There is a glimmer of a chance that all of these bold predictions will come to fruition, but chances are, they won't. That would be like hitting on a long-shot GPP or getting a 12-team parlay to hit. This isn't just an attempt to throw thoughts and opinions together without merit. There is a concrete basis for my accumulation of proposed thoughts and ideas, which I'll try to convey in my explanation.
1. Calvin Ridley will finish as the #1 overall fantasy wide receiver
The last five overall WR1 finishers
- 2016 Jordy Nelson, Green Bay
- 2017 DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
- 2018 Tyreek Hill, Kansas City
- 2019 Michael Thomas, New Orleans
- 2020 Davante Adams, Green Bay
What did they have in common, aside from mountains of talent? They played with excellent quarterbacks. DeAndre Hopkins is the only outlier because Deshaun Watson was a rookie and only played seven games before tearing his ACL. The Texans finished the season with a combination of T.J. Yates and Tom Savage under center, yet Hopkins still thrived. Looking back, it's remarkable what he achieved under the circumstances. Every team listed above made the playoffs that year except Houston, who finished 4-12.
Often, the overall WR1 is far and away the best fantasy wide receiver on the team. Except for Davante Adams finishing WR7 in 2016, the other WR1 finishers above had a sizable gap between them and the next closest receiver.
- 2016 - Jordy Nelson WR1, Davante Adams WR7
- 2017 - DeAndre Hopkins WR1, Will Fuller V V WR47
- 2018 - Tyreek Hill WR1, Sammy Watkins WR62
- 2019 - Michael Thomas WR1, Ted Ginn Jr Jr WR79
- 2020 - Davante Adams WR1, Marquez Valdes-Scantling WR41
Including the narrow margin of Nelson and Adams in 2016, the average margin of ranking between the overall WR1 and his closest wide receiver teammate in standard fantasy points is 56.6. Now that Julio Jones is playing elsewhere in 2021, Ridley should be the clear top receiving target among Atlanta's wide receiving corps by a wide margin.
Ridley's closest competition for target shares among wide receivers is Russell Gage. Gage exceeded 100 targets in 2020 and should see a bump in productivity in 2021, but he's not on the same level or target-share expectancy as Ridley. In short, Ridley is a match for the DNA of the previous WR1s that were mentioned above. He should be a clear-cut target hog among the Falcons receiving corps. To add more fuel to the WR1 fire, Ridley has scored 26 touchdowns in 44 games (nearly 60% touchdowns per game percentage). He's a scorer, and touchdown scorers elevate a player's fantasy ranking.
2. Kyle Pitts will finish outside of the Top 10 tight end rankings
Hear me out. I know Pitts is a popular pick to be an impactful fantasy phenom in the league. I don't necessarily doubt this stance. The question that I have that we all should be asking is, when? Could it happen this year? There is a reason why it takes tight ends at least one year to get acclimated to the NFL level. To fulfill your role, you must know and learn the running game, passing game, blocking assignments, pass protections, etc. Learning all of those critical pieces to the puzzle takes time. There was speculation that he might be thrown into a specific role where he learns that formation, assignment, route concept, but he's being placed all over the place and used in multiple formations. He has his work cut out for him to pick up everything that is asked of him. It may not be until mid-season or later when he truly feels comfortable in the offense. By then, it may be too late to cash in on a top 10 fantasy ranking.
3. Terrace Marshall Jr and Dan Arnold will score more touchdowns than D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson
Terrace Marshall Jr was a capable and prolific receiver at LSU during and after Joe Burrow's tenure. He was known for scoring touchdowns from all over the field, yet he was overshadowed by Justin Jefferson and then Ja'Marr Chase. He wasn't truly a feature of the offense until last season when LSU tried three different quarterbacks to run the system. Marshall excelled and finished with 23 touchdowns in 19 games in his three-year career at LSU, including 10 in 2020 without all-world quarterback Joe Burrow, playing in only seven games before opting out for the rest of the season. Carolina has been utilizing him all over the field so far in training camp, including a slot role that would elevate his fantasy appeal, especially in PPR leagues. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are key pieces to the Panthers' offense, but the lack of touchdowns has kept them from blossoming into elite receivers. Moore has 10 touchdowns in three seasons, and Anderson scored just three times last season. Marshall and his yet-to-be-noticed skills are on the verge of taking flight in Carolina's offense. If he picks up where he left off with three relatively unknown quarterbacks at LSU, he could be a star in the making and a gem fantasy piece as early as this year.
As for Dan Arnold, he was brought in to help a struggling red zone offense that finished 28th in red zone touchdown efficiency last season. At 6'6, 222 pounds, with 4.60 speed, Dan Arnold is a rarity among tight ends. He's more like a big wide receiver, and he plays like one as well. He has 7 career touchdowns on 78 targets, which is impressive (1 score every 11.1 targets). He is coming off his best season, where he hauled in 31 receptions for 438 yards and 4 touchdowns. According to camp reports, he is seeing a lot of involvement, especially closer to the goal line.
Take it for what it is worth during the halfway point of training camp but the connection between QB Sam Darnold and TE Dan Arnold is legit and very consistent. Between 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills I have counted at least 9 TDs between them.— Kevin Avery (@4MR_KountryKev) August 9, 2021
The tight end in Joe Brady's offense hasn't been a key piece in yardage and production. This is true at LSU, as well as his first year with Carolina. Only the Patriots (15) had fewer receptions to the tight end than Carolina (27) last season. The Panthers have not had a big, tall, rangy presence in their offense since Greg Olsen. Marshall and Arnold fill a void in that department, which could lead to an increase in touchdowns if they can catch on to the offense with little ramp-up time. So far in camp, the buzz has included both, which is a good sign for their rise up in the rankings.
4. Saquon Barkley will finish outside of the Top 10
Saquon Barkley may do his best Adrian Peterson impression, and everything is rainbows and roses a year after ACL reconstruction. Still, in reality, that's not how the majority of ACL cases go. Terrell Davis, who came off three straight double-digit touchdown seasons, including a 2,000-yard rushing season, wasn't the same after his ACL injury. Edgerrin James took a year, if not two, before he regained his form. Some might argue he was never quite the same type of back, even years after suffering his ACL injury. Most recently, Dalvin Cook finished RB31 the year after his ACL injury. It takes time to fully heal and gain confidence in how structurally sound your knee is. Barkley is a true workhorse on the field and off, and he is approaching this the absolute correct way, but I am skeptical that it will take time to regain his form even with top rehabilitation. Plus, there is also the possibility of compensatory injuries that could arise that we often see with players treating an injury. Outside of his health, there is also the uncertainty of the Giants offense, Daniel Jones, and Jason Garrett's play-calling that gives me some pause. There are too many uncertainties surrounding Barkley's health that make him undraftable for me at his current ADP. Based on previous running back ACL histories, I will be surprised if he finishes as top 10 back this year, and it could be much worse if he is forced to miss time throughout the season.
5. Jaylen Waddle will lead the Dolphins in receptions in 2021
His ankle injury history is a deep-down concern. However, he is performing well in training camp and has emerged as a threat while others in Dolphins camp are sinking. Will Fuller V is dealing with a foot injury, and DeVante Parker, who recently came off the PUP list, appears to be going through the motions, trying to avoid getting hurt. Waddle is playing to be the team's top target, and he may get there. He is a bright star in training camp, lining up all over the field, answering the bell to what his coaching staff has asked him to do. He could have a Terry McLaurin-like rookie season that includes him taking over as the go-to receiver on a team that features his college quarterback as his now pro quarterback. The rapport and cohesiveness are already there.
6. The Saints leader in receptions and receiving yards in 2021 will be Marquez Callaway
As the feud between Michael Thomas and the Saints continues, the more it feels like Thomas may have played his last game as a team member. We already know Thomas is going to miss considerable time as he heals from late off-season ankle surgery. Someone is going to have to take over as the primary downfield threat. It could be second-year tight end Adam Trautman, but I don't see him as a high-volume possession receiver. If you're wondering who best fills Thomas' role in the offense, look no further than Week 7 last season, where Marquez Callaway collected 8 catches on 10 targets for 75 yards in a role that resembled what we've seen from Thomas - mostly high-percentage short to intermediate routes, which is what we should see a ton of in 2021, especially if Taysom Hill is under center. Callaway would've padded his stats even more had it not been for a sprained ankle that he suffered in the third quarter. The ankle injury held him in check until Week 16 and 17, where he had three catches each and was more of a prominent role once Thomas was sat down in Week 15. Some might think Tre'Quan Smith will be the leading target for New Orleans. However, his skill set is more geared towards stretching the field and not so much as a volume-based possession receiver. Look for Callaway to occupy that role and be a key piece of the downfield attack.
Saints WR Marquez Callaway continues to be one of the biggest standouts in camp. He caught a red-zone TD from Jameis Winston on a quick comeback route in front of Marshon Lattimore on Monday — after catching a TD from Taysom Hill in red-zone drills Saturday. https://t.co/KJXxEpDXQo— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) August 9, 2021
7. Tyler Boyd will lead the Bengals in receptions
On paper, Tyler Boyd is the #3 wide receiver on the Bengals roster, behind Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Higgins arrived last year and Ja'Marr Chase is reunited with Joe Burrow who figures to have a prominent role with the offense. However, I'm here to tell you that Boyd may be the most important piece of the Bengals offense, and he could wind up being the unsung hero for the Bengals in 2021. He has 100+ targets in each of the last three years with at least 75 receptions. The Bengals offense will feature a heavy presence of three wide receivers, and Boyd is a trusted piece that will see plenty of involvement.
Bengals’ WR targets if Burrow played all season (17game pace):— Deep Dive Fantasy Football (@deepdiveff) August 8, 2021
Tyler Boyd 157
Tee Higgins 138
AJ Green 117
Current ðŸ¯ WR’s ADP:
- Chase WR24
- Higgins WR28
- Boyd WR40
Make it make sense pic.twitter.com/3KYFU2FwpA
My definition of a bold prediction - Making a clear claim that includes some form of believability that others can latch onto with a rising degree of acceptance or mutual confirmation. Where do you stand? How many of these do you agree with or at least could get on board with? Feel free to share your thoughts with me on Twitter.
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