Training Camp Risers and Fallers

August 23, 2020

What players have moved the most in my rankings since training camp began?

With training camp well underway, situations have changed and lenses have shifted. Players that had some question marks a month ago may have had those questions answered. By that measure rankings are ever-changing. Some have leaped forward while others have stumbled back. With all that said, let’s take a look at some risers and fallers within my own rankings.

Risers

Chris Herndon, TE, New York Jets

Herndon had a dismal sophomore season, starting off with a four-game suspension which led to several injuries; a hamstring that kept him out of another four games and an injured rib that landed him on the injured reserve for the remainder of the season. With backup tight end Ryan Griffin impressing at times in Herndon’s absence, it was easy to fade the 24-year-old tight end.

But take a step back and visualize the situation. Outside of slot wide receiver Jamison Crowder and running back Le’Veon Bell, no one is assured of targets. With the defense likely to take another step back with Jamaal Adams now in Seattle, positive game scripts should exist for the passing offense. It’s easy to forget that Herndon posted over 500 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a rookie in 2018, impressive at the tight end position that traditionally takes a few years to adjust to NFL play. 

The post-hype sleeper argument for Herndon is real. He’s dominated training camp and earned repeated praise from head coach Adam Gase. 

“Chris gives us a lot of flexibility,” Gase said. “It’s rare to have a guy with the ability to be as effective as a pass-catcher and a guy that’s explosive when he gets the ball in his hands, and still be an on-the-line tight end that can block in the run game and also pass protect. 

Gase had already described him as a “unicorn” type of player in February of 2019 and Crowder called Herndon the “X-factor” of the 2020 Jets offense. With a clear road to targets and a desperate need for playmaking ability, Herndon is one of my favorite late-round tight end targets with the potential to be this year’s Mark Andrews.

Zack Moss, RB, Buffalo Bills

Moss was an interesting selection by the Bills in the third-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Devin Singletary showed that he could be a dynamic weapon for Buffalo in 2019 after rushing for 775 yards on just 151 carries. As the incumbent, Singletary has the leg up on Moss and pushed him down in initial rookie drafts.

But as more research was put in and camp progressed, Moss has some serious redraft upside.

Did anyone realize that the Bills gave then 36-year-old Frank Gore 166 carries while simultaneously fazing him out as the season went on? Head coach Sean McDermott doesn’t want a bell cow running back or at the very least doesn’t view Singletary as that. They drafted Moss with their second pick in the draft because they viewed him as a value at a position of need. 

The Utah product has about two inches and 20 pounds on Singletary, making him a lock for goal-line work and could even siphon some away from quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills running backs scored FOUR rushing touchdowns in 2019 — Allen led the team with nine. The team needs to get more out of the position and that’s why they brought in Moss who has shined in training camp, both as a receiver and a powerful rusher. The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia and Maddy Glab of the Bills official website have positively written about his performance in camp. Meanwhile, Singletary has struggled at times, getting bottled up and fumbling in Thursday’s practice, according to The Athletic’s Buscaglia and Matthew Fairburn.

Moss can be the most valuable running back on this team for fantasy and he’s been drafted as the RB41 over the past month. Singletary will be used; he’s still a talented player. But Moss is the value late in drafts that can and will exceed expectations.

Ronald Jones Jr., RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sigh. I suppose it’s time to accept it…

Jones is going to be a solid fantasy asset in 2020.

That isn’t to say he is the focal point of this team, because he’s not. This is still a pass-heavy system led by two explosive wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. It also isn’t admitting that he’s a great talent. I still think he is a one-cut running back that is a dime a dozen.

But the offensive line should be a bit better with the addition of first-round pick Tristan Wirfs playing tackle to a promising unit. The offense should be steadier with all-time great quarterback Tom Brady under center rather than with Jameis Winston, who became the first quarterback since 1980 to throw 30 interceptions in a single season. Meanwhile, 2020 third-round running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn has had a poor start to training camp with a coach in Bruce Arians who is notoriously distrustful of rookies. The Vanderbilt product spent weeks on the reserve/COVID-19 list and since coming off has failed to make a serious impact, potentially spending his rookie year purely contributing to special teams as a returner.

“RoJo is the main guy,” Arians told reporters on Aug. 5, via team transcript. “He’ll carry the load. All of those other guys are fighting for roles — [for] who goes in second when he gets tired, maybe who is the third-down guy. But they’re all fighting for a role and special teams will have a lot to do with that.”

Jones has spent the offseason reportedly trying to improve himself as a route-runner and a pass protector, two major flaws in his game. While the team signed veteran LeSean McCoy, likely to pass protect and see third-downs, Jones has locked down first and second-down work on an offense that will be high-scoring. With Vaughn in the backseat, Jones has driven himself from a middling RB3 to a borderline RB2 with even higher upside should he take third downs.

Honorable Mentions: Jets WR Jamison Crowder, Bengals QB Joe Burrow, Raiders RB Josh Jacobs, Broncos WR Courtland Sutton and RB Phillip Lindsay, Washington RB Bryce Love, Patriots RB Damien Harris

Fallers

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Imagine yourself shopping, checking off each item off the list you brought. As you go to check out, you notice a cheap lottery ticket and you buy it. You rush to the car to see what you won, and, like the hundreds of times you have done the exact same process, you win nothing.

That’s what it’s like to draft Green this year.

The price was finally low enough where people were willing to take the risk. A seventh-round pick for someone with Green’s supposed upside is outstanding. As one of those people, I previously had Green on the WR2 cusp, happily snatching him up in all the mock drafts I did.

But Green is already nursing a hamstring injury he suffered in camp, keeping him out this past week. While to an extent I’m certain it’s precautionary given his injury history, it’s just not a road I’m willing to travel down anymore. Hamstring injuries tend to linger and when it comes to an injury-prone player, it’s a serious worry. Combine it with Green’s age (32), a rookie quarterback in Joe Burrow, and the fact that Green hasn’t played contact football in over a year, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver has fallen off of my draft board entirely.

Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Don’t hear what I’m not saying — I still think Drake is a great fantasy asset. Just not as great as I initially had him prior to camp.

There’s a lot on the line for the former Dolphin. If Drake lives up to his one-year, $8.4 million transition tag, he could earn himself a decent payday on the open market. If he sputters out or gets injured, he finds himself among a sea of talented 2021 free agent running backs in a year where the salary cap is expected to drop due to COVID-19. Ultimately, he should shine in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system, which is why they traded for him last season.

But there are reasons to worry that he won’t perform as well as he did after he left the Dolphins. First off, Chase Edmonds was coming off of a serious hamstring injury. He was amazing prior to the injury, averaging over five yards-per-carry and had three straight weeks as a top 15 running back, including a week-winning RB1 finish in Week 7. He fits the system like Drake does and I expect him to play a bigger role than he did last season, especially with David Johnson out of the picture. 

“We all feel like he’s a starting running back in this league and he does, too,” Kingsbury told reporters on Wednesday after practice. “Had he not gotten hurt, I’m not sure if we would have traded for Kenyan.”

That’s quite the endorsement.

Even when Drake was the sole running back his weekly finishes were hot and cold. He was the RB2 in Week 9, but the RB26, RB22, RB42 and RB31 in Weeks 10, 11, 13 and 14, respectively (Cardinals had their bye in Week 12). Then Drake was the RB1, RB2 and RB16 over the final three weeks.

Drake has week-winning upside but his consistency, or lack thereof, is worrisome. With Edmonds healthy, there could be more boom-bust games from Drake than fantasy owners may like when spending their second-round pick. Paired with steadier first and third-round fantasy players, and Drake could be a terrific asset to your roster. But there is more risk to him than fantasy owners may remember given that he won people championships as a waiver wire pickup.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

I’ll prefix this by saying that this is not an indictment of his talent. Dobbins was my favorite running back in the 2020 class and landed in a perfect system that eerily resembles his college offense at Ohio State.

But Mark Ingram isn’t going anywhere. The veteran running back was fantastic last year and there isn’t any reason to think that this will change. Gus Edwards is still around, who played 36% of the snaps last season and was solid in relief of Ingram. The team even wants to get 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill more touches, though I wouldn’t put much stock into that. 

What is assured is that this is a committee backfield. The team was the No. 1 ranked rushing offense, largely due to the threat 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson poses with his legs. Outside of Ingram, however, there wasn’t fantasy value to be had. Ingram will retain work on the goal line and a majority of carries, leaving Dobbins to fend for the scraps. He might get passing work, but no Ravens running back exceeded 30 targets in 2019; they just weren’t used. It should change with the addition of Dobbins who is the likely best pass-catcher of the bunch, but not to the point where Dobbins can sustain enough fantasy value with only a handful of touches relative to where he’s being drafted.

He’s extremely talented and could earn himself a larger role later in the year, but early on his value will be better for the Ravens than it will be for fantasy teams. Currently being drafted as the RB31, Dobbins will be a disappointment for fantasy teams drafting him in the fifth or sixth-round.

Honorable Mentions: Patriots RB Sony Michel, Jets WR Denzel Mims, Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Buccaneers RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Broncos WR K.J. Hamler and RB Melvin Gordon

All context is relative to Half-PPR, 12-team formats. Check out our collective ranks here.