Twitter Joins In On Bold Predictions
My latest article for Gridiron Experts featured fantasy football predictions from yours truly of course. In addition to sharing the article in the Twittersphere, I also asked my followers for their own bold predictions. I was met with some interesting takes, and with them in mind, I wanted to investigate whether these bold predictions are plausible or just outright crazy. Specifically three bold predictions on Arizona Cardinals players. Let’s dive in. Note all references to scoring refer to PPR.
Christian Kirk Top 15 WR, Josh Rosen Top 10 QB, and David Johnson Top 5 RB
Now I realize in this tweet, Bobby or SuperFlex Junkie specifically outlines the projection for Christian Kirk. The stat line of 85/1100/6 in terms of fantasy production results in 231 PPR fantasy points. That would be good for WR15 overall in 2018. That will be the benchmark. So let’s take a look at Kirk’s production in 2018 and see if he can build on it.
In 12 games Kirk scored 123.5 PPR fantasy points averaging 10.3 fantasy points per game. Was second on the team in receiving touchdowns (3), and led the team in yards/target (8.7), yards/receptions (13.7), yards/route run (1.72), and yards after catch/reception (5.3). Now if you extrapolate Kirk’s 2018 numbers over a 16-game pace he would have finished with 164.667 points, good for WR35 in 2018. A step further shows Kirk averaged more fantasy points per game with quarterback Josh Rosen than quarterback Sam Bradford. With Rosen, Kirk averaged 11 PPR points per game, six targets per game, 52 receiving yards per game, and four receptions per game. Those numbers would get him to 176 fantasy points in 2018, good for a WR32.
Interestingly enough, Larry Fitzgerald had very similar numbers to Kirk, when both Kirk and Rosen were on the field. Right around four receptions per game, 11.61 PPR points per game, seven targets per game, and 44 receiving yards per game.
Now the yardage prediction should definitely come true if Kirk can achieve 85 receptions. Kirk in 2018. averaged 13.7 yards/reception so anything above 80 receptions would get him to that number. But the question remains can he get to 80 receptions? What kind target share could we realistically expect and need for him to get to reach 80+ receptions? With a 66.2% catch rate from last season, Kirk would need right around 120 targets. So is this possible? If we take Fitzgerald’s seven targets per game and switch that over to Kirk that creates 112 targets for him. Is it crazy to think Fitzgerald takes a step back in 2019 for an up and coming second-year player? Based on the fact that Fitzgerald is coming off his worst season to date and is not getting any younger, I do not think so.
Six receiving touchdowns should be easily attainable. The Cardinals and Josh Rosen can’t possibly be worse than last year’s squad (holds breath) so I’d definitely expect to see more positive regression in the touchdown department (I elaborate more on the positive regression for Arizona offense later in this piece). That positive regression will start with the passing volume.
393 in 13 games were Rosen’s passing attempts in 2018. Extrapolate that over a 16-game period 483 passing attempts. The average NFL team over the past two seasons has had 552 passing attempts per season. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury has already talked about throwing the ball more, and that is a narrative I will 100% buy into. So with this boost in overall passing attempts would that be enough to put Kirk over 120 targets? Well, remember Fitzgerald’s seven targets/game were under that 483 pace set with Rosen. So this new pace of 552, we would see a full target boost up to 8 targets per game for the new pace. Even if Kirk is only able to manage 7.5 targets per game coming in slightly under that 8 target per game prediction that 7.5 targets will land him with exactly 120 targets. Considering Kirk owned a 20% target market share last season with Rosen, seeing that increase to a 21.7% target share to hit those projection numbers seems more probable than not. Based on an offense with the projected increase in passing volume, it does not seem like a stretch at all. I am buying this bold prediction on Christian Kirk that he will finish in the top 15.
But I will sell the prediction of Josh Rosen. Just because there will be an increase in passing volume does not always mean that will increase efficiency especially at the quarterback position. Rosen’s 2019 outlook is often compared to that of Jared Goff post his rookie season. But even Goff in his second season, his first with Sean McVay failed to become a top-ten quarterback in fantasy football. In 2017 Goff finished as the QB12 overall. So even if Rosen does improve, don’t be so certain we see an improvement enough that vaults him into the top-ten fantasy quarterbacks. I am sure he will have top-ten weeks, but overall I am not buying the bold prediction on Josh Rosen finishing as a top-ten quarterback.
The comeback tour for David Johnson was a popular take for 2019. Johnson disappointed overall in 2018 finishing as the RB9. Now RB9 is definitely not a bad finish, but based on where Johnson was drafted in August it was disappointing for fantasy owners across the board. From points per game basis Johnson was the RB11 in PPR formats scoring 15.4 points per game. However, his 3.6 yards per carry was the lowest of any RB that finished within the top 27 RBs. Of the top 50 RBs, Johnson’s yards per carry was only higher than Dion Lewis (3.3), LeSean McCoy (3.2), Leonard Fournette (3.3), and Carlos Hyde (3.5). Do we attribute Johnson’s struggles to his offensive line?
According to the FootballOutsiders, Arizona ranked 25th in the NFL in adjusted line yards (4.00). Not good. However, interestingly enough the Arizona offensive line ranked tenth in power success, and sixth in stuffed rate. Power success defined as “Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.” Stuffed rate defined as, “Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.” The Cardinals ranked third-worst in second-level yards, and second to last in open field yards. Second-level yards being defined as, “yards which this team’s running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.” Open field yards defined as, “Yards which this team’s running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.”
Johnson was not a dynamic runner in 2018, and I am unsure the Cardinals’ offensive line is all to blame. As described the Cardinals were one of the best teams in not allowing stuffed runs, but Johnson was failing to produce in the open field and at the second level. According to the Pro Football Focus, Johnson had the second-lowest elusive rating of any running back with at least 200 carries. He had the same amount of avoided tackles after a rush (22), as Jordan Howard. Johnson’s breakaway percentage as a runner was also very poor in 2018. Just 13% of his total rushing production came on runs of 15 yards or more. That was less than both Howard (23.4%) and Peyton Barber (23.2%).
So how many points would Johnson need to enter the top-five realms across PPR formats? Well over the past two prior seasons scoring above 290 fantasy points put an RB in the upper echelon. But last year it took 330 points to enter the top-five. So for this exercise 303 fantasy points will be the benchmark for a top-five running back.
It is probably safe to say that Johnson’s 2018 season is his floor injuries aside. He scored 246.6 fantasy points. Where can he make up his 56.4 fantasy points? Well for starters, what can we expect from him in the passing game? In 2018, Johnson saw a 16% target market share. If that stays the same year over year, with an increase in passing attempts in Kingsbury’s offense that results in 88 targets in for Johnson. With 65.6% career catch rate and yards/reception at 10.8, that results in 58 receptions for 626 receiving yards. These increases result in a 26 point increase in fantasy points bringing Johnson’s total up to 272.6 total PPR points. His receiving touchdowns remain at three as those are consistent with his career average. So the question remains; is it plausible for Johnson then to make up the final 30.4 points to hit 303 total through rushing? Or better yet, what are his logical touchdown probabilities?
Touchdowns are extremely volatile year over year, and Johnson despite his team’s offensive struggles still scored seven rushing touchdowns in 2018. That was more than Ezekiel Elliott scored. In 2016, Johnson scored 16 rushing touchdowns in an Arizona offense that ranked 6th in points/game, and 8th in yards/game. In 2018, the Arizona offense ranked 32nd in yards/game and 32nd in points/game. Realistically, this can only go up in 2019.
Positive regression is a real concept, especially for teams that rank dead-last in offensive production. Dating back to 2010 teams that rank last in yards/game increase on average increase their production by 19% the following season. In terms of points/game on average that increased by 64% the following season. With these numbers adjusted, I have projected that Arizona will average 23.1 points/game and 287.5 yards/game in 2019. If we take the market share of David Johnson from 2018 and apply that to these new projections for 2019, were are left with the following projection for DJ. Again, Johnson scored seven rushing touchdowns (43 points or 19% of the team’s total points). If Johnson scores 19% of the Cardinals points again in 2019 with the new total it projects Johnson to score 11.7 rushing touchdowns.
Johnson in terms of rushing yardage compiled 24.3% of the team’s total yardage in 2018. If Johnson rushes for 24.3% of the Cardinals total yardage output in 2019 with the new total it projects Johnson to rush for 1,118 rushing yards. That yardage output is consistent with the fact that as I alluded to earlier that Johnson is due for positive regression in yards per carry. If he had the same amount of carries last year (258), he would average 4.33 yards per carry to hit 1,118 rushing yards. Johnson’s career average is 4.1. Either way, a yardage projection between 1,058 and 1,118 seems more than plausible. 1,058 rushing yards is the projected output if Johnson rushed for 4.1 yards per carry on 258 carries.
If Johnson ends up scoring 12 touchdowns that will end up closing the gap for him to reach 303 points. But if for some reason he does see that touchdown increase, the increase in total rushing yards should put him over the top. Realistically, Johnson will need to see at least that 118 rushing yard increase (11.8 fantasy points) and then see at least a three rushing touchdown increase. That would put him at 302.4 right near our 303 target projection. So will David Johnson finish as a top five running back? The numbers say yes. I will buy this bold prediction that he will finish not in the top five, but five will be the highest he finishes.
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