Each week throughout the NFL preseason, we will look at the latest news around NFL training camps and how it impacts fantasy football, both for your fantasy draft strategy and what it means for the players themselves heading into the 2019 season.
Michael Thomas Gets Paid
The star wide receiver finally ended his hold out and will report to camp after becoming the NFL’s highest-paid receiver in history (per Ian Rapoport).
Fantasy Fallout: There’s one first round fantasy draft pick that you can take with comfort. However, contract negotiation issues still exist with some of the other most prominent names on the board. For Thomas, however, he is firmly anchored in as the star of the passing game, anything under 100 catches and 1200 yards would be disappointing.
Derrius Guice Hamstring Injury Not Serious
Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post tweeted that, according to head coach Jay Gruden, Derrius Guice won’t have a limit during camp, and that his tweaked hamstring is minor.
Fantasy Fallout: This is encouraging news for perhaps the only Redskin worth drafting. Guice is returning from a torn ACL and has yet to make his NFL debut after Washington expended a second-round pick on him in 2018. Considering the Saints originally traded away this pick and ended up with Alvin Kamara as a result, Washington definitely wants to get their money’s worth out of the former LSU stud. Given the rocky situation with Washington’s offense and the growing hostility between the organization and star tackle Trent Williams, Guice isn’t in the best situation, but is worth a middle-round pick given his potential workload.
Duke Johnson’s Cleveland Future Still A Mystery
The fifth-year back has been in the middle of several storylines, including a training camp altercation, trade demands, and a coach’s statement of a significant role.
Fantasy Fallout: Johnson showed up for training camp despite reports of wanting out of Cleveland. However, reports from Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan say that the Browns aren’t necessarily going to let him go and as of now “they don’t intend to move” him any time soon. This supports what head coach Freddie Kitchens said at a press conference where he detailed that DJJ will have a “significant role” with the team (via NFL.com). Cleveland would be a great offense for the dual-threat back, but the threat of Kareem Hunt’s return and the possibility of a trade means you should be wary of Johnson’s draft prospects until the situation is ironed out.
Kalen Ballage Given First Team Reps Over Kenyan Drake to Start Camp
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Ballage received all but one series of work with the starters, while Drake was playing primarily with the second team.
Fantasy Fallout: Drake was very impressive in small doses last season, but Ballage is an equally as intriguing candidate to break out despite their differences in average draft position (ADP). I listed Drake as a bust candidate a couple weeks back, and this might indicate one of the many red flags in his current situation. NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal additionally noted that, as Ballage has “consistently played in front” of Drake, it would be a surprise if Drake topped 200 touches. Keep an eye on how the two backs split their reps, and expect them to move closer to each other on the draft board.
Philadelphia Eagles’ Health at an Encouraging High
Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94.1 WIP reported that several important players, including Carson Wentz and Miles Sanders, were playing at full speed to begin camp. Though Fletcher Cox and Brandon Brooks participated in drills, both were kept off the PUP.
Fantasy Fallout: Carson Wentz is expected to have a big season, but he’s still considered a risky fantasy pick given his lengthy injury history. However, he claims that “he feels completely healed” and could play at full speed if the season began today. The fact that he’ll have a full training camp to mesh with his many talented receiving options (he’s already playing quite well with DeSean Jackson) only brightens his prospects, and he could have a massive fantasy season. Sanders was reportedly playing well, too, making the crowded Philadelphia backfield a questionable group to bank on given the additional presence of Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles. That said, Shorr-Parks additionally reported that Howard is unquestionably dominating the carries so far.
Will Fuller Active to Begin Camp
Fuller looks to be nearly recovered from his ACL injury, participating fully in training camp (per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
Fantasy Fallout: Fuller is a great best-ball option given his touchdown numbers and deep-threat potential. The Texans figure to be a high-powered offense, and while DeAndre Hopkins will receive a huge target share, Deshaun Watson has shown tremendous chemistry with Fuller in their brief history together. His best-ball value is higher than his regular fantasy value, though, as he is always at risk for injury and could put up duds periodically, especially with the rising presence of Keke Coutee.
DeAndre Hopkins No Longer on PUP List
After a short stint to begin training camp, the Texans’ stud has been activated for camp (per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
Fantasy Fallout: Last week, we mentioned his injury status but also noted that there was no reason to worry. This confirms that belief, and you should draft Hopkins as one of the first receivers off the board, if not the top wide receiver pick. His staggering volume and unbelievable hands make him an automatic first round pick, and while he usually carries a weekly injury designation, everyone knows he will play through them.
David Montgomery Fantasy Hype Continues
Yahoo! fantasy analyst Brad Evans tweeted multiple times about Montgomery’s likely major role in Chicago.
Fantasy Fallout: Evans further said that he’d be surprised if Mike Davis had any significant role in the offense, and that Cohen’s role should not cut into Montgomery’s (similar to Jordan Howard’s situation last year). I agree with Evans. If Montgomery receives a good workload throughout camp, it will be a good indicator that his role will be similar to Jordan Howard’s, where even medium productivity will result in a solid fantasy season. He’s worth a pick as an RB2 with a high ceiling, though he may fall lower than that.
Giants Receiving Corps Suffers Weakens Further
The Giants’ Sterling Shepherd fractured his thumb and is questionable for the season opener, according to ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan. Golden Tate is facing a four-game suspension for a banned substance but he will appeal according to a tweet from the receiver. Fellow WR Corey Coleman, who was resigned for 2019 after spending most of 2018 on different practice squads, tore his ACL (per NFL.com).
Fantasy Fallout: As if losing Odell Beckham wasn’t enough… yikes. The Giants luckily have two great non-receiver options, standout returners Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram. However, losing Shepherd would take away the target with the longest rapport with Eli Manning, and he, Tate and Coleman were potentially the top three receivers on the depth chart. Shepherd feels confident he will be back for Week 1, meaning you can still draft him as a solid flex/WR4 option barring further issues. Pay attention to Tate’s appeal, but the suspension is likely to be upheld according to many insiders, including former NFL doctor David Chao, so his ADP should slide a round or two. Even if he misses time, it isn’t worth taking backup receivers in New York with their quarterback situation.
Jerick McKinnon Begins Camp on PUP List
Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports reported that Jerick McKinnon experienced a “flare-up” in his ACL rehab to start training camp.
Fantasy Fallout: McKinnon had already lost some footing in the RB race when the Niners signed Tevin Coleman. While his recovery isn’t going badly, the setback may not be a good sign for McKinnon because of the crowded San Francisco backfield. There’s no need to take any chances with his health when Coleman and Matt Breida are a perfectly serviceable duo. Expect McKinnon’s ADP to fall if there is any prolonged absence.
AJ Green (Ankle) Carted Off Field, Expected To Miss Significant Time
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that an MRI showed torn ligaments in the star’s left ankle, an injury that could hold him out for six to eight weeks.
Fantasy Fallout: Those hoping for an AJ Green bounce-back season (...me) might have to dampen their expectations after Green suffered a serious injury to start camp. Tyler Boyd just signed a major contract extension (four years, $43 million) and will have to step back into the WR1 role that he experienced last season. Whether or not Green’s injury will help or hurt his fantasy value is questionable, as Green helped to take a lot of the pressure off Boyd in an offense without a ton of other weapons besides Joe Mixon. Draft Boyd as a WR2, and draft Green if you still like his ability to bounce back. When he ends up returning, he will certainly put up WR1 numbers. Also keep an eye on John Ross, who has been a touchdown-dependent breakout candidate for a couple years now. He holds the NFL record at the 40-yard dash, and just needs to figure out how to synchronize his game with Andy Dalton’s as the talent is there.
Lamar Jackson’s Rushing Role Could be Massive
Head Coach John Harbaugh said that the second-year QB would rush more than Cam Newton’s NFL single-season record 139 times, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network.
Fantasy Fallout: The Ravens are completely built around the run no matter where they are on the field. He had six passing touchdowns and five rushing, and ran the ball a whopping 119 times in only seven starts last season. If he can occasionally throw for a touchdown and put up running back numbers, he becomes a very interesting fantasy quarterback. Reports from varied sources, like Frank Platko of SB Nation, say that Jackson’s passing performances so far in camp have been encouraging. It won’t necessarily be easy to trust him, but drafting him as a top QB2 is an intriguing option that could pay off bigtime.
Todd Gurley’s Knee Remains the Focus of Media Attention
Gurley said that he’d prefer if everyone stopped “putting this bad energy” on his knee issues, according to Cameron DaSilva of The Rams Wire.
Fantasy Fallout: Gurley was able to participate in drills during OTAs, but will follow a restricted-usage plan in order to maintain his health (per NFL.com’s Logan Reardon). If the Rams are winning games handily because of their high-powered passing game and their solid defense, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Gurley was limited even once the regular season comes around. If the Rams are winning and don’t need to lean on Gurley, why jeopardize his availability when they’ll need him most late in the season? Just another red flag for the risky RB1.
Derrick Henry Suffers Lower Leg Injury, Titans Not Worried
Henry left practice and was seen wearing a walking boot, according to Terry McCormick of Titan Insider. ESPN’s Adam Schefter later indicated that it’s a strained calf and that he could be out a couple of weeks as a “cautious” measure.
Fantasy Fallout: Dion Lewis remains on the team but has never been a pure runner, meaning that Henry’s availability is crucial for the Titans’ offense to run effectively. Luckily for the Titans, the 2015 Heisman winner isn’t going to miss too much time based on the team’s reaction. It’s still hard to trust Henry, though, as he was an unusable fantasy asset for the majority of 2018 and his total stat line seems better than it really was because of his unsustainable breakout towards the end of the year. If he’s truly going to be a workhorse, little injuries like this are actually very important. Based on the team’s cautious approach, they are showing they want and need him in that role. Another rookie, AJ Brown, will miss time due to injury after slipping in practice, according to Erik Bacharach of the Tennessean.
Donte Moncrief Serving as WR2 in First Team Reps
With the departure of Antonio Brown, it still remains to be seen who will acquire the bulk of that target share, but Moncrief seems to be leading the pack to open camp, according to Alex Kozora of Steelersdepot.com.
Fantasy Fallout: If the WR2 in Pittsburgh gets a good portion of the targets, he will be a must-draft fantasy commodity. There is competition between Moncrief and rookie James Washington, and whoever comes out of training camp atop the depth chart should be the guy to draft. Washington’s upside presents a better case than Moncrief’s, especially in dynasty formats, but after seeing both Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster finish as top WRs last season, the Steelers’ WR2 is a high-ceiling position. Another name to keep an eye on that is getting a lot of attention is Diontae Washington, a rookie receiver who is impressing so far in training camp (per Curt Popejoy of USA Today).
Jamison Crowder Injury Status Worsens
After Crowder suffered an injury, Connor Hughes of The Athletic reported that he walked back to the locker room with a “noticeable limp” after attempting to run on the injured leg.
Fantasy Fallout: Crowder was signed by the Jets this offseason in an effort to give Sam Darnold another veteran target to join Robbie Anderson. Crowder’s ability as a slot receiver made him a great option in Washington. ESPN’s Rich Cimini noticed that this injury affected Crowder’s left ankle, while last season it was his right ankle that kept him out for some time. Wait and see how serious the injury is, as Crowder is worth a late-round draft pick based on Darnold’s potential to become a legitimate QB this season.
Both Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott are continuing to holdout of training camp.
Fantasy Fallout: The two running backs are in pretty different situations, however, as Zeke’s living it up in Cabo while Gordon is unwavering in his contract negotiations with the Chargers. The Cowboys recently signed Alfred Morris, according to Ian Rapoport. It still seems that the Cowboys and Zeke will inevitably come to an agreement, as they practically revolve their entire offense around him. The same can’t be said for Gordon, and reports are that the deal isn’t particularly close to getting done, according to Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, though he sees a potential solution in the cards. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Gordon’s holdout “threatens to last into the season,” making the prospects of both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson very intriguing. Jackson seems to be a more typical running back, while Ekeler has dual-threat versatility. Ekeler is a solid draft pick even with Gordon around, and Jackson is definitely worth a pick as an RB sleeper.
Lions Cut Veteran Theo Riddick
Detroit decided to part ways with the pass-catching specialist (per ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith), who has not yet signed with another organization.
Fantasy Fallout: This impacts Kerryon Johnson’s fantasy prospects more than it does Theo Riddick’s. Johnson was a breakout rookie last season, and it looks like the Lions are going to make him an every-down back with both running and receiving responsibilities. His ADP should rise, and rightly so, as Riddick has averaged 56.2 catches per season over the past five years. This could more-or-less go to Johnson, as neither CJ Anderson nor Zach Zenner are particularly viable candidates in the passing game (1.56 and 0.75 career catches per game, respectively).
Surprise Receiver Emerging in New England
Several Patriots beat writers have labeled Maurice Harris as the best receiver during camps, according to NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal.
Fantasy Fallout: These observations obviously come in the wake of Julian Edelman’s broken thumb, and he should definitely remain the top-drafted receiver in New England. That said, the name that this affects most is rookie N’Keal Harry, who is a controversial pick this season. Many people love his upside as the new potential stud in what could be Tom Brady’s final season, but others view him as a bust given his largely unproven hype and the reduced passing in Belichick’s playcalling. The fact that Harry isn’t the one turning heads in camp is another red flag.
Bills RB Devin Singletary Getting First Team Reps
Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN reported that the rookie is playing a lot with the first team, but also tweeted that “[LeSean] McCoy will be the first RB on the field barring some drastic change.”
Fantasy Fallout: Singletary has the brightest future in Buffalo, but that’s not saying much given the age of McCoy and Frank Gore. Even if Singletary does eventually pass the veterans on the depth chart, the Bills aren’t the most attractive fantasy offense. Sparing a pick on Singletary should only occur in the latest rounds of the draft, while McCoy is a back-end flex option.
Tyreek Hill (Quad) Carted Off Field, Not Serious
After a scary blow, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Hill is “expected to be fine” almost immediately after the initial injury report.
Fantasy Fallout: As if Hill’s offseason couldn’t get any more tumultuous, the controversial receiver was hit hard in camp. After limping and eventually being carted off the field, Schefter’s report says that he’s okay. Amid all the allegations and rumors swirling around last season’s No. 1 receiver, Hill should be drafted as a WR1. Mahomes’s inevitable regression is probably the biggest reason why Hill’s production would go down.
Andrew Luck Misses First Week of Training Camp, To Miss First Preseason Game
FOX59/CBS4’s Mike Chappell reports that Luck’s calf is keeping him out of practice and the first preseason contest against Buffalo.
Fantasy Fallout: Luck should be fine for the regular season barring any setbacks, or else we would have heard more about this issue and the following QB competition. Luck, if healthy, is in store for an MVP-caliber season after bouncing back remarkably last year and heading into 2019 with a bevy of weapons, including new additions Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell and a healthy Jack Doyle. However, the leg is a little troubling and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on a calf injury that has lasted for months. If the injury continues to nag and somehow keeps Luck on the sidelines, the entire Colts roster takes a hit.