A Litany of Longshots
The season is upon us, and the air is scented with the sweet perfume of possibility.
The Cleveland Browns could go to the Super Bowl.
David Wilson could run for 2,000 yards.
Zach Sudfeld could finish as a top-five tight end.
And why stop there?
At this time a year ago, Alfred Morris was a rookie sixth-round draft pick considered by fantasy owners to be part of a murky RBBC situation for the Redskins. Morris finished the season with 1,613 rushing yards and 13 TDs and was a first-round draft pick in a lot of fantasy leagues this year.
Wild things will happen this season. Really wild things. Things that are inconceivable now will be accepted as plain truth a year from now. Open your mind to allow for a wider range of possibilities.
Ben Tate could run for 1,000 yards this season. Arian Foster has been dealing with a back issue and didn’t play in the preseason. Foster is supposedly ready to go for Week 1, but if his back problems continue to linger and he misses a substantial number of games, Tate could very well run for 1,000 yards.
But what if Foster misses a large number of games and Tate, not the most durable dude himself, also misses time due to injury? Could undrafted rookie Cierre Wood run for 1,000 yards? After what Morris did for the Redskins last season, are you willing to conclude there’s no chance whatsoever that Wood could run for 1,000 yards?
I’m not trying to convince you to dump your fifth running back and pick up Cierre Wood. But if you’re willing to open your mind to unique possibilities in fantasy football, you’ll be prepared to move swiftly to take advantage of radical changes in the landscape, while close-minded owners stubbornly refuse to believe what they’re seeing.
What strange possibilities are within the realm of reason? What could be wrought from just a few small changes in circumstances?
What follows is not a series of predictions, but merely a series of possibilities. Few of these scenarios will play out as presented — maybe none. Consider this an exercise to limber up your highly analytical fantasy football brain and stretch an imagination that might have become overly rigid after countless hours of number-crunching and list-making. But maybe some of it could happen.
Will it really be so strange if …
Bryce Brown runs for 1,500 yards and 10 TDs? Sure, LeSean McCoy is a stud, and clearly he’s first in Chip Kelly’s RB pecking order. But McCoy missed a month with a concussion last season, and Brown had a couple of watershed performances while McCoy was shelved, rushing for a combined 347 yards and four TDs in consecutive games against Carolina and Dallas. Brown is a solid investment regardless — Kelly loves to run the ball, and with snap counts so high in his offense, McCoy is going to need help. But if anything were to happen to McCoy, Brown could explode in Philly’s new offense.
Sam Bradford leads the NFL in passing yardage? “Wait … Jeff Fisher is still coaching the Rams, right? And his quarterback is going to lead the league in passing yardage? What are you smoking?” Again, I’m not saying it is going to happen, only that it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. St. Louis stocked up on pass-catching firepower in the offseason, signing athletic TE Jared Cook and drafting elusive slot receiver Tavon Austin. The Rams also added veteran left tackle Jake Long to guard Bradford’s blind side. The team doesn’t have a proven heavy-duty rusher — there is no Eddie George nor Chris Johnson for Fisher’s offense to lean on — so Bradford may have to shoulder a heavy load. If Bradford takes a step forward and Fisher turns him loose … you never know.
Either Brandon Bolden or LeGarrette Blount leads the Patriots in rushing? Anyone else deeply distrustful of Bill Belichick? Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t shake the feeling that not all is as it appears with the New England backfield. Stevan Ridley has been terrific, and Shane Vereen holds a lot of promise. But what if Ridley were to fall out of favor due to fumbling or some other perceived shortcoming, and what if Vereen proved to be nothing more than a Danny Woodhead sequel? Bolden has long intrigued me. He averaged well over five yards per carry during his career at Ole Miss, an SEC school, and scored 17 TDs as a junior. He averaged 4.9 yards on 56 carries last season. Is it possible he’s an under-the-radar monster? And while behavior and punctuality problems made Blount persona non grata in Tampa, Belichick was happy to give the former 1,000-yard runner a second chance. Perhaps we shouldn’t assume that the Patriots’ running game is strictly the Ridley/Vereen show.
Marlon Brown has 1,000 receiving yards? Someone other than Torrey Smith has to catch passes for the Ravens. Jacoby Jones couldn’t hold down a starter’s job in Houston and might be overstretched as anything more than a spare receiver and kick-return specialist. Brandon Stokley is … well, Brandon Stokley. There’s not much at tight end. Brown is a big (6-5), hardworking receiver who caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two TDs in the preseason. He was a top recruit out of high school, but his college career at Georgia never took off, due largely to injuries. He could emerge as the complementary receiver the Ravens so badly need.
Terrelle Pryor finishes as the top rushing QB in the league? He’ll probably never be an NFL-caliber passer, but he can really run. Pryor ran for 2,164 yards and 17 TDs at Ohio State — and remember that sacks count against a QB’s rushing yardage in the college game. Pryor’s rushing ability alone might be enough to make his a viable fantasy option.
Josh Boyce finishes with 60 receptions? The Patriots need a complementary receiver, and everyone expects Kenbrell Thompkins to fill that role after his eye-opening performance in the preseason. Aaron Dobson could also get a shot. Boyce appears to be in line behind his two rookie colleagues, but Bill Belichick’s rookie-receiver totem pole could look much different in a month than it does now.
Alex Green runs for 1,000 yards? We know the story with Chris Ivory: talented runner, but an injury waiting to happen. Bilal Powell is a decent but limited plodder. Mike Goodson is currently serving a suspension and might not be worth the Jets’ trouble. The Jets plucked Green from the scrap heap after the Packers cut him loose. He’s an intriguing speedster who’s had trouble getting career traction ever since tearing his ACL in 2011. If he’s fully healthy, Green could make a surprising emergence for the Jets as soon as Ivory isn’t healthy.
Charles Clay winds up being a top-10 tight end? Dustin Keller’s knee injury opened the door for Clay to start. The Dolphins are thin on pass catchers beyond starting WRs Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Clay caught 189 passes during his college career at Tulsa and scored 38 TDs, including 10 rushing TDs. He might be worth your attention.
Travaris Cadet leads the Saints in rushing? A lot of people are still holding out hope for Mark Ingram, but I’ve seen enough to render a verdict that he stinks. I’m more fond of Pierre Thomas, but the Saints seem to view him as nothing more than a committee back and have locked him in at 100-150 carries per year. Darren Sproles will keep doing his thing and will never be used much in the running game. The departure of Chris Ivory creates a little opening for Cadet, whom the Saints though enough of to keep around as a fifth-stringer last season. If the Saints finally give up on Ingram, Cadet could ferret his way into a more meaningful role.
The Panthers finally end their RBBC arrangement … by giving Kenjon Barner the full load? Jonathan Stewart has apparently traded ankles with my grandfather. Who knows when he’ll suit up again? DeAngelo Williams turned 30 in April and looked five years older than that in the preseason. Mike Tolbert is an effective short-yardage battering ram but doesn’t offer much more. Barner, a rookie, averaged 6.0 yards per carry or better in each of his four seasons at Oregon and ran for 21 TDs last season. It might be time for some new blood in Carolina’s overfermented backfield.