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The Funston Fives

Newton's New Norm

by Brandon Funston
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list?  With that universal love of lists in mind, I go out on a limb this week with my top 5 bold predictions for each skill position.

Top 5 bold predictions at the QB position

Cam Newton finishes under 250 rushing yards
Newton’s final tally in ’16 was a career-low 359, but his rushing yards average over the final seven games of ’16 (14.0 per game) equates to a pace of 224 rushing yards for a 16-game season, and I think this is Newton’s new norm. Carolina, with the selections of electric short-range weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, wants to change its offense in a way that will remove Newton from harm’s way – short, quick passes that limits his pocket exposure, and a more dynamic backfield to lessen the reliance on the read-option.

Philip Rivers throws as many touchdown passes as he is years old (35)
This would be a career-high for Rivers, but he has the weapons to get it done (especially if Keenan Allen can play something close to a full season), and Rivers was only two TD passes shy of this number last season.

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Andy Dalton finishes higher in fantasy points than Derek Carr
As I explained in last Week’s Fives, I think Carr is being a bit overpriced in drafts as I see Oakland playing a fairly conservative brand of offense. Dalton was basically Carr’s fantasy equal last season, and that was without Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green for roughly half the season. If those two can stay healthy this may not end up being that close of a race.

Carson Wentz throws for 4,000 yards and increases his rookie TD pass total by 10
Wentz threw for just 16 touchdowns as a rookie, but he had little to work with in his receiving corps (especially when Jordan Matthews was battling health issues). In addition to the valuable season’s worth of experience under his belt, Wentz should be aided greatly by the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to his arsenal. The Eagles weren’t afraid to turn Wentz loose in his rookie season (607 pass attempts). If they keep that kind of faith in their QB this season, the jump in numbers I suggest is reasonable.

Rookies DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will have the most starts at QB for their respective teams
Kizer already owns the starting job in Cleveland, and the barrier to a starting role is minimal for the other two (Tom Savage, Mike Glennon). That said, I don’t think any of them will be able to hold a candle to Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes when we look back at the NFL careers of these players. He’s the rookie signal caller I’m most interested to see as a starter, but that’s at least a season away.

Top 5 bold predictions at the RB position

Kareem Hunt leads all rookie RBs in fantasy points
Among the impressive crop of rookie backs, none has a better situation heading into the regular season than Hunt. The preseason knee injury to Spencer Ware placed Hunt in the driver’s seat in the KC backfield, and Andy Reid has been a king maker when it comes to fantasy RB production. From Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to LeSean McCoy to Jamaal Charles to Ware, Reid’s put a running back in the top 21 in fantasy scoring at the position 15 times in his 18-year career, and many of those were top 10 finishes.

Doug Martin posts top 10 fantasy RB totals over the final 13 games of the season
Of course, he’ll first have to observe his three-game suspension. But Martin has looked good this preseason, flashing the quickness and power that propelled him to a No. 3 fantasy RB finish as a rookie in ’12 and a No. 8 finish in ’15. With an offensive line that should be better (maybe a lot better) than a year ago and a loaded passing game capable of stretching the field vertically, Martin could return to as good a situation as he’s ever been afforded in Tampa.

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Rob Kelley finishes as a top 20 fantasy RB
Kelley doesn’t offer much “Wow” factor, but he proved last season that he can get the job done in a professional manner – execute his assignment, fight for extra yards, hang on to the football, etc. In other words, Kelley is probably not going to do much to lose his grip on this job, meaning rookie Samaje Perine is going to have to wrest it from him. And, frankly, Perine’s rocky preseason puts him well back in Kelley’s rear-view mirror to start the season – too far back to close the gap, in my opinion.

Six running backs will reach 300 carries
The NFL has seen a RB reach this total just six times combined over the past four seasons. David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Jay Ajayi, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley, Carlos Hyde, Leonard Fournette and, if he can stave off suspension somehow, Ezekiel Elliott all have the expected role to push this number if health allows.

No Seattle or New England RB finishes inside the top 35 at the position
Health issues. Suspect offensive line. I expect this narrative in the Seattle backfield to remain a constant throughout the ’17 campaign. In New England, the week-to-week whims of Bill Belichick will prevent any of its backs from running too far out ahead of the pack.  These are two musical-chair backfields that I want no part of.

Top 5 bold predictions at the WR position

Kelvin Benjamin notches a career-high 13 touchdowns
Benjamin has popped out at me every time I’ve watched him this preseason, and, to my eye, he looks as spry as ever. Cam Newton agrees, recently stating that he expects this to be Benjamin’s best season yet. I’m calling for the baker’s dozen of TDs (13), which would be four more than his previous career best (9 in his ’14 rookie campaign).

Brandon Coleman doubles his previous career-best numbers in catches, yards, TDs
If the towering Coleman does as predicted here, his line would have to at least be 60/900/6. Yes, that’s bold, but Coleman should be no worse than the No. 3 wideout in one the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses, and for the first few weeks of the season (with Willie Snead on suspension), he’ll have an even greater opportunity to establish a prominent role.

Sammy Watkins finishes with less fantasy points than Kenny Britt’s ’16 total
Britt posted a 68/1,002/5 line for the Rams last season, good for the No. 24 overall fantasy receiver. But it should be pointed out that Britt was just the No. 42 WR during the Week 11-17 stretch when Jared Goff took over starting QB duties. In other words, in Goff I do not trust. And, of course, with Watkins, health is also a factor (11 DNPs over the past two seasons). 

Marvin Jones outpaces teammate Golden Tate in fantasy points
Golden Tate and Eric Ebron have combined for 22 touchdowns over the past three seasons with the Lions. Who has the best chance to pick up the red zone targets vacated by Anquan Boldin (3rd in RZ targets with 22 in ’16)? My money’s on Jones, who has good size, decent athleticism and has a 10 TD season on record with Cincy in ’13 that can’t be completely dismissed. I believe the TD discrepancy between the top two Lions wideouts could be enough to push Jones ahead of Tate on the final fantasy tally sheet.

Dede Westbrook  leads all rookie WRs in fantasy points
Ok, this might be my biggest reach of the bunch, but I’m a Dede believer. Coming off a sensational Heisman Trophy push for Oklahoma in ’16, Westbrook might have been the most impressive looking wideout of the preseason. Sure, most of his work came against backups, but I think the talent and instincts he showed will translate against stiffer competition. Don’t be surprised if he forces his way into a role opposite Allen Robinson early in the season.

Top 5 bold predictions at the TE position

Zach Ertz tops 90 catches to lead all tight ends
The chemistry Ertz has with Carson Wentz is obvious. Things really started clicking for the duo in Week 9 of last season. From that point through Week 17, Ertz was the top tight end in fantasy, dropping a 63/666/4 line in those nine games – a pace worth 112 catches, 1,184 yards and seven scores over a full season.

Jimmy Graham returns to 10-TD level
Graham had some nice moments last season coming back from microfracture knee surgery. But his rehabilitation from that injury didn’t allow him to practice during the ’16 campaign. He would work with trainers during the week and suit up on Sunday. This season, he’s a full participant in practices, and that should give him a big leg up in terms of his chemistry with Russell Wilson.

Antonio Gates (age 37) and Jason Witten (35) both finish as top 12 fantasy tight ends
Gates’ red zone role in San Diego is secure, and if Rivers does throw 35 touchdowns (see above), you can bet Gates will catch at least eight of them. In Witten’s case, he was outside the top 12 at the tight end by just the slimmest of margins last season. In other words, he’s given us no reason to think he can’t push 70 catches, 700 yards and 4-5 TDs once again.

Martellus Bennett lands inside the TE top 5 for the first time in his career
Bennett caught 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns with the Bears in ’14, but that was only good for a No. 5 finish in what was an amazing season for the TE position. I don’t expect him to best those Chicago numbers, but something in the neighborhood of 70 catches, 800 yards and eight touchdowns might be good enough to secure a career-high top four spot.

A top 20 fantasy tight end emerges from the NFC West bottom feeders
Rookies Gerald Everett (Rams) and George Kittle (49ers) both have the opportunity and talent to make an early impact for their respective teams. For now, they should at least be on the radars of those in two tight end leagues.

Brandon Funston
Brandon Funston has been dispensing solid gold fantasy advice (with some fool's gold mixed in from time to time) for the past 20 years, formerly with ESPN, and Yahoo. You can send him questions/comments on Twitter @brandonfunston.