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 NFC West, starting with the Arizona Cardinals:
Andre Ellington will finish as a Top 10 running back.
Last season, Rashard Mendenhall was the starter in Arizona and led the team with 217 carries. But Mendenhall has moved on and Andre Ellington has been handed the keys to the Cardinals backfield. In 2013 he burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie, leading the league with a 5.53 yards per carry average. Ellington might only be 5’9”, but he is the kind of runner who is impossible to contain once he is in the open field. His talent really shines through in the passing game, as last season he caught 39 passes for 371 yards. If he managed to do that in limited playing time, then the possibilities are endless for what he can do as a starter.
There are some things going against Ellington. He has no experience as an every down back on the NFL level, so we have no idea if his small frame will be able to survive a full season of running between the tackles. He plays for Bruce Arians, a pass-first coach who has Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd at his disposal. Arians has also made it clear he would like to involve Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor in the offense, so they could potentially steal goal-line touches away from Ellington. Still, Ellington is young, explosive, and ready to bust out. Even if he only gets somewhere around 200 carries in 2014, that should be enough for him to reach the 1,000-yard mark with his big play ability. I’m also banking on him catching around 60-70 catches this season, because Carson Palmer will be throwing him screens or dump-off passes whenever the offensive line breaks down (which is a lot in Arizona). Touchdowns are hard to predict for a home-run hitter like Ellington, but I can guarantee there will a few big plays of his that end in pay dirt.
If all goes according to plan, Ellington could have a similar breakout season to the one fellow Clemson Tiger CJ Spiller had in 2012. In PPR leagues, I project Ellington will finish the season as a low-end #1 starter. In standard leagues, I see him as a high-end #2. Either way, invest with confidence.