in PPR leagues

The topic of McCaffrey’s viability at the NFL level triggered debate even before his selection by Carolina during the 2017 NFL draft, when divergent opinion emerged whether he would be selected among the top 10. After Carolina used the eighth overall pick in order to secure the multi-purpose performer, the discussion shifted to his potential for securing a sizable workload, and his prospects of thriving with that level of opportunity.

McCaffrey led the Panthers with 80 receptions, paced all backs with 113 targets, and his three most productive outings as a rusher (66/62/63) occurred during the Panthers final eight games. That propelled him to an RB10 finish, but did not deter skeptics from shifting to another topic of debate throughout the offseason - which has centered on the likelihood that the Panthers would entrust him with additional carries despite the presence of former Bronco C.J. Anderson. Although the deficiencies in comparing August contests with the regular season are clear, he has bolted for 152 yards while averaging 7.2 YPC during Carolina’s first three preseason games.

With David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott presumably available for 16 games, rising within the top 10 will be a significant accomplishment. But a larger workload is coming, and even if he just receives five more carries per game than he received last season, that would be 17 touches per game.

I believe that he will also improve upon last year’s 3.7 YPC, which will help him eclipse last year’s touchdown total (2). When you add his voluminous opportunities as a receiver, which will remain at an appealing level despite offseason changes in coaching and personnel, the versatile McCaffrey should reward those who are drafting him early in Round 2.

Case Keenum and Emmanuel Sanders will connect on 90+ Passes, 1,200 Yards, and 9 Touchdowns

During his first four seasons, Keenum completed 454 passes in 26 games, while manufacturing 5,224 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 2017 output launched his value to a much higher tier after he delivered results that were sufficient to finish at QB14 (3,547 yards/22 touchdowns). Now, he has been placed in a position to exceed those numbers, while operating with Demaryius Thomas, Courtland Sutton, and Sanders as his top three receiving options. But it is the potential for frequent connections with Sanders that should result in enormous output for both players, while bolstering the point totals of their grateful owners.

Keenum should consistently direct intermediate throws to Sanders, who maintains the ability to generate sizable yardage after the catch. The ninth-year receiver is completely healthy after last year's protracted ankle problems limited him to output that was significantly below the results that he delivered from 2014-2016 (256 receptions/3,571 yards/20 touchdowns). The shorter throws into open space will help Sanders generate huge gains, comparable to the 48 of catches of 20+ yards that he amassed during that same three-year span.

While Sanders may not eclipse the career-best 1,404 yards that he accrued in 2014, he should edge beyond the 1,190 that he averaged during his last three healthy seasons. He should also take advantage of the 130+ targets that he will receive from Keenum, and the tandem will connect on over 90 receptions, while locating the end zone nine times.

Jordan Reed will play at least 14 games and finish as TE3

That’s it. Now, I’ve really done it. Year after year, I have duped myself into believing that the talented but perpetually injured Reed would overcome his injury-laden history to finally deliver the unequivocal statistical masterpiece that would raise the benchmark for season-long tight end production. Yet, here I go again, despite the unwanted consistency in which owners have been subjected to his prolonged absences. This has resulted in a grand total of 28 games missed since his 2013 rookie season, while he has failed to reach 10 games in two different seasons, and has exceeded 12 contests once.

However, there is one element that keeps inducing this brave believer to scoff at history and refrain from losing all confidence that Reed can achieve a sustained presence in the lineup. That would be the fact that we were supplied with a snippet of his capabilities amid a relatively healthy season in 2015, when he finished at TE3, while also tying for second among tight ends in receptions (87) and touchdowns (11). He almost attained 1,000 yards, but a concussion sidelined him for two games.

While Reed’s track record discourages even the most eternal optimist from planning on a 16-game season, I have been willing to invest heavily in his capacity to stockpile yardage and points by drafting him repeatedly in recent weeks. If he can remain on the field for 14 contests, then he will finish among the top three at this position.

Tre'Quan Smith will finish as a top-40 WR

It is often wise to tread lightly on draft day amid the hype and excess enthusiasm that often surrounds rookie wide receivers, as history has provided frequent reminders that their learning curve will often lure overzealous owners onto a path that eventually leads to disappointment. But memories of the fantasy championships that ensued for those who had the foresight to include Odell Beckham on their rosters in 2014 still inspires optimism (91 receptions/1,305 yards/12 touchdowns),

Last season’s trio of first-round NFL Draft picks – Mike Williams, Corey Davis, John Ross - combined for a woeful 45 receptions, 470 yards, and no touchdowns. However, two newcomers did reward the confidence of their owners, when Juju Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp finished among the top 25. Now, the 6'2" Smith possesses an enticing combination of size, speed and big-play ability to generate huge gains, and outperform the collection of first-year receivers that has generated far more conversation during the offseason.

The explosive Smith has accumulated 11 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown during the preseason and is capable of vaulting beyond Cameron Meredith and 33-year old Ted Ginn into the Saints’ WR2 role. As the weeks unfold, he should gain the trust of Drew Brees, and capture a spot among the top 40 receivers. What does this mean in terms of actual production? Last year’s WR40 was Marqise Lee, who manufactured 56 receptions, 702 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Smith's desirable blend of abilities will allow him to match those numbers.

Benjamin Watson will finish as a TE1 

I have been espousing the upside of Watson during the summer, due to a combination of appealing factors that should enable him to deliver production that far exceeds his current 14th round ADP. Since I have essentially planted the flag on 'Ben Watson Hill', why not undertake the logical step and include a bold prediction for the tight end who still provides massive value. 

A certain degree of hesitation surrounding his age (37) is understandable. However, there is a legitimate rationale for believing that he can accrue numbers that will elevate him to a TE12 finish this season. During each of the last two years that he has entered the field, Watson has finished at TE11 with the Ravens last season (79 targets/61 receptions/522 yards) and was TE7 with New Orleans in 2015 (110 targets/74 receptions/825 yards/6 touchdowns).

However, the lack of fanfare concerning his accomplishments has resulted in an undistinguished ADP, as Watson is being selected after tight ends who will be contending with a production inhibiting timeshare or have yet to provide the numbers that Watson attained during his last two years. Brees should locate Watson repeatedly, just as he did in 2015, and there is no discernible reason for concern that backups Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui and undrafted rookie Deon Yelder will impede his efforts.


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