By Brendan Taffe

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: 0 Players Rush For 1000 Yards.

How could the team that set the single-season rushing record go from two 1000 yard rushers to zero?  Well, one those rushers was Mark Ingram, who only eclipsed that milestone by 18 yards.  Ingram is now 30 years old, and is sure to lose a step with each passing year.  The team’s other 1000 yard rusher was Lamar Jackson.  Jackson managed to reach the 1200 yard mark, and passed Michael Vick for most ever by a quarterback in the process.  Vick only rushed for 1000 yards once, and Cam Newton’s season high is 754.  In other words, it is extremely difficult for a quarterback to manage that many yards on the ground, and it is even harder for them to repeat it.  

For as good as the Ravens’ rushing attack was last year, it may be even more effective this season.  They selected Ohio State back JK Dobbins in the second round of this year’s draft.  Baltimore has not drafted a running back that high since they called Ray Rice’s name in 2008.  Dobbins is a complete back who was third in the country in rushing yards and touchdowns last year.  He will be able to step in right away and command touches, which will take away from both Ingram and Jackson.  It is very possible that the team reaches the mark they set last year, but in order to do that the ball will have to be shared.  

Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross Is A Top-24 WR

Last year, John Ross finished as WR71 in 0.5 PPR leagues by averaging 10.25 points in his eight games played.  Missing time is nothing new to Ross, who has suffered a litany of injuries during his first three years in the league.  Betting on Ross this year is betting on many dominoes to fall in line.  The first is his health, and the second is AJ Green’s health.  Green has had his own injury issues, having missed time for an ankle sprain, toe sprain, groin pull, and hamstring tear all since 2018.  He will be 32 this season, so it is far from a guarantee that he will be a reliable season-long target for Joe Burrow.  Tyler Boyd is the only other receiver that will command targets in an offense projected to throw a lot.  

Andy Dalton is probably not as bad as fans make him out to be, but he certainly has not done Ross any favors.  If Joe Burrow is as good as we are all expecting, there will be plenty of accurate deep shots coming Ross’ way for the first time in his career.  If you extrapolate Ross’ 10.25 points across sixteen games, he projects out to 164 points.  That would land him at WR28, between Marvin Jones Jr and Terry McLaurin.  If Ross can find a way to stay healthy, and he quickly develops a rapport with Burrow, he can be an asset to your team this season.      

Cleveland Browns: Nick Chubb Is Not A Top-12 RB

Nick Chubb is one of the most talented backs in the league.  In fact, he was PFF’s highest graded running back last year with an 88.7 score.  He finished last year as RB7 in 0.5 PPR leagues while playing for an underperforming Browns team.  For the first eight games of the season, Chubb averaged 15.5 points per game.  In the last eight games, he only averaged 12.3 points per game.  What was the difference?  Kareem Hunt.  Hunt returned from suspension midway through the year and significantly cut into Chubb’s usage.  

Let’s not forget that Hunt finished top 6 among all running backs in fantasy points per game in 2017 and 2018.  Of course, that was in the Chiefs’ explosive offense, but the talent is clearly there.  In a contract year, he will want to prove that he still has what it takes to be an elite number one option for an interested team.  As long as Kareem Hunt does not get suspended between now and week 1, this year will look much more like the second half of last season than the first.  

Pittsburgh Steelers: Juju Smith-Schuster Is Not A WR2

This one may upset a lot of people because I have seen so much hype for a bounceback year out of Juju this year.  Well here is my formal warning to all of those invested in Juju to temper expectations.  Juju is entering his fourth season in the NFL and remarkably will not turn 24 until week 11 of this year.  For comparison, Terry McLaurin turned 24 by week 3 of his rookie year last year.  Juju had a great rookie year in 2017 finishing as WR22 in 0.5 PPR formats.  He then broke out as a young sophomore, ending the season as the 8th best WR in fantasy.  Last year was a nightmare however, because between being forced to catch balls from three different quarterbacks and missing four games due to an injury, he ended up as WR66.  

This year, he is projected to finish back as a low-end WR1.  I am skeptical because we still have not seen Juju perform without Antonio Brown lined up across from him.  Brown is so good that he draws the attention from multiple defenders, so it is entirely possible that Juju was feasting on much worse competition than he will be seeing now.  Also, his fantastic 2018 numbers were a product of Big Ben still being able to throw for major yards and touchdowns.  Ben missed all but two games last year with a torn elbow which needed to be surgically repaired.  He is now 38 years old and we are not sure what he will look like when he gets back on the field.  With the Steelers having an elite defense, Ben will likely not need to throw so much, and Juju’s numbers could suffer as a result. 

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Tarik Cohen Will Outscore David Montgomery

Although Montgomery is projected to outscore Cohen by 7 points in PPR leagues, calling on Cohen to beat that would hardly be bold.  This prediction is for Cohen to surpass his backfield mate in all formats.  Yes, standard too.  My main argument here revolves around talent.  Outside of Allen Robinson, there simply is not a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball.  

David Montgomery offers virtually nothing in the passing game, so he needs a lot of carries each game to be productive.  For a coach and a team that is desperate for any kind of offensive spark, they can not afford to waste a lot of plays handing Montgomery the ball to get a couple yards at a time.  NFL teams nowadays pass to get the lead and run to maintain it.  As the far superior pass catcher, Cohen will need to be relied upon more often in order for the Bears to win games.

Detroit Lions: D’Andre Swift Is A Top-12 RB

Many people dropped Swift in their rookie rankings as soon as the Detroit Lions called his name.  Sure, Swift is not part of the electric Chiefs offense like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and he does not get to run behind the Colts’ elite offensive line like Jonathan Taylor.  But Matt Stafford averaged 20.9 points per game before his injury last year, which only trailed Jackson, Watson, and Prescott.  And Kenny Golladay finished as the WR5 in 0.5 PPR leagues while catching passes from David Blough for half the season.  This tells us that the Lions offense can provide fantasy football studs.  

As for the Lions’ backfield, there is nobody there who can provide what Swift can.  He is a complete back who excels with vision, speed, and receiving abilities.  Kerryon Johnson is a not-as-talented back who missed the last 6 games of his rookie season with a grade 1 knee strain, and 8 games of last season with a torn meniscus.  The Lions’ offensive coordinator is Darrell Bevel, who held the same title for Seattle from 2011-2017, the same years that Marshawn Lynch was a fantasy football stud.  Swift has the talent to put up numbers in this underrated offense and the sky is the limit once he gets the full opportunity.      

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers Is A Top-3 QB

Aaron Rodgers has had a rough couple of years.  In 2017 he missed 9 games with a fractured clavicle.  In 2018 he played the entire season on a sprained MCL and bone bruise after a week 1 collision.  In 2019 he had to learn an entirely new offense after having played with the same head coach for the first 14 years of his career.  This season has not even begun, but to make matters worse, the team drafted a quarterback in round one and zero wide receivers in the entire draft.

This year, we are going to see an Aaron Rodgers that we have not seen in quite some time.  Health and stability in the offensive system are two things he has not had since 2016.  He probably wishes the team drafted a wide receiver at some point in the draft, and he is certainly disappointed in their selection of Jordan Love.  Unfortunately, Rodgers does not have the fantasy floor of other top passers because of his lack of rushing abilities.  But if there’s anyone in the league who can go out and put up major numbers with his arm, it’s Aaron Rodgers.  

Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson Is A Top 30 WR

Currently projected as WR58, I am going to predict that he finishes about 30 spots higher than that.  Jefferson was a major reason why the 2019 LSU Tigers had such a historic year.  He led the country in receptions with 111, and finished second in the country in receiving touchdowns with 18.  He has good workout metrics, with a 86th percentile 40 yard dash, 82nd percentile speed score, and an 80th percentile burst score.  These numbers suggest that translating his skills to the next level should not be a difficult task.  The Vikings clearly agree with that assessment too because they made him the 22nd pick of this year’s draft.  

The Vikings have a Stefon Diggs-sized hole waiting to be filled in their receiver room.  He leaves the team after averaging 121 targets over the last two years.  Kirk Cousins threw the ball 444 times last year, his lowest number of attempts in the five years he’s been a full time starter.  Adam Theilen and Dalvin Cook should combine for roughly 185 targets, and the tight end room of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith should see another 100.  So even if Cousins repeats last year’s number of attempts, there are still plenty to go around.  For their WR2 spot, Jefferson will be battling with Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe.  I am willing to bet that it will not take long for Jefferson’s talent to win out.

Brendan Taffe – Dynasty/Superflex
Ride or Dynasty
Twitter: @BCTAFFE