Litany of Long Shots
The season is upon us, and the air is thick with the perfume of possibility.
The Buffalo Bills could go to back the Super Bowl.
T.J. Yeldon could run for 1,500 yards.
And why stop there?
At this time a year ago, Odell Beckham Jr. was an afterthought in most fantasy leagues. Of the owners who bothered drafting Beckham, many dropped him before he returned from a hamstring injury. Beckham produced 91 catches, 1,305 receiving yards and 12 TDs in just 12 games, single-handedly carrying a lot of fantasy teams to championships.
Wild things will happen this season. Really wild things. Things beyond the realm of comprehension at this moment will be accepted as plain truth a year from now. So as we stand on the cusp of a new NFL season, let your imagination run wild for a few minutes. Open your mind to allow for a wide range of possibilities.
Ronnie Hillman could run for 1,000 yards this season. After all, C.J. Anderson was lightly regarded a year ago and has performed at a high level for a relatively short period of time. If Anderson got hurt, or if he suddenly remembers he’s an undrafted free agent who ran for 790 yards and four TDs in his best college season at Cal, Hillman could very well run for 1,000 yards.
But what if Anderson either tanked or got hurt, and Hillman got hurt or fumbled his way into the doghouse? Could undrafted second-year player Juwan Thompson run for 1,000 yards? Considering how the running backs who have played with Peyton Manning have fared over the years, are you willing to conclude there’s no chance whatsoever Thompson could run for 1,000 yards?
I’m not trying to convince you to dump your fifth running back to pick up Juwan Thompson. But if you’re willing to open your mind to unique possibilities in fantasy football, you will 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?
Below you’ll find not a set of predictions, but merely a set of possibilities. Few of these scenarios will play out as presented — and maybe none. Consider this an exercise to limber up your analytical brain and stretch an imagination that might have become overly rigid after hours of studying tables listing fantasy points per route run. But maybe, just maybe, some of this weird s*** could actually happen.
Will it really be so strange if ...
Aaron Dobson has 1,000 receiving yards? Brandon LaFell had 953 receiving yards for the Patriots last season after being a perennial tease with the Panthers. LaFell is on the PUP list with a foot injury, leaving Dobson as New England’s only credible outside receiver for the first half of the season. Dobson has been clinging to a roster spot like a Titanic survivor to a life raft, but he had a 5-130-2 day against Pittsburgh in 2013 and made ripples in a handful of other games that year. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman will get theirs, of course, but there is room for a 24-year-old receiver with a compelling size-speed combo to emerge as a weapon for Tom Brady.
Dorial Green-Beckham finishes as a top-20 receiver? It’s a little surprising that DGB has flown beneath the radar of so many fantasy owners. Yes, he’s a knucklehead with a nose for trouble. Yes, Ken Whisenhunt is a head coach of dubious tactical acumen. But Green-Beckham is a 6-foot-5, 237-pound giant who caught 12 TD passes as a 20-year-old sophomore while playing against SEC competition at Missouri. He’s probably better than every other receiver on the Titans roster with the possible exception of Kendall Wright. If Green-Beckham keeps his head on straight, if Whisenhunt doesn’t let the big rookie ride the pine behind replacement-level receivers and if rookie QB Marcus Mariota doesn’t stink, DGB could make a much bigger splash than expected.
Javorius “Buck” Allen has 75 receptions? We know running backs who get heavy snaps in a Marc Trestman offense catch a lot of passes. Matt Forte had 102 receptions last year in Trestman’s final season as the Bears’ head coach. In 1995, with Trestman coordinating the 49ers offense, journeyman Derek Loville had 87 receptions. It is widely assumed Justin Forsett, coming off a big season that included 44 catches, will be Trestman’s main man in Baltimore this season. But Forsett is undersized and will turn 30 next month. He averaged an unimpressive 6.0 yards per catch last season, and when you look at his career totals, his banner 2014 campaign seems like an anomaly. Allen was an accomplished pass-catching back at USC who averaged 11.3 yards per catch. Fumbling problems have landed Allen in the doghouse, but the rookie would likely get a chance to prove himself if Forsett were to falter or get hurt.
Adrian Peterson scores 25 TDs? Emmitt Smith scored 19 TDs when Norv Turner was coordinating the Dallas offense in 1992. Terry Allen scored 21 TDs with Norv Turner serving as Washington’s head coach in 1996, and Stephen Davis had 17 TDs for the Turner-guided Redskins in 1999. Ricky Williams scored 17 TDs with Turner coordinating the Dolphins offense in 2002. LaDainian Tomlinson scored 18 TDs when Turner was head coach of the Chargers in 2007. Is it absurd to think Peterson, invigorated after barely playing in 2014 and now carrying a mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, could produce a gaudy TD total while playing for an offensive coordinator who loves to feed his bell-cow back in the red zone?
Zach Zenner runs for 1,000 yards? Joique Bell missed all of training camp and the preseason while recovering from knee and Achilles injuries, and it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be able to hold up this year. Ameer Abdullah has drawn rave reviews, but he’s an atrocious pass blocker with a penchant for fumbling. If Bell breaks down and Abdullah drives the Detroit coaches crazy with blown blocks and untimely ball spillages, Zenner could get a chance to show he’s more than just a preseason marvel. The former South Dakota State star became the first running back in Division 1 history to rush for 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and he totaled 51 TDs over his final two years at SDSU. Don’t dismiss the small-school kid.
Alex Smith throws for 4,000 yards and 30 TDs? Yeah, this one is a stretch. Smith has never thrown for more than 3,313 yards or 23 TDs in a single season. But with RB Jamal Charles, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce, Smith is packing more weaponry than a Montana survivalist, and by now, he should be feeling extremely comfortable in head coach Andy Reid’s offense. A career year is well within reach.
Virgil Green is a top-five tight end? Julius Thomas didn’t break out until his third season in Denver. Green is now in his fifth season with the Broncos and only has 23 career receptions, but the Broncos have been intrigued enough by his pass-catching skills to keep him around. Green opens the season behind Owen Daniels on the depth chart, but Daniels is 32 and has missed 27 games over the last six seasons. Green (6-5, 255) is roughly the same size as Thomas (6-5, 260), and we all know Peyton Manning frequently looks for his tight ends when he’s close to the end zone.
Jeff Janis leads the Packers in TD receptions? Janis is the longest of long shots. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams are the Green Bay starters, and Janis appears to be stuck behind the recently reacquired James Jones and rookie Ty Montgomery on the depth chart. But in terms of size and athleticism, Janis is Green Bay’s most reasonable facsimile to Jordy Nelson, who’s out for the year with a torn ACL. Dismiss preseason stats if you must, but in his two years with the Packers, Janis has five TD catches in seven preseason games. Cobb had a career-high 12 TD catches last year and is obviously the favorite to lead the Packers in TD catches, but he might be too small to be a perennial double-digit TD scorer. Don’t be surprised if the 6-foot-3 Janis emerges as a red-zone threat for the Packers.
Charles Simms is a top-20 running back? Are we sure the Doug Martin renaissance isn’t a mirage? Martin has let down fantasy owners before. Sims was viewed as a potential lead back last year before an ankle injury landed him on the PUP list and prevented him from gathering any momentum as a rookie. With Martin looking terrific in the preseason, Sims has faded into the background. Sims, who rolled up 5,573 yards from scrimmage and 51 TDs in his collegiate career, is the walking definition of a post-hype sleeper.
Brandon Bolden leads the Patriots in rushing? Kind of funny how LeGarrette Blount behaves himself for Bill Belichick and no one else, isn’t it? Blount effectively resigned from the Steelers last year by leaving the field before the end of a game. He was suspended from the University of Oregon football team for cold-cocking an opponent in the moments after a loss to Boise State. And now he’ll serve a one-game suspension for last year’s Cheech & Chong escapade with then-teammate Le’Veon Bell. Blount’s suspension could give Bolden a chance to prove his value as a runner. The Patriots cut Jonas Gray, and Dion Lewis, James White and Travaris Cadet are all third-down types rather than heavy-duty bangers. Bolden has averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career, albeit with limited work, and has scored six TDs. If the mercurial Blount runs afoul of Belichick, Blount could emerge as the leading man in the Patriots backfield.
Andy Dalton is a top-five quarterback? Dalton is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, but his chronic postseason failings have no bearing on his fantasy value. Dalton actually did finish as QB5 in 2013. He slipped to QB18 last season, but Dalton lost WR Tyler Eifert and WR Marvin Jones to injuries and was also without star WR A.J. Green for three games. Dalton finally has all of his weapons back and plays behind a good offensive line. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson loves the running game, but a balanced attack promotes efficient QB play and helps keep the pass rush at bay.
Josh Robinson is the Offensive Rookie of the Year? With the Colts waiving Dan Herron, Robinson jumped from third to second on the Colts RB depth chart. Frank Gore is the undisputed No. 1, but he’s 32 years old, and the list of running backs who have turned in big seasons at that age is short. Robinson played against SEC competition at Mississippi State, so he’s unlikely to be overwhelmed by the transition to the NFL. If Gore gets brought down by Father Time, Robinson could quickly emerge as an ultra-valuable fantasy commodity.