The season is upon us, and the air is thick with the perfume of possibility.
The Detroit Lions could go to the Super Bowl.
Robert Griffin III could top the rookie season turned in by Cam Newton last year.
DeMarco Murray could run for 2,000 yards.
And why stop there?
Last season, Victor Cruz was undrafted in all but about .01 percent of fantasy leagues. He played three games in 2010 and didn’t have a single reception. In 2011, he had 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs. Cruz helped win leagues for a lot of the people who claimed him from the free-agent pool. A player who was regarded as a complete afterthought at this time a year ago ended up being one of the most valuable receivers in the league.
Wild things will happen this season. Really wild things. Things that are inconceivable now will be accepted as plain truth a year from now. Open your mind to allow for a wider range of possibilities.
David Wilson could run for 1,000 yards this season. Ahmad Bradshaw has a history of foot problems. Wilson was a first-round pick, so the Giants are obviously expecting a significant return on their investment. If Bradshaw misses a large number of games and Wilson plays up to his potential, he could run for 1,000 yards.
But what if Bradshaw misses a large number of games, and Wilson not only fails to play up to his potential but is such a horrific liability in blitz pickup that the Giants believe they would be putting Eli Manning’s health at risk by leaving Wilson on the field? Could Da’Rel Scott run for 1,000 yards? After what Cruz did for the Giants last season, are you sure you’re willing to conclude there’s no chance Scott whatsoever that could run for 1,000 yards?
I’m not trying to convince you to dump your fifth running back and pick up Da’Rel Scott. But if you’re willing to open your mind to unique possibilities in fantasy football, you’ll be prepared to move swiftly to take advantage of radical changes in the landscape, while close-minded owners stubbornly refuse to believe what they’re seeing.
What strange possibilities are within the realm of reason? What could be wrought from just a few small changes in circumstances?
The list below is not a series of predictions, but merely a series of possibilities. Very few of these scenarios will play out as presented — maybe none. Consider this an exercise to limber up your highly analytical fantasy-football brain and stretch an imagination that might have become overly rigid after countless hours of number-crunching and list-making. But maybe some of it could happen.
Will it really be so strange if …
Michael Turner runs for 1,500 yards and 12 TDs? Conventional wisdom has Turner playing a diminished role in the Falcons’ offense this season as the team gets pass-happy and seeks to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved. Thing is, Atlanta’s offensive line isn’t very good. For a pass-happy offense to function effectively, its offensive line has to be able to consistently neutralize the pass rush. It’s questionable whether the Falcons’ offense can do that, and it doesn’t help that QB Matt Ryan is less mobile than one of those shambling Sleestaks from “Land of the Lost.” Maybe the Falcons determine that they need the threat of play-action for Ryan to be at his best, which means establishing the running game with a heavy-duty running back who gained 4.5 yards per carry last season and has run for 50 TDs over the past four seasons. And maybe when we least expect it, Turner produces the best season of his career.
Tim Tebow runs for 12 TDs? The Jets’ passing game is woefully inadequate. But with their rugged defense, the Jets can win with an über-conservative offense that avoids turnovers and sacks, keeps the field-position battle tilted in their favor, and chews a little clock. Tebow isn’t that much worse than Mark Sanchez as a passer, and his rushing would add a new dimension to an offense sorely lacking in skill-position talent. Tebow has eight TD runs in 14 career starts. With his agility and tackle-breaking ability, he could run for 12 scores if given the reins early enough in the season.
Joe Flacco throws for 5,000 yards? He has thrown for right around 3,600 yards in each of the past three seasons. With 3,600 yards as a baseline, Flacco would need to average 87.5 more passing yards per game to get to 5,000 for the season. The Ravens are planning to go no-huddle frequently. Flacco looked sharp in the no-huddle during the preseason, and the faster pace is destined to increase his passing attempts. He’s entering his prime, and if the no-offense clicks and WR Torrey Smith blossoms into a superstar, Flacco could blow away his baseline stats. (And while we’re on the Ravens’ passing game …)
Jacoby Jones has 1,000 receiving yards? A perennial disappointment in Houston, the fleet-footed Jones is trying to jump-start his career in Baltimore. He looked sharp in the preseason and won the job as the Ravens’ No. 3 receiver. He’s in line to get plenty of snaps in the team’s up-tempo offense, and he would start if anything happened to Smith or Anquan Boldin.
Beanie Wells runs for 1,500 yards? Wells has a reputation of being injury-prone, he had arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, and he has Ryan Williams trying to steal his job. But Williams is returning from a knee injury of his own, and for all the injury problems Wells has had during his NFL career, he has missed only five games in three seasons. Few still question Wells’ ability after he ran for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs in 14 games last season, gaining 4.3 yards per carry behind a bad offensive line. If his body cooperates and Williams’ body doesn’t, Wells could conceivably get 300 carries and put up career-best numbers.
Pierre Thomas accumulates 1,500 combined yards and 10 TDs? Yeah, yeah … the Saints are the ultimate RB-by-committee team. Mark Ingram is the battering ram, Darren Sproles is the speedy passing-game specialist, and Thomas is the jack-of-all-trades. Ingram was hampered by injuries as a rookie and has yet to display any special characteristics. Sproles is 5-foot-6 and isn’t built to run between the tackles. Despite the committee approach, Thomas scored six TDs and almost hit 1,000 combined yards last season. In 2009, he scored eight TDs and came up just shy of 1,100 combined yards. If either Ingram or Sproles (or both) were to go down, maybe the Saints plug in Chris Ivory and/or Travaris Cadet to take up the slack, or maybe they just give Thomas, their best overall back, a lot more work.
Rod Streater has 1,000 receiving yards? Denarius Moore is having hamstring problems. As any 2011 Andre Johnson owner can tell you, hamstring problems sometimes linger. For all the love Darrius Heyward-Bey seems to be getting in fantasy drafts, he’s just a guy. Jacoby Ford is a one-trick pony (and a brittle one at that). Streater, an undrafted free agent who had 19 receptions for Temple last season, was phenomenal in the preseason. He’s in line to start on Monday night if Moore can’t go. Is Streater this year’s Victor Cruz?
Matt Flynn throws 25 TD passes? Yes, he lost the QB derby in Seattle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll wear the headset all season. The Seahawks are gunning for a division title. If Russell Wilson struggles, Pete Carroll is apt to give the rookie a quick hook. Flynn was simply smashing in his two NFL starts to date. Even if you discount the circus numbers he put up against the Lions in Week 17 last season, you should respect the poise he showed in nearly leading the shorthanded Packers to a road win against the Patriots in 2010. He’s a good quarterback. He eventually will get to prove it, and maybe sooner than we expect.
Eddie Royal has 100 receptions? He reportedly clicked with Philip Rivers right away in OTAs. With San Diego’s offensive line in terrible shape, Rivers will go to his slot receiver repeatedly as an act of self-preservation. And don’t forget that Royal had 91 receptions for Denver as a rookie in 2008.
Joel Dreessen has 10 TD catches? Jacob Tamme had a nice 10-game run for the Colts in 2010 after Dallas Clark got hurt. But a career average of 9.3 yards per catch suggests that Tamme is a marginal talent, and that Peyton Manning simply hammered a square peg into a round hole after Clark went down. Dreessen, who played an overlooked but important role in the Texans’ passing game the past couple seasons, easily could emerge as Manning’s tight end of choice in Denver, and with WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker drawing heavy defensive attention, there could be a lot of red-zone looks for Manning’s primary tight end.
Bernard Scott runs for 1,000 yards? He’s the backup to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and a hand injury will sideline Scott in Week One. But he’s intriguing as a speedy complement to the plodding Green-Ellis. It was long speculated that Scott would steal Cedric Benson’s job, but it never happened. Maybe Scott has better luck stealing BJGE’s gig.
Julian Edelman has 60 catches? Not only can Edelman play defensive back in a pinch, but he also does a heck of a Wes Welker impersonation. If Welker were to go down, the Patriots probably could slide Edelman into Welker’s role and not miss a beat. If Brandon Lloyd or one of the tight ends went down, the Patriots could throw some unusual looks at opponents by putting Welker and Edelman on the field together.
D.J. Williams has 50 catches? By all accounts the young tight end had a terrific training camp with the Packers. Starter Jermichael Finley is a phenomenal talent but is prone to occasional lapses in focus. During the Packers’ lone regular-season loss last season to the Chiefs, Finley’s hands were so bad that you wouldn’t have trusted him to hold an infant. It’s unlikely that Finley would fall completely out of favor in Green Bay, but in the Packers’ offense, there’s a lot of wealth to go around. Williams could force his way into the mix and show the same sort of playmaking ability he displayed during a fruitful college career at Arkansas.