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We're now at the edge of the cliff. Whether it's one player or several, you've had to make the leap if you've come to play.
After spending the summer studying 2019 and 2020 tape, monitoring personnel changes, and consulting with the groundhog in my backyard, it's almost time to unveil my bold projections for the 2021 NFL season.
First, let's look back at last year's disaster:
- Josh Jacobs earns top-three fantasy RB production: Nope.
- Matthew Stafford eclipses 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns: Bupkis.
- Saints Adam Trautman will lead rookie tight ends in receiving: Trautman flashed, but his stats fizzled.
- Tua Tagovailoa will outplay Joe Burrow and deliver starter production after Week 9: Accurate on a technicality, but not in the spirit of the call.
- CeeDee Lamb will deliver top-15 production: Until Dak Prescott and the offensive line went to the training room, this was true.
- O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski will combine for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns: Maybe this year, but not on my list of bold predictions for 2021.
- Mike Thomas will be a fantasy contributor by year's end in Cincinnati: Ha!
- Todd Gurley will have one more year as a top-10 RB: For much of the year, he was close, but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear war.
So, I've hit rock-bottom in this three-year slump: Not a single correct bold call this year after a 12.5-percent performance the year prior.
Nah, injuries contributed to his status, although he performed well. We're not doing easy predictions — what's the fun in that?
Tom Brady Breaks Peyton Manning's Yardage And Touchdown Records
The idea most of the industry has considered Brady's projected value as no better than the 7-10 range of quarterbacks this summer has triggered me more than anything I've witnessed in the past decade, including our society's political behaviors, the pandemic, and the U.S. government's public acknowledgment this summer that aliens exist. For those of you who read at the depth of a coked-fueled groupie at [Insert your favorite band of geriatrics stretching the rope of their relevancy to a frayed strand here] concert, understand that I'm more concerned on a day-to-day level about the latter situations than I am about the football analysis of a bunch of wannabe meteorologists and reality show participants.
Oh, and actual fantasy writers I respect as well. Still, it puzzles me that a team with this packed with receiving talent that was banged up for much of last year and still managed 40 passing touchdowns and a Super Bowl victory is discounted in fantasy to the degree it is. I've written about this weekly, so I'm not rehashing it. Even if 2-3 of these receivers can't stay healthy this year, I'm confident Brady can still manage a year similar to his 2020 campaign. I have his floor where most are projecting his ceiling.
This development where I'm standing on the opposite side of the Brady issue has almost been as crazy to me as people not seeing Nick Chubb as the best running back prospect in his draft class, Lamar Jackson as a legitimate weapon at quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II as a special talent, or A.J. Brown and Justin Jefferson landing in good situations. I've come to realize that I watch football in a way most don't, so what's common sense to me may not be to others, but when those gulfs appear, they still surprise me.
Of course, with my string of luck with my one fluff piece of the year, Brady and his receivers will all fall off the age cliff and the dragons at the edge of this flat world that the ageist analysts have created will devour them.
MATTHEW STAFFORD Eclipses 5,000 Yards And 40 Touchdowns
I think I was a year early with my Stafford call and now that he's in a Sean McVay system that helped Jared Goff earn 4,688 yards and 32 scores in 2018, I'm going back to the well. Stafford played with one of the best singular talents in the history of the game but the combination of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Darrell Henderson, and Sony Michel might rival any corps of skill talented he's had during his career.
What makes this a bold call is Stafford's health. The guy plays with the abandon of a Hollywood stuntman. Two years ago, he was on his way to a 5,000-yard campaign when he broke his back. With an extra game, good health, McVay's scheme, and surrounding talent, I'm thinking this could be Stafford's best shot at career highs within this realm of production.
DeSean Jackson Is A Top-15 Fantasy WR Heading into Week 5
I'm bold, but I'm not crazy. Jackson is old for a receiver and he hasn't appeared in at least 15 games since 2016. His only 16-game seasons were in 2013 and 2008! Jackson is one of those European sports cars that need a perfect road and constant tuning to perform. But by God, when Jackson gets on one of those well-maintained roads for short stints, his performances are stunning reminders of the wonders of human engineering.
In football theory, Jackson and Stafford are a match made in heaven and I expect to see Jackson average at least 17 yards per catch and score 3-5 touchdowns in September. It won't surprise me if Jackson has 2-3 games with at least 120 yards receiving and is among the top fantasy receivers during the first month of the NFL season.
If he somehow bucks the trend of his career and plays 14-17 games, Jackson could be a 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown performer. As I said, I'm bold, but I'm not crazy. A good month of Jackson is about as far as any reasonable risk-taker should go.
Quez Watkins Will Lead the Eagles in receiving
The thing that impressed me the most about Watkins at Southern Mississippi was his skill at winning contested catches. He had that wiry strength for a thin receiver you see from guys like Jackson, Randy Moss, and T.Y. Hilton. Watkins had excellent speed, but he needed work with his short-area quickness and acceleration.
These are athletic skills that can improve with better technique and a stronger conceptual and technical understanding of the position. As I've shown over the years at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio site, a receiver with 4.3-second, 40-Yard speed will look more like the 4.7-player if he can't run routes and release from press coverage whereas a technically skilled 4.7-runner who understands the game and his position, will look a lot more like a 4.3-guy. The better a player becomes at the techniques of route running, releasing from the line the faster he will play in games.
Watkins showed the drive and maturity to work hard at his game during the offseason and returned to the Eagles with a much greater understanding of his position and potential roles with the team. He has arguably been the best receiver on the team this summer and will man the slot for a team that will likely need to throw the ball a lot to stay in games. Look for Watkins to challenge for the lead in receptions because he has a rapport with Jalen Hurts and be in the hunt for the yardage lead.
Watkins is more physical than DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor, he's at least—AT LEAST—their equal as an open-field runner, and he will earn the benefit of two-way-go situations in the middle of the field with greater frequency than Smith and Reagor
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