Credit: pittsburghpanthers.com

In this age of fantasy analysis, one that has seemingly been won by those that can yell the loudest or sound the most ridiculous, hot takes are a dime a dozen. As a more conservative analyst, I don’t often have much to contribute in that regard. I play the percentages, make small moves, and try to identify value early. But as someone often caught on the sidelines of this battle, I can’t help but want to jump in, so I’ve decided to gift to you some of my boldest takes for this season. Most are backed up statistically, some are simply a gut feeling (with analysis included). Regardless, I think all are against the consensus grain.

#1: Neither David Bell nor Kayshon Boutte will finish as the WR1 this season

At this point, most experts seem to concur that the race for fantasy WR1 for 2021 will come down to two players: Purdue’s David Bell and LSU’s Kayshon Boutte. The reasoning for this is extremely solid. Check out these game logs for Bell without Rondale Moore from 2019:

And here are Boutte’s. Look at that increase the final three weeks of the season, following the opt-out of virtually every other talented pass catcher on the 2020 LSU Tigers roster:

So who takes the WR1 crown this year? I don’t know that I have a favorite. Any of Jalen Tolbert, Khalil Shakir, or (my dark horse pick) Travell Harris could finish that way. I don’t typically like to make a bold prediction in which I say something doesn’t happen (that’s too easy), but the plethora of options to take that top spot make this an appealing bet.

#2: One of the vaunted 2021 Alabama WRs will transfer…and it won’t be Christian Leary

For those that aren’t aware, Alabama brought in one of the best receiver classes of all time in 2021, snagging consensus top-10 WRs Ja’Corey Brooks (WR2), Agiye Hall (WR5), JoJo Earle (WR6), and Christian Leary (WR10). With the departure of Jeudy, Ruggs, Waddle, and Smith over the past two drafts, it made sense for them to restock a shelf that was suddenly rather barren.

Now that spring has passed and we have a better idea of what the situation is at Alabama, we know (or are fairly certain) that Agiye Hall is the only one of the group that should see playing time. Slade Bolden will start in the slot, OSU transfer Jameson Williams will likely play outside, and then the third slot should be a revolving door for Hall, Javon Baker, and Traeshon Holden.

Here’s where some of the football depth chart calculus comes into play. From the beginning, I’ve maintained that Hall and Brooks were the top two receivers in the class, but they likely can’t co-exist, at least not this season. Hall’s playtime comes at the detriment of Brooks, who was not able to play in the spring game. Earle and Leary figure to aid more on special teams than Brooks can as well. Leary has been the popular fade because he’s the lowest-ranked of the three, but he was still one of the top receivers in the class. With the new transfer rules, don’t be surprised if Brooks is not on Alabama’s roster in 2022.

#3: Similarly, Ja’Corey Brooks is this year’s Julian Fleming/Demond Demas from a value perspective

Fleming and Demas are the two obvious disappointments from the 2020 recruiting class. While there were different reasons that each receiver was predominantly planted on the sideline, neither was able to make a splash in their true freshman years. 

I laid out the reasons for Brooks to transfer above, and unfortunately, this will hurt his value. Brooks is a clear sell as we approach the season and a clear buy in a year.

#4: By the end of the season, Israel Abanikanda is considered a top 50 start up pick

I promise that I’m not a homer. I really do. But my time at Pitt has me locked into the local reports on the Panthers, and everything concerning Abanikanda this offseason has been overwhelmingly positive. Check out this quote that Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi gave earlier in the spring:

“Who did I say was the starting tailback at the beginning of spring? Vince Davis right? Well, not so fast. I shouldn’t say stuff like that. I sit there and declared that and then all of a sudden, Izzy (Israel Abanikanda) is coming on. Vince is still a good back, but Izzy is getting after it. There’s a battle going on there. Maybe me declaring a winner before spring ball lit a fire under Izzy.”

Abanikanda was considered a huge get for Pitt last offseason. As the 30th ranked running back in the composite, he has the recruiting pedigree that we like. He’s also a very strong athlete for the position, sporting a verified 4.5 40 from The Opening in 2019 and a 39 inch vertical. 

Pitt will still rock the committee this year, with returning contributors Vincent and AJ Davis expected to be in the mix. But Abanikanda is the most talented guy in the group and the staff wants to do a better job of running the football in 2021. He’ll flash enough to get consistent work and will be a top 50 start-up pick come next offseason.

Credit: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

#5: Kedon Slovis declares for the NFL Draft and goes Day 3

I’m not entirely sure if this is a hot take or not, but it’s certainly on-brand for me. I’ve been out on Slovis as a real prospect since early last season. His ranking as a freshman was tenuously perched on the belief that he would continue to develop beyond the occasional flash. Not only do I not believe he’s done that, I think we’ve seen the ceiling for Mr. Slovis.

So why don’t I believe in Kedon Slovis? It’s tough to find one place to start. I don’t think he has an NFL arm. And if your best argument is “but he injured his shoulder the last two years” I’m now concerned that he’s had two shoulder injuries. He’s not mobile, he lacks some awareness when in the pocket, and he’s not a great anticipatory thrower. That’s a bad combination and one that I don’t believe the NFL will like either. 

Every year, we have one QB that drops precipitously. Two years ago, it was Jake Fromm. Last year, it was Jamie Newman. I’ll plant my flag now, that the 2021 version is Kedon Slovis.

#6: Brock Vandagriff sees the biggest ADP drop of the entire freshman class

This may not even be a bold prediction. I don’t know. What I do know, is that Vandagriff is not likely to ever be the starter at Georgia. And his absurd ADP of 91.5 is going to take a huge hit next offseason when people realize this fact.

Vandagriff was clearly never going to contribute this year with JT Daniels in town. But you’d expect a highly touted kid like himself to make some noise in camp. You know who was the backup this spring? Carson Beck (who received rave reviews from those close to the program). You know who was the third-stringer? Stetson Bennett. Fourth? Jackson Muschamp. I don’t expect Vandagriff to remain the QB5, but it’s a ton of talent to jump in one offseason. Plus, Georgia has secured the commitment of Gunner Stockton, a 5-star quarterback and one of my favorites in 2022.

Vandagriff is part of a group of freshman QBs that have value because we expect them to take over their respective jobs in 2022. This includes Caleb Williams, Jaxson Dart, Ty Thompson, and Drake Maye. But his ascent to that spot is much shakier than those other four. And when it becomes apparent that he won’t be starting next season, his value will drop like a stone. Don’t get caught holding the bag on Brock Vandagriff.

#7: The “Big 3” 2023 running back class becomes a “Big 4”

By now, we all know that the 2023 RB class is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. Freshman breakouts from top dogs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Tank Bigsby aside, there’s tons of talent at the position. Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, South Carolina’s Marshawn Lloyd, Texas A&M’s Devon Achane, Florida’s Demarckus Bowman, TCU’s Zach Evans, Georgia’s Kendall Milton, and the aforementioned Israel Abanikanda are all players that should be closely monitored this season. Also, this was not an exhaustive list so please don’t yell at me that your favorite player wasn’t on it. Thank you.

The most likely candidate to join that trio is Alabama’s Jase McClellan, for several reasons. First, he will have, at minimum, a clearly defined change-of-pace role in Alabama’s offense this year. For now, it appears that Brian Robinson Jr. will handle some early-down work, as well as the goal line carries. This may limit McClellan’s scoring upside for this year. McClellan also may grow into a bigger role. No one outside of the Alabama coaching staff can predict that. What we can predict, is how good McClellan will look with his touches. And if he proves to be a dangerous pass catcher at his size, that value should skyrocket.

The other major pro for McClellan is his athletic ability. McClellan measured as the best SPARQ athlete in the class. He has a verified 4.54 40 and a 39.6 inch vertical. Those are great numbers for a kid who already has NFL size at at 5’11 212. If you want McClellan, the best time to buy is today, because he’ll be a top 10 pick by this time next year.

Credit: slapthesign

#8: Kyren Williams falls more than any other upperclassmen going early in drafts, followed closely by Jordan Addison

We’ve talked a lot about players that we either think will increase significantly in value, or the freshmen who will slide this season, but we haven’t talked about any “proven” players that may slide this season. Williams is that guy, and he’ll look like a wasted pick in the not-so-distant future. It’s not a production issue with Williams, I’m just not sure the NFL will love an undersized RB who likely will weigh in less than 205 at the combine. Williams profiles more as a change of pace back, and should see draft value similar to Michael Carter.

Addison may be the bolder prediction, and it’s not to balance the Pitt scales with my Izzy prediction. Addison is bound to fall for a few reasons. First, as we discussed, Pitt wants to run the ball more effectively and more often this year. Second, the receiver room is a bit more crowded this year with the return of injured TE Lucas Krull and the emergence of Taysir Mack, Jared Wayne, and Jaylon Barden. Addison is also tiny, which may limit long term NFL upside. I’m not buying him at his 4th round ADP, because that’s his ceiling. Expect something closer to the 7th or 8th next year.

#9: A Texas receiver starts next offseason as a top-36 pick

New Longhorns Head Coach Steve Sarkisian has an overwhelmingly positive reputation as an offensive coordinator, both for college production and professional development. While at USC from 2014-2015, he coached up future NFL’ers Nelson Agholor (20th overall, 2015) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (62nd overall, 2017). His tenure at Alabama saw 4 first rounders pass through the program as well; Henry Ruggs (12th overall, 2020), Jerry Jeudy (15th overall, 2020), Jaylen Waddle (6th overall, 2021), and Devonta Smith (10th overall, 2021).

Sark just knows how to get the most out of a passing offense. The Longhorns may not have the same talent that the Crimson Tide had, but there’s plenty to work with there. Through spring camp, 3rd-year receiver Jordan Whittington got plenty of hype. While he may be the most productive this season, I can’t see him hitting that lofty ADP status. You know who is capable of it? 2nd-year WR Troy Omeire and freshman Xavier Worthy. Both have the physical gifts to shoot up boards and there should be plenty of opportunity on the boundary for those guys. My money would be on Worthy, but both should see a bump with a full year of Sark.

#10: George Pickens does NOT play in 2021…and still goes in the 1st round of the 2022 NFL Draft

Yes, I am aware of reports that state Pickens is on pace to return late this season. Yes, I am also aware that most mocks lean toward George Pickens as a second-rounder. I don’t care about any of that. Pickens will ultimately do what is best for his health, and that should be a focus on training for the draft process. If he can run sub 4.6, there shouldn’t be concerns about anything else surrounding his game. The blips in production can be directly attributed to D3 quality QB play. Pickens is a buy if owners are panicking.

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