Fantasy Football 2013: Five bold predictions for the upcoming season

Fantasy football draft day is extremely near. For others, though there are still two or three weeks until you’re on the clock, but it’s never too early to kick off your many hours of laborious strategizing.

But I’m not here to help answer questions like “this guy or that guy,” there are plenty of places where you’ll find that type of material all over the web, and for me, it’s just too hard to know which player-to-player decisions you’ll be faced with in your own unique league. So instead, I wanted to give you five bold predictions for the 2013 fantasy football season.

Can Larry Fitzgerald return to his form of old this season? Credit: Yahoo!

Can Larry Fitzgerald return to form this season? Credit: Yahoo!

5. Jason Witten: League leader

Although no tight end has led the NFL in receptions since Tony Gonzalez did it with 102 in 2004,  I think this is the year we see it happen again. Jason Witten, on average, has finished as the ninth-leading receiver over the past six NFL seasons. Last year, he set a career high with 110 receptions, despite only catching eight passes over the season’s first three weeks.

A lot of the in-season growth in production was because defenses had to shift their focus solely to breakout wide receiver Dez Bryant on the outside of the field. This year, the focus will be on Bryant for the entire season, as opposed to just the second half of it, like was the case a year ago.

Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker, and Andre Johnson were the only guys with more catches than Witten last year. I think until other guys on their respective teams step up, defenses will hone in on Megatron, B-Marsh, and Johnson to an extreme degree. Yes, I know they probably all had to deal with that same situation going into last season, but defenses will try to cut off production to those guys in any way they can after their dominant years in 2012.

And sorry, Wes Welker: I know Peyton Manning targets slot receivers about as frequently as anyone, but Demariyus Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme and even the running backs will still need to see their fair share of targets.

If my prediction for Witten is anywhere near accurate, he will be a steal in any league, let alone in PPR’s, where you’ll see him often taken as the third, fourth or fifth tight end.

4.Larry Fitzgerald: Second to none … well, one

Last year, I earned the respect for Calvin Johnson that I always should have had. I mean, I’ve known and admitted that he was the best receiver in the game for a while already, but I was convinced the Madden Curse would find a way to strike yet another victim. It didn’t.

There’s just nothing you can legitimately say against Megatron being the No. 1 fantasy football wide receiver this year. But I think there’s a debate to be had for who slots into the ranks right after him.

I think you can put guys like A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, and Brandon Marshall there. No disrespect to some other guys, I just think there’s at least one main factor weighing against receivers like Julio Jones being opposite Roddy White, Randall Cobb’s lack of TD production/potential, Demariyus Thomas splitting targets, and Andre Johnson’s age and somewhat inconsistent production.

But it’s not Bryant, Marshall, or Green that I have at No. 2 behind Johnson, it’s 29 year-old former Heisman Trophy runner-up, Larry Fitzgerald.

I could describe why I have Fitz ahead of those three guys, but it’s honestly just splitting hairs. This is more of a move to put my money where my mouth is, as I’ve been high on Fitzgerald all offseason. With Bruce Arians now running the show in Arizona and Carson Palmer orchestrating it, I just think it’s foolish that there aren’t more people aboard the No. 11 bandwagon.

Last year, Andrew Luck attempted 627 passes, which was good for fifth in the NFL. But it was only a couple of attempts per game behind Drew Brees at second place. But that wasn’t the most intriguing part of how Arians ran his offense in Indianapolis, the best part was how he used those pass attempts.

Arians is a coach who has his quarterbacks not only throw a lot, but throw to his wide receivers a lot. Unlike in other offenses, where you see many short passes and dump-offs to backs, that’s not what Arians does. Palmer be throwing the ball down field often.

Young pass-catchers Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler are expected to continue to get better for the Cardinals, which bodes well for Fitzgerald. I think he’ll be right up at or near the top of the league in targets, just like Reggie Wayne was for Arians in Indy. But Fitzgerald has proven throughout the years that he can catch balls over the middle, deep down the field, and in spite of tight coverage from top defenders.

Basically, we know that he can do it all on the field. But now, with a quarterback who has a big arm throwing to him and likely throwing to him often, do not be surprised to see him produce like he did before the quarterback carousel started spinning around him in Arizona.

3. Reggie Bush: Another league leader

It seems that every year a running back leads the league in yards from scrimmage. And it’s almost always a dual-threat back, like the former No. 2 overall pick, Reggie Bush.

Last year, Adrian Peterson ran for a bazillion yards. Although nobody – myself included can deny the man’s greatnesa – I feel confident in saying that he won’t come too close to last year’s 2,314 total yards from scrimmage. And that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to have a fantastic year. He probably will but I just can’t see the holes opening up as well on a regular basis for him, and I’m also quite positive that defenses will bite the bullet and put eight in the box against the Vikings on every single play. Christian Ponder was one of, if not the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last year at throwing the ball down the field, so why not sell-out to stop the run?

But back to Bush, who you’ve probably figured out that I am going to pick to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage this year.

Over the last two years, Bush has averaged a little more than 1,300 yards, and that was in below-average Miami Dolphins offenses that tried to feature him as a run-through-the-gaps back, if you will. Now, in the free-flying, sometimes chaotic Detroit Lions offense, I think Bush is poised to flourish. There are just always yards to be had in that Motown offense.

Let’s say it takes 2,100 yards to be the league leader come the end of the regular season. In 2012, Lions backup running Joique Bell had 485 receiving yards, and that’s as a guy who only saw sporadic playing time. And to make myself clear, this is a player who had done nothing – literally, nothing – until 2012 on three NFL teams throughout three seasons as a professional.

If Bell, in that role and situation, can rack up nearly 500 receiving yards, I’m fairly certain Bush will be at or near 900. I know, I know that’s a lot. But when you combine his big-play ability and elusiveness with the Lions’ spread offense that dumps the ball off to backs with the best of ‘em, I don’t think it’s a ridiculous number.

So obviously, that would mean he would need somewhere around 1,100 yards on the ground to get to 2,100, which will likely get to the top of the league. He rushed for 2,072 rushing yards over two seasons with the Miami Dolphins in 31 games played.

Considering that the Lions have an offense against which defenses can’t put eight in the box, I don’t think it’s crazy to think he could put up numbers better than what he produced in South Beach.

2. Who Dey?

I don’t want to discuss any team’s special teams performance because I think it’s just too much of a crapshoot. And while the same might be said for team defenses in fantasy football, I feel pretty strongly about the unit I think will take the biggest jump this season.

Last year, the Bengals sneakily had the fifth-highest ranked D/ST in all of fantasy football. That was because from weeks 10 through 17, they averaged 14.25 fantasy points per game after only putting up 4.5 in their first eight games. I’m buying into that massive improvement.

Behind Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and co., the team’s offense will consistently keep the defense off the field for good chunks of time. With stars like Geno Atkins, Leon Hall and newcomer James Harrison alongside youngsters I’m very high on like Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, I think the Bengals are about to sweep the nation.

Here are some impressive stats from their 2012-13 campaign:

  • Allowed just 20.0 points per game
  • Yielded only 319.7 yards per game
  • Had 51 sacks, behind only the Rams and Broncos by one for the most in NFL

So yes, the Bengals were consistently up there in the rankings last year in terms of what they allowed. And I’m pretty confident that the youngsters I mentioned will continue to get better propelling them toward the top of the league. Unfortunately they were only middle of the pack where takeaways were concerned. But with everything else improved, I think some turnovers will both literally and figuratively just fall into their hands.

And that’s why I think the Bengals finish the season as the No.1 ranked fantasy defense.

1. Cam Newton reasserts his dominance

Last year, I was mostly disappointed to have Cam Newton as my quarterback in my one league. I mean, he sprinkled in some very nice games for me, but overall, was just a mediocre fantasy performer and as frustrating to watch as anyone.

But from that frustrating season, I am confident you can find many encouraging tidbits from Newton’s 2012-13 campaign.

For example, though he only had three Newton-like fantasy showings through the first nine weeks, he turned it on (from a fantasy perspective) when it mattered most. From weeks 11 through 16, he averaged fantasy 26 points. His games in Week 12, 13 and 14 single-handedly helped some fantasy owners get to and advance in the playoffs.

This season, he will have another year of experience under his belt in the Carolina Panthers’ offense that will stay mostly the same. And you have to think the emergence of last year’s rookies and breakout stars like RGIII, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck will ease that pressure and expectations that Newton will face.

I expect him to get owners five to eight points each week from his rushing efforts alone. And when you consider how much he improved as a passer and a decision-maker last year, I think the stars are aligned for him to pass up the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and other in the fantasy ranks this season.



About Zach Gropper

Zach Gropper is a sports broadcasting major at Indiana University in the beautiful town of Bloomington, IN. He is from Flossmoor, IL, a small Chicago suburb.
Zach was was the sports director for WHFH 88.5 FM Flossmoor his junior year of high school and Television Station Manager of Viking Television during his senior year.
He runs a White Sox blog at GrabSomeBench.com and also contributes and reports for AssemblyCall.com. Last summer, Zach interned for ESPN 1000 AM Chicago, working on programming for the Waddle and Silvy Show.
He is currently eager to get out into the professional world of sports media, wherever that may take him.

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