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Fantasy Football 2024 draft prep: FFT bold predictions include Caleb Williams setting records, more

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The objective of every Fantasy analyst is accuracy but winning your league isn’t just about predicting the most likely outcome for any given player. Winning in Fantasy leagues comes down to a few players who break the mold in any given season and return so much value that they become league-winning draft picks. You’ve heard the moniker โ€“ you don’t want to lose your league in the first round. This piece is not about locating the safest first-round draft picks. This piece is about locating the breakouts, the unexpected, and the league-winning picks. These are bold predictions and they won’t all come true, but the ones that do hit will determine the outcome of your league. They could be the difference between winning a championship. So let’s go bold!

Adam Aizer

Derrick Henry will be one of the biggest busts in Fantasy

A 30-year-old running back with 2,030 career carries and no more than 33 catches in a season, what could go wrong? While Henry could very well lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns, he needs to score a lot to be worth his draft price. If he disappoints with touchdowns, there may not be much to fall back on in 0.5 or full PPR leagues. And oh by the way, he’s 30 years old!

Malik Nabers will be a Top 12 WR

Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, A.J. Brown, and Jaylen Waddle have had productive rookie seasons with iffy quarterback play. Nabers’ QB play may be worse than all of them, but his talent is undeniable and he should dominate targets for the Giants. His ability after the catch might make him QB-proof on his way to a standout rookie season.

Chris Godwin outscores Mike Evans in PPR

It took the entire Fantasy community yelling “HEY! PUT CHRIS GODWIN IN THE SLOT MORE OFTEN,” for the Bucs to say they’re going to put Chris Godwin in the slot more often. Ok, that’s probably not why it’s happening, but it’s a great development for Fantasy managers. Godwin has serious touchdown regression coming and will be a steal in drafts. Meanwhile, Evans will be 31 years old this season and will likely see a decrease in targets.

Heath Cummings

Calvin Ridley will be the guy everyone expected him to be last year

To say Ridley looked rusty in 2023 would be an understatement. His 55.9% catch rate was a career low and unfortunately for the Jaguars many of his biggest lapses came in the red zone. Inexplicably, he caught just nine of his 26 red zone targets for a 34.6% red zone catch rate that was eight points lower than any other receiver who saw at least 18 red zone targets. Catch rate is not the stickiest statistic and Ridley has never struggled with it in the past. Besides, if you watched the Jaguars at all, you know he caught a few of those passes, he was just standing out of bounds. Now in Tennessee, Ridley will regain his form in the Ja’Marr Chase role (Brian Callahan’s words, not mine), and make anyone who fades him based on last year regret it. Ridley will finish this season as a top-12 receiver, as so many hoped he would in 2023.

Tank Dell will be the No. 1 WR for the Texans and a No. 1 WR for Fantasy

When Nico Collins and Tank Dell were on the field together their production was very similar, but Collins was a third-year receiver and Dell was a rookie. I expect Dell to take the next step in 2024 and become the team’s number one, even with the arrival of Stefon Diggs. The diminutive rookie played more than half of the offensive snaps in eight games last year and caught 41 passes for 618 yards and seven touchdowns in those games. He also ran the ball nine times for 55 yards. If you double those numbers, you have a top-12 wide receiver. C.J. Stroud cannot stop raving about his connection with Dell and the duo is going to take that connection to the next level in 2024.

Patrick Mahomes will break Peyton Manning‘s single-season record for passing yards

This wouldn’t have seemed that bold a year ago, but Mahomes is coming off a career-low 261.4 passing yards per game, so I think it is now. The Chiefs added Marquise Brown and Xavier Worthy to the receiving corps and lost L’Jarius Sneed in the secondary. Just those three moves alone are enough to project a major bounce back for Mahomes, and he doesn’t need much more than a bounce back. This is the same guy who threw for 5,097 yards in 16 games as a 23-year-old and led the league with 5,250 yards in 2022. The Chiefs’ schedule is littered with potential shootouts against some of the best offenses in the NFL. It’s all setting up perfectly for a record-breaking season and his third MVP.

Jamey Eisenberg

George Pickens will lead all WRs in TD catches

Pickens is the No. 1 receiver for the Steelers with Diontae Johnson gone. And Pittsburgh has a quarterback upgrade with Russell Wilson or Justin Fields starting this season, especially Wilson. He just helped Courtland Sutton become one of six receivers to score 10 touchdowns last year in Denver, and Wilson has six seasons on his resume where a receiver has scored double digits in touchdowns (DK Metcalf twice, Tyler Lockett twice, Doug Baldwin and Sutton). And Baldwin led the NFL in touchdown catches for Seattle in 2015 with 14. Pickens is headed for a third-year breakout this season, and his touchdown total will be the reason it happens.

Three QBs will rush for at least 800 yards

There have been 11 seasons in NFL history where a quarterback has rushed for at least 800 yards, including Jackson, who has done it three times (2019, 2020, and 2023). Those are the three seasons where he’s started at least 15 games, so if he stays healthy he should accomplish this feat again. Anthony Richardson only played the majority of two games in his rookie season in 2023, and he was on pace for 816 rushing yards over that span. And Jayden Daniels ran for 885 yards in 14 games at LSU in 2022 and 1,134 yards in 12 games in 2023. All three of these quarterbacks have top-10 Fantasy upside this year.

James Cook will lead all RBs in receptions

Cook had 44 receptions on 54 targets in 2023, but I’m expecting him to almost double that total this year. In nine games with Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator last season, including the playoffs, Cook was on pace for 53 catches on 66 targets. However, if you remove Week 16 where he somehow didn’t get a target at the Chargers, that number jumps to 60 receptions on 74 targets. The Bills have to replace 241 targets and 152 catches with Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis gone, and I’m counting on Cook to be more of a weapon for Josh Allen out of the backfield. The No. 1 running back in receptions last season was Breece Hall with 76, and I can see Cook exceeding that total. He’s worth drafting in Round 2.

Dave Richard

Joe Burrow will be the MVP of Fantasy

The Bengals refused to trade wideout Tee Higgins, drafted receiver Jermaine Burton, signed tight end Mike Gesicki, drafted tight end Erick All, added gigantic veteran tackle Trent Brown, drafted gigantic rookie tackle Amarius Mims with a first-round pick, and replaced Joe Mixon with Zack Moss. Clearly, the Bengals are hyper-focused on keeping the offense flowing through Burrow. Last season, Burrow averaged 38.7 pass attempts per game in his first nine outings, a number that not only was surprising given the preseason injury he suffered but also a number higher than any other quarterback averaged in 2023 except for Joe Flacco and Kirk Cousins. Burrow also averaged 26.2 Fantasy points per game in five matchups when he said he felt good — that number is 0.1 points off of what he averaged for all of 2022 when he was healthy. He’ll have the best pass protection he’s ever had with the most explosive receiving corps he’s ever had without a run game that will siphon big numbers away. All he has to do is stay healthy and he’ll be the MVP.

Derrick Henry will bounce back to a top-5 Fantasy RB

Last season was Henry’s first in five years not finishing as a top-5 Fantasy running back in PPR points per game (that includes the 23.6 he averaged in 2021 when he played eight games). He was game-script-dependent on a bad Titans offense with a brutal offensive line. Now he’ll work alongside Lamar Jackson in the Ravens‘ backfield, where he should especially benefit from working out of shotgun where he can get a step before facing contact. He averaged 4.9 yards per rush running out of shotgun last year and 5.2 the season before, but the Titans didn’t use it enough. The Ravens have been top six in RB rush attempts out of shotgun every year since Jackson took over and averaged over 5.0 yards per rush in all but one of them. Age-30? So what?! Henry should pulverize defenses and romp for 10-plus touchdowns. ย 

Kyle Pitts just doesn’t have it

We can keep coming up with excuses for why Pitts hasn’t had a breakout season yet, or we can just accept him for what he is: an oversized wide receiver whose speed isn’t the same as it once was and whose role is diminishing. There’s no doubt that the Falcons offense will operate better with Kirk Cousins under center, but the hunch is that Drake London and Bijan Robinson will get their numbers called more than Pitts. Downfield shots once reserved for Pitts will be absorbed by Darnell Mooney, and even a handful of the short-range passes that Pitts would benefit from will be grabbed by Rondale Moore. If there’s a path for Pitts to be great for Fantasy, it’s via touchdowns. He’s scored six through three seasons. I feel like I need to see it from Pitts before committing a top-80 pick to him on Draft Day.ย 

Dan Schneier

Caleb Williams will break multiple records as a rookie

The two records I am calling for Williams to shatter are as follows: The rookie passing touchdowns record currently held by Justin Herbert (31) and Erik Kramer’s single-season Bears passing yards record (3,838). The Bears are the only NFL franchise without a 4,000+ yard passer and that changes with Williams in 2024. Williams threw for over 8,000 yards and 72 touchdowns in just 26 games at USC and Jordan Addison was the only offensive player he played with that was selected in the first four rounds of the draft in both seasons combined. He’ll inherit the best wide receiver corps of his career with D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, and Rome Odunze in addition to explosive pass-catching back D’Andre Swift and Cole Kmet as a safety valve. He also joins a Shane Waldron system that revived Geno Smith‘s career by designing a vertically-oriented offense. This type of system perfectly aligns with Williams’ skill set as a vertical thrower with elite arm talent while meshing well with his fellow top-10 pick (Odunze). In 2023, Odunze led all of college football in receptions and yards on passes 20-plus downfield. Williams will break both records and finish as a top-8 Fantasy QB.

Travis Kelce finishes 50 points ahead of TE2 and reclaims TE1

After years of Kelce providing a weekly advantage at the tight end position culminating with him outsourcing all tight ends by over 60 points in 2022, Kelce finally took a step back in 2023. The case for Kelce in 2024 is centered around positive regression. Kelce suffered an injury against the Vikings and played through it the rest of the way, but he finished with just the 14th-most snaps among tight ends after finishing inside the top five in 2022. With up to 200 more snaps coming in 2024, production should follow. Most importantly, Kelce scored just five touchdowns in 2023 after averaging 10.7 per year over his last three seasons. Kelce also averaged 10.6 yards per reception after never dipping below 12.2 in any season in his career. A fully healthy Kelce should rebound in every category and return to double-digit touchdowns. The talented sub 4.4 receivers the Chiefs added (Hollywood Brown, Xavier Worthy) will open up more space in the middle of the field for Kelce to rack up yards โ€“ Patrick Mahomes recently said as much after Kansas City’s minicamp. Even while playing hurt in 2023, Kelce ranked second among all tight ends in target share (25.8%, per Fantasy Points data). Another monster 1,300-plus yard season with 13-plus touchdowns is on the way.

Bijan Robinson breaks out as the RB1 overall

New Falcons HC Raheem Morris told reporters at minicamp the plan is to “get the ball to Bijan as much as [we] can, in as many ideal situations as [we] possibly can” and that’s music to our ears after he finished with just the 24th-most touches per game among all running backs in 2023. In addition to a drastic increase in volume, Robinson will be playing on a much better offense in 2024 with Kirk Cousins. This should lead to more scoring opportunities, longer drives, and ultimately more total yards. Robinson entered the NFL with a unique skill set as a route runner and that will be accentuated with a quarterback like Cousins. The upgrade from Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinecke to Cousins cannot be overstated. Robinson’s path to RB1 overall may require an injury to Christian McCaffrey and/or Breece Hall, but both of those backs have dealt with injuries in the past. Even if they stay healthy, Robinson’s unique skill set will pave a path toward nearly 2,000 total yards and 15-plus total touchdowns in an offense that should be one of the NFL’s most improved in 2024.

Jacob Gibbs

Trey McBride finishes 50 PPR points ahead of the next-highest-scoring TE

McBride was immensely productive in college. Including Mark Andrews, the only tight end prospect among the draft classes I have evaluated (2018-24) who can rival McBride’s 2021 production is Brock Bowers. In his first season as a starting NFL tight end, McBride finished first or second in targets, first downs, and yardage produced on a per-route basis. He became a full-time player in Week 8 and recorded a target share above 20% in every single game from that point on. Sam LaPorta had a target share above 20% in 6 of 17 games. Travis Kelce hit that mark in 10 of 15. All evidence points towards McBride being unique in his ability to draw targets and convert them into yardage. I expect him to remain a focal point of Arizona’s offense. Marvin Harrison Jr.‘s addition only helps raise the roof and creates more space for McBride to operate in the short-to-intermediate area. Whenever given an opportunity, McBride has been a PPR cheat code. I don’t expect that to change in Year 3.

Nico Collins leads the NFL in receiving yardage

When referring to Collins, C.J. Stroud said: “He’s a generational talent, like our age’s Andre Johnson.” That’s high praise, but several data points suggest that Stroud’s statement is more than hyperbolic sentimentality. In 2023, Collins finished behind only Tyreek Hill with a 3.11 yard-per-route-run rate. I choose this metric as the lens to view Collins through because he missed two games and was in and out of others — for reference, CeeDee Lamb totaled 624 routes compared to just 417 for Collins. Comparing their receiving totals is hardly relevant given the opportunity disparity. On a per-route basis, Collins was historically elite. Over the past 10 seasons, the only other receivers to run 300 or more routes in a season and produce yardage at a per-route clip on par with Collins are Hill, Cooper Kupp, and Julio Jones. We all believe that an MVP type of season is possible for Stroud in Year 2. If that comes to fruition, Collins may put up peak Andre Johnson-like numbers.

Christian Watson leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns

Remember how unstoppable Watson felt in the red zone as a rookie? Any time he was within scoring distance, Aaron Rodgers seemed to toss it up to his 6-foot-4 wide receiver. Would you believe me if I told you that in Year 2 Watson had twice as many end zone targets in fewer games? When on the field, Watson accounted for 14 of Jordan Love‘s 24 endzone targets. Love was every bit as committed to spamming alley-oops to Watson as his predecessor, the two just did not connect at as high of a rate. If Love takes a step forward and Watson’s hamstrings hold up, we could see an eruption from the third-year receiver.

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Author: Dan Schneier
June 18, 2024 | 11:15 am

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