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Spencer Aguiar's Bold Predictions - 2019 Fantasy Football


Several RotoBaller writers have gone before me on this journey of bringing you their "Bold Predictions" for the 2019 season, and as the last representative, I intend on bringing us home in style.

The thing about making bold predictions is that there is a fine line between aggressive and BOLDDDD takes. If we look back on this article in one year and everything lines up correctly with what I've said, then I'm either Nostradamus' second-coming or the choices were too cautious. That is not what I want to happen and doesn't define being bold in my world.

I'm a professional sports bettor and am always looking to find small statistical edges to gain an advantage on the market. I might have a team at 25/1 to win the Super Bowl, but if a sportsbook wants to give me 100/1 on that scenario playing out, I'm going to take my value and run with it. That type of mindset is how I want to approach this article, and I will be looking for contrarian approaches that should yield long-term value if this season happened to be played out 100s of times.

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Jameis Winston Leads The NFL In Passing Yards, Finishes Well Within QB1 Status

It is obviously difficult to be overly bullish on a quarterback that got outplayed by a journeyman last season, but Jameis Winston's upside to attempt over 600 passes can't be understated or ignored. While the 25-year-old has been a chronic underachiever during the first four years of his career, he has managed to improve his completion percentage every season, reaching 64.6% in 2018. I'm not sure if it is feasible to expect him to continue that trend in 2019, but that rate should still be good enough to provide fantasy gold with the opportunity level he will have under head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians is a pedal to the metal, no-nonsense coach that will push the absolute best out of Winston, but it doesn't hurt that Arians' mentality has never seemed to change over the years, regardless of how good or bad his defense has been. The reason why this is so important is that the Buccaneers are projected to be one of the worst defensive squads in the NFL, and it seems very likely that Arians will implement a strategy that involves constant offensive onslaught and high-variance drives.

Winston has been working on his bad habit of forcing throws, but I think it reaches a point where if the team wants to be competitive, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard are going to have to be force-fed a ton of targets into tight windows. I have already bet Winston to lead the league in passing yards at 25/1 and have him priced as one of the four favorites to do so. Oddsmakers seem to disagree with me on that sentiment, but as I mentioned above, I am willing to grab value anytime I see it. As far as fantasy football is concerned, ESPN has Winston ranked 168th on their software, but I am expecting QB1 production out of him this year and have him as my QB9.

 

Leonard Fournette Emerges As Top-10 Back

Leonard Fournette couldn't have provided a much worse season than he did in 2018. In only eight games, the 24-year-old produced a measly 3.3 yards per carry, accounting for 624 yards from scrimmage and six TDs. Those standards would be inadequate for anyone, but Fournette's off the field issues mixed with his nagging injuries turned the season into a lost cause. But despite all the glaring negatives that we could pile onto his abysmal second season in the league, there are a few reasons why I believe Fournette is shaping up to be the biggest bounce-back candidate in the NFL.

I mentioned this exact example when discussing him a few weeks ago in my RB projections and rankings article, but this situation is beginning to mimic what we saw transpire with Todd Gurley a few years ago. Like Fournette, Gurley also struggled during his second season in the league, producing 3.2 yards per carry on 278 attempts. His performance caused his fantasy draft stock to fall in 2017, and the former Georgia RB was viewed more along the lines of a late second round or early third-round pick than the first-round option that some might have expected him to be throughout his career. As things turned out, Gurley put together one of the better campaigns we have seen in some time, producing over 2,000 yards from scrimmage to go with 19 touchdowns and 64 receptions - making him the consensus number one selection during last year's draft.

The easy cop-out answer for those opposing this take is that the Los Angeles Rams are a powerhouse offense, and well...Jacksonville is not. And while you wouldn't be wrong on either of those accounts as we speak, the Rams weren't any better before Gurley's surge. During his catastrophic sophomore campaign in 2016, the Rams finished dead last in the league when it came to points per game at 14.0. Jacksonville's 15.3 points per contest placed them 31st in the NFL last season, but the addition of Nick Foles and emergence of Dede Westbrook has that offense looking as if they could be ready to burst themselves.

It remains to be seen if Fournette can increase his efficiency, but even if he isn't capable of reaching the levels of other star backs in the league, his 16 touchdowns in 21 career games demonstrate his ability to carry the load in the trenches, and the continuous discussion by the coaching staff during the offseason of his pass-catching acumen proves that he has the potential to be one of the rare three-down workhorses in the league. Fournette has produced 58 catches in 21 career games, so it is not like he has been inept during his first two seasons, but the former LSU star has sneaky potential to approach 60+ catches in Jacksonville's newly vamped offense. Consider me all in at his current ADP of 27th overall and don't be surprised if we see Fournette considered a first-round talent again by 2020.

 

Sony Michel Leads the AFC In Rushing Yards

The New England Patriots are grooming Sony Michel to be their workhorse back, but many fantasy owners may have already forgotten his epic playoff stretch last season. Michel provided 336 yards and six touchdowns in the Patriots' three games, helping lead the team to their third Super Bowl since 2014.

A lack of usage in the passing game will still limit Michel's upside in PPR leagues, but the 24-year-old is in line for a heavy workload and has legitimate chances to lead the NFL in both rushing yards and touchdowns. At the end of the day, I believe either Michel or Fournette will take the crown for most rushing scores, but for the sake of this prediction article, let's take a slightly safer route and pencil Michel in to lead the AFC in rushing yards.

 

Julian Edelman Finishes as a Top-10 PPR WR For First Time In Career

We are off to a rocky start when it comes to Julian Edelman after he gave the fantasy football world a scare during the New England Patriots' final preseason game, but I'm all for a further reduction in draft or trade value if it means I can load up on even more shares of the 33-year-old before the season starts.

The narrative around Edelman has always been the same. He has recorded 106 catches for 1,337 yards over his last 13 playoff games, helping the Patriots go 11-2 over that span. However, during the regular season, he has never graded higher than WR14 in a PPR league and has scored just nine touchdowns over his last 28 games. So what makes me think this is the season that Edelman rises to fantasy superstardom?

Edelman finished 2018 ranked sixth with a 31.2% red zone target share and hauled in six touchdowns in 12 games. All respectable statistics that would have put him on pace for a career-high eight scores. But what happens when we officially remove one of the greatest red zone threats of all time in Rob GronkowskiTom Brady has never been modest when it comes to pinpointing his best receiver, and I believe Edelman has a realistic shot of putting together a Jordy Nelson type campaign where he could challenge the league lead in receiving touchdowns. The Patriots aren't going to be what they once were on offense and should use Sony Michel and their other running backs more often, but Edelman's 35 targets and 26 catches during the playoffs shows that there is upside there for Brady's top go-to option. Part of what is nice about Edelman is that he is currently going as pick 38 in PPR leagues, making him my favorite selection on the board this season and potential league winner if all goes right!

 

Dede Westbrook Transforms Into Top-20 PPR WR

Dede Westbrook brings with him an ideal combination of talent and opportunity, and as we all know by now, targets are a WRs best friend. In 2018, only 15 wide receivers finished the year with at least 120 targets, and of those players, all concluded the season ranked inside the top 20 for PPR scoring. None of that is necessarily meant to come as a surprise, but it is a solid basis for when we are attempting to find potential breakout candidates.

Westbrook's ADP has fallen recently from WR40 to WR33, but his current territory is still a bit head-scratching to me for a few reasons. The range he is currently being selected is more indicative of a player who has transformed into the perceived top pass-catcher during the offseason without any real proof of being able to handle the job. However, that is far from the case when it comes to the 25-year-old. Westbrook led the Jaguars last season with Blake Bortles at the helm, recording 101 targets and 66 catches, and the addition of Nick Foles could amplify what is possible.

I feel like I was extremely conservative projecting Westbrook to receive only a 21.7% target share this season and believe you could easily make an argument of him pushing closer to 23 to 25%. Westbrook led the team last year at slightly above 19%, and the Jaguars won't be returning around 32% of their targets after the departure of Donte Moncrief and T.J. Yeldon. For the sake of parity, if Dede did close in on a 23% share of the passing game, that would leave him with 124 targets on the year with my projections for Foles - good for the threshold needed to finish as a top 20 scorer at the position in PPR leagues in the past.

Westbrook is capable of playing all over the field, but his capacity to produce in the slot will be what separates him in 2019. Foles has never been shy when it comes to peppering his A-back with a plethora of looks, which was evident by Nelson Agholor averaging seven targets a game in Philadelphia last season when Foles started. Westbrook's 59 receptions in the slot last season placed him third in the NFL, and he even featured inside the top 12 in air market share during the second half of 2018.

The sky is the limit for Westbrook in Jacksonville's offense, but the majority of the fantasy community seems to be sleeping on his potential. I have him in the same range as D.J. MooreMike Williams and Calvin Ridley, but his ADP has him going almost 40 picks after the listed trio. Westbrook is my favorite value in drafts this season of a player that could rival upper echelon production and is someone who can help lead you to a fantasy title at his preposterous ADP.

 

Terry McLaurin Finishes As Top-Ranked Rookie Wideout

Rookie Terry McLaurin was a speedster at Ohio State and enters the league jumping off the board with his measurables. 4.35 speed (98th percentile), 114.6-speed score (95th percentile) and a catch radius that places him slightly over the top 75% of NFL players, but that is not the only reason to get excited.

Head coach Jay Gruden has been raving about his first-year WR, calling him "one of the team's best players" and has acknowledged that nobody in the organization realized he was this good when they drafted him. McLaurin did not receive a single target during any of the four preseason games, but this should be considered a blessing in disguise and not a reason for concern. Washington knows what they have with the 23-year-old and enough so that they have made Josh Doctson available on the trade market and have been extremely straightforward that they want to move him by Week 1.

In my opinion, McLaurin has enough value to warrant being considered as a WR3 for your fantasy squad, but his current ADP of 324th means that you can grab him off your waiver wire for free right now. I have him projected to produce 53 catches for 760 yards and five touchdowns, making him the top-ranked rookie wideout by nearly 25 points in my calculations. If you have an empty bench spot, grab Mclaurin and see how this season plays out because I'd rather have him over every other rookie WR.

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster Finishes as the WR1

The rationale that Juju Smith-Schuster will see a decline in effectiveness because of the top corners and increased double teams heading his way isn't entirely untrue, but volume is the greatest asset in fantasy, and Ben Roethlisberger has never been shy when it comes to overloading his top wideout with a plethora of looks.

I am more bullish than most on Smith-Schuster for a few reasons. While I don't believe Roethlisberger will attempt 675 passes again this season, 600+ is still well on the table for their range of outcomes, and it doesn't take a massive target share for the USC product to start entering a different realm than most players have at their disposal.

We have seen Antonio Brown produce as an unstoppable force in this situation in the past and now it is time for Smith-Schuster to emerge as the games top wideout. With over 200 targets vacated from the team last year, look for the 22-year-old to have a chance to lead the NFL in targets, receptions and yardage. That is a deadly combination to possess, and his increased usage in the red zone should only amplify his upside. Smith-Schuster's ADP of 15th overall means you can land him alongside a player like Devante Adams and start your squads with potentially the two best wideouts in fantasy for 2019.

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