Around the league — Fantasy Fallout, Aug. 28

August 28, 2020

Injury updates, quick takes and more

Training camp is well underway, players are in pads and beat reporters are taking notes. With no preseason to glean information from, fantasy owners need to be aware of the headlines and talk out of camp. Here are some important reports to be aware of.

Cam Akers has been getting reps with the first-team offense and could separate himself as the No. 1 as the season continues.

The opportunity is there for the 2020 second-round pick. Akers was the team’s first selection. They weren’t confident enough in Henderson to shoulder the load, and they felt comfortable enough in releasing Todd Gurley. Akers has the build to be what Gurley was to this offense in years past, but it’s important to remember that this offensive line is not much improved from the 19th ranked run-blocking offensive line by Football Outsiders.

Perhaps more importantly, everyone has totally written off veteran Malcolm Brown. He knows the system; head coach Sean McVay matched his deal with Detroit to bring him back in 2019. They wanted him there and he has been serviceable when called upon. If McVay feels uncomfortable in entrusting a rookie to run his offense, Brown could be used enough to relegate the other running backs into fantasy irrelevance.

And hey, don’t write off Henderson. He’s performed well in camp and the team traded up to take him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Fantasy value is here; murky backfields tend to lead to breakout stars for fantasy due to the lowered ADP. Feel free to take your shot on one of these backs given the strength of this offense and McVay’s ability to get the most out of his weapons.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said Bryce Love can be an “every-down” back.

From one murky backfield to another, you need a crystal ball to figure out which running back will be valuable here. Veteran Adrian Peterson is the best bet to see the workload early on, but without passing work and likely few touchdowns, that doesn’t mean too much. Antonio Gibson was the team’s third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and has shown incredibly well in camp. Love has been hyped up by the coaching staff and was a first-round talent after rushing for over 2,100 yards in a single season at Stanford University, before tearing his ACL in his last collegiate game. He underwent another knee surgery in October after the team spent a fourth-round pick on him, expecting a redshirt season of sorts. Even J.D. McKissick has received glowing reports by beat reporters.

So, take your shot.

I’m not reading into this report as Rivera has talked up all of his running backs with the vigor of Jon Gruden whenever he utilizes a fullback. Gibson is still the one to own for me as the recent investment that has starred in training camp. He also should be utilized as a receiver. But this will still be a low-scoring team with a myriad of running backs mixed in. Unlike the Rams who have a high-powered offense, this is a backfield I’m ok leaving to the side. If Gibson falls late enough, I will happily take the shot, or I will even spend my last pick on Love. But my expectations remain low for a team that ranked 28th in continuity by The Athletic during a truncated offseason with a new coaching staff.

NESN’s Doug Kyed believes Gunner Olszewski has “looked like the second best” receiver at Patriots camp.

No, Olszewski is not going to be a fantasy star. This brings back fond memories of Jakobi Meyer truthers last August.

But what this does tell us is how bad the other receivers have looked. N’Keal Harry has struggled to make an impact. He is still running with the second team and has not been on the same page with quarterback Bryan Hoyer, who has had reasonable success outside of when he targets Harry. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, who has covered each Patriots practice available to the media, Hoyer is a pitiful 2 of 12 when targeting Harry, which included four pass breakups and a drop throughout camp. Harry has also recently returned from a hamstring injury, which still limits him in some capacity.

It’s also a knock-on Mohammad Sanu, who earned some praise early in camp for his return to speed, but he hasn’t made a huge impression since. It’s worrisome for New England to be so heavily reliant on 34-year-old Julian Edelman, and while Cam Newton’s value doesn’t stem from passing production, it certainly helps to have some.

Oh, and the most impressive receiver in camp according to Kyed? Edelman.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss considers it “hard to imagine” that the Patriots will “turn back” from Cam Newton at this stage of their quarterback competition. Reiss also believes that Jarrett Stidham is “fading out” of the Patriots’ quarterback race.

Breaking: Newton is a better player than Stidham.

To be fair, Stidham has played fairly well in practices since his return from a leg injury, but this was with minimal reps. The team may want him to be the new late-round Tom Brady-esque player, but he simply is not. No one is.

Newton has played well in camp and has shown the arm strength that many feared was lost as he rehabbed from his injuries. He has been plagued by drops, which does not exclude Edelman, despite a solid camp. It’s an issue that will likely carry over into the season with Harry having yet to show the flashes that made him a first-round pick in 2019. As always, Newton’s rushing value keeps him in the fantasy conversation, but his limitations in the passing game will likely prevent him from reaching the ceiling he is accustomed to having. The former MVP has notably targeted Damien Harris, James White and Rex Burkhead often enough to mention. Keep it in mind.

Packers beat report Jim Owczarski said rookie RB AJ Dillon’s role could change during the season, but he doesn’t expect major usage in the early going.

Viral photos don’t equate to playing time. Sorry.

Dillon will be a goal line vulture that caps Aaron Jones’s ceiling. But regardless, Jones is still worthy of being a back end RB1. His usage in the passing game as well as overall efficiency keeps him on the field as one of Green Bay’s true offensive weapons.

What’s a bit more interesting is who the backup actually is. Many, including myself, still expect A.J. Dillon to be the handcuff to Jones given the draft investment and upside. But what about Jamaal Williams? The veteran has had a solid camp and has “really, really improved” as a receiving threat, according to Packers running back coach Ben Sirmans. If Williams finds himself stealing receiving work from Jones, and Dillon siphons some touchdowns from Jones, this might be one of the highest ceiling, lowest floor backfields in the league. Fortunately, Green Bay’s commitment to the run game should allow Jones to retain his value. Who the handcuff is, however, may be murkier than initially thought.

Patriots RB Damien Harris has stood out in every facet, including route running and pass blocking.

If you read the last training camp fallout, you would know that Harris has had glowing camp reports for some time. The practice has bred that out. He’s been a standout with both Sony Michel and Lamar Miller recovering from injuries. It’s exciting to see the 2019 third-round pick show flashes of why the team drafted him.

As mentioned above, Newton has certainly been targeting the running backs with Harris among the leaders of the group. But White has that role on lockdown given his terrific fit in Bill Belichick’s system over the years. With Michel now seeming likely to take the field in Week 1, it’s unclear what role is available for Harris to have. There are years of data that suggests Belichick won’t do what we think he will do. The team could be, and most likely is, unwilling to totally commit to Michel with all of his inefficiency over the years. Expect a return to days old for the Patriots backfield where from week-to-week there is juicy value to be had (with a rushing quarterback opening lanes now, no less) but projecting WHO has that value is anyone’s guess.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden plans to get RB Josh Jacobs “more on the field on third down.”

Behold, the storyline I am the most tired of talking about. Will Jacobs get enough passing work to make the leap? I just want to know for sure by now.

I believe he will, hence why he is my RB7. But the actions by the team have made that take far bolder than it should be. Drafting a receiver-turned running back in Lynn Bowden, re-signing Jalen Richard, and filtering through pass-catching free-agent depth signings like Theo Riddick and Devonte Booker.

But Jacobs has once more shown the playmaking ability through the air he frequently displayed at Alabama. Not seeing the field on third down seemed to be more of a trust issue with a rookie handling pass protection. Why throw rookie Jacobs in there when you have Richard? Now that Jacobs has shown that he is the best talent this Las Vegas team has, the team has to manufacture him touches in any possible way. It doesn’t hurt that Bowden hasn’t had the strongest camp, which is to be expected for a player switching positions in an offseason like 2020.

His coach has sung his praises since he was drafted and was reportedly “mad” that Jacobs was snubbed of Offensive Rookie of the Year, a storyline I choose to believe given Gruden’s emotional approach to football. 40-50 receptions will be enough to make him the fantasy star I project him to be.

Falcons.com’s Kelsey Conway reports TE Hayden Hurst will have an every-down role.

It’s incredibly easy to forget who Hurst is. This is a spectacular athlete who was drafted in the first round. Unfortunately for Hurst, star tight end Mark Andrews was also drafted a couple rounds later. It’s not an indictment that Hurst failed to emerge — it just speaks to the talent that Andrews is.

Meanwhile, the Falcons gave up a second-round pick to acquire Hurst. You don’t see that often in the NFL, especially for an unproven tight end. The Falcons have always utilized a tight end in their offense, a safety blanket for Matt Ryan. Austin Hooper was the TE1 prior to his injury, and there are a lot of voided targets up in the air in Atlanta. With the lack of talent behind Hurst, this is a report that is worth believing. The team needs him to be a star, and it’s up to Hurst to take that step. His ADP has skyrocketed this summer as the TE8, a bit high for someone without the proven background relative to the other options, but few would argue that Hurst doesn’t have a TE1 ceiling given what Hooper was able to do in this offense.

The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia reports Devin Singletary has been having “fumbling issues” in Bills camp.

It’s been a rough camp for Singletary and a solid one for rookie Zack Moss. Singletary has struggled with fumbles while Moss has displayed the strength they drafted him to have. But where is the fantasy value?

Well, they both will play a role. Don’t overreact and forget how good Singletary was last season, ranking among the best in juke rate (third) and yards-per-carry (fifth). But his size limited him to just one goal line opportunity whereas the team gave Frank Gore 11, which was the eighth-most in football.

And that’s why I want Zack Moss on my teams and not Singletary. A cheaper option who might have more pass-catching work than some think given his college production, Moss is a bruiser who can also thrive through the air. There’s a clear need for a talented goal line running back and the team did not view Singletary as that. Gore turned those 11 opportunities into just two touchdowns, and between that awful efficiency and his lame 3.6 yards-per-carry, no fantasy value was to be had.

But if Moss gets just some of Gore’s work and plays well with it? He could easily be the most valuable running back on this team that will look to control the clock and win with their defense. His price has been rising since camp began, but he is still the RB39 over the past month. That’s fantastic value.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Jets acquired RB Kalen Ballage from the Dolphins in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.

I wouldn’t trade a bologna sandwich that I dropped on the floor for Ballage, but hey, what do I know?

No, Ballage will not be fantasy relevant this year. But it’s yet another move made by the Jets to make Bell the most unhappy player in the NFL by rotating him off the field for no reason. This is the 2018 Dolphins all over again — Adam Gase has reunited himself with Gore and Ballage to keep Kenyan Drake (Bell in 2020) off the field and out of fantasy relevance.

I’m not joking. Bell is actively off my board. This was a worry that I’ve had since the team brought in Gore and drafted La’Mical Perine. Gase had emphasized that Bell was misused last season when he DID get all the work; it is rational to assume he will swing back to his old, ineffective committee ways now. Bell and Gase are already at odds with each other.

Mark it down now — Gase or Bell will be let go prior to Week 10.

Quick Hitters

The Athletic’s Chad Graff reports Vikings rookie WR Justin Jefferson is “the clear No. 3 option” behind Adam Thielen and Bisi Johnson at practice.

Jefferson hasn’t made the impact the team wanted him to despite some highlight plays throughout camp, and has still played more with the second team than one would like of their first-round pick. Between the team lining tight end Irv Smith out wide and Bisi Johnson in a low pass-volume team, the only wide receiver to draft in Minnesota is Adam Thielan.

The Athletic’s Zak Keefer reports the Colts believe Michael Pittman is “ready to contribute.”

Pittman is going to be a star in this league. It just might take some time for the fantasy value to come, but unlike Jefferson, it seems like Pittman has secured himself a role as the team’s “X” receiver. Don’t forget that this is still a run-heavy team, or about Parris Campbell in the slot, though. Maybe Pittman can emerge later in the year.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians thinks Rob Gronkowski benefitted from sitting out last season.

I’m almost certain that sitting out helped him heal, but I’m also positive that sitting out a year has not been beneficial for NFL players historically. My expectations for Gronk are as low as they could be — and my ranks show that.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll joked “We’re just going to hammer the rock” when asked about #LetRussCook.

Maybe one day. This team is still going to run the ball until they have no one to hand the ball off to. This quote was followed by offensive coordinator John Schottenheimer throwing more cold water on #LetRussCook and Carroll saying that backup running back Carlos Hyde will be “a big factor for us.” Things are not going to change just because people want it to.

Raiders signed RB Theo Riddick to a one-year contract.

Raiders beat writer Vic Tafur insisted the team signing RB Theo Riddick was a “depth move.”

And I agree. Riddick hasn’t played since 2018 and seemed to have lost a step even then. Now 29 years old, he is no lock for the roster.

The Orange County Register believes rookie RB Joshua Kelley “might have the edge” for the No. 2 role.

Last week, Justin Jackson was the clear backup to Austin Ekeler, and I said to not read into it, that both Kelly and Jackson will split if anything happened to Ekeler. There is no handcuff in Los Angeles.

Chiefs GM Brett Veach said Clyde Edwards-Helaire is “on pace to have a big year, to be our primary ballcarrier.”

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Edwards-Helaire’s ADP shooting through the sky!

ESPN Bengals reporter Ben Baby called Auden Tate the “early front-runner for offensive MVP” of training camp.

It helps when Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green and John Ross all miss a good chunk of training camp.

The Washington Post reports seventh-year converted QB Logan Thomas is “emerging” as Washington’s No. 1 tight end.

There actually have been a lot of favorable reports about Thomas. He should still split time with Jeremy Sprinkle, so there’s no reason to have any high hopes. But if he gets going early in the season, keep this name in the very, very back of your mind.

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said third-round rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn could contribute as a kick returner in Week 1.

Oof. Arians is notoriously slow to trust rookies in his offense and Vaughn is no exception. He likely wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to contribute on special teams if returner T.J. Logan didn’t suffer an injury. Ronald Jones’ role is secure after showing out in camp, at least for now. He seems to have won back Arians’ favor. Vaughn isn’t worth drafting in redraft formats.

The Packers want WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling to be the No. 2 receiver behind Davante Adams because he brings “game breaking speed” to the offense, according to beat reporter Jim Owczarski.

Reports surfaced not too long after this that Allen Lazard has “solidified” the No. 2 role, according to The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman. The days of several fantasy-relevant wide receivers in Green Bay are over. With that said, Lazard is the one to take a shot on if you feel differently.

The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman wrote that Jordan Love “has yet to even provide a glimpse at why the Packers traded up to draft him in the first round.”

Harsh, but not unexpected for an incredibly raw quarterback prospect. Aaron Rodgers is probably smirking behind closed doors.

Who am I kidding; he definitely is.

Injury report

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports Bears RB David Montgomery is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with a groin strain.

Perhaps ironically, this was the best-case scenario. Many feared a torn Achilles after Montgomery slipped in contact and struggled to get up. The timeline still keeps the window open for a Week 1 return, but expectations should be tempered early on. It’s another unnecessary red flag on a mid-round running back pick who I was excited about. Montgomery had a strong camp after changing his diet and dropping weight over the offseason in an attempt to gain more speed, a flaw in his game. Now, draft with caution.

On the flip side, Cohen’s role as a receiver should be secure if Montgomery misses time, but it doesn’t mean he will see more touches. The 5-foot-6-inch running back only weighs 179 pounds and won’t touch the ball many times on the ground. Ryan Nall will likely see a chunk of carries that won’t equate to fantasy value in a mediocre Bears offense. However, coach Matt Nagy seems insistent on making Cordarrelle Patterson more involved in the run game.

Long story short, it’s Montgomery, Cohen in PPR formats, or bust.

The Athletic’s Chris Burke reports Lions RB D’Andre Swift (leg) remains absent from practice.

There’s a curse in Detroit for their running backs. It reaffirms that Kerryon Johnson will still be the starter even if this is precautionary. Swift can become a great fantasy option and has had a strong camp, but he has to be at practices to even have a chance to contribute as a rookie. Monitor this as the season approaches.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said his elbow feels “really good” after throwing three days in a row last week.

Roethlisberger has been throwing with his usual zip all throughout camp. He is still one of my favorite late-round targets and a frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year.

Chiefs Tyreek Hill (hamstring) participated in individual drills at Monday’s practice.

Hill will be ready for Week 1, and it’s encouraging to see him back on the field. But it’s an uneasy feeling to have a hamstring injury this close to Week 1 for a speed-based wide receiver. It’s enough of a worry for me to pass on him more often than not given the talent around his ADP. He remains my WR4, but it’s a red flag to watch out for. A return to full practice would be a good sign.

Patriots RB Sony Michel (foot) dressed for practice for the first time on Wednesday.

No, Michel isn’t back yet. But it definitely keeps the door open for a Week 1 return that was previously closing. Harris is still taking a majority of first-team reps as Michel is eased back. Meanwhile, Lamar Miller remains on the PUP.

Browns Nick Chubb (concussion) returned to practice in full.

Draft him as a RB1 and enjoy the results.

Rams Darrell Henderson suffered a “mild” hamstring injury but McVay expects the 2019 third-round pick to be ready for Week 1.

Henderson suffered the injury on Monday which opened up snaps for the aforementioned Akers and Brown. Given that McVay expects him back, it sounds like the three-headed backfield will continue to exist, possibly running on a “hot hand” system. McVay’s confidence comes just a few days after saying he was “hoping” Henderson would be ready, a positive sign for sure.

Steelers Diontae Johnson (leg) has missed several days worth of practices and is currently day-to-day.

Juju Smith-Schuster has also missed time with an undisclosed injury. But the worry remains with Johnson, who has had very little time to build a rapport with Roethlisberger, who played just one game last season. It doesn’t sound like a serious injury, but he has missed a significant amount of time for a player I was already low on. It has opened up more reps for second-round rookie Chase Claypool, who has received high praise from beat reporters and Roethlisberger himself. A return to practice this week would put him back on the map.

UPDATE: Diontae Johnson returned to practice in a limited fashion. Good sign.

Chargers Mike Williams suffered a shoulder sprain, expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Head coach Anthony Lynn said Williams could miss Week 1.

I would expect him to. The injury takes him off of most redraft boards for me, a shame for a talented player. Luckily, his collarbone remained intact and the injury wasn’t more serious. Hunter Henry receives the biggest bump from this as the only true red zone option on the team. Reports have suggested that Williams could return towards the back end of that timeline — don’t consider wasting a pick on him unless you have an I.R. option.

Fifth-round and seventh-round wide receivers Joe Reed and K.J. Hill have both impressed in camp and could step in to fill the void.

It’s Bengals time!

A.J. Green returned to practice for the first time in a limited session on Wednesday. He’s a player I’m willing to be wrong about and simply avoid in drafts due to his injury risk, but the upside is certainly there for a player of Green’s talent.

Meanwhile, John Ross has returned to the team off of the reserve/COVID-19 list. He looks to make enough of an impact in a contract year to earn himself a second contract. With Tee Higgins and Auden Tate impressing, playing time could be scarce. However, no player on the roster possesses Ross’ skillset to beat players over the top with pure speed.

Joe Mixon left practice with migraines. The team expects him to return soon and this isn’t an issue for fantasy owners. It’s worth noting that Mixon has yet to receive an extension ahead of his looming 2021 free agency date, which led to speculation that this was actually a holdout. Outside of guesswork, however, there is nothing to suggest this is the case.

Cardinals Kenyan Drake is in a walking boot while DeAndre Hopkins is also out. Both are reportedly precautionary.

It’s not great news for Drake coming shortly after head coach Kliff Kingsbury sang backup Chase Edmonds’ praises. But Kingsbury and Drake have both insisted that this is minor and precautionary, so maybe this is overblown. Regardless, it leaves an uneasy feeling in the stomach for a player who already had workload-related red flags despite having an early-round price tag. I would definitely double up at RB if Drake was one of my first two selections.

As a veteran and a star, missing time is not an issue for Hopkins. He is still the de facto No. 1 target in what should be a prolific offense, though his volume will undoubtedly drop in the Air Raid scheme.

Raiders Tyrell Williams suffered a torn labrum but will try to play through it.

hugeWilliams can’t seem to catch a break after injuries derailed his first season as a Raider. He won’t be able to stay off Bryan Edwards for playing time while playing injured — he just won’t. Edwards will step in as the “X” receiver, playing the possession role and serving as a huge safety blanket for Derek Carr, who has talked the 2020 third-round pick up since offseason workouts. Take a late shot on Edwards; the talent is definitely there and now the opportunity might follow.

Brandon Aiyuk is week-to-week with a mild hamstring strain.

The 49ers have been devastated with wide receiver injuries this offseason, from Deebo Samuel to Jalen Hurd, to Richie James Jr. and now first-round pick Aiyuk. Kendrick Bourne is the biggest beneficiary from Aiyuk’s absence and Trent Taylor could be a low-end PPR option out of the slot. But ultimately, this is a run-heavy team that utilizes their tight end in George Kittle far more than they ever will the receivers. Samuel might suit up for Week 1 and is trending up, but this might be a situation to avoid outside of streaming.

Ronald Jones left practice Friday with an apparent foot injury, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Bruce Arians does not think the injury is serious.

He was seen walking around, however, with his foot iced and wrapped up. This came after a scrimmage in which he played well. With two weeks until the season kicks off, this injury does not change my outlook for Jones barring a change in diagnosis.