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Fantasy Football: Bold predictions for 2017 NFL season

Fantasy Football: Bold predictions for 2017 NFL season

Fantasy Football is all about taking educated guesses.

You can look at your respective teams over and over and over again throughout the week, and there's still a good chance you'll be second guessing your lineup decisions.

Nobody's found the correct recipe for success.

Which is why the majority of our bold predictions will probably look like a train wreck when the season concludes.

For more analysis on our bold predictions and a look ahead to Week 1, listen to the latest Fantasy Football Fix Podcast.

1. Marcus Mariota will be the No. 1 fantasy PLAYER this season.

Oftentimes, even in PPR leagues, QBs rank as the No. 1 overall fantasy player simply by virtue of volume. Of course, there's also a smaller gap between the top QBs and the mid-tier options, so I'm not saying Mariota will be the most VALUABLE fantasy player this season. But put together his amazing efficiency throughout his career, his low turnover rate, his ability to scramble/run and an increase in weapons are all tangible things to point to. But what about the fact he's now entering his third year in the league and playing with a ton of confidence? (Tony Andracki)

2. C.J. Prosise will become a Top 25 RB in PPR leagues.

He's currently listed third on the Seahawks' depth chart entering Week 1, but I don't expect that to continue. Plus, he could be listed third and still wind up with the most fantasy points of anybody not named Russell Wilson in Week 1. Depth charts mean nothing in the flow of the game. But even still, the two guys ahead of him — Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls — carry huge question marks, including injury concerns. Prosise is dynamic and electric and is a far better receiver than either guy ahead of him. He averaged more than 8 yards per touch last season, proving he can be a major fantasy factor even if he doesn't get 20 touches a game. Chris Carson is not a concern, despite a huge preseason. Christine Michael and Robert Turbin had major preseason impacts with the Seahawks in the past and never were close to be worth a roster spot in fantasy. By the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, Prosise will be the unquestioned top Seattle back to own if he stays healthy. (TA)

3. John Brown will be the best fantasy WR in Arizona.

Larry Fitzgerald is going 19th among WRs, 45th overall. Brown is the 54th receiver off the board, 133rd overall. Fitzgerald is 34 now and even though he had an absolutely fantastic season last year, it was mainly by sheer volume. He averaged a career-low 9.6 ypc and faded down the stretch, scoring just 1 TD in his last 11 games with 5 rpg, 36 ypg in his last four contests. He had 1,023 yards, but only one game over 100 on the season. My point? There's plenty of room for Brown to emerge as a successful weekly option even if Fitzgerald repeats, but there are so many signs pointing to regression for Fitz. Brown, meanwhile, finally seems to have his sickle cell condition under control and he's only one year removed from a 65-catch, 1,003-yard, 7 TD performance and that was with Fitz two years younger and Michael Floyd eating up 89 targets, 849 yds and 6 TD. (TA)

4. DeMarco Murray finishes outside the Top 25 running backs.

He's 29 now, he's coming off a season in which he accrued more than 340 touches and last year was a bit of a fluke, even for him. Prior to 2017, Murray had 215 receptions, but only two of those went for TDs. Last year, he had 3 receiving TDs, which seems like an aberration and rather unsustainable. Even if he stays healthy — he's only missed one game the last three seasons — there's no guarantee he stays productive (remember his 2015 season where he barely topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage and only had 7 TDs in 15 games? Plus Derrick Henry has proven he's capable of taking on a bigger load. The Titans offense runs through Mariota now (this is HIS team) and they have their sights set on contending and won't want to burn out Murray to do so. All that points to a letdown for Murray. (TA)

5. Austin Hooper has more fantasy points than Rob Gronkowski.

Rookie tight ends make almost no impact in the Fantasy landscape. NFL teams want them to come to the league, learn the playbook and block. Keep in mind, that's how it used to be for wide receivers, too, at least in terms of fantasy points. It was typical for the third season in the league to be the breakout for WRs, but then guys like ODB went and blew that narrative out of the water. It's still the case for rookie TEs. Gronk's rookie season wasn't even anything to write home about, besides his 10 TDs because he only racked up 42 receptions and 546 yards while playing every game that season. Hooper is THE guy now in Atlanta, a high-powered offense with plenty of weapons and entering his second year after making no impact as a rookie. This isn't to say that Gronk is going to have a bad season; I'm more worried about his health. I absolutely believe he will average more points per game than Hooper, but he'll ultimately be on the bench for a few games. If you draft Gronk, why not get a guy like Hooper in the last few rounds of the draft as a handcuff of sorts? (TA)

6. Keenan Allen finishes as a Top 10 WR in PPR leagues. 

Allen has yet to play a full season in his NFL career, missing 26 games in four seasons. He's only played in nine contests the last two years. So yes, injury is a concern, but he's currently healthy with no known lingering issues, so there's nothing to say he will for sure get hurt in 2017. When on the field, Allen is one of the top receivers in the league, averaging nearly 6 receptions and 8.5 targets per game. He has a potential to be a PPR monster with at least 6 receptions in 12 of his last 23 games, including 5 double-digit receiving games in that span. He's part of a high-performing offense that airs it out and figures to continue to do so yet again in 2017. For a guy going as the No. 18 WR off the board and 42nd overall, he's been criminally underrated leading into the fantasy season. (TA)

7. Ben Roethlisberger will finish as a Top 5 fantasy QB.

Look, we can all overanalyze Big Ben's home and road splits until we're blue in the face. I get it. But something that can all agree with is that Roethlisberger is a completely different quarterback when he's got Martavis Bryant in the lineup. When Bryant is on the field, Roethlisberger has tossed for 6,385 yards and 41 TDs in 19 games. Those numbers extrapolate to a season average of 5,376 yards and 35 scores, a total that would firmly place Roethlisberger as a Top 5 fantasy scorer at his position. While open for debate, let's not forget he has the NFL's best running back and wide receiver at his disposal in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. My chips are all in on Big Ben in 2017. (Scott Krinch)

8. Russell Wilson will be the top fantasy scorer.

For the first time in his career, Russell Wilson wasn't a Top 10 fantasy quarterback. Don't expect that trend to continue. There's plenty of signs that point to a major turnaround around for Wilson. The Jimmy Graham of old appears to be lurking around Seahawks' headquarters. A healthy Graham would be a lethal weapon for Wilson in the red zone. Back in the slot, making defenders look foolish with a 3.27 separation rate (70.2 percent of his targets) is Doug Baldwin. Wilson also has emerging outside speed threat targets in Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson. The Seahawks also brought in Eddie Lacy to pair with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. Wilson has plenty of talent surrounding him and has no excuse not to exceed his 19.4 points per game average from 2016. (SK)

9. DeVante Parker will be a Top 15 fantasy wide receiver.

Remember when Jay Cutler used to air it out to Alshon Jeffery a few times a game? Well, expect Cutty to go full Cutty this season and let it rip, but only this time he'll be throwing the rock to a player he calls a "faster Alshon Jeffery." Third-year wide receiver DeVante Parker and his new quarterback in Miami have developed quite the connection over the last month. Look for Parker to be Cutler's go-to-guy with the Dolphins and for the former University of Louisville wideout to see at least double the amount of end zone targets (7) he had last year.  (SK)

10. Carlos Hyde will lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns.

"He's the lightest he's been since high school." I know it's cliche and we hear that every offseason referencing a handful of players around the league, but I'm buying it this time around for Carlos Hyde. Under new head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are going to rely heavily on the ground attack led by Hyde. The former Ohio State running back is coming off a career-best 4.6 yards per carry and has finished in the Top 10 in yards after contact the last two years. Now, he's got a head coach with a proven track record of making running backs elite (Devonta Freeman in Atlanta). With no proven backup running back on the roster and a band of misfits at wide receiver (excluding Pierre Garcon), look for Hyde to deliver a breakout season. (SK)

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

Drafting first round QB's despite starters in place something of a Bears tradition

The good thing about a draft scenario like the Bears’ selecting Mitch Trubisky on top of having signed Mike Glennon for starter-grade money is that it provides an almost inexhaustible quiver of talking and writing points. To wit...

... the 2017 draft is far from the first time that the Bears have invested a lofty pick in a player at a position that had been staffed not all that long before with a pricey free agent or still had a distinguished veteran. Don’tcha kind of wonder how Sid Luckman, 32, All-Pro as recently as 1947, felt seeing George Halas use the No. 3 pick of the 1948 draft on Bobby Layne?

The Bears had Jim McMahon in harness (literally and figuratively) in 1987 when they used their first-round pick on Jim Harbaugh. They went QB at No. 12 overall (Cade McNown) in 1999 despite the coaching staff believing they could make something out of Shane Matthews. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana in place when they dealt for Steve Young. Montana didn’t like it but 49ers history was obviously the better for it. Not that Montana ever wanted for motivation, but he earned the first of his three All-Pro designations in — take a guess — 1987.

GM Jerry Angelo dramatically out-bid the market for running back Thomas Jones in 2004. Jones was OK that season, but the Bears came back in 2005 to use the No. 4 pick of that draft on Cedric Benson because, as former Bear and longtime NFL analyst Dan Jiggetts said at the time, Jones still had questions after the first season in which he’d started more than nine games.

Jones didn’t like it, and didn’t like Benson, who exacerbated his overall situation with a long holdout that didn’t sit well with veterans. Jones eventually forced a trade after the 2006 season and Benson wound up a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, albeit for the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones appeared to get the situation; after never rushing for 1,000 yards in his career, he piled up five straight of 1,100 yards or more after the Benson pick. Just sayin’ ... 

... any assessment of Ryan Pace’s competence or lack of same is beyond silly at this point. The object of his affections hasn’t even put on a Bears jersey yet, just held one up for cameras. The obvious tack here is that if Trubisky is franchise-grade as the Bears project, then the acquisition was the right one.

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But the deeper perspective, on whether Pace was bidding against himself in the absence of known real offers, gets increasingly debunked. On top of Pace’s own experience of getting multiple calls from teams looking to trade up to No. 3 for a quarterback, and Pace knowing that when he didn’t want to deal that the next speed-dial by those callers would be to 49ers GM John Lynch, Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson suggested that Pace not only had reason for fear poachers, but also that multiple other teams shared Pace’s conclusion that Trubisky was the best quarterback in this draft.

Robinson said via SiriusXM NFL Radio that the Titans had gotten calls inquiring about acquiring their pick at No. 5. Those calls stopped when the Bears dealt up and grabbed Trubisky. Because Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and every other quarterback was still on the board, the conclusion was that those other teams also had targeted Trubisky, as Pace had ... 

... the brouhaha over whether Glennon felt betrayed/bemused/befuddled/belittled/beheaded over the Trubisky selection borders on the comical. (No comments directly from Glennon about his reaction, but nevermind that.) But If Glennon purports to know some of the history of the NFL’s charter franchise (and others), he should not only have known this was a possibility, but also should have expected it. And he’s a big reason why — specifically, if it were clear that Glennon was a 27-year-old No. 1 quarterback, the Bears can be more casual in filling out the QB depth chart. The Green Bay Packers didn’t use anything higher than a fourth-round pick on a quarterback until Brett Favre was 36 because they knew they didn’t need to. The Bears are far from in that spot. Had they traded for Kirk Cousins, maybe; they didn’t.

To even link the Glennon signing to the Trubisky drafting is failing to grasp how teams try to staff the most important spot in their game.

Cases in point: the Seattle Seahawks signing Matt Flynn away from the Packers in 2012 for $20.5 million over three years, $9 million guaranteed. Flynn had all of two NFL starts at the time. The Seahawks rightly hedged their bet: They drafted Russell Wilson in the third round. Flynn then lost his job to Wilson by Week 1.

Glennon has 18 starts so maybe that’s why he got $18 million over two years. In any case, the Bears weren’t going to hang the future solely on a twice-replaced quarterback (by Josh McCown and Jameis Winston with Tampa Buccaneers) any more than Seattle was going Flynn-only.

Another in point: the Washington Redskins traded massively up in 2012 to draft Robert Griffin III. Then Washington turned around and invested a fourth-rounder in Cousins.

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Teams routinely evaluate draft candidates starting with measurable traits. Then, once the 40-times, height/weight results and such are tabulated, intangibles like leadership and “football character” enter in as tipping points.

For what the Bears need and want to do this offseason at their  most important position, the Bears need to reverse the process. Do it backwards.

The Bears’ first turn on the draft clock does not come around for upwards of two months, maybe effectively before that if trading draft choices for a Jimmy Garoppolo happens in the meantime. But with the start of the league year and its trading window approach, the talk around Jay Cutler is popping up more and more, whether he’ll command anything in a trade or whether to just cut ties and move on.

But the Cutler experience should be and quite possibly is figuring into what the Bears will do if a quarterback is what they target and select, presumably in the first round. And based on Cutler as a case study, subtle and not-so-subtle indications are that GM Ryan Pace is looking beyond the usual “measurables” in evaluating quarterback prospects, as he absolutely should be.

In this one position, it becomes imperative that the Bears go off-script, outside the box, and look first, hardest and longest at something that won’t show up on any stopwatch or tape measure.

“You want to look for a player who has lifted his program for the most part,” Pace said during his time at this year’s Senior Bowl last month. “That's something that's there. Quarterbacks we've been around, I think Drew Brees, for example, when he was at Purdue, he lifted that program. That's one of the things we look for. That's definitely a factor added into about 30 other things you factor into that position.”

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Why this resonance so loudly over the Bears is because for the last eight years they had a designer quarterback who unquestionably checked every measurable box: size (6-3, 225 pounds, mobility, footspeed, arm strength), yet failed to lift his team the way Pace was accustomed to from his time in New Orleans around Brees.

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is Cutler: 6-3, 209 pounds, big arm. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is Cutler: 6-4, 230 pounds, big arm, mobility.

Tellingly perhaps, Pace also cited another intangible in a way that suggests it will influence his and the Bears’ draft board: “It's your football intelligence, it's your accuracy, it's your ability to quickly process.”

But Trubisky was a starter just one year (2016). Kizer “led” the Irish to a 4-8 season and a 14-11 overall mark in his starts over two years.

Deshaun Watson, in the National Championship game the past two years, is similar in physical stature (6-3, 209) to Kizer and Trubisky, Garoppolo, too, for that matter. But “lifted his program” should be a monumental tipping point here.

And experience. Garoppolo had one spectacular year, his senior season, at Eastern Illinois. His first three years were nothing special, marked by heavy interception totals and barely 60 percent completions. Pace’s weighted criteria have experience high up.

“Yeah, [experience] carries a lot of weight,” Pace said. “I think there’s nothing that can really substitute [for] that. It’s already a big jump from college to the NFL as it is, so the more of that you have, the more beneficial it is.”

Measurables were why Russell Wilson (size) didn’t go until the third round, and why Tom Brady (foot speed) lasted until the sixth. For the Bears, the hard-to-gauge intangibles should be their first evaluation points, far ahead of the physical skills and talents that they have had here since 2009.