Every year since 2011, I have concluded my preseason writing
with a bold predictions column. I am not a "hot take"
guy, so I will only write about occurrences that could be possible
if things go right for each player below. I do not care about
shock value. At most, it may only take me being a little more
optimistic about a player (than I was on the Big
Board) to make it a bold prediction. What I will guarantee
with the first six below is that I will explain how it could happen.
1. Justin Herbert will be the highest-scoring player in fantasy
There is a general consensus around the league that Herbert has
as much arm talent as any quarterback, which is a cool way to
say that a quarterback does a great job of mixing accuracy with
power. Whether that is true or not is beside the point; the fact
of the matter is that his accuracy does not suffer as a result
of the power he generates. The true shame of Herbert's NFL career
up to this point is that he has only had one "normal"
season. In that year (2021), Herbert was fortunate enough to get
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams for 16 games apiece and threw for
5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns. In his rookie year of 2020, he
began the season behind Tyrod Taylor and was a surprise starter
in Week 2. In 2022, he not only suffered a rib fracture in Week
2 and was hindered by that injury for several weeks, but Allen
and Williams also combined to miss 11 games.
Another small but still very important reason Herbert has not
reached his ceiling yet is that he was tied to the hip of former
OC Joe Lombardi over the last two years. Lombardi has proven to
be a bit on the conservative side as a play-caller. While a conservative
approach may be the advisable approach for 20 or so starting quarterbacks
around the league, special talents like Herbert play by a different
set of rules and need to be able to spread their wings when necessary.
HC Brandon Staley moved on from Lombardi this offseason and made
a swift move to add new OC Kellen Moore days after Moore and the
Cowboys parted ways. Moore called plays in Dallas for four seasons,
two of which resulted in the Cowboys leading the league in total
offense. Dallas also finished sixth or better three times in scoring
offense under his watch. In the first three of Moore's four seasons
with the Cowboys, his offenses finished inside the top 10 in pass
attempts and the top eight in passing yards.
As loaded as the Cowboys are on offense, the Chargers are arguably
more talented across the board (we will call CeeDee Lamb and Allen
a tie). Los Angeles also does not have a workhorse running back
like Ezekiel Elliott to handle a huge rushing workload, so it
seems reasonable to expect the Chargers to be as pass-heavy as
any team in the league again. While it is worth noting Herbert's
699 pass attempts should have been more than enough to lead the
league in several passing categories last season, Herbert, Allen
and Williams were rarely ever healthy at the same time. All those
injuries played a huge role in Austin Ekeler's 107-catch season,
which means far too many of Herbert's throws were at or behind
the line of scrimmage (BLOS). In 2021, Herbert's BLOS throw percentage
was 12.2 percent. In 2020 and 2022, it was north of 18 percent.
With the healthy return of Williams, the addition of first-round
pick Quentin Johnston and Josh Palmer a more than capable contested-catch
receiver, there should be no shortage of successful downfield
throws in 2023.
Let us not forget perhaps the most underrated part of Herbert's
game: his athleticism. While he has to register more than nine
rushing attempts in an NFL game, he has run for at least 60 yards
twice. Herbert may never win fantasy managers a week with his
rushing upside, but there is a decent chance he will scramble
more often in this new offense because the vertical passing threat
will keep safeties from playing too close to the line of scrimmage.
2. David Montgomery will finish inside the top 15 running backs.
As of this writing, I have drafted 16 redraft teams. Montgomery
is on nine of them. (I even added a share in a startup dynasty
league, which is not included in the aforementioned total, and
have him on two other dynasty teams.) The earliest I selected
him in any draft was the sixth round. I only mention this to note
what must be an overwhelming disdain for what he did in four years
with the Bears and a wildly inaccurate expectation about how involved
rookie Jahmyr Gibbs will be in the offense.
Ask yourself the following: What important path to running back
production has not improved with his move from Chicago to Detroit?
Better play-calling? Check. Better offensive environment (scheme
and supporting cast)? Check. Likely goal-line back in a better
offense? Check. Better offensive line? Check+.
Montgomery is without question a better version of the running
back whose role he is expected to inherit, Jamaal Williams. No
one is expecting Montgomery to score 17 touchdowns as Williams
did last year, especially when we consider how lucky Williams
was. He scored 10 times from the 1 and 14 times from inside the
5. That is good luck for Williams and poor luck for players such
as Amon-Ra St. Brown, who was routinely tackled inside the 5 to
set up the aforementioned TDs from Williams. What is more telling
is that Williams was by far the league leader in carries inside
the 20 (57), 10 (45) and 5 (28). That part should thrill Montgomery's
fantasy managers, even if Gibbs steals a few of those high-value
touches from time to time.
Detroit has big expectations for Gibbs; no one is questioning
that. The bigger issues for those who are quick to dismiss Montgomery
are the Lions: 1) gave him a three-year contract worth $18 million
- including $11 million guaranteed - in what was a brutal market
for his position; and 2) are unlikely to change their offensive
approach much. That approach resulted in 509 touches for the running
back position last season. Gibbs never handled more than 195 touches
in three college seasons, so the odds he tops 250 - at less than
200 pounds, no less - are slim. That alone would suggest Montgomery
will probably push for at least 250 touches himself, and he will
do so behind what is widely considered one of the best offensive
lines in the league.
One of the reasons Detroit sought out Montgomery was his ability
as a receiver. Will he catch 40 passes? Probably not, but he will
be more involved than Williams was during his two years in Detroit.
In the event Gibbs misses time due to injury, whom do you think
the Lions are going to ask to handle more work? It probably will
not be third-stringer Craig Reynolds. Jared Goff will also not
steal touches in the same way Justin Fields did from Montgomery
in 2022. If Williams was capable of 1,000-plus rushing yards and
17 TDs last year, a 1,000-yard and 10-score season for the Iowa
State product should not be too much to ask.
3. J.K. Dobbins will be a top-10 running back.
Among running backs in the Super Bowl era, Jamaal Charles leads
all running backs in career yards per carry at 5.4 (minimum 750
rushing attempts). Dobbins is a long way away from meeting the
minimum requirement (226 carries through three seasons), but he
is on a very good track to own the record in two or three years
at his current pace of 5.9. The reason this is pertinent is that
throughout his career, Dobbins has not had the benefit of consistently
good health or playing in a scheme designed to give him clear
running lanes. What has worked in his favor is that he is a very
explosive player. He has also had the threat of Lamar Jackson
running to keep defenders on their heels. Now imagine what is
possible if that last part remains true and the Ravens introduce
some level of a dynamic passing game into the equation. Entering
the prime of his career at age 24 (25 in December) and two years
removed from his horrible knee injury, Dobbins is about to find
out what it is like when defenses have to respect Baltimore's
Dobbins is not about to average seven yards per carry as a result
of facing lighter boxes in 2023, but what is clear is he is not
a player who needs a heavy workload as a rusher to do a lot of
damage in fantasy. In his one healthy season (2020) in which he
shared carries with Gus Edwards (and Jackson, of course), he finished
as the RB28 on 152 touches (138 carries) and despite limited involvement
in the passing game (18 catches on 24 targets). Now imagine Dobbins
doubling his work as a receiver! If
you don't take my word for it, take his. I have him conservatively
projected for 33 catches, 246 receiving yards and a touchdown,
but I think that number could go north of 40 in new OC Todd Monken's
Baltimore will play with more pace (i.e. more plays) and put
defenses into a bind more often than former OC Greg Roman ever
did. Make no mistake about it: Roman is a very good run-game designer,
so it would not surprise me if Dobbins' YPC drops a bit. With
that said, an athlete like Dobbins needs to be in space more often.
It is a good bet Monken saw that on tape less than a month after
he took the job and will make sure Dobbins is used in more of
a dual-threat role in 2023.
4. Calvin Ridley will finish inside the top 10 wide receivers.
How much readers want to buy into this bold prediction depends
largely on how much they believe receivers need to shake off "rust."
hear Ridley tell it, he was not healthy in any of his first
three seasons. In 2018 and 2019, he admitted to playing with bone
spurs. In 2020, he took painkillers daily to play through a misdiagnosed
foot injury (believed to be a bone bruise, turned out to be a
broken foot). The last time we saw him on the field in the regular
season was when he was attracting 10-plus targets per game from
a declining Matt Ryan in 2021. According to Ridley, the painkillers
affected Ridley's mental health, which led to him taking a leave
of absence later that season. During that leave of absence (and
presumably to deal with his newfound free time and/or to avoid
boredom), he bet on NFL games, ultimately leading to his being
banned for the 2022 season.
Ridley is about to turn 29 years old (in December) but he may
have a shot at a healthy season for the first time since he starred
at the University of Alabama this year. While there is no question
Ryan was a good quarterback for most of his career, he was not
at the height of his powers during his time with Ridley (2018-21).
Trevor Lawrence has yet to prove he is an elite quarterback himself,
but the world was able to see why he was such a hyped prospect
in 2022. Jacksonville gave him some toys to play with, and he
unsurprisingly improved rapidly.
While Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram each enjoyed
some level of success before joining Lawrence last year, there
is little doubt that the play of the No. 1 overall pick of the
2021 draft was a major reason each of them had a career year.
Maybe adding Ridley turns this group into a "four is a crowd"
situation and no one benefits. More likely, however, Kirk, Jones
and Engram will take on more of a secondary role in this offense
while Ridley enjoys a career year. There are only some shades
of Antonio Brown in his prime when Ridley is right, and we have
seen the magic that can happen when a very good quarterback and
elite separator join forces. A 100-catch, 1,200-yard, 10-plus
touchdown season is well within his range of outcomes.
5. Although both will finish inside the top 30 at their position,
Elijah Moore will be a better fantasy receiver than teammate Amari
Mention Moore's name to fantasy managers and wait for their reaction(s).
Once they stop throwing things at you, they will tell the story
of how their favorite sleeper candidate from last season disappointed
them in the biggest way possible. I know about this feeling, as
I probably drafted him on 50 percent of my teams. (Yes, I am willing
to get hurt again.) The thing about it is that outside of how
he handled not being a bigger part of the offense in New York
in 2022, I am not sure Moore deserves a lot of the blame for what
By now, many fantasy managers know what went down with the Jets.
Garrett Wilson wasted little time proving he was the alpha in
New York. Zach Wilson may only be a one-read quarterback and Garrett
Wilson was often that read a year ago. Last but certainly not
least, all hell broke loose once Moore and then-offensive coordinator
Mike LaFleur exchanged words, which led to Moore's trade request.
The third-year wideout managed to post a couple of decent fantasy
efforts once he returned to the team in Week 11, but LaFleur had
no interest in dialing up plays for him by that point.
GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh both knew what Moore was capable
of because both men were around when Moore erupted over a two-month
stretch as a rookie - when he delivered six top-36 weekly finishes,
including three in the top 10. However, I am willing to believe
Moore was so upset at the end of last season that New York decided
it was going to get what it could in a trade and move on. Sure
enough, the Jets used Moore as a sweetener to move up 32 spots
and turn a third-round pick into a second-rounder in a trade with
Cleveland shortly after the start of the new league year.
As much as things went wrong for Moore since the late surge in
his rookie year, just about everything has gone right for him
since joining the Browns. HC Kevin Stefanski recently told the
team's website that Moore reminds him of another all-purpose dynamo
he used to coach with the Vikings (Percy Harvin) and "there's
no shortage of plays" for a player with his skill set.
Cooper went so far as to say that he thinks about "great
tandems like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce" when he thinks
about what he and Moore can become.
This bold prediction has less to do with Cooper declining at
age 29 and more to do with Moore's talent - not to mention the
Browns' desire to get him the ball in any way possible. (However,
it is worth noting that Cooper only averaged 3.5 catches, 61.3
yards and 0.33 TDs (11.6 fantasy points) in six games with Deshaun Watson starting, as opposed to 5.2 catches, 72 yards and 0.6 TDs
in 11 games with Jacoby Brissett under center. In a league that
is playing zone about 70 percent of the time nowadays, Moore is
the most likely of Cleveland's top receivers to play a lot of
snaps in the slot and get open quickly, which is especially important
against zone defenses. The Browns have already made it clear with
their preseason usage of him that he will get a bit of work out
of the backfield as well. I currently have him ranked as my WR23
in PPR and projected for 69-961-7 as a receiver as well as 18-126-1
as a runner. I think there is a real chance I may be underselling
him in both areas.
6. Mark Andrews will finish as the overall TE1 and Darren Waller
will fall a point per game short of Travis Kelce for TE2.
This bold prediction assumes a few things, which is always a
bad idea when it comes to making bold predictions. It assumes
that Kelce - a modern-day ironman - either begins to feel his
age (34 in October) or misses multiple games in a season for the
first time in his career. (Let me be clear: there has been nothing
to suggest Kelce is about to decline. At some point, however,
age or the violent nature of football catches up to all players.)
It also assumes Waller WILL stay healthy for the first since 2020.
I will readily acknowledge that Waller could be the overall TE1
and Andrews will be the one that falls just short of Kelce for
overall TE2 honors, but I am leaning in the direction of Andrews
for one simple reason: while the Giants' offense should be better
than it was last year, the Ravens' offense could be lethal. Baltimore
has everything an offense could want in today's game: a dual-threat
quarterback who can score on any play through the air or on the
ground, a game-breaking running back (Dobbins), three legitimate
receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman and rookie Zay Flowers)
and an elite tight end. In short, the Ravens could score upwards
of 50 offensive touchdowns after setting for 33 in 2022.
While some of these aforementioned team positives would seem
to suggest Andrews might have too much competition for targets,
he will continue to be the focal point of the passing game. Remember
that Jackson has largely been a middle-of-the-field passer for
most of his career. Jackson has also relied heavily on Andrews
in the red zone over the years. With game-breaking talent all
over the field, defenses can either play nickel and dime defenses
all day long and get pummeled on the ground or stay in base defense
and watch Andrews wear out linebackers over the middle of the
field. Andrews already has one overall TE1 title under his belt
(2021) and he did that in the one year Baltimore essentially had
to throw the ball. The Ravens will enter this year choosing to
throw the ball, which makes a huge difference.
Regarding Waller, it seems clear - via practice reports and in
limited action in the preseason - that Giants HC Brian Daboll
considers him New York's best receiver. The only player on New
York's roster who is somewhat similar to Waller in terms of body
type is Isaiah Hodgins (who is criminally underappreciated). Last
season showed the world how much Daniel Jones appreciated having
someone with some size as Hodgins took little time breaking out
once he and Jones established their chemistry.
However, Waller is in a different class athletically and will
not draw regular coverage from cornerbacks as Hodgins will. Much
as Greg Cosell of the NFL Matchup Show notes at the end of this
clip, more teams are looking for a tight end that can do what
Kelce has done for years: work as the "boundary X" on
one side of the field with three receivers on the other side.
This formation makes life much easier on quarterbacks pre-snap
and almost always gives them an easy throw because defenses are
forced to declare whether they are playing man or zone against
it. Making matters worse for the defense, even the most athletic
linebackers/safeties struggle to check Waller (or Kelce) when
he lines up out wide.
For those concerned about the talent New York added at receiver
(namely Jalin Hyatt and Parris Campbell) to a group that had Hodgins
and Darius Slayton, it bears mentioning that the Giants decided
to add copies of receiver profiles they believe complement Waller.
It is unlikely they will take a large number of looks from him.
Campbell, Sterling Shepherd and Wan'Dale Robinson are very similar
in their ability to work out of the slot and get open quickly.
Slayton and Hyatt both have speed to burn, which will stretch
the field for Waller.
Last year, Kelce averaged 5.1 fantasy points more than any other
tight end (PPR). One of the reasons for that was neither Andrews
nor Waller were in an optimal situation to reach their ceiling.
Both players also battled injuries. This year, both players are
in positions more like Kelce. (Baltimore will be more pass-heavy,
while Waller no longer has to compete with Davante Adams. He is
also his team's clear alpha.) In short, while Kelce should offer
his managers a sizeable advantage over league-mates again this
year, it says here that the "Kelce advantage" will be
minimized considerably against the managers who have Andrews and/or
Waller on their roster.
Bonus bold predictions:
- Sam Howell will be a top-20 fantasy quarterback.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who
often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports
radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a
member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.