There’s no better time to talk bold predictions than right before the fantasy football season begins. Now is that beautiful time of year where we can wildly speculate about how the NFL season will play out and not have to wait months to find out. We made it!
I’ve combed through both my articles and podcast episodes here are NerdBall to find every bold prediction I’ve made, pick out my 10 BOLDEST takes, and post them here in one neat article for you to read. Enjoy.
Derrick Henry Falls Outside the Top 5
You have to go back to 2018 to find the last time Derrick Henry finished outside the top-5 running backs in .5PPR fantasy. That year Henry carried the ball 215 times for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not a bad stat line by any means, but certainly not the same level as the 300+ carries, 1,500+ yards, and 16+ touchdowns he’s been posting over the last two years.
There are two main reasons behind this prediction. First, Arthur Smith, the previous offensive coordinator and mastermind of the Tennessee Titans dominate rushing game, has up and left for Atlanta. Head coach Mike Vrabel did hire from within the Titans’ organization, picking tight ends coach Todd Downing to assume OC duties. It’s a fair bet to think the offense won’t look too different in 2021. However, the last time Downing was an OC (for the Oakland Raiders back in 2017) the running game saw a step back in production, dropping from 6th to 25th under his leadership.
My main reason for Henry regression is the Titans going out and getting Julio Jones this offseason. I don’t think Tennessee is going to suddenly change their entire identity and become a pass-first offense with Julio and A.J. Brown. I do think they will pass more, which means fewer carries for Henry. And Henry offers little to nothing in the passing game so if the Titans do ramp up their passing attack, Henry doubly won’t benefit.
Henry’s touchdown numbers are also at risk. Last year the Titans had one of the lowest red zone pass% in the NFL, meaning when they got inside the 20, they handed the ball off to Henry (hence the 17 touchdowns). With a red zone threat like Julio now on the roster, I have to think the pass attempts inside the 20 will rise.
Just food for thought when you’re contemplating taking Henry with the 1.02 pick.
Both Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy Finish WR2s or Better
We saw the pass catching duo of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy for all of five seconds last year before Sutton tore his ACL and was out for the year. Jeudy went on to have a solid rookie season—catching 52 balls for 856 yards and 3 touchdowns—but the offense wasn’t anywhere near as explosive as many were anticipating.
Now, Sutton has a full year of recovery under his belt and Jeudy has a full year of professional football under his. These two receivers are big, physical pass catchers who can dominate at the point of attack and can gain separation with elite route running. Sutton was 6th among wide receivers in 2019 in yards per reception (15.3, min. 65 receptions) and Jeudy ranked 7th last year (16.5).
sweet goodness courtland sutton just sent his man into another zip code pic.twitter.com/kYOMQoNpQu
— pete astronaut aboard the pitts-8 rocket rogers (@petemrogers) August 29, 2021
While Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the most exciting QB under center, he did show last year in Carolina that he can support two top-flight fantasy receivers. Both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson finished top-24 WRs in .5PPR last year. Sutton and Jeudy will recreate that result this year in Denver.
Kyle Pitts Breaks Mike Ditka’s Rookie Receiving Record
The transition for a rookie tight end into the NFL is not an easy one. History tells us we shouldn’t expect gaudy numbers from players at the position in their first year. It’s why Mike Ditka’s record of 1,076 receiving yards has yet to be broken despite it being set in 1961. (And just to further demonstrate how untouchable this record seems to be, the next closest tight end is Jeremy Shockey who had 894 yards in 2002 his rookie year.)
Well, all records are meant to be broken and broken they shall be.
Close your eyes for a second and imagine if Kyle Pitts were a wide receiver. A wide receiver mind you, who’s joining an offense that a) has a top-10 quarterback, b) has shown a propensity for throwing the football hyper-efficiently, and c) is suddenly looking for a No. 2 receiver to step into the 100+ targets that comes with the role. You would have no problem projecting that receiver to have 1,000+ yards receiving right?
Now open your eyes. Guess what, Kyle Pitts is that wide receiver.
Pitts is not an ordinary tight end by any stretch of the imagination. He is a 6-foot-6, 245 pound athlete who runs a 4.44 40-yard-dash and has the physical testing numbers of a wide receiver. He played all over the field at Florida and is already bringing that versatility to Atlanta Falcons’ practices. When it comes to fantasy drafts this year, I’m treating Pitts as a wide receiver. It’s why I have him ranked as my TE3 ahead of Darren Waller.
Kyle Pitts is about to break records and you won’t want to miss that type of production on your fantasy team this year.
Kyler Murray Falls Out of the Top 5
There’s plenty of reason to be excited about Kyler Murray this year in both real and fantasy football. Last year we saw Murray continue to build upon a solid rookie year, throwing and rushing for more yards and touchdowns. He put up such good numbers he finished as the QB2 last year. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Murray going off draft boards as the QB3, in the middle of the fourth round.
While it may not be a surprise, it is a price too rich for my liking.
Last year Murray rushed for 11 touchdowns, which alone accounted for 17% of his total fantasy output. That rushing production is amazing when it’s there, but is sorely missed when it’s not. Ten of Murray’s 11 rushing touchdowns came in the first half of the 2020 season, when he was the unquestioned QB1. However, from Week 11 onward, Murray only rushed for one touchdown and was the QB14 during that time.
Rushing touchdowns aren’t going to completely disappear for Murray and I still expect him to see between five and six in 2021. Still, had Murray scored only six rushing touchdowns last year, he would’ve finished the QB6 in total scoring.
Allen Robinson Leads the NFL in Touchdowns
This is the year Allen Robinson re-announces himself to the world as a top-5 receiver in the NFL. Robinson has been one of the best WR in the league through most of his career but hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves mainly because he’s had some of the worst quarterback luck imaginable. (Shocking I know I don’t consider Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, and Blake Bortles a great group of passers.) With some combo of Andy Dalton and Justin Fields passing him the football this year, Robinson is set to play with the best QB room of his career.
Last year, only three other teams in the league had a higher red zone pass% than the Chicago Bears. Since 2018, only five receivers have seen more red zone targets than Allen Robinson. The narrative is pretty easy to spin that with improved quarterback play, Robinson—one of the best red zone targets on one of the most pass happy red zone teams—could see his touchdown numbers skyrocket.
Austin Ekeler Leads Running Backs in Targets and Receptions
I’m not even sure this is bold enough to be considered a bold prediction. Last year Alvin Kamara led running backs in receptions with 83 and J.D. McKissic led in targets with 110. Ekeler was on pace last year to finish with 104 targets and 86 catches had he played all 16 games. There’s not much more he needs to do to make this prediction come true.
Ekeler’s proficiency in the passing game is well documented. He had multiple double-digit reception games last year and in 2019 he tallied 993 yards and 8 touchdowns through the air. Justin Herbert clearly had a knack for targeting Ekeler his rookie year and I fully expect that to continue into his sophomore year.
There’s plenty of excitement for this Los Angeles Chargers offense in year two of Herbert and rightfully so. With a full, normal offseason, I expect Herbert and this passing attack—a passing attack with 93 free targets after Hunter Henry left in free agency—to look even more potent in 2021.
Giovani Bernard Finishes a Top 30 Fantasy Back
Bernard is currently being drafted as the RB51 in the 11th round in .5PPR which in my personal opinion is absolute thievery. I’d comfortably draft Bernard in the eighth round with backs like Kenyan Drake and Devin Singletary.
The name of the game for Bernard is pass catching. He’s made a career of it in Cincinnati, averaging almost 60 targets and 40 catches per season throughout his 8 years there. Now he joins Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, the KING of targeting running backs.
Last year, Brady had to make do with what he had, forcing Leonard Fournette to be his primary pass catcher. Brady targeted Fournette 47 times during the regular season, of which Fournette caught only 36 for 233 yards (6.5 yard per reception). On a whole, Brady targeted the Bucs running backs 118 times last year. One-hundred-and-eighteen.
Bernard has a chance to be Brady’s Tampa James White and that is a very valuable fantasy role, especially in PPR leagues. White finished the RB18 in PPR in 2019 and the RB7 in 2018. I’m betting on the chemistry developing throughout the summer and for it to shine when they take the field in 2021.
running backs who saw at least 70 targets last year (.5PPR rank):
j.d. mckissic – RB24
alvin kamra – RB1
nyheim hines – RB20
ezekiel elliott – RB11
mike davis – RB15
# of times tom brady targeted his RBs last year – 118
this is a giovani bernard tweet.
— pete astronaut aboard the pitts-8 rocket rogers (@petemrogers) September 6, 2021
Matt Ryan Finishes Ahead of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in Total Scoring
In 2020, Matt Ryan finished the QB12 in total points per game, scoring 293.4. Tom Brady finished the QB8 with 349.9 points. Aaron Rodgers the QB3 with 387.2. There was clearly a gap between these players, but I’m betting that gap closes in 2021.
First off, Ryan is no stranger to finishing a top fantasy option. Since 2016, Ryan has finished the QB2, QB15, QB2, QB11, and QB12 last year. He now also gets to play under Arthur Smith, the man who’s offense turned Ryan Tannehill from a forgotten commodity to the QB7 last year and the QB9 in points per game in 2019. Yes there’s no longer Julio Jones in Atlanta, but a roster of Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, and Mike Davis in the backfield is more than a good squad.
Brady’s first year in Tampa Bay was the stuff of legend and he certainly took full advantage of the weapons around him. However, there’s plenty of room for regression in 2021. Brady’s 6.6 TD% last year was his highest by a long shot since 2010. He threw the ball 610 times for over 4,600 yards which is utterly insane when you remember the man is 43-years-old. Finally, only twice in his NFL career has Brady been sacked fewer times than he was in 2020. Even with just slight regression in these categories, Brady could fall from middle of QB1 to end of the QB1 tier.
Now I added Rodgers into the equation simply because I didn’t think Brady by himself was spicy enough. The main argument for Rodgers is regression. Rodgers’ ridiculous 9.1 TD% last year has only happened 4 other times in NFL history. With Rodgers also boasting one of the highest Touchdown Dependencies (TDd) last year among quarterbacks, his total scoring seems destined to see a sharp decrease in 2021.
Davante Adams Falls Outside the Top 5
I know with the news of Aaron Rodgers returning, it’ll be hard not to go back to ranking Davante Adams as the clear cut WR1 this year. And if you’ve already adjusted your rankings, I wouldn’t blame you. After all, the Rodgers/Adams mind-meld led to 18 touchdowns and Adams running away with the WR1 spot last year.
The reason for my hesitation comes directly from those 18 touchdowns Adams caught last year. Adams’ 35.9% TDd was one of the highest among wide receivers last year. In 2019, Adams only caught five touchdowns. He played just 12 games, but even across 16 games, he was just on a 7 touchdown pace. 2018 saw Adams’ previous career high in scoring with 13. That’s still a lot of touchdowns, don’t get me wrong, but the difference between 18 and 13 touchdowns is 30 fantasy points.
It feels like the wide receiver position is as deep as ever this year. Young players like Calvin Ridley, Justin Jefferson, D.K. Metcalf, and A.J. Brown are all stating their case for the WR1, while veterans such as Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, and Allen Robinson find themselves in the best situations of their careers.
Adams might finish out of the top five this year not because he had a bad season, but simply because there might be 10 wide receivers who have similar seasons.
Gerald Everett Catches Double-Digit Touchdowns
Gerald Everett is a hyper-athletic tight end with lots of fantasy potential, but we haven’t seen it quite yet because he was sharing time with Tyler Higbee with the Los Angeles Rams. Now he’s all by himself with Russell Wilson in Seattle and the fantasy potential is through the roof.
Where Everett has the best chance to make his bread and butter is in the red zone. Standing 6-foot-3, with a background in basketball, Everett has the size and physicality to become an elite red zone threat. The pairing with Wilson is tantalizing because tight end is one of Wilson’s favorite red zone targets.
Last year, with the Seahawks cycling through a couple of tight ends, Wilson targeted the position a team high 21 times. Even if Everett doesn’t see 20+ red zone targets, 15 seems well within reason and that workload can easily translate into double-digit scores.