Every offseason the fantasy experts make a series of “bold predictions,” but they often turn out to be pretty ordinary assumptions. That won’t be the case with this recurring column, as I’m going to take chances that I haven’t seen any other fantasy pundits take. I know there is a solid chance that I’ll swing and miss with these predictions, but in the end I have a good feeling they’ll come true. Here is a bold call for each team in the AFC West, starting with the Denver Broncos:
Demaryius Thomas will finish the season as the #1 wide receiver.
In some ways, this prediction seems too bold. Calvin Johnson remains the best pure wide receiver in football, and other guys like AJ Green and Dez Bryant have the potential to claim the title as the top fantasy receiver. Peyton Manning is also getting older, and there is a chance that 2014 is the year where his arm gives out and his play finally begins to decline. But in other ways, this prediction might seem fairly ordinary. Manning is the reigning MVP and Thomas is clearly his favorite target. He has also finished in the top five among fantasy receivers in each of the past two seasons, including a second-place finish last year in which he was only one point behind Josh Gordon.
But regardless of what you think of this prediction, it is hardly being made because Calvin Johnson is the near-unanimous pick to finish 2014 as the top receiver. No, I do not think Calvin Johnson will have a down year; I just think Thomas is going to have that good of a season. He is entering his prime, and 2014 is the final year of his rookie contract. Wide receivers have been known to produce in contract years more so than players at any other position, and Thomas should be no different. His stats should also benefit from the fact that Eric Decker is no longer in town. Decker himself was one of the top receivers in fantasy football last season, so with his absence Thomas should see an uptick in targets (especially in the red zone). The Broncos did sign Emmanuel Sanders, but he does not fit the mold of the position in the way that Decker did. Like teammate Wes Welker, Sanders thrives in racking up yardage after the catch. So while Sanders could potentially replicate Decker’s yardage numbers, I would expect him to tally less receptions and touchdowns.
So, let’s imagine that Thomas will add a few more receptions and touchdowns to his 2013 numbers for the upcoming season. Those stats would have made him the clear #1 receiver in 2013, and in 2012 they would have placed him right there with Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking year. I understand if you are hesitant to make Thomas the first receiver off the board in your upcoming fantasy draft. But defenses cannot shadow Thomas like they do to other elite wide receivers, because the Broncos simply have more weapons on offense than any other team. And if you think Peyton Manning is due for disappointment, then you don’t know Peyton Manning. He put up his ridiculous numbers in 2013 without an elite arm, so 2014 should be no different for him. Sure, Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, and Brandon Marshall are safe picks to finish as elite fantasy receivers once again. But if you are looking for the guy who is going to lead the pack in 2014, then look no further than Demaryius Thomas.