This will be the final installment of Believe It or Not for the 2017, and it's been a wild ride. And it's not getting any less wild down the stretch.
It continues to look like there are a pair of stars being born in San Francisco, but the return of Aaron Rodgers didn't help Jordy Nelson at all. In that same game, Christian McCaffrey finally saw a heavy workload again, but can we count on it? We'll cover those things and more in this week's Believe It or Not, with a look towards 2018.
Jordy Nelson is officially done as an elite WR, no matter who the QB is
We gave Jordy Nelson a pass for the last month-plus of subpar performance because Brett Hundley was the quarterback. We said he had a special connection with Aaron Rodgers, and once they were reunited Nelson would be Fantasy relevant again. We thought at the very least Rodgers would throw Nelson open in the red zone. We were wrong.
Nelson caught three passes for 28 yards in the Packers loss to Carolina and now has eight straight games with fewer than 40 yards receiving. There's no reason to expect anything more from Nelson this season and at his age you can probably rule out a big bounce-back in 2018.
Jordy Nelson is done as an elite WR, no matter who the QB is— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 18, 2017
Verdict: Believe it
I had concerns about Nelson even at the start of the year. Yes, he was catching touchdowns, but that was just about all he was doing. Assuming the team brings Davante Adams back, Nelson will be at best the No. 2 option for Aaron Rodgers. He'll also be 33 years old before the start of next year.
Nelson looks like a touchdown-dependent No. 3 receiver who just doesn't get open like he used to. His name will probably get him drafted higher than that next season, and that's a mistake.
Marquise Goodwin will be a Fantasy starter in 2018
Marquise Goodwin caught 10 passes for 114 yards on Sunday. It was his sixth consecutive game with at least 68 yards. Even better, he's topped 99 yards in all three of Jimmy Garoppolo's starts. Garoppolo has peppered Goodwin with 33 targets over those three games, and Goodwin has caught 24 of them. It's a near-perfect pair.
Goodwin, always a speedster, has really shown growth this year in the development of his route tree. While he still possesses the speed to get behind the defense at any time, he's now capable of taking advantage of the underneath routes that corners are forced to allow him. With a good quarterback and a feature role you should bet on him being a top-25 receiver in 2018.
Believe It or Not takes the long view this week. Let's go:— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 18, 2017
Marquise Goodwin will be a starting WR for Fantasy in 2018
Verdict: Don't believe it
Not yet anyway.
My expectation is that Pierre Garcon will be the 49ers No. 1 receiver in 2018, and it's absolutely possible they add another piece. While this looks like it could be a much better offense next season, I'm not sure I buy that it will be one to sustain multiple starting receivers in Fantasy.
For now I would view Goodwin as a No. 3 receiver moving forward, but I'll be reading the tea leaves in the offseason, and there's a chance he gets a more respect than that. Of course, any concern about the number of receivers in San Francisco could be irrelevant if you believe ...
Jimmy Garoppolo is a top-12 heading into next year
Garoppolo's third start in San Francisco was much like his first two, a lot of yards, one or fewer touchdowns, and a win. For what it's worth, I'm much more encouraged by the yards than I am discouraged by the touchdowns. Those will come.
Garoppolo is getting a ton of volume and he's been outstanding on a per-attempt basis. You don't keep throwing for 300 yards without getting multiple touchdowns. What's more is that he gets Garcon back next season giving him a full complement of receivers. And if the team adds another weapon? Top-12 may be too low.
Jimmy Garoppolo is a top-12 QB in Fantasy next year— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 18, 2017
Verdict: Don't believe it
But it's close.
Garoppolo is in a good system and he has shown an ability to put up yards through the air. He absolutely looks like someone that will become a darling of the wait-on-QB crowd. And he deserves to be. He should be a solid No. 2 QB next season, and maybe even higher. But for me to rank him in my top 12, I'm going to have to see the 49ers add another big-time receiver.
I still expect this to be a very good division in 2018, and Garoppolo is going to have a big challenge in front of him. I hope he's up to it, but I'm not ready to bet on it yet.
We should expect a feature role for Christian McCaffrey moving forward
I whiffed on a few things this week, but none bigger than Christian McCaffrey. If I told you to sit him, I'm sorry. What we'd seen from the past month was McCaffrey getting 8-11 touches per game and not being all that efficient with them. He looked like a touchdown-dependent No. 3 running back. And then the Panthers decided to unleash him.
McCaffrey had nine touches on the opening drive and finished the game with 18, his second highest total of the season. He responded to the increased workload with 136 total yards and a touchdown. We can only hope that the Panthers saw this production and decided to finally give their first-round pick the workload he deserves.
We should expect a feature role for Christian McCaffrey in the future— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 18, 2017
Verdict: Believe it
First off, let's talk about what "feature role" means in today's NFL. There are only seven running backs pacing towards 20 touches a game this season. I don't expect McCaffrey to get to that level, but most don't. What he needs is more like 15-18, and that's what I would expect moving into 2018.
His inability to run between the tackles has been overblown, and while his 3.7 YPC is unimpressive, it's still better than Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers have had multiple offensive line issues, and it's fair to expect McCaffrey can be at least an average runner and one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.
The other major development in Carolina was the re-emergence of Greg Olsen. I was wondering if we were going to see Olsen look fully healthy in 2017. He did on Sunday.
Olsen caught nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. He looked as spry as a 32 year-old tight end can. He was once again Cam Newton's security blanket, and that's terrible news for Devin Funchess. If Olsen is back and fully healthy heading into 2018, you can't expect more than flex production from Devin Funchess.
Devin Funchess is not a top-24 WR if Greg Olsen is fully healthy— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) December 18, 2017
Verdict: Believe it
When he's been healthy, Olsen has generally been Newton's No. 1 option. That alone wouldn't be awful for Funchess, but when you add in McCaffrey it becomes a recipe for disaster. You're talking about one of the most run-heavy teams in the league that will likely give at least 40 percent of its targets to a tight end and a running back.
We've seen Devin Funchess emerge without Kelvin Benjamin and Olsen largely because of big volume in the passing game. He has six games this season with at least eight targets and 10 games with seven or more. In Week 15 he saw four. That could be some unfortunate foreshadowing for his 2018 season.