The fantasy football season is quickly approaching. We've seen a ton of acquisitions that can completely alter how fantasy drafts play out. Adjusting fantasy rankings to account for all of the coaching changes, personnel decisions, and new opportunities across the league is key.
Of course, just following rankings won't win your league. Everyone is looking at similar resources and the fantasy football community can be an echo chamber.
That's all to say: you'll have to get bold to win. The right risks can swing a league. And that starts with draft day.
We've identified five fantasy predictions that are bold yet realistic. Even grabbing, or avoiding, one of the players in one of these predictions can win your league and help you cash in.
De'Andre Swift Will Be a RB1
There's no question the Lions have seen a downgraded forecast after this offseason as a whole. Trading Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and then losing their receiver room to free agency stung. But they've built a great situation for D'Andre Swift to star in.
The second-year talent from Georgia was good while healthy last year. He accumulated just under 900 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Now he'll have a QB who is more reliant on the run game, a system catering to one-cut moves, and an excellent offensive line.
It'll also help as Swift's competition changed from Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson to Jamaal Williams. Williams is a good receiver but is a clear backup here. It's hard to imagine a healthy Swift ends up anywhere near his 20th-ranked finish from 2020.
Efficiency matters for Swift. He averaged 11.1 fantasy points per game in a loaded backfield despite missing three games. Just from being healthy and a slight uptick in weekly production, he'll outproduce his draft position by a full round. I'm targeting Swift as often as I can.
Myles Gaskin Will Be a League-Winner
The other undervalued back I'm buying as a flex option who could ascend into stardom is Myles Gaskin. Gaskin was the forgotten man this offseason in South Beach. While many expected the Dolphins to add a back — like Najee Harris or Aaron Jones — in the offseason, Miami nearly ignored the position, spending just a lowly seventh-rounder on Gerrid Doaks.
Knowing Gaskin totaled a solid 972 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games behind a bad offensive line, the 'Fins clearly expect Gaskin to make another leap in 2021 with more weapons around him. Though Gaskin isn't a special talent, he's a capable dual-threat for Miami and the Dolphins have shown little willingness to split too many touches despite accumulating backs last offseason.
The 24-year-old's biggest competition is Tua Tagovailoa and the passing game. Miami was balanced under Chan Gailey in 2020 and a set of co-offensive coordinators muddies the projection, but there's not an especially talented back who stands out on the roster.
I'm buying Gaskin for his price knowing that Salvon Ahmed isn't going to completely disrupt Gaskin's touches. If Gaskin can carry over his performance from last season, he could be league-winner and an absolute steal in fantasy football drafts for the second year in a row.
Sam Darnold Will Drag Down Panthers
I'm simply not a Sam Darnold fan. I was low on his game as a USC prospect due to inconsistent accuracy and turnovers. He's been the same guy in the NFL as he was in college, and even if some of the blame goes to his coaching staff, he's never made the most of his surrounding cast.
Darnold has arm talent, sure, but it's not great as far as strength, and he struggles with giving the ball away. His best throws are out of the pocket and out of scheme, but part of the reason he has to break the pocket is his slow pre-snap processing. His mental acuity has to improve.
Joe Brady will help him get rid of the ball quicker and find receivers easier, but Darnold will frustrate the play caller and playmakers every time he passes up an open target. Carolina’s offense is more built on timing than hero-ball. Adjustments will need to be made by every party for this unit to flow.
This will have a trickle-down effect for the rest of the passing offense — Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall. All three will see a drop in my fantasy rankings despite putting up impressive numbers with Teddy Bridgewater in 2020.
Tyler Higbee Will Be a TE1
The Rams' offense has high expectations in 2021 with Jared Goff out and Matthew Stafford in. Though I'm skeptical the strong-armed Stafford is the guy to take the franchise to the next level because of middling accuracy numbers in Detroit, his playmakers will benefit from Sean McVay's confidence in Stafford's abilities.
The main guy who will reap the rewards is tight end Tyler Higbee. Currently TE10 in drafts, Higbee can be a massive overachiever. The Rams lost Gerald Everett to free agency, and project Jacob Harris will be transitioning from a receiver role at UCF and is unlikely to play much in 2021.
Looking back at Higbee's most productive part of his career correlates to when the Rams were without Everett for three games. That playing time opened the chance for Higbee to total four straight 100-yard receiving games and an 84-yard game to end the 2019 regular season. Getting anywhere near that production in 2021 can save your fantasy team.
Jalen Hurts Won't Be a QB1
There might not be a passer who has to prove himself more than Jalen Hurts.
The second-year Eagles' signal-caller was drafted as a backup to develop behind Carson Wentz. Instead of getting time to figure out the NFL and refine his weaknesses, Hurts was thrown into the fire and is now the undisputed starter in Philadelphia.
Hurts' first season was rough in the stats and with the eye test. First-year head coach Nick Sirianni will have significant work to do with Hurts' passing mechanics and mental processing to get him to produce with a relatively limited supporting cast. Even in a best-case scenario where the offense stays healthy, Hurts has his own trouble areas that can significantly stunt the unit.
It's hard to see Hurts being an impactful starter who helps win games in 2021. Though physically gifted, his issues seeing and throwing receivers open is difficult to improve in one season. But he's in a good situation to throw and run a ton, and that's good for fantasy purposes.
Hurts is risk-averse to a fault and was in college. His turnover rate should be relatively low in a system that'll prioritize getting the ball out fast and having easy decisions. If that plays out, Hurts can be a good dual-threat producer for a second-rostered quarterback.
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