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Bold Fantasy Predictions: Oakland Raiders

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 the Oakland Raiders:

Maurice Jones-Drew will finish as a Top 20 running back.

Two years ago, this prediction would have seemed more like a guarantee. In 2011, MJD won the rushing title and was seemingly just entering his prime. But after an injury-plagued 2012 and flat-out horrible 2013, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Jones-Drew as he prepares for his first season in Oakland. As a 29 year-old running back who has already endured three seasons of 299+ carries in his career, MJD deservingly has some red flags as a fantasy prospect. But I think he will surprise a lot of people with his productivity this season, and I will tell you why.

There is really no way to justify Jones-Drew’s 2013 performance. He rushed for just over 800 yards with a 3.4 yards per carry average, and he totaled just 5 touchdowns on the year. However, it cannot be ignored that he played on the 31st ranked offense in the NFL, which was also an offense that was always playing from behind. No one is going to mistake the Raiders for the Broncos this season, but the team has an improved offensive line and the quarterback situation shouldn’t be as much of a disaster for MJD.

The Raiders have already made it clear that they will pound the rock as much as they can this season. That is music to the ears of Jones-Drew owners, but the presence of Darren McFadden in the backfield looms over this news. But please, do not let McFadden scare you off from drafting MJD. McFadden found a way to have an ever worse season than Jones-Drew in 2013, as he averaged 3.3 yards per carry and rushed for a grand total of 379 yards. And in his six years in the NFL, McFadden has NEVER played in over 13 games in a single season. So even on the off chance that Darren McFadden stays healthy for the 2014 season, his game has fallen so far that he should not get in Jones-Drew’s way.

Do I think Maurice Jones-Drew will return to an elite level? Absolutely not. But I do think he can be an efficient and consistent running back for your fantasy team, which is extremely rare to find in the later rounds of drafts. He figures to be the immediate starter on a team that will be dependent on the run, and he is still one of the better receiving backs in the league (43 receptions last season). MJD usually goes in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts, but I think he will perform as a low-end No. 2 RB or high-end FLEX. Talk about value.

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