Around the League – Fantasy Fallout, Aug. 14

August 14, 2020

CEH receives first-team reps, Josh Jacobs catching 60 passes?

Every year the fantasy community receives reports out of training camp. Hype builds, doubt creeps in, ADP fluctuates. In years past that always stabilized a bit more when people got to watch the preseason games. We saw how Washington’s Terry McLaurin didn’t play much in the preseason games, showing that the team valued him as a starter after glowing camp reports. News and press conferences will be more valuable than ever without preseason games to add the necessary film, so here are some headlines to be aware of.

Josh Jacobs said his goal is to catch “at least” 60 passes this season, according to Paul Gutierrez.

Jacobs was a star for fantasy rosters last season but only averaged about two targets a game.

Will Jacobs finally be unleashed on third downs is the question fantasy players have been asking since last season. He showed he could be a good receiving option in college but wasn’t utilized as such on the Raiders as a rookie. Many chalked it up to simply being hesitant to have a rookie running back in pass protection when there’s a dependable guy like Jalen Richard back there, and that Jacobs would grow into it.

Months later the hype train is leaving the station. Rumors swirled about how coach Jon Gruden was “mad” about how Jacobs was snubbed for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. Given what we know about Gruden, it’s a narrative I choose to buy. He loved Jacobs enough to spend a first-round pick on him in 2019 and touted him all season as the OROY, and deservedly so. He finished as the RB18, rushing for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns despite a lingering shoulder injury that led him to miss three games. With the Raiders offense retooled it’s fair to expect a sizeable jump from Jacobs in all aspects, but it’s also important to follow the money. The Raiders resigned Jalen Richard in February and drafted versatile weapon Lynn Bowden Jr. in the second-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While it makes sense to center the offense around Jacobs, they have other reliable options in the receiving game. He was on pace to be the RB8 as a rookie with minimal passing work, so he’s well worth targeting as an RB1 in drafts this season.

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reports the Falcons are considering limiting Todd Gurley’s workload in training camp.

With each passing day this offseason Gurley has slid slowly down my ranks. At first glance, this makes sense. The Falcons knew about his injury situation when they signed him, he passed his physical so why overwork a running back with almost 1,500 touches on his arthritic knee? He’s still the same guy who received MVP votes after a league-winning 2018 season. Sure, he slipped in 2019, but still finished as the RB14 and finds himself behind a better offensive line.

But take the name out of the equation and there’s real concern here. This is a new team with a new system for Gurley, and more importantly a new coaching staff who has never seen him play as a Falcon. The Rams felt more comfortable paying Gurley to PLAY FOR ANOTHER TEAM than to stay on the roster. His knee injury is one that can pop up at random and is more prone to emerge as more work is put on his body. Many have touted the lack of talent behind him as a good thing, locking in his workload but it also might limit him as the season goes on. Gurley is no longer the 20-touch machine he was. While the offensive line in Los Angeles was horrific, Gurley still ran plenty of routes where he wasn’t getting the ball. You can read that as opportunity that simply didn’t go his way, or that quarterback Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay thought that giving Gurley the ball in space simply wasn’t worth the touch. It’s a heavily scheme-based system and if McVay wanted Gurley to touch the ball more he would’ve. There’s a lot of missing targets in Atlanta, the most in football in fact, so Gurley could see the volume needed to sustain his fantasy value. But don’t expect 12 rushing touchdowns to happen again and if his efficiency doesn’t rise (3.8 yards-per-carry in 2019) he will bust at his current RB15 ADP.

ESPN’s Adam Teicher reports Chiefs first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the “featured back” in Friday’s practice.

Already being selected in the first-round of many fantasy drafts since Damien Williams opted out, CEH seems set to handle the every-down role many desired him to have. According to Reid he will continue to get “a lot work with the first-team unit.” 

“Is everything perfect?” Reid said. “No, not right now. But he’s working to get there.”

CEH should be a great fantasy asset as the No. 1 running back for the Chiefs, who ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in points-per-game in 2018 and 2019, respectively

The fantasy world saw yet again how dominant Andy Reid’s running backs could be if they were given the workload, most recently with Kareem Hunt in 2017 and 2018. There’s warranted hesitance for some when it comes to drafting a rookie that high in fantasy drafts (RB6 since Williams opted out), but when it comes to the Chiefs it shouldn’t be a question. Based on Reid’s words it’s the rookie’s job to lose, and each year rookie running backs are valuable to fantasy football. They want him to be the “featured back,” and they will give him every opportunity to prove his worth after spending a first-round pick on the LSU product. CEH will see plenty of touches in one of the best offenses in football. Hunt finished as the RB4 in 2017; there’s no reason to say that CEH’s ceiling isn’t at least the same.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said WR Greg Ward is “in that starting mix,” according to Pro Football Talk.

Nobody should truly be surprised by this news. This proves that it is an open competition at wide receiver. While DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor are likely locked into starting roles, the team clearly liked what they saw from Ward at the end of last season. He stepped up when everyone else got injured and knows the system, which could give him the edge over Day 3 rookies like Quez Watkins and John Hightower. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside could beat out Ward, though. His skill set and size most resembles the injured Alshon Jeffrey, and neither Reagor nor Jackson can be the red zone threat JJAW could. Just a year removed from being a second-round pick, JJAW would be the most likely bet to start in three-wide sets. But the opt-out of Marquise Goodwin and the praise from Pederson likely sets Ward on a good path to the No. 4 role who could step up should any of the starting trio falter.

Cardinals quarterback and 2019 OROY Kyler Murray “bulked up” over the offseason. 

Murray entered the year as one of the smaller quarterbacks at just over 5-foot-10, 207 pounds. He took a beating last year, sustaining 48 sacks, the league worst. A lot of that could be attributed to a typical rookie struggle of holding the ball too long. With the offensive line likely not much improved, Murray’s added weight could help him avoid injury. If his speed isn’t affected by the change, this is nothing but good news.

“He’s definitely bulked up and that’ll be good for him, especially in this league,” said teammate and 2019 team sack-leader Chandler Jones. “There is no quarterback that goes through games without being sacked. That’s just the way it goes. When he has a little more meat on his bones, he can take hits.” 

With coach Kliff Kingsbury excited for what this offense can do, expecting a big sophomore season from Murray is more than fair. In recent years both Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes won MVP awards in their second seasons, and Carson Wentz was well on his way to winning his own before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The addition of star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins as well as Christian Kirk’s return to health could make this offense the most dynamic in the league. Adding Murray’s lofty rushing totals on top of the passing weapons around him, and this is a quarterback who can finish as the QB1.

In-house Titans writer Jim Wyatt believes it “remains to be seen” what third-round rookie Darrynton Evans’ role will be.

Evans was one of my favorite running backs in the class prior to his landing spot. With Derrick Henry firmly ahead of Evans on the depth chart this is simply news to navigate as a dynasty owner or a redraft Henry owner looking for the handcuff. Evans is likely still the No. 2 running back and could see third downs as a capable pass catcher in college. But if he fails to prove himself in pass-protection Tennessee could look to add a veteran running back like Devonta Freeman on a cheap deal. Don’t overreact to the news but watching for Evans in the coming weeks will be telling about where he fits in this offense with Henry the locked-in bell-cow.

Titans TEs coach Todd Downing praised Jonnu Smith’s skill-set on Thursday, according to ESPN’s Turron Davenport.

With more positive Titans news, breakout candidate Smith received another nod by the coaching staff. With veteran Delanie Walker no longer a Titan, Smith is set to receive plenty of snaps in this run-heavy system. The worry remains that the offense can’t support several passing options due to a lack of volume, and sophomore A.J. Brown has already secured his corner of the target share. However, with Corey Davis still recovering from an offseason toe injury, Smith has every opportunity to run as the No. 2 option in the passing game.

Smith should see a vast majority of snaps with Walker a free agent, making him a popular late-round target for teams looking for the next athletic tight end breakout.

“He makes it fun,” Downing raved. “When you have a guy on your offense that can do so many things, you can be creative and find ways to get him touches.”

This passing offense thrives on efficiency. Derrick Henry pounds the rock which opens up huge yards-after-catch prone plays. An athletic tight end with a 93rd percentile SPARQ score, Smith can be the big-play tight end breakout we have seen in recent years. For added incentive, he is also on a contract year. A big season could secure a huge payday for the soon-to-be 25-year-old. Feel free to see what he’s got and draft him as a backend TE1 or be prepared to spend that FAAB budget if he breaks out Week 1; the signs are there for him to have a huge year.

Jets coach Adam Gase said second-round WR Denzel Mims injured his hamstring while running routes in practice, according to Manish Mehta.

Not great, Bob. Not great at all.

After passing on a first-round wide receiver despite having the pick of the litter, Mims was the Jets’ selection in the second-round at a position desperately in need of playmakers. The team has slot receiver Jamison Crowder and replaced field-stretcher Robby Anderson with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but yet again it seemed like the Jets had failed to surround 23-year-old quarterback Sam Darnold with weapons. Mims has the size and stature to be a No. 1 in the NFL, offering some hope, but this was a big concern with training camp following a Zoom-filled offseason. Soft-tissue injuries like hamstrings get pulled and they linger all season long. Mims will miss valuable camp reps as a rookie while he nurses this injury, making a breakout rookie campaign all the more unlikely.

“We’re just going to have to see how long it takes,” Gase said to reporters after the practice.

Vyncint Smith, who performed well as a return man for the Texans in 2019, saw first-team reps in Mims’ absence. It’s only his sophomore season, so maybe Smith has something that the Texans missed. Crowder is still the wide receiver to own on this roster, a PPR value if there ever was one.

Veteran running back Frank Gore also hurt his hamstring, opening up some No. 2 reps for fourth-round rookie La’Mical Perine. It was reported that Mims’ injury was more serious, however, and that Gore’s absence was more precautionary.