I’ll always have a soft spot for actual sports beat writing — sports journalism was my major in college, I got my start in the NFL by reporting in a locker room, and I then went on to even teach journalism for a few years at my alma mater. I’m also empathetic toward an industry that has fallen on hard times in recent years, and especially this one.
But it’s also an industry we need to lean on this season — with no preseason games and less ability to put our own eyes to work than in my entire time in the industry, beat writers who have access at camps and practices are going to be utterly essential as we head into our fantasy drafts.
That’s why I’m writing this new column I call Vantage Points — I read the wonderful work these writers are doing for us and try to make their observations actionable for fantasy. I plan on continuing this column weekly during the NFL season to get the most up-to-date information about the games that will be played.
I’ll also mix in some tidbits we’re hearing through the grapevine with our sources around the league.
For now, let’s get some takeaways for all 32 teams from the first week of padded practices. It’s important to note that we shouldn’t overreact to guys looking good in a controlled environment, so this is simply a piece of what you should be considering heading into your drafts.
It’s been pretty quiet in the desert so far, though there was some bizarre speculation that DeAndre Hopkins could be holding out because he wasn’t practicing, but it turns out a tweaked hammy was the reason for that (he returned to practice on August 19). How do we know Hopkins isn’t holding out? Well, he said so himself. It’s no secret Hopkins wants a new deal — that’s why Houston traded him. But he’s currently a happy camper in his new digs.
It’s also worth pointing out that second-year WRs Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson have stood out to coach Kliff Kingsbury thus far. I’m particularly focused on Isabella, who has gamebreaking speed and could be a huge factor if the game slows down for him a bit. I found it interesting that WR coach David Raih essentially called Isabella a methodical worker who prepares slowly, which could be one reason he didn’t really step up until the end of his rookie season.
“He’s just more confident and he’s playing more loosely,” Raih said.
Isabella is a really intriguing dart throw late in drafts, though the sheer number of weapons here is a little concerning for his potential role.
There’s one big report out of Falcons camp thus far, and it’s not a good one for RB Todd Gurley — ESPN’s Vaughn McClure said Gurley showed a “noticeable limp” and was wearing a compression sock on his degenerative left knee.
I’m currently out on Gurley at his ADP because I believe he’s cooked, which is unfortunate because the dude was a badass at his peak. I’d like to get a little more information on the rotation behind him, since there’s no true stud in the Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison group.
Of those, it could be Smith getting the biggest role — longtime Falcons beat man D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution expects him to get snaps alongside Gurley to keep Gurley fresh, he told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football.
It’s hard to put too much stock into just basic training camp reports, but all indications are that rookie RB JK Dobbins is the real deal so far, with ESPN’s Jamison Hensley making a Ray Rice comparison (in large part because Dobbins rocks Rice’s old #27 jersey).
The Ravens might be working out veteran WR Dez Bryant for depth, but the area where QB Lamar Jackson could be extra deadly this year is on the deep ball, where he’s been connecting with Marquise Brown and rookie Devin Duvernay. Duvernay in particular is interesting, because he beat veteran CB Marcus Peters for a couple of big plays. The hype train on Brown has already left the station and is on the opposite coast.
There is room for another WR to contribute here, and second-year man Miles Boykin has been making his bid with a good start to camp. My worry is that this just becomes a jumbled mess of a rotation behind Brown, with no single player becoming particularly fantasy relevant.
To file away in the event of an injury to Mark Andrews — Nick Boyle, used way more for his blocking than his pass-catching last season, is making strides as a receiver. As for Andrews? Well, he’s looking healthier than he did last year.
Our staff has gotten a couple of tidbits from Bills camp.
Most relevant, in my opinion, is that the Bills are extremely pleased with what they’ve seen from rookie RB Zack Moss thus far. I’ve personally been riding this train all off-season — I’m much more into drafting Moss at his 9th-round ADP than I am Devin Singletary in the 4th. For what it’s worth, QB Josh Allen hit Moss on this sweet completion on what looked like a wheel route. I think that’s an area of Moss’ game where he’s better than Singletary, perhaps significantly so.
He’s been getting a lot of work with the first team, as well. Meanwhile, Singletary hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. I have a ton of Moss and no Singletary in best ball drafts this year, and these reports are making me feel good about it.
Also, as our guy Adam Caplan has noted for months, second-year TE Dawson Knox is going to have a big role this year. I love him as a late-round TE dart throw, especially if you’re dumpster-diving at the position.
A guy who is quietly getting hype from Panthers reporters is WR Curtis Samuel, and I think it’s time to pay attention. We already know Samuel had the most unconverted air yards in the NFL last season given Kyle Allen’s terrible deep ball, but I was always surprised that the Panthers didn’t try to do more with Samuel given his history of versatility at Ohio State.
Well, it appears that more could be coming. Samuel has been hesitant to spill the beans, but check out this quote from Matt Rhule: “We see him as a guy that can be a running back. We see him as a guy that can be a slot. We see him as a guy that can be an outside receiver.” I think this is good news for Samuel, since I don’t think Teddy Bridgewater is a particularly adept deep-ball thrower himself.
This isn’t huge in the grand scheme of things, but ESPN’s David Newton thinks second-year QB Will Grier has the leg up on former XFL star PJ Walker, who played for coach Matt Rhule at Temple, to back up Bridgewater.
We’ve been told for months now that this is a legitimate QB competition in Chicago — both Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles will be given a chance to win the job. I was like most of the world when I assumed the trade for Foles meant it was over for Trubisky. But the Bears believe their rebuilt coaching staff could coax a lot more out of Trubisky, who at the very least can move better than Foles does.
The Bears are alternating who starts by day and appear to be giving even reps. I know plenty of folks who have drafted Allen Robinson want to see Foles in there, but if Trubisky beats out Foles, he will have earned it.
For another piece of information that most fantasy players will roll their eyes out but we’re told is legitimately true, the Bears think the Packers misused TE Jimmy Graham last year and that he has plenty left in the tank. I’m still skeptical of that, but for what it’s worth, it appears to be playing out in camp thus far.
There are a couple of interesting tidbits in the backfield, too, for what it’s worth. NBC Sports Chicago’s Bryan Perez confirmed that Cordarrelle Patterson is working as a running back, and also made a pretty aggressive fantasy projection for David Montgomery. The Patterson news is fascinating because the Bears don’t really have a #3 RB, and Tarik Cohen is too small to be a traditional “backup.” As for Montgomery, I’m totally fine drafting him at his current ADP, even if it’s not a “sexy” pick. It’s good to see Perez is high on him.
The big news for the Bengals so far has been at the WR position. Most notably, AJ Green tweaked a hamstring and it appears we might not see too much of him the rest of August, which is understandable but troubling all the same. In Green’s place, Auden Tate has been taking first-team reps.
Tate is someone who could be sneaky for fantasy this year — he’s a bigger guy whom our Greg Cosell has liked on film. And because the Bengals don’t exactly have a stud at the TE position, Tate could be kind of a surrogate there as a big slot WR. He’s already making an impact in the red zone.
Meanwhile, rookie WR Tee Higgins also is dealing with a balky hamstring but has since returned to practice. Fourth-year WR John Ross is currently out of camp to tend to his young son, who tested positive for COVID-19, though he’s set to rejoin the team soon according to Mike Garofolo of NFL Network.
What does this all mean to me? Well, I’ve been a big proponent of slot master Tyler Boyd this off-season. One of the major reasons I’ve been pushing this angle is because of the connection rookie QB Joe Burrow had with Justin Jefferson at LSU last season — and it’s an observation Boyd himself has made.
“Just seeing them connect on certain routes, and we kind of implemented their concepts into what we’re doing now so that he can continue that same connection with a guy like me,” Boyd told Paul Dehner of The Athletic. “[Burrow] leaving from a guy like Jefferson, we’ve kind of got similar abilities and a similar game.”
Another thing to get excited about: Bengal OC Brian Callahan wants the ball in Joe Mixon’s hands a ton.
"The more Joe touches the ball the better it is for our offense, without a doubt. All the ways we can find to get him the ball, the better it's going to be,” Callahan said. Please, Brian. More receptions for Mixon!
Some bad news from camp that hopefully will be resolved by the time the season rolls around — RB Nick Chubb suffered a concussion on a big hit and is currently in the protocol. Chubb has already returned to meetings, however.
The backfield was already going to be interesting this year. We are hearing that coach Kevin Stefanski absolutely loves Kareem Hunt, and it’s simply an inevitability that Hunt is going to eat into Chubb’s touches. Just how much is the question.
This should also be no surprise given Stefanski’s background, but we’re told the Browns will be a heavy “12” personnel team, and the reason the club didn’t give in to David Njoku’s trade demands is because he is expected to line up at the “X” receiver spot quite a bit this year. Njoku is super gifted, but has struggled with motivation and staying on the field in his career. This offense should actually be beneficial to him, even though the Browns signed Austin Hooper this off-season.
This is obviously no surprise, but given that he wears a star on his helmet and is in the famed #88 jersey, the hype for rookie WR CeeDee Lamb is already through the roof. The Athletic’s Jon Machota believes Lamb will be used in the running game and as a punt returner in addition to his typical role as a receiver.
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football that Lamb is mostly going to play out of the slot.
Coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t want you to forget about Michael Gallup though, calling him a “#1 wide receiver, in my view.” Gallup has been my favorite Cowboy WR to draft at cost — I think Amari Cooper is too expensive and too inconsistent, and the hype for Lamb might start to push his ADP up.
Rookie WR Jerry Jeudy, the best route runner from the 2020 NFL Draft class according to our own Greg Cosell, has been wowing the media and his teammates. He drew significant praise from Broncos DB Kareem Jackson, who said Jeudy “gets in and out of his breaks better than anyone I’ve ever seen before.”
It appears like Jeudy is throwing a “changeup” at defenses. Jackson added that Jeudy runs his routes in a “different” fashion than defensive backs are used to seeing.
By the way, the Broncos are expected to run a lot of “12” personnel this year — they signed Nick Vannett to be their in-line option while Noah Fant will be their “move” TE. Beat writer Nick Kosmider of The Athletic noticed Vannett essentially looks like an offensive tackle, so he’ll probably be a big factor in the run game.
When they go to “11” personnel, rookie KJ Hamler — who has seen some first-team reps — and veteran Tim Patrick have been working with Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Hamler, however, is likely to fall behind after suffering a hamstring injury this week. That’s not good news, since one prevented him from running at the NFL Combine. For what it’s worth, Sutton has reportedly been outstanding in camp thus far.
Kosmider’s piece linked above also shows that Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay are by far the top two backs on this roster. Royce Freeman is currently in a battle for the #3 job with UDFA LeVante Bellamy. Kosmider noted that while the workload has been pretty evenly split, Gordon seemed to take the “upper hand” on Tuesday, as Lindsay had a fumble and dropped a pass.
I think Gordon’s advantage over Lindsay in the passing game and in pass protection is being understated by too many in the fantasy community. That will get him snaps in critical situations, and we know coach Vic Fangio wants to run the ball. That said, he tweaked his ribs during practice on Thursday, and Fangio remains steadfast that there’s no starting RB here. Gordon is polarizing in the fantasy community. I still believe he will get those “calorie-rich” touches (targets and goal-line carries), but Fangio’s comments are going to cause a stir. Mostly, Gordon needs to get on the field and healthy. I’m thinking I should start pivoting to some third-round James Conner given how overweight I am on Gordon so far.
The backfield will be the primary focus in Detroit for fantasy purposes, and that makes a ton of sense. Kerryon Johnson has had season-ending knee injuries in two straight seasons, and is wearing a brace on his right leg. We’re told the Lions like Johnson in the passing game more than you might think, but there’s a problem for him…
Rookie RB D’Andre Swift has been as good as advertised in that department, constantly cooking linebackers in drills. Now, that’s not exactly a murderer’s row of linebackers pointed out there, but if you want to get really excited, check out what former Lion QB and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com — the name Alvin Kamara was brought up.
By the way, the Lions also really like Bo Scarbrough as an early-down back, so Johnson could be on a short leash here (the Lions signed vet Jonathan Williams for depth). I want absolutely nothing to do with Kerryon, and though I’m very underweight on Swift to this point, I can be talked into taking him at his current ADP. Tim Twentyman, who has covered the Lions for the team’s official site for a long time, calls this a committee situation. Swift, the more talented player without the recent track record of serious injuries, is the guy I want if I’m investing in the Lions’ backfield.
It’s not great news that OC Darrell Bevell and TE TJ Hockenson himself has admitted that he’s not 100% yet as he returns from an ankle injury, but Hockenson is practicing and making plays, for what it’s worth. I’m still on Hockenson as a super-gifted breakout TE option, but the injury does give me some pause. Hockenson stood out on Thursday, according to The Athletic’s Nick Baumgartner.
Given the Lions’ lack of depth at WR — and with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola all in contract years — keep an eye on rookie Quintez Cephus, who may have fallen to the fifth round in April’s NFL Draft because of a bad Combine but he tested better at his Pro Day and has been impressive so far in camp. He’s a really good route runner.
Green Bay Packers
By the way, our Adam Caplan says the Packers very much have interest in re-signing RB Aaron Jones, so my read on the situation is that Jamaal Williams is gone after this season while Jones and Dillon share the workload. Dillon is going to have to improve in pass protection to get on the field early, at least in obvious passing situations. I seriously doubt he’s ahead of either Jones or Williams for third-down snaps, even if his receiving ability has been a surprise so far.
At tight end, second-year man Jace Sternberger has been activated off the COVID-19 list, but he might not have a clear path to the starting job just yet — don’t forget about Robert Tonyan. Longtime beat writer Rob Demovsky of ESPN agrees.
The WR position has been a big spot of debate for the Packers, since they didn’t spend a single pick on it in a loaded draft class, and then Devin Funchess opted out. While it appears Allen Lazard is a near-lock to start opposite Davante Adams, other guys will be looking to make an impact.
Third-year man Marquez Valdes-Scantling was terrible last year, but he told our Adam Caplan on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he was playing through two injuries (which he didn’t specify). It’s something HC Matt LaFleur backed up. This is a wait-and-see kind of situation for fantasy, but MVS is impressing so far.
Two more observations from The Athletic beat writer Matt Schneidman — there’s a chance Tim Boyle is the #2 QB over Jordan Love this season, while former CFL star Reggie Begelton is showing the quickness and hands that could make him a really good option out of the slot.
Also, it appears the Packers have instituted an utterly bizarre media policy. Let’s allow absolutely zero information from our practices that no one can attend while we don’t play preseason games! Brilliant!
I don’t think tight end will be a particularly important position for fantasy for the Texans, but it’s worth noting that The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss noticed third-year TE Jordan Thomas, who is battling for a roster spot, has looked like he’s in much better shape this year. Thomas could be battling for a roster spot with second-year man Kahale Warring.
Reiss also wrote a particularly eye-opening piece about the Texans’ backfield — could “21” personnel be a huge part of what they do this year, with both David Johnson and Duke Johnson playing at the same time? Reiss noted the success of QB Deshaun Watson in “12” personnel and thinks “21” can offer a similar type of advantage. I’m on the record of buying Duke and fading David at current costs, by the way.
I found this piece by ESPN’s Sarah Barshop interesting in regards to WR Will Fuller. Barshop reports that Fuller has gained some weight, but also has worked with a trainer to change the mechanics of his running style to try to prevent injuries from piling up. For dynasty players, Barshop also analyzes Fuller’s contract situation and why it might be unlikely he’s back with the Texans next year regardless of what kind of season he has this year. But for 2020, I understand the downside of Fuller, but the upside is just nuclear, so I’m in on drafting him at his current ADP.
The Colts’ camp thus far gives everyone plenty of opportunity for confirmation bias, so you can hype up the RB you have been drafting the most, no matter who it is. First of all, apparently rookie RB Jonathan Taylor is lighting things up, and he’s already gotten reps with the first team (as has rookie WR Michael Pittman). That’s great!
However, beat writer Stephen Holder of ESPN noticed that Marlon Mack is catching a lot of passes from noted checkdown artist Philip Rivers. Mack’s been surprisingly underutilized as a receiver in the NFL, despite often lining up out wide in college at South Florida. I’m drafting Taylor — betting on his talent — and I’m pretty much avoiding Mack, but if Mack has a role as a receiver, this could make the backfield a headache.
Of course, in the piece I linked above, The Athletic’s Zak Keefer notes that OC Nick Sirianni has raised the possibility that scatback Nyheim Hines could catch 80 passes. Weeeee! Training camp hyperbole at its finest.
By the way, I don’t think the situations are perfectly analogous, but I wonder if Parris Campbell could be a similar type of sleeper that DJ Chark was last year, a guy with a ton of talent and draft capital who is kind of forgotten after a lost rookie season. Coach Frank Reich noticed Campbell isn’t thinking as much this year, and it’s resulted in a smoother kind of game for him. There’s plenty of opportunity here for Campbell to make an impact, and keep in mind that TY Hilton, now in his 30s, has already dealt with a minor hamstring problem in camp.
Second-year TE Josh Oliver broke his foot in a non-contact drill, which is a huge setback. He played only four games last year before a back injury ended his campaign… after missing basically the first half of the season with a hamstring injury. Obviously, Oliver is going to IR. The Jags are extremely thin at TE, with Tyler Eifert trying to resurrect his career and James O’Shaughnessy is just a guy.
I’ve been drafting Ryquell Armstead a ton this year, but it needs to be pointed out that he was one of the few NFL players still on the COVID list before being activated on Thursday. That means a favorite of Greg Cosell, Devine Ozigbo, has been getting some work in camp behind Leonard Fournette and has been impressing with it. Ozigbo’s name has to be watched if Armstead doesn’t get up to speed soon, and frankly, he should be watched anyway. Cosell said that at times on film he noticed a pre-arthritis Todd Gurley style burst from Ozigbo. That’s not faint praise.
If you’re a Fournette truther, his pass blocking might be something that keeps him on the field in all situations this year.
At wide receiver, we’re told DJ Chark is off to an excellent start, and the Jaguars were really disappointed with what they got from Dede Westbrook last season. Westbrook is expected to be a slot-only guy once rookie Laviska Shenault gets up to speed. As for Shenault, WR coach Keenan McCardell (remember him?) dropped an Anquan Boldin comparison. I can kind of see it!
Kansas City Chiefs
It should come as no surprise that first-round rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire opened up camp as the Chiefs’ #1 back. CEH is firmly a first-round fantasy pick, as well, and it’s hard to argue against that following the opt-out of Damien Williams.
Behind CEH is where it gets interesting. While Chiefs GM Brett Veach alluded to our Adam Caplan on the Inside the Birds podcast that DeAndre Washington is a strong bet to be the #2, I have to point out that Darrel Williams worked as the lead back on a day in which Edwards-Helaire sat out with dehydration (he’s fine).
Veach also told Caplan that CEH is way ahead of where they expected him to be in terms of picking up the offense, so we’re full-steam ahead on the Edwards-Helaire hype train. The Athletic’s Nate Taylor agrees, getting some quotes from Edwards-Helaire’s teammates on the impressive rookie.
“Clyde has done a great job in the reps that he has gotten,” QB Patrick Mahomes told The Athletic. “He’s playing fast, and he has incredible vision. That’s what’s been the biggest thing so far.”
Las Vegas Raiders
Perhaps the most concerning thing from Raiders’ camp so far is that RB Josh Jacobs is getting some days off as he recovers from the shoulder injury that ended his 2019 campaign. I’d be a little less worried if the Raiders clearly didn’t limit Jacobs’ reps in the passing game because of the shoulder — he needs to catch in the 40 or so range of passes to pay off at his second-round ADP.
Rookie RB/WR/gadget player Lynn Bowden has the skills to eventually be the #2 behind Jacobs, but we’re told that he has a long way to go in pass protection, which is understandable given how he moved all around the field in college.
At QB, it doesn’t look like Derek Carr’s job is in any danger yet. The Athletic’s Vic Tafur wrote that backup Marcus Mariota “isn’t getting the ball out very smoothly.” Coach Jon Gruden suggested recovering from an elbow injury might be Mariota’s excuse for that, but Mariota has never been a power thrower and the last couple years has looked completely incapable of driving the ball.
One player who has been getting just a ton of hype from Raider camp is rookie WR Bryan Edwards, whom Carr compared to Davante Adams (his former college teammate) and Michael Crabtree (his former Raider teammate) in terms of his ability to make contested catches. We’re told not to go too overboard on Edwards, however, because Tyrell Williams is now healthy and should start the year as the “X” receiver. But the Raiders love Edwards’ ability.
Frankly, this could be a mess for fantasy, as Tafur suggested. Why? Well, Edwards, Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Henry Ruggs are going to get their targets. But Tafur suggested Nelson Agholor is going to have enough of a role to frustrate. Just how many targets will Darren Waller get also?
Los Angeles Chargers
There’s nothing from Chargers camp to suggest that Justin Herbert is going to challenge Tyrod Taylor for the Week 1 QB job. Herbert has been working exclusively with the second and third-team offenses to get him as many reps as possible, The Athletic’s Daniel Popper reports.
Popper also called rookie RB Joshua Kelley “a mean runner” and has him — for now — #3 in the RB rotation behind Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. From my personal perspective, I think Kelley’s style provides a more natural contrast to that of Ekeler than that of the slasher Jackson’s. Popper has suggested it might not be long before Kelley is the #2 here. It’s something to monitor.
Popper also noted that Taylor has been “most comfortable” when targeting TE Hunter Henry.
From our perspective, we’re told that the Chargers are going to play a lot of 12 personnel and have a very conservative offense. It’s not good news for a volume-based WR like Keenan Allen. When the Chargers do go three-wide (they’re thin at WR), Joe Reed is someone to keep an eye on, Popper suggests. Coach Anthony Lynn himself suggests Jalen Guyton could be the guy the Chargers go with to get speed on the field.
Meanwhile, beat writer Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County Register told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football that rookie KJ Hill out of Ohio State has looked good in practices thus far. My read on this? The #3 WR job is wide open and none of these guys are draftable.
Los Angeles Rams
Take this for whatever you’d like, but we’re hearing from people close to the Rams that they’re very confident the offense is going to be significantly better in 2020 than it was in 2019. The addition of OC Kevin O’Connell to the staff could be really big.
That would be very good news for rookie RB Cam Akers, who seems to be mired in a crowded committee with Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson for now. But Akers has otherworldly upside, and beat writers are starting to notice it.
So is coach Sean McVay, who told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry that Akers “"can really run any scheme, he can take a handoff from the off-set gun or if he's in the dot … that's what you just liked about him, was the body of work and the versatility. The ability to create plays on his own."
I’m taking a bookend approach in the Rams’ backfield. I’m on Akers at his ADP, and I am OK with taking a shot on the boring but reliable Brown late. I’m still concerned about Henderson’s bizarre rookie season and his inability to gain trust with the coaching staff.
It’s good news that rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa has looked healthy in camp so far. But The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino also reports that it’s “clear” Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to start in Week 1. Frankly, that’s good news for DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, who both broke out last season with Fitz at QB.
More good news if you’re looking for a potential huge WR value in drafts — second-year pro Preston Williams is practicing normally, though he will get some days off, coach Brian Flores said. Keep in mind that Williams and Parker are obviously the top two WRs given Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson opted out.
The biggest news of Vikings camp so far is that contract talks between the team and RB Dalvin Cook have — perhaps temporarily — broken off, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Cook was a threat to hold out but hasn’t actually followed through on that, given the new CBA gives him such little leverage.
By the way, when Cook hasn’t been on the field, it’s been clear that Alexander Mattison is getting first-team reps ahead of Mike Boone, according to Arif Hasan of The Athletic. That entire piece by Hasan is a great read, because it has fantastic tidbits on…
Rookie WR Justin Jefferson, who understandably isn’t “quite there yet” but, according to Hasan, has looked good getting off press coverage, notable because he didn’t do much of that at all at LSU as a slot receiver. That all said, even OC Gary Kubiak has admitted Jefferson profiles better in the slot.
TE Irv Smith, who has been lining up outside quite a bit and looks to be sharp with his routes. Smith being a standout player in camp is an excellent development for one of our favorite late-round breakout options.
WR Chad Beebe, whom Hasan says is “looking the best” of the backup WRs. That aligns with what we’ve been told independently, that Beebe could be the favorite for #3 WR duties behind Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
On the flip side, Hasan’s The Athletic colleague Chad Graff has both Jefferson and Beebe behind Olabisi Johnson in the pecking order right now. My takeaway? Draft a metric ton of Thielen in the fourth round and profit.
New England Patriots
It’s actually kind of jarring how many reports we’ve gotten out of Patriots camp given the typically tight ship Bill Belichick runs around there, but I’m happy because there is a lot we need to figure out about this team.
First of all, the quarterbacks. Everyone on planet earth is presuming Cam Newton will win the QB battle and be the unchallenged starter ahead of second-year pro Jarrett Stidham. Then I read this interesting piece from ESPN’s Mike Reiss that suggested Belichick might buck the NFL’s trends once again and employ a QB platoon. I admit it presents some interesting thoughts, but it wasn’t going to matter if Stidham continued to be picked off constantly in camp.
That’s not to say Newton has been great either, but it’s probably bad news for Stidham that a veteran beat writer like Greg Bedard has seen enough to know when a guy has been bad in a controlled environment. I’d like to hear more positives about Newton, who has been up-and-down, but with Stidham missing time with a hip injury, the job is practically a guarantee to go to Cam. And Cam, obviously, gives OC Josh McDaniels much more to work with from a schematic standpoint.
At running back, there are a lot of questions with Sony Michel on PUP (foot) and veteran Lamar Miller coming off an ACL injury. I’ll admit the Miller signing shook me a little bit because I’ve been drafting second-year back Damien Harris a ton, but by all accounts, Harris has been one of the Patriots’ most impressive players in camp thus far. In fact, CLNS’ Evan Lazar suggested Harris “might be New England’s best skill player through two days” of camp.
That said, we must be ever worried about Belitricks, and the Patriots’ official website says we shouldn’t forget about Rex Burkhead. Nonetheless, I am still juiced up about Harris and adore him as a RB5 type of dart throw. If he can continue catching passes, all the better.
At wide receiver, there’s plenty to report as well. Let’s start with the worrisome — star Julian Edelman has been practicing, but doesn’t appear to be 100%, Ryan Hannable from WEEI reports. It looks like Edelman is frustrated, so this must be monitored, though Hannable noted Edelman looked better on Friday.
One guy I’ve really started to warm up to is Mohamed Sanu. I know Belichick likely wants to take that trade back from last year, but we can’t simply ignore that Sanu was basically hurt his entire run with the Pats in 2019. So far, so good from camp, where Sanu is apparently putting on a clinic with his route running, Lazar reports. If Edelman isn’t going to be 100% or has to miss time, Sanu could legitimately lead this team in targets. He’s basically a free draft pick.
Lazar also reports that second-year man N’Keal Harry hasn’t been particularly impressive so far, and Harry missed practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It’s yet another reason I’m in on Sanu. I think I’m just fully fading Harry at this stage, even though Newton has a good history of throwing to bigger-body receivers.
Harry does, at least, look slimmed down. “Part of it might be a lack of targets in practice, but you’d like to see more from Harry. He’s in great shape, but now he needs to make plays,” Lazar wrote. I’m especially taking note of this, because we tend to get way more reports about how players look great in camp, in that controlled environment. When they don’t, I get worried.
I might be burying the lede here, but one player who has been drawing universal praise from Patriots’ media is rookie TE Devin Asiasi. The Lazar piece I’ve linked has some information, but in addition to Asiasi producing as a receiver and in the red zone, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe was impressed with some of his blocking work. Asiasi is also doing it while wearing #53, a bizarre camp number for a TE. I’m hearing enough things — including the fact that our Greg Cosell loved his college tape — that Asiasi is an advisable dart throw in deep leagues, especially in dynasty. He seems to have the well-rounded skill set Belichick loves.
New Orleans Saints
Not surprisingly, things have been kind of quiet from Saints camp as this veteran team tries to gear up for a Super Bowl run.
The most notable fantasy news thus far has been all the positive reports about RB Alvin Kamara, who admitted he was playing with a torn knee ligament from Week 6 through the end of the 2019 season. Kamara said he’s now healthy, something RB coach Joel Thomas has noticed, calling Kamara “clearly” 100%. We have Kamara as the #4 overall player on our board.
One player we shouldn’t forget about in the backfield is veteran Ty Montgomery, about whom it feels like I’ve read a different glowing report every day. Coach Sean Payton has acknowledged Montgomery’s versatility, and it’s why I’m not 100% convinced that Latavius Murray is the “hammer” handcuff for Kamara. He just feels like the kind of player Payton loves to use and toy with us fantasy players by taking touches away from his stars. Keep monitoring this.
We’ve heard through our own sources that veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders is off to a good start in camp, something ESPN’s Mike Triplett backed up, calling Sanders “smooth.” Triplett has also noticed Montgomery standing out.
New York Giants
The most we’ve learned from Giants camp so far is that head coach Joe Judge is a complete lunatic. He’s making players and coaches run laps after making a mistake. It, of course, has become a serious hot button topic in New York media. Judge seems to be leaning into the authoritarian coaching angle, coming from the Bill Belichick tree.
Every beat writer seems intent on documenting all of Judge’s movements, like this story from Dan Duggan of The Athletic. So things have been pretty light on offensive observations, even though the Giants are under a new OC in Jason Garrett.
One thing we have learned — we’re told that Dion Lewis is definitely the #2 back here behind Saquon Barkley. My thoughts on that? Well, let’s hope Saquon doesn’t get hurt, because Lewis looked beyond cooked in Tennessee last year.
New York Jets
Let’s start with the bad news — the talented but raw rookie WR Denzel Mims is missing significant time after tweaking his hamstring. The injury doesn’t seem too serious, but Mims is falling way behind in his battle for playing time. With Mims and Vyncint Smith hurt, the Jets signed veteran Chris Hogan.
There is some good news at WR, however, and it’s about a guy who is still impossibly cheap at the position — Perriman has been running with the first-team offense in camp, and it didn’t take him long to show his vertical ability by burning past the Jets secondary for a 50-yard score for the first touchdown of camp. He dusted the Jets defense for a 70-yard score on a slant later, as well. Coach Adam Gase has noticed them chemistry between Perriman and third-year QB Sam Darnold. Perriman is such a great depth pick for fantasy because he’s cheap and the upside is evident at this stage.
McDonald has also noticed a change in Darnold, something Connor Hughes of The Athletic picked up on as well. The change, Darnold says, is that he’s seeing things faster and is able to process plays before they happen. That’s something that takes time, and it’s obvious we should point out that Darnold is still only 23 — he turned 23 in June (he’s younger than Joe Burrow). Hughes’ piece has some great details in it, so I recommend checking it out.
Those who like waiting on tight ends have to be loving what we’re hearing on Chris Herndon. In the McDonald piece I linked above, Gase and Crowder have some intriguing quotes — Crowder called Herndon the “X-factor” of the offense — and Darnold said he’s “making plays all over the field.” Herndon should be an autopick in the double-digit rounds for TE dumpster divers.
At RB, Gase continues to sing the praises of Le’Veon Bell, who’s coming off a very disappointing season. “He’s probably in the best shape of anyone on our team,” Gase told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. That said, veteran beat reporter Rich Cimini of ESPN suggests Frank Gore isn’t just around for moral support — he can “lessen the load” for Bell.
Fantasy Twitter was thrown into an utter panic for about 10 minutes on Wednesday morning when Philly RB Miles Sanders was listed as “week-to-week” with a “lower body” injury, hockey style. But it appears there’s nothing to worry about and the Eagles are being overly cautious with their star — multiple reporters, including ESPN’s Tim McManus, suggest Sanders will be ready to go in Week 1. I don’t expect his ADP to fall much, but if it does, take advantage. The Eagles have been adamant they’re going to feed Sanders, and I believe them (our guy Adam Caplan has been saying the same).
Behind Sanders, Boston Scott is also dinged up, but the Eagles have been very happy with the progress of third RB Corey Clement, who is coming off two injury-plagued seasons. Clement looks like the top early-down backup to Sanders if the Eagles don’t add anyone, and he might have put some weight on to ease that transition.
Good news for Philly’s offense? It’s been evident to the beat writers live in practice that the speed at WR the club added this off-season could potentially be difference-making. The returning DeSean Jackson got himself into better shape this off-season and looks incredible right now. PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski has noticed that first-round pick Jalen Reagor’s athleticism — especially his leaping ability — has been obvious. And while sixth-round rookie Quez Watkins was impressive enough to be running ahead of fifth-rounder John Hightower early in camp, Hightower made his presence known with a strong day on Thursday. Hightower in particular is a really interesting dynasty depth target right now.
The Eagles still have two WRs with size on the roster — veteran Alshon Jeffery and second-year pro JJ Arcega-Whiteside. We’re told the Eagles are optimistic Jeffery (Lisfranc) could be back in action as early as September, while JJAW is getting some early camp buzz. He had a miserable rookie season, but admitted this off-season he was playing through injuries. I’m still extremely skeptical on Arcega-Whiteside, but we’ve seen much stranger things happen than a lost rookie finding some success in Year Two.
At QB, Carson Wentz has had an overall decent start to camp, and now weighs 250 pounds after some off-season weight room work. While coach Doug Pederson continues to say Nate Sudfeld is Philly’s #2 QB, it’s been a particularly impressive start to camp for rookie Jalen Hurts, especially in the red zone, where his mobility has been on display. You wonder if that will be an area the Eagles use him, though Wentz has been one of the best red-zone QBs in the league since 2016.
Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly of The Athletic caused a ruckus when he wrote on Monday that veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger featured a delivery similar to that of Philip Rivers, and he wrote that it looked like Big Ben was short-arming passes, especially on deep balls. Well, Kaboly changed his tune — or perhaps Ben got more comfortable — on Wednesday, with Ben putting on a clinic. Different delivery or not, we’ll continue to ride with the positive reports about Roethlisberger’s recovery from elbow surgery, especially after his strong showing on Wednesday.
One player Roethlisberger has apparently been favoring so far? TE Eric Ebron, who has been making “splash” plays in camp. That’s always been Ebron’s kind of game, but if Ben stays healthy, 6-8 TDs are not out of the question, and Ebron is yet another great dollar-menu option at TE in a year with a lot of them.
At RB, the plodding Benny Snell is trying to get a little quicker — he is down to just 212 pounds from his listed 224. We’re told Snell is the #2 RB behind James Conner, but Pittsburgh could also work in rookie Anthony McFarland and speedy Kerrith Whyte if Conner can’t play (the Steelers are likely to keep Whyte because they like his special teams contributions). Veteran beat writer Ed Bouchette has suggested that Jaylen Samuels might not make the roster.
For what it’s worth, top CB Joe Haden tweeted that rookie WR Chase Claypool is going to be “a PROBLEM!” (That’s a good thing, for those of you not up on the lingo these days.) Kaboly notes that Roethlisberger has been specifically finding time to work with Claypool. Bouchette told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football that Claypool may work on go routes and fade balls early in his career, much like the Steelers did with Martavis Bryant early in his career.
San Francisco 49ers
There is going to be plenty of opportunity for guys to step up at WR here. Deebo Samuel (foot) could be ready for Week 1, but it’s no guarantee. Promising second-year man Jalen Hurd continues to be snakebitten, tearing his ACL after missing his entire rookie campaign with an injury too. Richie James (wrist) isn’t going to be ready for the start of the year.
Three players who have taken advantage of the opportunity? Rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk, who has been getting reps with the first team, veteran Kendrick Bourne, who has been excellent in the red zone, and third-year disappointment Dante Pettis, who was in the doghouse for all of 2019 but has impressed multiple beat writers in camp so far. For fantasy purposes, I rank them just as I wrote them here — I still think Aiyuk is being terribly underdrafted, while Bourne is a dart throw in a deep best ball. I’ll believe it when I see it on Pettis, but remember at this time last year, he was basically a 7th-round fantasy pick. He has ability, he just seemed to totally lose his confidence last season.
And here’s an interesting tidbit. The 49ers lost their top deep threat when Travis Benjamin opted out of the season. They signed JJ Nelson and Tavon Austin to try to get some speed on the field. But one player who has stood out in that area to The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami? RB Jerick McKinnon, who has missed two consecutive seasons with injuries.
Kawakami asked Kyle Shanahan if it’s possible McKinnon could be the team’s top deep threat, and Shanahan didn’t brush it off entirely. “Depends on the coverage,” he said. Kawakami’s hunch is that McKinnon will help Shanahan draw up some plays he hasn’t been able to draw up the last two years. McKinnon is more than a viable dart throw late in drafts.
Still, don’t let the hype on McKinnon get too out of hand, because Raheem Mostert looks like “the best runner on the team.” And McKinnon has been getting fewer first-team reps than Mostert and Tevin Coleman.
I’m going to try to not read too much into everything ol’ Positivity Pete Carroll says about his team, because Pete is a legendary BSer. But if some beat writers can back it up, I’ll throw it in here.
One thing Carroll said is that rookie RB DeeJay Dallas has “made a really good first impression.” Carroll specifically called out the versatility of Dallas, and The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar noticed how active Dallas has been as a receiver so far in camp. We backed off of Dallas significantly when the Seahawks signed Carlos Hyde, but he could be intriguing as a rotational player if he takes advantage of his opportunity (Rashaad Penny is on PUP and Chris Carson had a death in the family, so he’s missed some practice time). Seattle always plays guys who earn it.
In the piece I linked above, Dugar also noted that WR DK Metcalf will “give DBs nightmares all of 2020.”
We’re told independently that the Seahawks love the potential of WR John Ursua and want him to be their #3 guy, and that remarkably TE Will Dissly looks like he’s going to be ready to go in Week 1 despite coming off of two horrific injuries — a torn patellar tendon and a torn Achilles — in two years. Dissly described the mental hurdles of getting over the devastating injury.
With our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times backed up Dugar’s report about Dallas standing out, and also that currently Phillip Dorsett looks like the #3 ahead of Ursua.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nothing to see here, right?
The first guy we need to bring up is Rob Gronkowski. Coach Bruce Arians wasn’t afraid to get hyperbolic, telling reporters that the time off suited Gronk well and looks like he did about five years ago. On the flip side, Peter King of NBC Sports guessed Gronk will play fewer snaps than both OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. I’m more in line with King’s prediction, though I expect the snaps Gronk does play will be juicy for fantasy — third downs and in the red zone.
Gronk himself seems to think the time off helped, insinuating he was “moving like poop” the last time he suited up for the Patriots.
The Athletic’s Greg Auman has noticed that QB Tom Brady seems to be adjusting well, and suggests that Brady’s declining vertical passing numbers had more to do with the personnel in New England than Brady’s arm. Arians noticed Brady was throwing “60-yard dimes” in the first padded practice of the year. I think I’m buying Brady as a QB1 this year — I think he has something to prove, and this receiving corps is strong.
Speaking of the receiving corps, one of the most hyped players from any team I’ve read about so far is second-year WR Scotty Miller, whom we’re told the Bucs absolutely love. Most just want to shoehorn Miller into a slot WR role because he’s small and white, but Arians believes that Miller is a better outside receiver, noting he’s much faster than Julian Edelman. It appears that Chris Godwin will be the primary slot when the Bucs go to “11” personnel. I really am warming to Miller as a late-round dart throw. He just continues to flash.
Miller is competing with Justin Watson to be the #3 receiver. Watson is a bigger option and can also run. They’re heavy favorites over rookie Tyler Johnson, who has been missing time with a soft-tissue injury.
In the backfield, Arians was pretty muted on rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, suggesting that Vaughn has to catch up to the other backs on the roster. Scott Reynolds of PewterReport says that Vaughn has looked “very average” so far in camp and that he isn’t threatening Ronald Jones’s starting job. It’s worth noting that veteran LeSean McCoy was involved in red-zone drills, catching a TD pass from Brady. Auman reports that McCoy has looked sharp in picking things up and should be part of the pass-catching rotation.
On Friday, Arians suggested Vaughn’s early role could be limited to that of returning kicks. Yikes. Keep in mind, though, he’s behind because he was on the COVID list.
For my approach, I’m still hesitant to draft Jones at an ascending ADP, frankly because I don’t think he’s very good. But he should clearly be multiple rounds ahead of Vaughn, and I’m OK taking a late shot on McCoy or Dare Ogunbowale in the event those guys get the primary third-down work.
Titans camp has been quiet.
QB Ryan Tannehill missed a day of practice early, but returned and there’s no reason to be concerned about him. Interestingly, Tennessee already cut seventh-round rookie QB Cole McDonald and signed Trevor Siemian. How bad must McDonald have looked to be cut not even a week into padded practices? Yikes.
In the backfield, it appears we’re still going to need time to figure out the role for rookie RB Darrynton Evans. Evans has had some fumbling problems early in camp, and coach Mike Vrabel has said that Evans needs to prove he can handle a role — he won’t be handed one. That all said, the fact that the Titans cut RB Dalyn Dawkins this week says to me they expect Evans to be the primary backup to Derrick Henry.
One thing that could be great news for fantasy — our Greg Cosell has been told by people close to the Titans that Henry is expected to be used more in the screen game this year. That’d be huge for Henry at a first-round ADP.
The Titans also activated WR Corey Davis (toe) off the PUP list this week.
Washington Football Team
Keep coach Ron Rivera — diagnosed this week with squamous cell carcinoma — in your thoughts. Rivera has had a bitch of an off-season, but I’ve never heard a single bad word about the guy.
The biggest story from Washington camp is one that might not have much of a fantasy impact — QB Alex Smith (leg) returning to the field is utterly remarkable. Who knows if he’ll ever play another down, but he should be beyond proud of himself. Hey, is it too soon to point out that Dwayne Haskins hasn’t exactly cloaked himself in glory so far?
To be fair to Haskins, it’s not like he’s throwing to much beyond Terry McLaurin. We’ve already pointed out that second-year slot receiver Steven Sims is one of our favorite late draft picks, but it probably says a whole lot about this receiving corps that veteran route specialist Dontrelle Inman, signed under a month ago, is already taking first-team reps and could be a Week 1 starter, according to The Athletic.
In the piece I linked above from Ben Standig of The Athletic, Standig notes that the backfield could be a huge part of the passing game, specifically mentioning veteran JD McKissic and, of course, rookie Antonio Gibson. Standig noticed OC Scott Turner used a lot of motion with the backs, with both McKissic and Gibson “featured heavily” in the passing game this week.
We’re told the “Football Team” eventually has plans for Gibson to be more than a running back, but right now he’s focusing pretty much exclusively at RB because they don’t want to overwhelm him early. The plan is for him to eventually learn the slot WR position as well. But if you really want to get excited, Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington says that the “Football Team”’s QBs have Gibson “on speed dial” with how much he’s been targeted.
But with veteran Adrian Peterson getting some “old man rest days” following the release of Derrius Guice, the guy we should potentially be looking at as the #2 RB here is second-year pro Bryce Love, who essentially took a redshirt year in 2019. It appears a rotation here is all but certain, but it’s good to see some of the young guys get legit hype.