The days of summer are methodically passing by. NFL training camps are essentially one month away. And long-awaited fantasy drafts have begun taking place in earnest. What better time to provide you with five predictions to help you plan for your next drafts? Here are my forecasts concerning players from the NFC. The AFC predictions will appear later this week.
1. Cam Newton Will Be A Top Three Quarterback
There is an excellent chance that Newton will be the fifth QB selected during your drafts, as that is where many other analysts are projecting him. However, any owner who had the opportunity to start him while he scorched opponents for 12 TDs and 1,309 total yards during a four week stretch last season captured an extended glimpse of the exceptional numbers that he is capable of producing this season. As did any owner who agonized while being forced to field a team against Newton as he amassed those numbers between Weeks 12-15. His unique ability to accrue yardage and fantasy points with his arm and legs has never been a source of debate. But Newton’s statistical domination of opponents during the latter portion of 2012 was eye-opening. There are conflicting viewpoints regarding how extensively new OC Mike Shula will utilize the zone read in comparison to predecessor Rob Chudzinski. But there is no disputing the excellence of Newton’s numbers once Carolina became less reliant upon it last season, and chose to employ their stable of RBs more often. 250 of the team’s 462 rushing attempts for the season occurred in the final eight contests, as did 1,159 of the 2,088 yards that were accumulated during the entire season. 13 of Newton’s 19 TD passes took place during that stretch, and his QB rating rose by 16 points as a result of the alteration in strategy. Arguably, no offense has been more dependent upon one player than the Panthers. Their degree of reliance upon Newton not only includes the obvious – his ability to stockpile yardage on the ground and through the air – but also his capacity for making decisions instantly and adeptly. He has already generated nearly 8,000 total yards (7,920), along with an even 40 TDs. That includes the 1,447 yards and 22 scores that he has accumulated as a runner. Even if DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are utilized frequently, Newton’s opportunities should maintain the remarkable consistency that has occurred in his first two seasons, when he carried 126 times in 2011, and 127 last year. And even though the Panthers still do not have a dangerous threat at WR2 to complement Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell should join newly acquired Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. to provide Newton with more WR weaponry to blend with reliable TE Greg Olsen. Considering his potential to yardage in every way possible, it is easy to envision Newton becoming an increasingly dominant force in his third season. Which should help shift the pendulum for some owners who may be planning on drafting Tom Brady or Peyton Manning while Newton remains available. Because I believe that Newton will become a major factor in determining who will win numerous fantasy championships this year, and will do so with more frequency than either of those two future Hall-Of Fame signal callers.
2. Dez Bryant Will Be The Second Highest Scoring Receiver
At first glance, this may not appear to be a bold prediction. He has generally been listed behind just three other receivers - Calvin Johnson, A. J. Green and Brandon Marshall - in the majority of fantasy rankings. However, the extraordinarily talented Bryant appears poised to experience the proverbial breakout season that often occurs with third-year receivers. Although, we very likely witnessed his true emergence during the second half of 2012. In those final eight contests, Bryant averaged a commendable 110 YPG and scored 10 times. That enabled him to average more fantasy points on a weekly basis than any other receiver during that span. Yes… that includes Calvin Johnson. And according to our friends at FF Today, Bryant also garnered the NFL’s second best consistency ranking over the latter half of 2012, just behind Megatron. Despite being just 14th overall in total targets, he still finished third among all WRs with 12 TDs, sixth in yardage with 1,382, and eighth in receptions with 92. Those results should serve as a purveyor of what he will accomplish this year. Bryant been devoid of both on and off field issues, and according to all accounts, has been working diligently to improve his skills even further. Which should only intensify his systematic torture of defensive backs over the course of 16 games. A. J. Green is currently the second WR being selected in fantasy drafts, and his ADP of 10 is four positions better than Bryant’s. While Green will be very productive, his output will occasionally suffer even when he does gain separation, due to Andy Dalton’s inability to accurately deliver the deep ball with consistency. Brandon Marshall will accumulate a mammoth number of targets once again, but does not quite possess Bryant’s capabilities as a home run threat. Demaryius Thomas will accrue excellent numbers, as will Atlanta’s tandem of Julio Jones and Roddy White. But none of those options will generate the same amount of fantasy points as Bryant.
3. Roddy White Will Provide Better Fantasy Value Than Julio Jones
White’s current ADP of 33 is respectable, but it is also 19 slots behind Jones. Not only does White deserve more respect from owners, but Julio appears to have garnered too much, considering White’s superior numbers in the two years that they have started for the Falcons. White has generated over 1,150 in each if the last six seasons, and accumulated 1,296+ in his last three. He has also caught at least 83 passes during that span, while averaging 96 in the past two seasons with Jones in the lineup. Plus, White had more receptions (92) and yards (1,351) than Jones last season, and was targeted 14 more times. Plus, you can’t ask for more durability from any WR, as he has performed in all 16 regular season contests for eight consecutive years. Julio can be electric, and it is easy become enthralled with watching him perform. But I don't believe that he will finish within the top 5 at his position in fantasy points this season, and that is where he is being selected. He will secure enough points to be a top 10 WR, but so will White. And if opposing defenses fear Jones’ explosiveness to the degree that they employ additional resources to contain him, that will only create more opportunities for White. During my drafts, I will gladly let other owners use their second round picks on Julio, and obtain better value by grabbing White in Round 4.
4. Reggie Bush Will Lead All Running Backs In Receptions
Count me among the legion of fantasy owners and analysts who thoroughly underestimated Bush's ability to attain yardage as a feature back, prior to his tenure in Miami. But after carrying the ball 524 times in six seasons as a Saint, he displayed surprising durability while being allotted 443 attempts in 31 games as a Dolphin. He also performed effectively, bolting for 2,072 yards and 12 TDs, while averaging 4.65 YPC. Bush also caught 78 passes for 588 yards in 2011-2012, but is likely to surpass those totals in his first year as a Lion. He certainly fulfills a need for a Detroit team that faces serious questions surrounding their WR unit beyond the matchless Megatron. Even if Ryan Broyles manages to maintain his health throughout the season, Bush will provide Matthew Stafford will another dynamic weapon, which he sorely lacked in 2012. The fifth-year signal caller managed to connect Joique Bell on 52 passes last season, due to the desperate need for secondary targets. Bell certainly does not possess the explosiveness of Bush, who should manufacture sizable yard after garnering his receptions. Neither Bell nor Mikel Leshoure present a serious challenge to what should be Bush's considerable workload, which is another reason why owners will be smart to snatch him up. He should gather around 85 receptions this year, and become the league leader among all backs in that category.
5. Vernon Davis Will Be A Top Four Tight End
Take a protracted look at the 49ers roster. Then ask yourself which receiving option will experience the largest jump in production due to Michael Crabtree’s absence from the lineup. Anquan Boldin will be a reliable weapon, and will deliver respectable numbers. But at age 32, he does not have the explosiveness to be a legitimate downfield weapon over the course of an entire season. Certainly not with the proficiency that Crabtree performed with after Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as San Francisco’s starting signal caller last November. A. J. Jenkins might perform well enough in training camp to seize the WR2 slot, but won’t contribute enough to fill the void. Nor will Quinton Patton. Or any other wideout who is currently on the team. However, Vernon Davis and his sizable talent can definitely become the dangerous weapon that Kaepernick and the Niners need without Crabtree. Any owners who relied upon Davis as their TE last season might initially disagree with this assessment, as they recall him managing six catches for 61 yards between Weeks 12-17. But he did collect 12 passes from Kaepernick for 254 yards in three postseason contests. And it is a virtual guarantee that he will be heavily involved in the offensive approach throughout the upcoming year. He practiced with the wideouts during mini-camp, and both Jim Harbaugh and his OC Greg Roman could create matchup nightmares by lining Davis up on the outside in various formations. Regardless of where they place him, he will be highly productive. And Davis should help owners outscore their opponents at TE during most weeks this season.