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Thomas Casale | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Five Gut Feelings for 2013

Matt Forte

Forte is going to be a PPR star in Trestman's offense.

What would the end of summer be without a few wild fantasy predictions? These are five predictions I have for the upcoming season that, based on my crazy gorilla math, have a decent shot of coming true. If they hit, I'm sure I'll be all over Twitter patting myself on the back. If they don't, I'll just pretend I never said anything and hope by December everyone forgets. Let's see how I do.

Matt Forte will be the No. 1 scoring RB in PPR leagues.

Forte is going in the later end of Round 1 in most PPR leagues but he could wind up being the best running back in fantasy football when it's all said and done, thanks to new Bears head coach Marc Trestman.

Forte has always been productive, but his Achilles heel has been a lack of touchdowns. Well, the days of Mike Tice killing fantasy owners by plugging in Michael Bush at the goal line every single time are over. Guess what? Forte can score from 1 yard out too. He has great vision and power in short-yardage situations.

I have no idea why he wasn’t used more inside the red zone under the old coaching staffs, but that should change with Trestman in town. Bush will still get a gimmie once in a while, like he did against Oakland in the preseason, but Forte will rarely come off the field this year because his versatility is a perfect fit for Trestman's offense. Bush will be more of a pure backup under the new regime.

The other reason to love Forte is because he's a great receiver. We already knew that, but in Trestman's two years as the Raiders offensive coordinator, Charlie Garner caught 71 and 92 passes. Forte's career high in receptions is 63, when he was a rookie back in 2008. Since then he hasn't reached 60 catches again, which is actually unbelievable. Expect that streak to end and for Forte to pull in more than 70 balls this season.

There are a lot of good running backs out there, but if Forte plays 16 games, he has a great chance to be ranked No. 1 in PPR formats when you combine rushing yards, receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns. Forte is going to have a monster year.

Cam Newton will be a fantasy disappointment.

I'm a Newton fan and, just to be clear, he'll always be a good fantasy QB because of his rushing numbers. However, he'll let fantasy owners down this season because of one man: Mike Shula. Shula kills offenses. That's what he has done throughout his entire coaching career. It's not my opinion, it's a documented fact.

Google Shula's name and look at his resume. He ruins offenses. Actually, if you can figure out any way he got a job as an offensive coordinator other than the obvious explanation of “his last name is Shula,” I would love to hear it because I can't figure it out.

Normally I don't worry about Newton struggling in the preseason because he's the kind of player who performs better when the lights are on for real. Go back to his season at Auburn. He was in a tight race to be Auburn's starting quarterback throughout camp with Barrett Trotter. Then he accounted for 350 total yards and five touchdowns in the opener versus Arkansas State and the rest is history.

However, this preseason I'm a little concerned that the Panthers' first-team offense scored just a single touchdown because of who is calling the plays. Shula has a miserable track record as a play caller, and already Carolina is struggling on offense. Is this a coincidence? Perhaps, but I'm not a big believer in coincidences. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. I don't know if that makes sense or not. I just wanted to slip that phrase in somewhere.

Newton will never be a 10-point-per-week scorer because of his rushing numbers, but Shula will likely kill his passing output to make sure he isn't a Top 5 fantasy QB this year. Owners who used a high pick on Newton will be disappointed, but don't blame him. It's not his fault. The poor guy never stood a chance once Shula was hired.

Giovani Bernard will score double-digit touchdowns.

Bernard is a dynamic running back who is actually being a little undervalued heading into the season. Some players need a lot of touches to make an impact. Bernard isn't one of those players.

Bernard is a guy who isn't going to get 300 carries, but he'll maximize his touches similar to Darren Sproles in New Orleans. Sproles gets drafted high in PPR leagues but no one expects him to get 20 carries a game. Bernard is going to be a similar player early in his career. The only difference is that he's a more powerful inside runner than Sproles, so Bernard will benefit from seeing some goal-line carries as well. I actually compare Bernard to Maurice Jones-Drew as a runner and think he'll have a similar career.

One running back no one should ever be compared to is Barry Sanders. There was only one of him, and when I hear, “He reminds me of Barry Sanders,” I laugh because the person saying or writing it obviously didn't watch football when Sanders played. Either that or they're a fool. Take your pick.

However, Bernard has those Sanders/MJD-like quick feet that make him a nightmare to try and tackle in the open field. He can make multiple defenders miss, which helped him score 31 touchdowns in two seasons at North Carolina. He is going to be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL, and that means big plays—both in the passing game and as a runner.

I also expect Bernard to get some goal-line carries as well. BenJarvus Green–Ellis will still get the majority of goal-line carries early in the year, but did anyone watch Cincinnati play last season? Green–Ellis scored only six touchdowns, and I saw him get stuffed at the goal line on multiple occasions. That's an area where the Bengals need to improve, so the Law Firm doesn't have the stranglehold on the role that some may think. Bernard will have his chances as well, especially if Green–Ellis struggles to convert on his opportunities early in the season.

I see at least eight scores for Bernard in his rookie season, and that estimate may be a bit on the low end, so I don't believe 10-11 touchdowns is an outrageous prediction. Bernard is a special kind of weapon that can score in multiple ways. He's going to make the fantasy owners who drafted him extremely happy in 2013.

Jared Cook with be a Top 5 fantasy TE.

I ripped Mike Shula pretty hard above, but he might be considered an offensive genius when you compare his play calling to Chris Palmer's. As you can probably tell, I take coaching into account quite a bit when making fantasy projections. It's quite simple; bad offensive coaches produce mostly poor fantasy numbers, while good offensive coaches produce mostly good fantasy numbers.

I don't know who the worst NFL offensive coordinator of all-time is, but Palmer's name is certainly in the discussion. Here's the best part: Tennessee got the guy out of retirement to destroy its offense the last two years. Palmer's greatest accomplishment before being shown the door last season was making Cook the most underutilized player in the NFL.

To understand Cook you had to have watched him in college. He was dripping with potential at South Carolina but he was also raw. He has actually been a popular sleeper candidate since his rookie season back in 2009, but people were on him too early. While Cook is a physical beast, it was going to take him a couple of years to put everything together.

The last two years he has been ready for that breakout season, only Palmer decided not to use him much in the offense. You can make excuses about poor quarterback play and all that nonsense, but the bottom line is that Cook was never a big part of the game plan, and that's poor coaching.

Looking ahead to this season, making Cook a big part of the gameplan won't be a problem under Brian Schottenheimer. In his last two seasons as the Jets offensive coordinator, Dustin Keller saw 216 targets and caught 120 passes. The Rams have a lot of young receivers, so expect Cook to see over 100 targets this season in Schottenheimer's offense.

I'm not sure if everyone knows how talented Cook is yet because he was used so sparingly in Tennessee, but they're about to find out. I've been getting Cook between Rounds 8-10 in my drafts, and that will be laughable come December. When you look at the TE position, there seems to be a consensus that there are a couple of studs and then a lot of guys grouped together. Cook is in the wrong category. He shouldn't be in the guys grouped together; he should be in with the couple of studs.

With Rob Gronkowski hurt, the only TEs that I have ranked higher than Cook are Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez. Cook will be Sam Bradford's favorite target all year and put up big fantasy numbers in 2013. He's the biggest steal of this year's fantasy drafts.

T.Y. Hilton will lead the AFC in touchdown receptions.

This one is my longest shot on the board, but touchdown receptions are fickle and out of his 50 receptions last season Hilton scored seven times.

In contrast, Calvin Johnson caught 122 balls and scored just five times. James Jones led the NFL with 14 touchdown grabs and, while he's a good player, no one is going to confuse Jones with Megatron. So while Hilton may not catch 100 balls, he has a very good chance to reach the end zone 10 or more times in 2013.

Andrew Luck is going to be off the charts this year. The Colts offense was good last season but most of Luck's weapons were rookies, so the group is only going to get better. Luck, Hilton, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen were all in their first season. Not to mention that Luck and Hilton look to be building a special kind of chemistry together. Indianapolis is going to field one scary offense and Hilton is on the verge of becoming a star.

There are a lot of stud receivers in the AFC, and any one of them could lead the conference in touchdown receptions. However, as we saw last season when Jones finished first and Eric Decker came in at No. 2 in the entire league, a darkhorse candidate could lead the way as well.

Some will argue that Hilton isn't on the field all the time. Well, Jones doesn't play in all of the Packers' offensive sets and he scored 14 times. Again, catching touchdown passes is like getting sacks. It's about being in the right place at the right time and exploiting matchups. With Hilton's big-play ability, he'll have the chance to take advantage of a lot of matchups in the slot this season. Besides, how long is Hilton going to be on the sidelines if he keeps producing like he did last year and this preseason?

I admit this is my 50-1 long shot, but I have a hunch, and those tickets cash sometimes too. At the very least I see Hilton scoring around 10 times this year, and that will put me in the ballpark to bring this baby home. But maybe A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas can help me out by dropping one or two in the end zone, just in case.