FF Bold Predictions: NFC
The 2022 NFL Season is right around the corner and fantasy draft season is heating up. As the final rosters are being set, and the final cuts are being made, it’s time to start looking forward to week one and beyond. Fantasy football is growing faster than Tyreek Hill shaking a rookie DB and there are really no true secrets any longer. Everyone knows the rankings, everyone knows the standouts, and everyone knows the guys to fade. Winning your league is more difficult than ever and likely takes a few bold moves throughout the season to get to the promised land. Bold moves take bold predictions, and bold predictions aren’t easy to hit on. Today we’ll look at one bold prediction for each NFC team.
Dallas Cowboys - Ezekiel Elliot finishes as a top 12 Fantasy RB on the season
Ezekiel Elliott is an absolute bargain in fantasy drafts with an average draft position of 29, being taken as the 16th running back off the board. Zeke appeared to have lost a step or two last season, but also played the bulk of the year battling a PCL tear. Oh, and he was RB6 overall in standard leagues. Even in a down year, battling an injury, and holding off an emerging Tony Pollard, Zeke still returned RB1 value. While there are a few things still working against him, there are a few silver linings in his situation as well.
Tony Pollard is still in the mix but also stands to see some work in the passing game. Amari Cooper is gone, and there isn’t a true proven option behind Lamb on the roster. That bodes well for Pollard, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t also bode well for Zeke. Zeke has averaged 275 rushes and 75 targets per season for his career. He’s only missed a few games due to suspension and his team playing for nothing. This also is likely Zeke’s last season in Dallas so there is no reason for Dallas to have any concern for his workload. This may be the last hurrah for Zeke, but he’s got one RB1 run left in those legs, however inefficient it might ultimately be.
New York Giants - The Giants won’t produce a single top 20 position player.
Pull up any major fantasy news outlet and one of the first things you’ll see is this is the Saquon redemption season. It isn’t. Don’t buy the hype. It’s a great story that Saquon is healthy for the first time in two years. But do we really trust that he can stay healthy with this group around him? Daniel Jones isn’t going to get better, the receiving corps is led by the ghost of Kenny Golladay, and the line, while improved, is still very inexperienced. While it may seem outlandish that the team won’t have a single top 20 position player, keep in mind that this happened just last season.
Saquon may be one of the most talented backs in the league, but he is anything but a sure thing at this stage in his career. The most promising player outside of Barkley is second-year WR Kadairus Toney. Toney failed to reach the endzone in his first season and mostly didn’t live up to his draft capital, however, he did show you what he was capable of with a monster game against Dallas with 10 receptions and 189 yards. Toney may take a step, but I don’t think he’ll be consistent enough to sneak into WR2 territory. With that being said he is the one Giant I am taking a shot on as he does present a pretty high upside for the 46th WR off the board.
Philadelphia Eagles - DeVonta Smith will outscore AJ Brown for the season
The Eagles made one of the bigger splashes of the offseason by acquiring AJ Brown via trade during the first round of the NFL draft and quickly signing him to a 100 Million dollar mega deal. This was a huge move for the Eagles which should help to open up the offense for Jalen Hurts. It should also help second-year man DeVonta Smith take another step forward this season. The Eagle’s desire to pass the ball was apparent last season, but to the credit of Head Coach, Nick Srianni, abandoned ship when it wasn’t working. AJ Brown is a huge upgrade over Jalen Raegor and Quez Watkins and the Eagles are primed to come out slinging right from the get-go. Both Smith and Brown should be viable, every-week options.
Brown will be the top target in this offense, but that will only make Smith’s job easier. Both receivers should put up similar numbers and accomplished this feat just a season ago with Smith finishing at WR 29 and Brown finishing at WR 32. Look for Smith to take a step forward in his sophomore campaign as he draws easier defensive assignments and a more pass-heavy scheme. Smith showed what he can do as a versatile weapon that can run the full route tree and has exhibited a great set of hands. The talent is all there for the former Heisman trophy winner, and now he won’t be the only productive offensive position player on the team.
Washington - Jahan Dotson finishes as the top rookie WR
Jahan Dotson has been the talk of the Commanders' training camp since being selected in the first round in April’s draft. He has already taken complete control of the number two wide receiver spot in this offense and has established a great rapport with Carson Wentz early. He will be an instant contributor for this Commander's offense that should be improved under the new signal caller.
Dotson should benefit from soft coverages as Terry McLaurin is locked in as the alpha in this offense. That should afford him plenty of opportunities to gobble up passes and score plenty of fantasy points for your squad. Carson Wentz was 4th in deep ball accuracy last year which is Dotson’s specialty. He’s the perfect counterpart to Terry McLaurin and landed in the best year one situation of any fantasy WR. ago.
Green Bay - AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones both finish in the top 15 RB
Superstar WR Davante Adams is gone and that leaves 169 vacated targets from 2021. The Packers haven’t done a lot to address the gaping hole at WR1. They drafted Christian Watson in the second round and brought in Sammy Watkins. They also drafted Romeo Doubs in the fourth round and he has been a camp standout thus far. They also retained Alan Lazard who should slot in as WR1 to start the season. If this group fails to inspire you, you are not alone.
The Green Bay backfield is a different story. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will be the two best players in this offense and Aaron Rogers will use them both. We already saw a preview of this last season with Jones and Dillon finishing as RB 10 and 23 respectively. While Jones ADP is a respectable RB12, you can currently snag AJ Dillon as RB 26. Aaron Rodgers expects both of the backs to catch at least 50 passes and you should too. Throw fantasy out of the equation. Does anyone think that back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers doesn’t figure this out and get this team into the playoffs? Rodgers owns this division. Play his two best players.
Chicago - Justin Fields rushes for over 1000 yards
Justin Fields had a really rough rookie campaign, but it’s not all his fault. The first-year signal caller was often running for his life just trying to make a play. The Bears have done little to help the situation around him and come into the season with Darnell Mooney set to lead what may be the worst wide receiving group in the NFL. While he left a lot to be desired in the passing game last year, Fields showcased his dual-threat ability to the tune of 420 yards on just 72 attempts. With the lack of weapons Fields will likely see more runs, both designed, and on broken plays.
Over his last 6 starts that he took at least 53% of the snaps, Fields averaged 8 rushes for 56 yards and 7 YPC. Extrapolating those numbers over a full season would see Fields rush for 952 yards. If he can stay healthy and takes even a small step forward, he is within striking distance of the mark. The Bears are in a full rebuild and it’s no certainty that Fields will be a part of those future plans. His legs are his best bet to keep his job in 2023 and beyond.
Minnesota - Kirk Cousins leads the league in passing
Kirk Cousins has been as consistent as any QB over the last several years. Most of those seasons were under defensive-minded Mike Zimmer. While Minnesota still has a few dogs in the run game with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, they also have arguably the best WR in football, Justin Jefferson. Zimmer is no longer employed, and in his place is rookie Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell’s early career was overseen by Chip Kelly and Jay Gruden, before transitioning to Offensive Coordinator under Sean McVay for the last two seasons. O’Connell will be ready to open up this offense up. Needless to say, we should see Cousins throwing the ball early, often, and with renewed vigor.
Cousins topped out at 4917 yards way back in 2016. He did that with Pierre Garcon as his leading receiver. Justin Jefferson has the most receiving yards in his first two seasons in NFL history. Adam Theilen may be getting older, but he’s no slouch. Add in two dangerous receiving backs, and a solid Tight End with Irv Smith and Cousins is prime for a breakout season. A 17-game season will only push his opportunity to eclipse that elusive 5000-yard mark. He may not quite get there, but don’t be surprised to see Cousins sitting alone at the top of the passing yards leaderboards this season.
Detroit - D’Andre Swift eclipses 1800 yards
Last season D’Andre Swift barely eclipsed 1000 all-purpose yards and didn’t quite get there in his rookie season. The Lions didn’t get drastically better in the offseason and have chosen to run it back with Jared Goff. They drafted Jameson Williams, out of Alabama, who should help their receiving room, and also brought in former Pro Bowler DJ Chark. So why the optimism on Swift? Simply put, it’s the talent. Swift created the most yards per touch at the RB position last season, and if not for an injury, he was on a top 5 fantasy trajectory last season.
Through the first 11 weeks of the season, Swift averaged 50 yards rushing and 38 yards receiving per game. The bulk of this production was before Amon Ra St. Brown ascended. With St. Brown back for a second season, a healthy TJ Hockenson doing his thing at Tight End, and the eventual debut of Jameson Williams, defenses will not be able to key in on Swift. With a minimal jump in production and a healthy season, Swift should be in the upper echelon of the league's elite running backs.
Tampa Bay - Leonard Fournette finishes outside of the top 20 RBs
Coming into the 2020 season it seemed like Leonard Fournette was well on his way to fading into obscurity. After all, if the Jags don’t want you, who does? After a slow start with Tampa Lenny turned it on and was a huge piece of their Super Bowl-winning roster. Last season he carried that momentum to the tune of 1200 yards and 10 TDs and finished as RB6 in PPR formats. Coming into this season Playoff Lenny is being drafted as the 13th RB off the board which screams value based on last year’s productivity. Don’t do it, it’s a trap!
Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which was a huge strength the last few seasons, is currently hanging by a thread. Pro Bowler Ali Marpet has retired. Starting guard Alex Cappa is now protecting Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Center Ryan Jensen isn’t likely to play this year and Tristen Wirfs, although on track for week one, has been banged up during camp. Add in the loss of Gronk who was a dominant blocking tight end, and things aren’t looking good in Tampa. Lenny will still be serviceable, but entering his age of 27, I think we see Lenny slip down into the low-end RB2 range.
New Orleans - Jameis Winston finishes as a Top 12 fantasy QB
The ride for Jameis Winston has been a mercurial one. The finger-licking, W-eating, former first-round pick has seen his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. After leading the league in passing and becoming an exclusive member of the 5000-yard club he was kicked to the curb and replaced by a 43-year-old QB, never mind that it was Tom Brady. Winson then joined the Saints and sat behind legendary Drew Brees during his swan song before finally getting his second chance in 2021. The season started on a huge high note with Winston tossing 5 TDs in week one against Green Bay. Winston would prove solid over the next several weeks.
Unfortunately, Winston ended up tearing his ACL in week 8, against Tampa Bay of all teams and would go on to miss the remainder of the season. The most unfortunate part of this was the fact that Winston was on pace for 312 fantasy points which would have placed him as QB7 on the season, one spot higher than Kyler Murray. He also will be seeing a returning Michael Thomas, a newly signed Jarvis Landry, and a rookie first-round stud in Chris Olave joining the offense. The last time we saw Jameis play a full slate of games he finished as QB4. He is currently going as QB22. He may be returning from injury, but all the boxes are checked for Jameis to return to the low-end QB1 discussion.
Atlanta - Drake London and Kyle Pitts both have 1000-yard seasons
The Falcons traded longtime franchise QB, Matt Ryan, away to the Indianapolis Colts offseason and are ready to usher in a new era. They signed Marcus Mariota to plug in as a placeholder and drafted Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati. It is entirely possible that neither is going to be the franchise guy and they may look to the loaded 2023 class of QBs for their next franchise signal caller. Whoever ends up as the lead man will enjoy two of the most touted receiver prospects in recent memory.
Kyle Pitts broke onto the scene last season with 68 catches for 1026 yards. They say it takes a few years for a Tight End to find his footing in the NFL and that wasn’t the case with Pitts. Pitts can line up all over the field and isn’t your standard tight end. He should be a lock for another 1000-yard season and should see his TDs increase as he only had one. The Falcons wanted to add another playmaker to this squad and did so by bringing in Drake London with the 8th pick in the draft. London is a Mike Evans close who seems to catch everything in sight. Having defenses send their number one guy to cover Pitts will make his transition to the NFL seamless and he has elite talent that should allow him to punish corners throughout his career. Look for both of them to lock in 1000-yard receiving seasons regardless of who is throwing them the rock.
Carolina - Christian McCaffrey plays less than 10 games, still finishes RB12 or better
Christian McCaffrey has only played in 10 of a possible 33 games over the last two seasons. He’s only played in over 50 percent of snaps in 7 of those 10 games. The Panthers are optimistic that CMC will be healthy and on the field for the bulk of the 2022 season. You shouldn’t be. While the injuries he has suffered haven’t been major, the workload with the amount of time that he has missed causes some concerns. What shouldn’t be a concern is CMC’s performance when he is on the field.
McCaffrey has been the best player on every field he’s been on for the last four years. Last season he was still in the top 5 in PPG in his position, and that includes leaving early in two of his games. Over the last 7 full games he has played he has averaged almost 28 PPG. If he is able to play just 8 full games at that rate he would finish with 221 points. Over the last three seasons that would have been good enough for 13th, 10th, and 14th respectively. Sell CMC staying healthy. Buy CMC being healthy enough to finish in the low-end RB1 range.