We are three weeks into making fantasy football bold predictions for this upcoming NFL season. Next up on the list is the AFC South. This division is always full of surprises. Moments like the Tennessee Titans earning the top seed in the AFC last year to Urban Meyer getting fired halfway through the season to even Andrew Luck retiring late in August suddenly years ago. Here, we’ll do our best to make a bold prediction that can help us get an edge this fantasy football season.
Each week, Michael Govier (@mjgovier) and I (@Colin_McT) continue to highlight one bold prediction from each team, division by division, until the start of the 2022 NFL season. They hopefully will get the gears in your head turning. Some are positive while others may be negative. The likeliness that every single one of these predictions hits is certainly not 100%. However, they should generate some buzz or cause you to think twice about each player. Just be confident in your feelings when you’re on the clock.
A Fantasy Football Bold Prediction for Each AFC South Team
McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Brandin Cooks sets career-highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns
It finally seems like the masses are catching on to what Brandin Cooks has been doing for his entire career. After six of seven non-rookie seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, Cooks is getting drafted much earlier than in more recent fantasy football drafts. He’s done so with multiple quarterbacks on four different NFL teams.
So, ahead of the 2022 season, Cooks is back in Houston to continue his rapport with quarterback, Davis Mills. Even with just 11 starts from Mills last season, and six others with Tyrod Taylor, Cooks still logged a career-high 90 receptions. He was just 168 yards and four more touchdowns away from his best season yet.
In 2022, Cooks is back with Mills, which should continue their chemistry. Additionally, Cooks is simply THE guy on this Houston Texans offense. Admittedly, he’s really the only Houston player I want in fantasy drafts this season. Unfortunately, second round rookie receiver, John Metchie III will spend this season battling a recent leukemia diagnosis. That leaves Cooks to battle with Chris Conley, Nico Collins, and a few others for targets. Enough said.
Cooks needs just 91 receptions, 1,205 yards, and 10 touchdowns to meet my bold prediction. It may be difficult as a now nine-year veteran in the NFL. His massive expected target share and a clean bill of health should make it possible. That stat line, over 17 games, yields 15.97 points per game, or WR13 on a points per game basis last season.
Govier’s Bold Prediction: Nico Collins outscores Brandin Cooks in all formats
Brandin Cooks has been one of the most underrated consistent fantasy targets in the game. After being banished to Houston from the Rams, he’s had two of his better seasons with one of them being mostly led by rookie Davis Mills. Now those who know me will accuse me of major Wolverine-bias here as Nico Collins is a former player from the University of Michigan. However, what I see is a special player with a complete skill-set at WR who if given the opportunity will show people what he can do.
As a rookie Collins was targeted 60 times, while Cooks was targeted 134 times in two more games than Collins. There was also a shoulder injury that halted Collins’ rookie year for about a month. If Collins plays in those games he missed, he was likely looking at closer to 80 targets for his rookie year. That’s not too shabby. It’s not Brandin Cooks territory to be sure, but it shows the potential and the desire the Texans have for keeping Collins on the field.
For this bold prediction to pan out, it’s likely Cooks may have to miss time due to injury. Another possibility is more teams load up on Cooks and force the youngster Davis Mills to look Collins’ way more often. My prediction is more of a bet on how undervalued Nico Collins is than anything negative about the consistent Brandin Cooks. In Fantrax PPR leagues right now, Collins has an ADP of 282. He’s a big-time value as a draft afterthought in 12-teamers.
McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Michael Pittman Jr. finishes as a top-five wide receiver
Michael Pittman will have his third different Week 1 starting quarterback under center in Indy since he was drafted in 2020. The 24-year-old more than doubled his receptions, yards, and touchdowns from his rookie season. That’s with Philip Rivers in 2020, to last year, with Carson Wentz. Now, he gets former MVP, Matt Ryan throwing the ball his way which I think bodes well for the young star.
This Colts team, with Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, is the best-equipped run game Matt Ryan has seen in a long time. However, Ryan, even at 37 years old, can still air it out and is an accurate quarterback. In fact, Ryan fell just 32 yards short last year of throwing for his 11th-straight 4,000+ season.
Typically, we see Ryan heavily target one specific player each season. From 2014-2019 especially, Ryan loaded Julio Jones up with 970 targets in Atlanta. In 92 games, over those six seasons, that’s an average of 10.54 targets per game.
Michael Pittman Jr. is the best bet to see this sort of attention in 2022. Not only does he have a similar build to Julio, but he can get downfield just as well. Furthermore, Pittman Jr.’s competition for targets amongst Colts wide receivers is lackluster. His biggest threat for touches is the aforementioned Taylor running the ball. If Pittman does see Julio-like targets in Indy, he will be this year’s big breakout star and finish as a top-five fantasy wide receiver.
Govier’s Bold Prediction: Parris Campbell sees at least 80 targets this season
For those of you familiar with this former Ohio State flanker, I don’t need to tell you how wild of a bold prediction this is. If you take a look at the injury history of Campbell, you will find a long list of painful experiences going back to his college days. Foot, knee, hand, and head injuries have plagued him in his short time in the NFL since being drafted in the second round in 2019. Campbell being on the field enough to rack up 50 targets would be impressive based on his results so far. To call for 80? I must be a madman!
Forget the injuries for now. We know they are a threat. The other challenge for Campbell has been the parade of QBs rolling through training camp every season. His rookie year, head coach, Frank Reich, rolls with Jacoby Brissett. Then in 2020, the Colts go all in on one last ride for Philip Rivers. They go 11-5 and make the playoffs. Last year, they call upon Carson Wentz to take the Colts to another level. We all know how that turned out in Week 18 against the Jaguars. Now, it’s quarterback number four for Campbell as Matt Ryan was acquired to try his hand as the hired gun in the Hoosier state.
Parris Campbell is in the final year of his rookie deal. It’s all about now. The memory of his 4.31 40 time at the 2019 NFL Combine is long gone. This prediction will take a bit of luck to be sure, but if he avoids the injury bug, Matt Ryan can still sling it enough to allow some big play possibilities for Campbell. The surrounding pieces are outstanding too. Jonathan Taylor will take up a ton of attention which bodes every well for opening up those big play opportunities for Campbell. If he breaks 80 targets, he will be a fantastic value at his current ADP on Fantrax at 323.
McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Trevor Lawrence averages over 20.0 points per game
Since the 2018 NFL season, just shy of 10 quarterbacks per season average 20.0 or more fantasy points per game. In the four years prior, from 2014-2017, an average of just four quarterbacks per season accomplished that feat. Specifically, in 2017, just three quarterbacks were able to do so. That’s Deshaun Watson (7 games), Russell Wilson, and Carson Wentz.
Looking at Carson Wentz’s 2017 season, it is the year he was an MVP candidate under head coach, Doug Pederson, with the Philadelphia Eagles. The year prior, Wentz’s rookie season, he averaged just 13.31 fantasy points per game. An offseason of added weapons, like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and LaGarrette Blount, to name a few, as well as comfortability in the league, launched Wentz into fantasy superstardom. I see the same for Trevor Lawrence in 2022.
The Jaguars’ offseason started by hiring former Super Bowl head coach, Doug Pederson. Next, they extended top-rated left tackle, Cam Robinson. Then, they signed free agent guard, Brandon Scherff, bulking up the offensive line. Then comes the flurry of free agent offensive pieces such as Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram.
With added protection and a retooled offense all-around, Trevor is poised for a second-year breakout. We will certainly see an improvement in the passing game. On top of that, Lawrence ranks in the top five in rushing attempts amongst quarterbacks from last season.
My advice is to wait to draft your quarterbacks and go “safe and upside.” At QB18, Lawrence has a ton of upside for dirt cheap. Snag him late! Then, make sure to leave your draft with a safer option, as well, like Kirk Cousins or Ryan Tannehill, to fall back on.
Govier’s Bold Prediction: Trevor Lawrence throws for 4,000 yards and runs for 500 yards
I get all giddy inside when I think about the next level of passing that Jaguars quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, will ascend to in 2022! Let’s put into context how incredibly talented he already he is. Then let’s also put into context how horrendously awful Urban Meyer was as an NFL coach. I’m proud to say I knew it was a bad hire. Meyer is the all-time control freak in a profession that is littered with hall of fame control freaks. Almost everything we saw from all Jaguars players from 2021 while Urban Meyer was the coach should be dismissed.
Despite a nightmare season with a 3-14 record, Jacksonville’s prodigal son threw for 3,641 yards and ran for another 334 on the ground. To me, this bold prediction on the passing front is an easy call. Doug Pederson knows quarterbacks. He was one and he has coached a lot of them. Trevor Lawrence is going to take a major leap in 2022. I think the only thing that is risky in my prediction is the 500 yards rushing. If he added only 10 yards per game rushing over 17 games this season from his 2021 mark, he would attain the bold prediction on the ground. I think it’s totally doable.
Maybe Jacksonville will use their running backs a lot more in 2022 since 2021 draftee Travis Etienne will be healthy forming a solid duo with incumbent James Robinson. The Jags ran the third-fewest rushing plays in the NFL last year. That is bound to change regardless of Pederson’s play-calling tendencies. Those have been known to be called into question before in Philadelphia before. There are reinforcements in for the passing game with former Arizona Cardinal, Christian Kirk, signing a big-boy contract to be the slot start in Trevor Lawrence’s passing attack. All signs point to better days ahead in 2022 for the Jags and for Trevor Lawrence in particular.
McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Austin Hooper finishes as a top-10 tight end
In 2018, with the Atlanta Falcons, Hooper finished as the overall TE6 in points and tied for ninth at the position on a points per game (10.1) basis. The following year, in three less games, Hooper set career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns finishing, again, as TE6 in overall points, but TE3 on a points per game (15.0) basis. Since, as a Cleveland Brown, Hooper is just another guy with just 86 total receptions in 31 games over two seasons with the team.
Now, with a fresh start on the Tennessee Titans, I am making the bold prediction he returns to 2018 and 2019 form. That makes him one of the biggest values for fantasy football this draft season. Hooper is a veteran on his third NFL team but is just 27 years old. He’s joining a team that has 40% of 2021 vacated targets at tight end with the departure of Anthony Firkser. Additionally, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones leave behind 153 targets themselves. Those two, and Firkser, alone account for 37.6% of the team’s total targets of last season.
Hooper is 6’4″ 254-lbs and will provide Ryan Tannehill a big-body target in the red zone and end zone this season. He’s no stranger to a heavy workload with two seasons of 88 and 90 targets. Rookie receiver, Treylon Burks, and veteran, Robert Woods, will see their fair share. However, Woods is returning from an ACL injury and Burks is unlikely to be a clone of A.J. Brown out of the gate. Austin Hooper is currently going undrafted in most fantasy football leagues. I am taking a flier on him to reap the benefits.
Govier’s Bold Prediction: Ryan Tannehill throws for 35 touchdowns, 4,000 passing yards, and finishes as a top-eight quarterback
I have this policy that I don’t always enact unless the circumstances are right for it. When a player has a down year, they will likely show you that they still have the right stuff. A winning culture and quality supporting talent help to enable the reality of this policy. I think Ryan Tannehill has all those features available to him. That’s why he will finish as a top-eight quarterback in 2022.
Tannehill bummed out a lot of people outside of Cincinnati in the 2021 playoffs when the Titans lost a heartbreaker to the upstart Bengals. They were one of the weakest number one seeds in recent memory. They have playoff experience that should have allowed them to return to the AFC Championship game. Tannehill was a big reason why that didn’t happen. In fact, his 2021 fantasy season was filled with too many turnovers and not enough big plays.
Losing A.J. Brown is tough, but the Tannehill comeback is feasible. First, the Titans drafted my favorite wide receiver in the draft, Treylon Burks. Dude is a target radius dream come true! They also brought in the underrated Austin Hooper at tight end to be Tannehill’s safety valve. Then, the running game, led by Derrick Henry, will set up more opportunities in the passing game for less appreciated, but important, fantasy assets like Nick Westbrook-Ikhine.
The wild card for me is the health of Robert Woods. So far, Woods has avoided the PUP list, which is great news for a guy who tore his ACL in Week 10 last year. Put all the talent and the consistent winning culture set forth by head coach, Mike Vrabel, and you have a recipe for Tannehill to provide great value on his lowered draft stock so far in 2022 fantasy drafts.