Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature. - Albert Einstein, Noted football fan and sometime physicist
We can’t be sure Einstein was talking about the NFL of a bygone era when he said this, but it could have applied to the league then, and it definitely applies to it now. There are a variety of factors at play that makes it awfully hard to predict what will happen in any NFL season, but there still is an order in the league. If you can decipher that order, you’ll have a much better chance at making the right predictions and looking like a genius in December.
With that, here are some bold predictions for the 2015 NFL season.
Jeremy Hill Leads the League in Rushing
Hill initially became the Bengals’ starting running back by default when a hip injury forced Giovani Bernard to the sidelines in Week 9. He stayed there by proving he was already one of the best backs in the league. Hill ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. Two weeks later, he had the second 150-yard game of his rookie season. All told, Hill racked up 929 yards and six touchdowns on 172 carries in his nine starts. That per-game average comes out to 1,651 yards and 10 touchdowns, rounded down to the nearest whole number, when extrapolated over a 16-game season. If per-carry averages are more your thing, we can figure pretty safely that Hill will get 250 carries in a full season as the starter. Using that as our baseline, Hill’s nine-game run to end last season would translate into 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns. No matter your preferred metric, the numbers and your eyes should both say that Hill is in store for a monster season.
Chances are you’ll be delving into the daily fantasy pool at some point this season. Popularity of the games has taken off over the last year, evidenced by the ubiquity of their commercials during sports programming. There’s no way to guarantee success in such leagues, but there are a handful of strategies that can eliminate the guesswork from the equation.
All prices referenced are for Week 1 games on FanDuel.
It All Starts With Stars
Every daily fantasy lineup will be able to handle at least a pair of star players, defined here as anyone who costs $8,000 or more (33 such players in Week 1). There may be weeks where you go the full stars-and-scrubs route, and squeeze in four of those players, and there could be others where you find a balance that allows you the luxury of getting a third superstar on your roster, but you’ll be able to get a minimum of two into each lineup, regardless of format. When I’m filling out my lineups, typically the first players I select are the ones who will be the backbone of my team.
Every fantasy owner will have players they rate much higher, and much lower, than their average ranking. Quite often, being right or wrong on those players can make or break an owner’s season. With that in mind, here are the players I like far more than the rest of the fantasy world heading into the 2015 season.
One quick note before we head off to our deserted locale: I want to cover new ground in this column. Therefore, you won’t be reading anything on why I believe Colin Kaepernick and Tyler Eifert, for example, are blatantly undervalued.
Jeremy Maclin (my ranking: 34, ADP: 60.2)
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a receiver coming off a top-10 season go into the next year with an ADP that places him outside the top-25 receivers, but that’s Maclin’s reality. The new Chief’s ADP makes him the 26th receiver off the board in a typical 12-team draft, right behind Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry, and just ahead of Nelson Agholor. Maclin appears to be paying for the sins of the receivers who came before him in Kansas City, and that’s a serious mistake being made by the market right now. Yes, this team got zero receiving touchdowns from its receivers last year, and Alex Smith is not the most risk-taking quarterback in the league. There are, however, two unavoidable truths regarding that infamous record.
What do Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick have in common? Well, a lot of things, I suppose, but what are the two I’m looking for with this question? First, they’re all well-known quarterbacks whose faces any football fan could identify. Second, they were all outside the top 12 at the position in fantasy points per game last season. In other words, over the course of the entire year, they were all backups.
Eli Manning should matter in fantasy leagues. So should Rivers and Cutler and Flacco. For that matter, so should Alex Smith and Andy Dalton. Yet, in most one-quarterback formats, a lot of them can be ignored. That’s not the fault of one-QB leagues. It’s the fault of the fantasy community at large for not changing with the times. With quarterbacks and passing attacks more potent than ever before in the NFL’s history, the time has arrived for two-quarterback fantasy leagues to be the norm.
You won’t find '87' on a typical roulette wheel, but then again, the NFL preseason is its own special breed of cruel and unusual. So fantasy owners shouldn’t have been too surprised when Jordy Nelson’s number came up over the weekend. It’s almost as though there’s an omnipresent injury overlord, spinning a wheel every few days before deciding who goes down next.
“Thirteen? Take out Kelvin Benjamin. Twenty-six? Let’s go with Louis Delmas. Eighty-seven? I’ve never liked that Nelson character in Green Bay. Make him next.”
The news of Nelson’s torn ACL reverberated through the fantasy community on Sunday afternoon. He was so many things to so many people, and that’s why his absence for the 2015 season will be felt far beyond the Green Bay city limits. Nelson was the best receiver in the league’s most potent offense. He was the favored target of the league’s best quarterback. Over the last few seasons, Nelson has developed into one of the best receivers in the league. Last year alone, he had 12 receptions on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, totaling 577 yards and seven touchdowns on those plays. He was also a monster in the red zone, catching 13 of his 32 targets for five scores.
Nelson was the No. 5 receiver on my board, and typically ranked no lower than seventh at the position. His average draft position at the end of last week was 18.1. With all due respect to Benjamin, Nelson’s injury has a much greater impact on the fantasy community at large. Let’s examine all the affected stakeholders.
We’re inching ever closer to the prime of fantasy football draft season, which typically takes place about 10 days or two weeks before Week 1 kicks off. Really, any time after the third week of preseason games is an appropriate time to draft. That timeframe not only helps fantasy owners avoid drafting a player only to have him suffer a season-ending injury in August, as was the case with Kelvin Benjamin; it also allows for the clearest picture of which players have emerged victorious from training camp battles.
While we are still a few weeks away from draft season beginning in earnest, the clouds over much of the draft board have started to break. We now have about a month’s worth of valuable average draft position data to sift through, giving us an idea of the players who are rising and those who are tumbling heading into draft day.
All ADP data is courtesy of fantasyfootballcalculator.com
It is impossible to predict exactly how a draft will unfold. All the pre-draft prep in the world won’t help you if you don’t have contingency plans in place when the unforeseen happens. That’s why we lead our column on draft strategies every year with a discussion of the difference between strategies and tactics.
The word “strategy” derives from the Greek word strategos, referring to a military general. Put simply, strategy is the overarching plan and coordination of your resources to meet specific goals and objectives. It’s the plan of action put in place by said general. Tactics are used to implement that strategy via short-term decisions that further the long-term goal.
Famed military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that “Tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war.” Crudely re-purposing that for the fantasy world, tactics refer to the individual picks you make in a draft. Those picks should be governed by a set of carefully crafted strategies that guide your short-term decisions.
Below are the strategies that will set up the tactical decisions necessary to emerge from your draft with the best possible team.