Tribbey's 2021 Bold Takes


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Tribbey's 2021 Bold Takes

All throughout the offseason, I’ve been giving takes on fantasy football. Some of those takes may have seemed bold, and maybe some were. This article, however, is exclusively devoted to bold takes. The boldest takes, actually.

I promise these takes won’t be completely ridiculous. Every take I lay out in this article can happen, and I’ll illustrate how. More importantly, these are all things that I believe have a much higher chance of happening than the market currently implies based on ADP.

Without further ado, let’s be bold. (Reminder: these are bold predictions that have a lower likelihood of happening and are not intended to align with site rankings and projections.)

Diontae Johnson will lead the NFL in targets

To be honest, I’m not sure if this is bold enough because Johnson would’ve led the league in targets last season had he stayed healthy. Scott Barrett says it best in Underrated Upside, writing “Due entirely to injury, Johnson fell under 50% of the team's snaps in Weeks 3, 5, and 14. He played on 76% of the team's snaps in Week 8 but clearly wasn't quite right after spending some time in the medical tent with an injury suffered in the first quarter. Including the postseason, but excluding those four games, Johnson saw double-digit targets in 11 of 12 games, with the lone exception being Week 17, the one game QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't play. Over this span, Johnson averaged 12.3 targets, 83.0 yards, 19.6 XFP, and 19.4 FPG. If extrapolated over the full season, those numbers would have ranked best (1.7 more than next-closest), 8th-, 2nd-, and 4th-best among wide receivers.”

Big Ben’s faltering arm strength should also assist Diontae’s target volume, as no WR in the NFL saw more targets within five yards than Johnson (83). Pittsburgh clearly wants to get him the ball, and they're doing it close to the line of scrimmage to appease their QB’s (already or soon-to-be) noodle arm. Given that the Steelers threw the ball at an 8.3% higher rate than expected last season (2nd-most), everything is in place for Johnson to get fed an NFL-leading and fantasy league-winning number of targets.

Jakobi Meyers will finish top-8 in receptions

Meyers appears to be everything we hoped he would be so far this preseason, running a diverse route tree and playing in 2WR sets. And he’s been getting the WR1 treatment in practice since June. Oh, also, Mac Jones starting is a huge boost to this passing game overall.

He’s clearly the Patriots WR1, and crucially, he’ll be doing most of his work out of the slot. Why is that so important? New England’s slot role has been a PPR cheat code for a number of years. From 2007-2019, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman averaged 16.4 FPG in their respective time as the starting slot. That number would’ve been good enough for WR14 last year. And over that 13 year sample, Welker, Amendola, and Edelman finished top-8 in receptions nine times.

That’s awesome upside, but Meyers also offers a stronger floor for fantasy purposes than his WR60 price tag implies. Last season, with the Patriots dreadful QB play holding back the entire offense, Meyers stepped into the starting slot role in Week 8 and averaged 13.1 FPG and 7.4 targets per game — marks that would’ve ranked 37th and 29th among WRs if sustained for the entire season. And he posted very encouraging numbers vs man coverage last season, with the 11th-best YPRR (2.64) and 27th-best PFF receiving grade (78.6) out of 108 qualifiers. And he’s a positive touchdown regression candidate, ranking 9th-worst among WRs in expected TD differential (-1.9) last season.

There’s an absolute mountain of reasons to be bullish on Meyers (at cost) in fantasy drafts and if he ends up as New England’s WR1 (which I think is a lock at this point) then he’s going to catch a ton of passes. Potentially enough to finish at or near the top of the league in receptions.

Rondale Moore will lead all WRs in YAC

Larry Fitzgerald earned the 11th-most slot targets in 2019 (90) and the 23rd-most last season (67). Not to mention he’s (shockingly) been one of the most used players in the screen game over the past two years. While the borderline boomer in Fitzgerald never turned those targets into much from a fantasy perspective, the Cardinals Round 2 pick in Rondale Moore is a YAC monster. Moore’s 892 yards after the catch during his true freshman season in 2018 ranks 2nd-best among all college WRs since 2015, behind only DeVonta Smith’s Heisman winning season in 2020.

Moore’s encouraging preseason playing time and touch volume in Weeks 1 and 2 alongside Kliff Kingsbury’s post-draft quotes suggest he’s going to be a high-usage player in this offense, with PPR cheat code potential in year one. Given that Moore’s after-the-catch ability was historically great when he was just an 18-year-old freshman, it makes sense to assume he’ll be great after the catch in the NFL. Arizona will get him the ball in space to maximize his talents, and I expect him to rank top-5 among all WRs in designed touches (carries+screens). If he can emerge as the 2nd-most targeted player in Arizona, he’ll have as good of a chance as any WR to lead the league in YAC.

Corey Davis and Elijah Moore will both finish as top-24 WRs in total fantasy points.

Look, I know it’s still early, but the Jets offense could end up being far better than the market gave it credit for this offseason. Rookie QB Zach Wilson has performed well in limited action this preseason, leading “the big 5” rookie QBs in passer rating (137.7) and yards per attempt (9.6) while also getting the ball out quickly — recording the fastest time to throw of any Round 1 rookie QB (2.61 seconds). That’s translated to box score success, with Wilson completing 15 of his 20 pass attempts for 191 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 0 sacks. And offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur should be ushering in a QB-friendly, Kyle Shanahan-esque scheme that’s sure to benefit the rookie Wilson and this offense as a whole.

If what Wilson put on tape in his senior season at BYU translates to the NFL, and this offense is even half as creative as the 49ers, then we should see some impressive fantasy outputs from Jets skill position players. The TE room isn’t particularly impressive and the backfield is likely to be a committee, leaving the WR corps as the biggest fantasy beneficiaries should this offense be successful.

Based on preseason usage and camp reports, we know the top two WRs on this roster are Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. Davis has been Zach Wilson’s favorite target through the Jets’ first two exhibition games, seeing 10 targets out of Wilson’s 20 total passing attempts. Absurdly, those 10 targets have come on just 13 total routes for Davis, and he’s been productive, catching 6 passes for 88 total yards.

Moore, on the other hand, has been dealing with a quad injury and hasn’t seen playing time this preseason. What he’s done so far in camp, however, has been nothing short of impressive.

HC Robert Saleh said Moore is “already ahead of the game” in regards to his development in the Jets offense while beat writer DJ Bien-Aime stated that Moore “has been unstoppable” through his first week of training camp. Pretty much every indication from those covering the Jets is that Moore is a truly generational talent at the receiving position and may already be the best player on the team.

If this offense is well-orchestrated and if Zach Wilson hits his stride in his rookie season, then both of these WRs can absolutely destroy their sub-WR45 ADPs. Those are still big ifs, but what’s a bold call article if we don’t go out on some limbs?

Terrace Marshall will outscore D.J. Moore in total fantasy points

We can’t forget that D.J. Moore was just barely outscored by Curtis Samuel last season, finishing the year as Carolina’s WR3 in both FPG and total fantasy points. While many analysts have outright assumed a jump for Moore’s fantasy production in Samuels absence, I’m not so sure. Robby Anderson seems well-ingrained as Carolina’s WR1 given the extension he just signed, his 2020 workload, and his previous relationship with HC Matt Rhule during their time together at Temple.

That likely leaves Moore battling it out with rookie Terrace Marshall for WR2 honors in Carolina, and that’s a battle I’m not confident Moore will win. Marshall’s been used in the slot on 35 of his 65 offensive snaps this preseason, and if he leads the Panther’s WRs in slot snaps this season, he could easily finish as their WR2 for fantasy purposes. Why? Because Sam Darnold absolutely loves targeting the slot, sending 37.3% of his throws that way over the past three seasons. That trend even goes back to Darnold’s days at USC, when in each of his two starting seasons in 2016 and 2017, Darnold posted slot target rates of 42.6% (13th of 99 qualifiers) and 34.8% (24th of 98 qualifiers). Marshall’s familiarity with OC Joe Brady from his time at LSU, and his ability to play the slot (73% slot snap share in his final college season) leads me to believe that Marshall is about as likely to finish as the Panthers fantasy WR2 this season as Moore. With Moore being drafted as WR22 and Marshall as WR70, it’s clear where the value lies.

Donald Parham will finish as a top-18 TE in total fantasy points

This doesn’t seem that bold, until you realize that Parham’s ADP is TE60 on ESPN and he’s basically free in every format.

Why am I so much higher on Parham than consensus? Let’s start with the obvious: Parham is a physical freak at 6’8”, 240, an excellent athlete, and has shown elite receiving ability at the pro level. In the XFL’s lone Spring season, Parham had the third-most receiving yards, second-most targets and fifth-most receptions of any receiver. And he was also the only TE to rank in the top-20 of any of those statistics.

More importantly, since rookie Tre’ McKitty will be primarily used as a blocking TE and Jared Cook is 34 years-old, there’s little doubt over who the most talented receiving TE on the team is. Parham is already a favorite target of QB Justin Herbert in camp, and he’s reportedly slated for a bigger role as LAC’s pass catching TE2, seeing more practice time lined up both in the slot and out-wide. To me, it’s only a matter of time before Parham solidifies himself as the top TE target on this roster, and in fantasy football, it’s always better to be on a guy early rather than late. I may be a year early on the Parham breakout, but he has the athleticism, youth (turned 24 in August), and training camp buzz conducive to a player who’s about to shatter market expectations. That’s not something I’m scared of being “early” on.

Terry McLaurin will finish as the overall WR1

McLaurin is currently being drafted as WR10, and that’s far too low in my opinion, as McLaurin has the best chance of any WR being drafted outside the top-5 in ADP to finish as the overall WR1. The market simply hasn’t priced-in this QB upgrade.

Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith haven’t given the stellar-talent in McLaurin much to work with, as they only threw 23% of their targets to outside WRs over the past three seasons - a mark that would’ve ranked 6th-lowest among all QBs. To make matters worse, if treated as one player the QB duo of Smith and Haskins combined for a 77.8% catchable target rate (31st of 44 qualifiers) and a 6.2 aDOT (the lowest of any QB with more than 40 attempts). New QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should improve on nearly everything that was wrong with the Smith/Haskins offense. A naturally aggressive thrower, Fitzpatrick has finished in the top-10 in QB aDOT in 4 of the last 5 seasons, and did so under four different offensive coordinators. McLaurin should be seeing more total targets given Fitzpatrick’s 31.4% outside WR target rate over the past three seasons, and those targets should be more accurate, as Fitz finished 10th among QBs in catchable target rate (81.6%) last year.

And, did I mention McLaurin played through TWO high ankle sprains last year and averaged 17.7 FPG prior to injury? 17.7 FPG would’ve tied with A.J. Brown for WR6 last season, and that was with the anemic Dwayne Haskins and the hyper-conservative Alex Smith at QB. With no competition for WR1 duties and Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, McLaurin offers the best ceiling (at cost) of any WR in fantasy drafts right now.

Matt Ryan will have the best fantasy season of any non-Konami Code QB

Those interested in why Konami Code QBs are so valuable in fantasy football can read this.

In his first six seasons, Ryan Tannehill averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, an 87.6 passer rating, and 14.6 FPG. In the 26 regular season games Tannehill has started with OC Arthur Smith calling plays, he’s averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, a 111.3 passer rating, and 21.7 FPG. Among starting QBs last year, those numbers would’ve ranked 2nd-, 3rd-, and 11th-best. Tannehill finished as the 4th-highest scoring non-Konami code QB in 2019 (by FPG) and the 3rd-highest scoring non-Konami code QB in 2020. And Tannehill earned 90.0+ PFF grades in both seasons, a feat he failed to accomplish in his first six years under center in Miami - where his previous season-best PFF grade was just 80.4.

Did Tannehill transcend the rules of QB development to become an elite level starter in his 7th and 8th seasons after years of league-average performance in Miami? Or did he benefit from one of the best offensive play callers in the NFL?

In my opinion, Tannehill’s incredible success these last two years is largely Arthur Smith’s doing. And that could have massive implications for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan.

Over the last five seasons, Ryan’s finished as a top-5 non-Konami QB four times, including two finishes as the 2nd-highest scoring QB overall in 2016 (21.7 FPG) and 2018 (22.1). Ryan’s also posted an 80.0+ PFF grade in 10 of his 13 seasons, a feat Tannehill only accomplished once in his six seasons without Smith calling plays. And Ryan has the 2nd-most seasons of more than 4,000 passing yards (10) of any active QB.

Ryan is simply a very good quarterback, and he offers a higher baseline of play than Tannehill did when Arthur Smith took over in Tennessee. Losing Julio Jones surely hurts, but the Falcons may have selected the only player in this year’s draft who can be as impactful on the field as Jones from Week 1 — Kyle Pitts. Should Ryan take even half the jump Tannehill did, he’ll be a QB1 and could absolutely be the best non-Konami fantasy QB.

If Jameis Winston starts all 17 games, Alvin Kamara will be the overall RB1

Winston being named New Orleans Week 1 starter has massive fantasy implications for this offense as a whole, but especially for Alvin Kamara.

In the 11 games Drew Brees and Kamara played together last season, Kamara averaged 26.2 FPG, 21.4 XFP per game, and 8.3 targets per game. For perspective, those numbers would’ve ranked 1st, 1st, and 1st (by 1.2 targets) among all RBs last year. Granted, that’s excluding Christian McCaffrey, who only played three games but likely would’ve been the overall RB1 had he been healthy for all of 2020.

Even with McCaffrey back at full health as the consensus RB1, I think Kamara has an excellent chance to challenge him as fantasy’s overall RB1 this season.

For starters, Michael Thomas is on the PUP list until further notice, and might miss the entire season. If you liked Kamara’s splits with Brees, you’ll love this: in the nine games Kamara played without Thomas but with Brees, he averaged 30.5 FPG, 21.9 XFP per game, and 7.7 targets per game. 30.5 FPG, if sustained for the entirety of a season, would rank 3rd all-time and would be the greatest fantasy RB season since Priest Holmes in 2002.

Not to mention the potential of career-high snap and touch shares this year should the Saints choose to cut Latavius Murraywhich is certainly possible.

As Scott Barrett noted in the Bell Cow Report, Kamara’s “inarguably the most efficient RB of all-time.” In his four year career, he’s never finished a season top-5 among RBs in total touches, yet he’s finished as a top-5 RB by FPG in 2017 (RB4), 2018 (RB4), and 2020 (RB2). And he likely would’ve managed that feat in 2019 had it not been for injuries. He’s a freak of nature at the RB position.

Sean Payton wouldn’t start Jameis Winston without the confidence that Winston could execute his offense, and that offense revolves heavily around getting the ball to Alvin Kamara. Without Michael Thomas in the lineup, Kamara becomes both the Saints most talented runner and receiver. He’s going to get fed, and if he does manage to finish top-5 among RBs in touches for the first time in his career, it shouldn’t be surprising for that to coincide with an overall RB1 fantasy finish.

Jake Tribbey is the 2022 FSWA Football Writer of the Year and the leading Spring Football expert in the fantasy industry. He is a lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.