It’s time for another season of bad bets based in good process, better known as Bold Predictions.
In this series, we’ll look at weekly matchups, using history as a contextual backdrop – as well as in-season trends – in order to unearth unexpected events that have a chance at coming true.
Last year, we fell just shy of our goal, which is to hit about 15 to 20 percent of predictions — low enough so that they don’t come easy, but realistic enough that we’re still hitting on a solid number.
We’ll bring you at least three predictions on a weekly basis, but before we get going on Week 1, here are 3 Bold Predictions for the 2018 season.
Jay Ajayi and Alex Collins Outscore Dalvin Cook
This is a bet on volume.
Ajayi and Collins look locked into workhorse roles, while Cook is coming off a serious knee injury and shares the backfield with an RB who’s averaged 255 touches over the past three seasons.
The Vikings back is being drafted as the RB10 while Collins and Ajayi are the RB20 and RB21 respectively.
Both of the cheaper backs should see a higher workload than in 2016.
Collins didn’t take over as Baltimore’s lead back until mid-year, but after that point, he was one of the busiest backs in the league. Over the final seven weeks, Collins had the sixth-most touches among all RBs. And while Baltimore gets a bum rap as an offense, they had the fifth-most expected points from their RBs last season, just ahead of the Vikings.
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Ajayi, meanwhile, no longer has to contend with LeGarrette Blount, freeing up 181 touches. He’ll also get more looks near the goal line, as Blount had 32 red zone attempts last year.
The Eagles have been consistent in their message that they want to give Ajayi more touches than he had after moving over from Miami mid season, and that makes a lot of sense considering Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and a 35-year old Darren Sproles round out their depth chart.
Cook’s considerable ADP is based on just four games, and while it’s possible he could pick up right where he left off after ACL surgery, it’s more likely the Vikings bring him along slowly. Especially considering how effective Latavius Murray has been in recent years; keep in mind as well that he’s scored 20 TDs over the past two seasons and may be a threat to Cook’s scoring upside.
Trey Burton is a Top-5 Tight End
The Bears starting TE is currently the TE9 by ADP, so he’s going to have to outperform his price considerably to crack the top five.
Few offenses have used their TE as heavily or as effectively as Matt Nagy’s did during his time as offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. Since he took over in 2016, K.C. has led the league in targets, receptions, yards, expected points, and points.
They’ve targeted the TE an incredible 12.3 percent more than any other team. To put that in perspective, the gap between the second-ranked team and the 11th-ranked team in that category is 14.5 percent.
While part of that is a function of how good Travis Kelce is, it’s also clear that Nagy prioritizes having a “move” TE. Play caller tendencies don’t always carry over when a coach changes team, but it’s telling that Nagy made it his first order of business in Chicago to give Burton $18 million guaranteed, despite the fact the Bears had just spent a second-round pick on Adam Shaheen the year before.
I doubt they spent that kind of cap money for a luxury item, and I expect Burton to easily surpass the 82 targets being projected by Dave Caban.
He’s not as good as Kelce, but why can’t he do a reasonable impersonation? Burton ‘s 0.81 RACR — a measure of how efficiently a receiver converts an air yard thrown his way — was the exact same as Kelce’s last year, while Rob Gronkowski had a RACR of 0.84.
In a small sample, Burton put up a 92-target, 720-yard pace with Zach Ertz out of the lineup.
720 yards would have put him two yards behind Evan Engram last year, who finished fifth in TE receiving yards.
Saquon Barkley Breaks the Rookie RB Receiving Record
Last year, Alvin Kamara shattered the rookie RB receiving record which had stood for the past eight seasons. We won’t have to wait near as long again, as second-overall-pick Saquon Barkley breaks the record yet again in 2018.
The 21-year-old freak show broke the Prospect Lab and proved to be one of the best receiving backs in the country, posting 632 yards on in 13 games.
He slides into an offense which won’t be shy about feeding him the ball. Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula moves over from Carolina where he fed rookie Christian McCaffrey with a meaty 113 targets last year — the second-highest rookie RB total ever.
With less competition in the RB target department than Kamara had in Year 1, Barkley should be able to crack 100 targets. Talent will take him to the record books from there.
Emmanuel Sanders is a WR1
There are a few mid-range dark horses I like to finish in the top 12, but as the WR33 by ADP this year, none would be more surprising than Sanders.
The 31-year old had the better rapport with new quarterback Case Keenum in the preseason, turning seven receptions into 88 yards, while Demaryius Thomas had just three catches for 18 yards.
Keep in mind that he also finished as the WR19 and WR20 in 2015 and 2016 while catching passes from the likes of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler.
This year he not only gets the best QB he’s had since Peyton Manning retired, but he’s back to full health. His game speed charts clearly show how much he was affected by a nagging sprained ankle last year.1
Between better health and a QB who helped make Adam Thielen the overall WR8 last season, Sanders is positioned to bounce back in a big way.
- His 2017 game speed is the first chart; 2016 is the second chart. (back)