Fantasy Football: 15 bold predictions for the 2015 season


Fantasy Football: 15 bold predictions for the 2015 season

Go big or go home.

What's the fun of fantasy football if you don't take risks every now and then?

With that in mind, we've compiled some bold predictions for the 2015 fantasy season.

[MORE: Get more Fantasy Football coverage here]

Consider these predictions like needing only an extra point to tie the game, but deciding to go for two anyways. Sometimes, it's just more fun to go against the grain, even if the odds are stacked against you.

1. Alshon Jeffery will not be a Top 15 fantasy WR this year.

I'm just really lukewarm on Jeffery this year. When Brandon Marshall went down last year and was lost for the season, it was a chance to see what Jeffery could do on his own. I wasn't impressed. I get it that it was a lost season but over the last three games, he only went for 12 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. That doesn't make me feel good about him being a WR1. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

2. Julio Jones will have 130 receptions this season. 

Predicting Julio Jones will be the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver in 2015 is way too easy. I'm taking a different approach with this prediction and stating that Jones will finish with the second-most receptions in a single season in NFL history (Marvin Harrison had 143 with the Colts in 2002). Jones hauled in 104 passes on 164 targets last season and with Roddy White on a decline and minimal options for Matt Ryan to target in the passing game, I expect Jones to have a monster year in Kyle Shanahan's system. (Scott Krinch)

3. Jameis Winston will return QB1 value.

Hey, we're supposed to be bold with these things. Ryan Tannehill was the 10th best fantasy quarterback a year ago, averaging 22.8 fantasy points per game. I don't know about Winston's offensive line holding up, but assuming Winston plays all 16 games, he's going to reach those numbers. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are absolute workhorses, both Doug Martin and Charles Sims can catch out of the backfield and Winston has shown some ability to scramble. I've got Winston replacing Matt Ryan in the Top 10 this season. If you took Winston late as your QB2, there's going to be some controversy in your lineup later in the year. (Mark Strotman)

[Fantasy Football Podcast: Draft recap and Week 1 preview]

4. Michael Crabtree catches 90 balls for 1,200 yards and 10 scores.

Crabtree has always left something to be desired, both in fantasy and in real life, even during his best season in 2012 (85 rec, 1,105 yds, 9 TD). I'm betting he surpasses those numbers this year with the Oakland Raiders. He's highly motivated (as CSN Bay Area Raiders Insider Scott Bair recounted for our podcast last month), the talent is still there and he's in an up-and-coming offense where teams will undoubtedly be focusing on highly-touted rookie Amari Cooper. Watch Crabtree explode back onto the fantasy scene in 2015. (Tony Andracki)

5. There will be a Seahawks wide receiver to own by the end of the year: Tyler Lockett.

In past years, it's been a situation to stay away from. Percy Harvin disappointed, Doug Baldwin isn't more than a week-to-week flex option and Jermaine Kearse comes up with one clutch catch and that's about it. Lockett has impressed so far on special teams and should see the field a lot more on offense as the year goes along. He will become a favorite target of Russell Wilson. Keep an eye on the speedster so you aren't too late to snatch him up. (JP)

6. Doug Martin will be a Top 10 RB again. 

Is Doug Martin back? You better believe it. The artist formerly known as the "Muscle Hamster" is once again running with authority, and showing that patience and vision that made him a Top 3 running back in 2012. Without any competition behind him (Charles Sims is merely a third-down specialist), Martin - as long as he stays healthy - should post a Top 10 season at his position. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 wide receiver sleepers and busts]

7. Davante Adams will fail to impress.

I don't necessarily have any projected numbers for the Packers' new No. 2 WR, but it's asking a whole lot for a second-year wideout to post numbers on where he was selected - his ADP is higher than Brandon Marshall, Jeremy Maclin and Sammy Watkins, just to name a few. I expect him to be a borderline WR2, but Randall Cobb is going to post monster numbers and the Packers will rely even more on Eddie Lacy. One of James Jones, Ty Montgomery or Jeff Janis will emerge as Green Bay's No. 3, and while that won't hurt Cobb any, it may hurt Adams. I get why his stock rose so drastically; it just rose way too quickly for the biggest question mark of any WR2. (MS)

8. Tevin Coleman will be the top rookie RB to own. 

Last season, it was the year of the rookie wide receiver. In 2015, it could be the year of the rookie running back. The likes of Tevin Coleman, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Todd Gurley and TJ Yeldon were all Top 100 fantasy picks. The one that slipped the furthest, Coleman, is the player that I believe will have the biggest fantasy impact this season. The only competition Coleman has in Atlanta is Devonta Freeman, who isn't a serious threat to unseat the rookie. Coleman has breakaway speed and plus skills in the passing game, and has already been named the Week 1 starter. Go out and get him in your perspective leagues before it's too late. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 running back sleepers and busts]

9. This year's Odell Beckham Jr. will be Todd Gurley.

If you remember, Beckham missed a chunk of the first half of the season and then put up mind-blowing numbers. Gurley will reportedly miss at least the first three games but then comes back to presumably be the top back with the Rams. Tre Mason may get in his way a little, but Gurley's talent will shine immediately like OBJ and will take the league by storm. Get your popcorn ready. (JP)

10. Jeremy Hill will finish as a Top 3 running back.

The Bengals' feature back from Week 9 on finished 11th last season despite rushing 50 times in his first seven games. From Week 9 on, he led running backs in fantasy points, racking up five games of 100+ yards and scoring six touchdowns. He's going to get all he can handle this season with Hue Jackson running the show - and Andy Dalton doing his best impression of a quarterback - and is primed to continue his breakout, much like Eddie Lacy did last season in his Year 2. Fantasy prospects are all about having an opportunity; Hill has a perfect one, and he's going to make the most of it. Congrats if you snagged Hill anywhere in the second round; you've got a steal. (MS)

11. Alfred Morris owners will outright release him before the fantasy playoffs begin.

I've never been a big Morris fan and things are trending in the wrong direction for him. He's never missed a game, but his yards and yards per carry have dropped every season and he almost never catches the ball, so his entire value is weighted on his rushing production. Last season, Morris notched just one game over 92 rushing yards and had six games where he racked up 54 or fewer rushing yards without a tuddie. That kind of inconsistency is maddening and we've heard report after report about how much the Redskins love Matt Jones. I'm betting Jones will be the Washington running back to own by about Week 10 or so. (TA)

12. Antonio Gates misses four games and is still a Top 5 TE by end of season.

He hasn't really shown any signs of slowing down. Philip Rivers is still there. Can Keenan Allen be counted on for a bounce back year? Rivers' favorite target with thrive when he gets back. (JP)

13. Jarvis Landry will finish in the Top 10 in receptions.

If you read any of our previews, I'm all aboard the Dolphins bandwagon this season. And a lot of it has to do with Landry, who tallied 84 receptions on 111 targets a year ago. While the Dolphins spent a first-round pick on DeVante Parker (who's coming along slowly after a foot injury cost him the preseason) the wide receiver depth in Miami isn't great. It's going to be Landry who continues to rise in Year 2, and he's going to be an absolute steal in PPR leagues. He finished 17th in receptions a year ago. I expect 90+ catches in 2015. (MS)

14. Tyler Eifert will be a Top 5 tight end. 

Primed for a breakout season, Tyler Eifert broke his elbow in Week 1 in 2014 and missed the remainder of the year. Now, with expectations lowered, Eifert is the 13th-ranked tight end heading into the 2015 season. With the tight end position so shallow, Eifert has a great chance of climbing up the rankings. The former first-round pick has the ideal size and speed combo and a quarterback that loves the intermediate passing game. Don't be surprised if Eifert finishes second behind wide receiver A.J. Green in targets on the Bengals. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 tight end sleepers and busts]

15. Travis Kelce will be the No. 1 fantasy tight end.

I haven't hid my love for Kelce over the last two seasons, but all the signs are pointing to a breakout season for the Chiefs tight end if he can stay healthy. Even with Anthony Fasano stealing playing time from Kelce at TE in KC last season, Kelce still finished as the No. 6 fantasy tight end. With healthy/suspension questions around Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas, new environments for Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett and a lack of other options around him (Greg Olsen), Kelce could easily jump all those guys and be the No. 2 tight end. I'm betting he's even better than Gronkowski. (TA)

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.