Go big or go home: Eight bold fantasy predictions for 2015

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Go big or go home: Eight bold fantasy predictions for 2015
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Because you probably wouldn't click on a feature called, "Eight mild predictions for 2015," let's go big and bold — teetering on the edge of recklessness. Don't even try to reconcile these predictions with the current version of my preseason fantasy ranks. Can't be done. We aren't discussing what's most likely to happen, but things that can plausibly happen.

Each year the NFL is reshaped by injuries and rule changes and suspensions and freak weather events and fluky bounces and ... well, you know how it goes. It's a constantly changing league. Not a simple landscape to assess in mid-summer.

Yet still we try. Here are eight bold-ish predictions for the year ahead...

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1. Ben Roethlisberger is going to finish as the season's top overall fantasy scorer.

Sure, Andrew Luck is the consensus No. 1 fantasy quarterback for 2015, and the argument on his behalf is simple to make. He's a ridiculously skilled passer at the controls of a loaded offense, surrounded by talent, and his team's defense is far from dominant — the Colts will almost certainly find themselves in shootouts throughout the season.

But here's the thing: every point we make when touting Luck also applies to Big Ben. Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant are an almost unfair receiving tandem, and Le'Veon Bell is coming off an 83-catch season. Ben established new career highs last year in pretty much every stat that matters, including passing yardage (4,952), attempts (608), completion percentage (67.1) and touchdowns (32). He enjoys year-to-year system continuity under coordinator Todd Haley, too. When Roethlisberger says things like this...

“We want to start fast and we want to be able to put 30 points on the board in every game.”

...you shouldn't mistake it for the usual training camp sunshine. Pittsburgh's defense isn't nearly the force it used to be, but the offense is basically an unstoppable machine. With Ben putting the ball in the air 600-plus times, no one should be shocked if he delivers his first 5,000-yard campaign. He's drafted 36 picks later than Luck in an average Yahoo league, but these passers have similar ceilings and floors.

Jimmy Graham joins a run-first offense. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Jimmy Graham joins a run-first offense. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

2. Jimmy Graham will rank outside the top-5 tight ends.

Of course no one is going to question Graham's position at or near the top of the real-life hierarchy among receiving tight ends. He's a superhero-level athlete with excellent size (6-foot-7), speed, strength and leaping ability. He's produced two of the greatest statistical seasons in the history of his position, and he's still only 28.

The problem, of course, is that he's no longer feasting at the Saints' fantasy buffet. Instead, he's tied to an offense that ranked dead-last in pass attempts in 2014 (by a lot), next-to-last in 2013, and last in 2012. Drew Brees completed more passes than Russell Wilson attempted last year. This is not a small detail. The last Seahawks player to top 100 targets in a season was this dude, back in 2010; Graham hasn't seen less than 124 targets in any of the past four years.

So yeah, I'm more than a little worried. Wilson is a wonderful young quarterback, but he's not the type to get radar-lock on any individual receiver — he's a spread-the-wealth QB directing a run-first offense. If you're drafting Graham, let's hope you're eyeing a 70-720-7 sort of season, not 85-1200-12.

3. Andre Johnson reaches double-digit touchdowns, finally.

Simply put, Johnson is one of the most productive and talented receivers in league history. He's topped 100 receptions in five different seasons and he's reached the 1,400-yard plateau four times. Maddeningly, Houston never really leaned on him near the goal line (because Gary Kubiak always coached as if he owned Dayne, Slaton or Foster in ten fantasy leagues). Somehow, Andre has never delivered a 10-TD campaign. He certainly has the frame and hands to be a terrific red-zone weapon, and he now he's paired with a quarterback who's coming off a 40-TD season. Even if Johnson has lost half-a-step, he's still capable of a monster fantasy line, complete with 10 or 11 spikes.

Eli's life is so much better with Beckham. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Eli's life is so much better with Beckham. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

4. Eli outscores Peyton.

To be clear, I am not as pessimistic about Peyton as my colleague Brandon Funston seems to be, nor am I worried about any lingering impact from his end-of-season quad injury. Peyton is an inner-circle all-time great with exceptional receiving talent around him. He's great.

But let's stop sleeping on Eli, OK? He's the guy who gets to lob passes to the incomparable and uncoverable Odell Beckham Jr., plus the Giants have added Shane Vereen to the backfield mix. Vereen is a terrific source for low-degree-of-difficulty passing yards. Eli delivered 4,410 yards and 30 passing scores last year, with only partial seasons from Beckham and Victor Cruz. If things break just right, it's not tough to imagine him approaching his career-best yardage total (4,933 in 2011). If he doesn't top his brother's fantasy production this season, I'm betting he can still get thisclose.

5. Justin Forsett tops 2,000 scrimmage yards.

Eventually, you have to start thinking more about a player's best-case-scenario season than his rock-bottom floor in your fantasy draft. We all see a certain level of injury risk with Forsett, an undersized back (5-foot-8) who turns 30 in October. But he's also an unrivaled featured runner who just gave us 1,529 scrimmage yards on 279 touches. Baltimore's new OC, Marc Trestman, scripted a numbingly predictable Chicago offense last season, but you can't say he failed to wring every bit of production from Matt Forte (1,846 total yards, 102 receptions). Trestman has a deep history of feeding his RBs in the short-passing game. Charlie Garner's 2002 season was silly, for example (1,903 yards, 91 receptions). If Forsett can play all 16 this year, he'll very likely finish among the total yardage leaders, and he has a shot at PPR immortality.

[Fantasy Draft Guide: Safest Bets | Busts | Sleepers | Breakout Candidates | Top Rookies]

John Brown, pass-catching freak. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
John Brown, pass-catching freak. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

6. John Brown makes a sophomore surge, ranks among top-20 receivers.

Again, I haven't yet ranked Brown as a WR2 for fantasy purposes, but his rookie season was crazy-good, and his highlights were ... well, just look at this nonsense. And this. And this. He's apparently been attached to Cards QB Carson Palmer throughout the offseason, and he's a notable member of the best-shape-of-his-life club. No way he slips in value, except through injury; he's a terrific system fit for Bruce Arians and a no-doubt talent.

7. Latavius Murray plays his way into the top-20 fantasy picks in 2016.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But we've seen it happen recently for Jeremy Hill and C.J. Anderson, and those guys weren't walking into featured roles a year ago, as Murray is now. Oakland hid Latavius on the depth chart until late in the season in 2014, incredibly enough, but he was a revelation when he was unleashed. He needed just four carries against the Chiefs last November to deliver 112 rushing yards and two scores — and at the time, they were the only rushing TDs allowed by KC through 11 games. Murray has an almost unnatural combination of size and speed (6-foot-3, 230, 4.38), he averaged 5.2 YPC on his 82 attempts last year, and he seems like a natural for OC Bill Musgrave's ground game. If you're worried about Trent Richardson's presence on the roster, then ... um ... BWAHAHAHA.

Of course you aren't worried about Trent Richardson. Shockingly, T-Rich is reportedly struggling already. Murray is the lead runner in Oakland, with Roy Helu in a supporting role.

8. New England will spend the year in scorched-earth mode. Things could get ugly.

OK, this isn't really such a bold prediction, because we have an organizational track record to guide us. The last time the Patriots were involved in a scandal that earned the -gate suffix, they responded by more or less attempting to burn the league to the ground. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes; the team topped 30 points twelve times. During one five-game stretch, the Pats averaged 45.8 points per week. Remember the mid-season evisceration of Washington, when New England went for it on fourth-and-2, leading 45-0 in the fourth quarter? Yup, that happened.

Of course the '07 Pats were simply a monstrous team, a group that hardly needed additional motivation. Maybe the -gate had nothin' to do with it. Entirely possible. In any case, I'm investing in Brady this year, taking the suspension-related discount. I think you're going to want all possible shares of this offense in the second half of the season, in the most important fantasy weeks.