Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy
Football for Smart People book series. He writes for the New
York Times, DallasCowboys.com, NBC, and Dallas Morning News.
At its core, fantasy football is all about making predictions. If
you can accurately predict the future, you can parlay that knowledge
into a championship. It’s not the consensus opinions that
will make or break you this season, however, but rather the contrarian
viewpoints—the beliefs that fly in the face of popular knowledge.
Everyone has Adrian Peterson projected among the league leaders;
you can’t acquire a competitive advantage there. But not everyone
thinks Marshawn Lynch won’t rank as a top 15 running back.
Below, I’ve listed 17 predictions that will shape the way
I draft in 2013. The majority of them fly in the face of conventional
wisdom, meaning the outcomes will be more crucial to me than whether
or not ADP—All Day Peterson—will live up to his ADP.
Let’s get going. . .
1. In leagues that reward four points
for passing touchdowns, Colin Kaepernick will outscore Matt Ryan
by 15 points.
I’m very bullish on Kaepernick this year because people are
overrating the loss of Michael Crabtree. Yes, it hurts, but Kaepernick
still has a very high ceiling and incredible week-to-week consistency
as a mobile quarterback. He can still gash you for 100 yards on
the ground, so he’s a safer start than people believe. I have
Ryan ranked right around his ADP, so this prediction is more about
the 49ers quarterback.
2. Tony Romo will outscore Tom Brady
in all formats.
I don’t think the loss of Aaron Hernandez will hurt the Patriots
all that much; 6-1 tight ends don’t typically live up to expectations.
Losing Rob Gronkowski—one of the most efficient red zone receivers
ever—for a significant amount of time, however, could be devastating
to Brady’s fantasy value.
3. Ryan Tannehill will throw for 4,000
Quietly, Tannehill was just barely less efficient than Andrew Luck
in 2012. With an obvious commitment to providing their quarterback
with weapons, the Dolphins are going to air it out this year. And
let’s not forget that Tannehill is still learning the position
as a converted wide receiver, so he should make big strides from
his rookie year.
C.J. Spiller over Adrian Peterson? Now
4. Jamaal Charles will finish the season
first in points in PPR leagues.
Adrian Peterson is the favorite to lead the league in rushing, but
Charles has an enormous ceiling in Andy Reid’s offense. I
have him projected at 65 catches, and it could be more. Charles
is the most efficient running back in NFL history by nearly a half-yard
5. Trent Richardson will rank No. 2.
Substitute Richardson for Charles and Norv Turner for Andy Reid.
6. C.J. Spiller will outperform
If Spiller sees even a moderate RB1 workload, he has No. 1 overall
potential. Even projecting Spiller at 275 carries, he comes out
fifth in my PPR rankings. Peterson’s median projection is
probably higher, but Spiller’s upside is potentially the greatest
for any runner in the league.
7. Le’Veon Bell will outscore
I’m low on Lynch for a number of reasons, but let’s
focus on Bell right now; he’s a 4.60 running back—which
is tolerable given his weight of 230 pounds—who is going to
be thrust into the lineup as the immediate No. 1 back in a run-heavy
offense. He should approach 300 touches, and running backs actually
come into the league playing at near-peak efficiency.
As a whole, running backs peak at age 22, and it’s a slow
decline from there. Bell > Lynch.
8. Lynch won’t rank in the top
15 among all running backs.
Lynch is 27 years old—an age at which backs have typically
produced just around three-quarters of their prior peak efficiency.
He’s coming off of a career year on a team that can’t
possibly run the ball more than they did last season. He also has
an unclear DUI situation and a contract that will make it very easy
to cut him in 2014. That explains the Seahawks’ use of two
draft picks on running backs Christine Michael and Spencer Ware.
With Robert Turbin looking to eat up third-down work, there’s
not enough meat on the bone for Lynch to live up to his ADP, which
is currently higher than his ceiling.
9. Stevan Ridley won’t be a top
20 running back in PPR formats.
Ridley is the perfect example of why you need to make sure you’re
ranking players based on your scoring system. In standard leagues,
he’s money; he’s a safe player who I have projected
at 280 carries for 1,250 yards (4.46 YPC) and 10 touchdowns. That’s
But he doesn’t catch passes. So even with those gaudy numbers,
Ridley comes out at 24th among running backs in my projections.
He’d have to finish at his ceiling to crack the top 20 in
10. Brandon Marshall will be right in
line with Calvin Johnson in PPR leagues.
I’m projecting Marshall at 117 receptions, which isn’t
really out of the question given that he should see 180 targets.
The big-bodied wide receiver could easily score 10 touchdowns—or
a whole lot more—and I have him just a single point behind
11. Marshall and Megatron will outscore
all other wide receivers by 20 points.
Dez Bryant is my third-ranked receiver in PPR formats. I have him
scoring 12 touchdowns, but he just won’t see enough targets
to approach Marshall in receptions. Johnson and Danny Amendola are
probably the only receivers who might catch more passes than Marshall.
12. Marques Colston will finish ahead
of Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White.
Colston is one of the most undervalued assets in fantasy football
right now because people think he doesn’t have a high ceiling.
That’s not really true, but even if it were, who cares? You’re
not spending a 12th-round pick on the guy—he’ll probably
be your No. 2 wide receiver—so you should be looking for value
over pure upside. I’ll take his 85 catches and 10 touchdowns
in the fifth round all day.
13. Cecil Shorts will outscore Victor
Cruz, even in PPR.
Cruz is one of the few smaller receivers who plays big in the red
zone, but Shorts is basically his clone at a much lower price. With
Justin Blackmon suspended and no other viable receiving options,
Shorts is going to see a whole lot of targets. I have Shorts projected
just ahead of Cruz, but even if he falls a bit short, he’s
more valuable given his cheaper price tag.
14. Eric Decker will score double-digit
Decker is an incredibly efficient red zone receiver offering tons
of value. He's being drafted as if Wes Welker will undoubtedly steal
the majority of his targets, but we just don't know that for sure
right now. Regardless, Welker isn't a threat near the goal line.
Due to those scores, Decker should be a No. 3 wide receiver even
if he sees 100 targets, and his ceiling is higher if Welker isn't
used as expected.
15. Greg Olsen will finish the year
in the top five.
Olsen was already a top tight end option in 2012 with a line of
69/843/5. Unlike running backs, tight ends don’t typically
see massive surges or drops in production; it’s not as binary
of a position, which is why you rarely see a rookie tight end doing
16. Olsen and Jermichael Finley will
both outscore Tony Gonzalez.
I think Steven Jackson might eat up some of Gonzalez’s fantasy
value, and the old man has to break down soon. As I detailed a couple
weeks ago, tight ends as old as Gonzalez rarely produce. He’s
been an exception, but he can’t stay that way forever.
17. Rob Housler will beat out Owen Daniels
and finish in the top 10.
Housler hasn’t done much of anything just yet, but the Cardinals
are talking him up as if he’ll be a big-time contributor.
He’s 6-5 with 4.55 speed, so the signs point to a breakout
if he’s given more opportunities. He’s a player to monitor
in the preseason.
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