By: Seth Keller (Twitter: @fftheathomedad)
Preseason Watch List
Today is the first preseason game! Which means we’re one step closer to that glorious time of year when all the projections, speculations, hot takes and bust arguments are proven right or wrong. Every training camp is filled with hopeful players looking to claim lead dog status and make a huge fantasy impact. Ok, NFL players probably don’t care about our fantasy leagues, but we sure as hell do!
So in that vein, I’ll be looking at the most relevant training camp battles for the upcoming 2017 season. Which means I won’t be talking about quarterbacks. Because, let’s face it, does it matter if Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler or DeShone Kizer start at QB for the browns. The correct response is a slight gag at hearing those options and then a resounding “NO!” “But Watson could start for the Texans,” you might say and I would shake my head and respond with O’Brien’s emphasis on running the ball and playing defense not passing the ball. The Broncos are the most interesting in terms of a QB camp battle (because of the receiving options) but last year Siemain still finished well outside fantasy relevance (26th QB overall).
New England Patriots:
I’m not a Patriots fan, but the fact is their offense scores a lot of fantasy and real life points. So, I’m forced to swallow my pride and draft Pats players when the opportunity is right. This off-season the patriots decided to grab two RBs (Gillislee and Burkhead) to join James White and Dion Lewis after LeGarrette Blount departed to Philly. Also, happening this off-season everyone fell in love with Mike Gillislee. This battle will be epic for fantasy because if anyone can come out of training camp or preseason with a hold on the number one spot, they could repeat Blount’s RB1 status (probably not the TDs tho). A timeshare could also produce two fantasy relevant backs, it’s just a question of who those backs will be.
The Vikings signed Latavius Murray and drafted Dalvin Cook to join Jerrick McKinnon after the departure of Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata. Although not nearly as juicy as the patriots RB potential, mostly due to the horrible OL of the Vikings, this is still a battle where we could see a solid RB2 emerge. Murray is currently side-lined allowing Cook to impress the coaches. Many football analysts and pretty much anyone playing dynasty, expect Cook to be the lead back by the end of the season but Murray could still see early down work as well as goal line touches. As mentioned though, the OL will dictate whether either of these guys can make a fantasy push.
Green Bay Packers:
Whether you’re a Ty Montgomery truther or non-believer, the backup RB battle in green bay should be on everyone’s fantasy radar. Ty Mont’s wr to rb narrative should be well known by now and his hybrid usage could be the future of nfl running backs. And still, the backup in Green Bay is worthy of roster spot simply based on the power of the Green Bay offense. Similar to what Blount did for new England last year (30th ranked 3.9 yards/carry), an average RB can put up monster numbers in a high scoring offense. Jamaal Williams is the early pick for the spot but Aaron Jones could carve out a role through camp. Whoever comes out of preseason as the second RB is worth a late round flier.
This is the most exciting RB battle and the one that’s going to cause me the most flak. Joe Mixon will not come out of preseason as the Bengals top RB. I know everyone in fantasy loves the potential that Mixon brings but as a rookie he is at the bottom of the depth chart. I fully believe that Mixon will take Giovani Bernard’s passing work but I have little faith in Mixon usurping Hill at the top of the Bengals depth chart (fully possible and probable to happen in season though). That being said, Mixon’s the explosiveness (Playerprofiler.com compares him to Zeke with a 91st percentile speed score) could still garner him fantasy value if he does come out of preseason ahead of Bernard.
Fat Rob helped out your fantasy team if you picked him up for cheap in the middle of the season. However, he did slow down as the season ended. Depending on whether Rob Kelly helped you win those mid season games or let you down in the playoffs will determine your thoughts on him now. But, he is currently sitting atop the depth chart. Samaje Perine will look to show off the power he displayed at the combine (30 reps to lead all RBs) to push past Kelley. It’s unlikely the Perine wins the starting job through camp and preseason, but he is another rookie that could supplant the veteran starter midway through the year. As of now, it is sounding like Kelly will begin as the starter, but this battle will definitely be a fun one to watch.
San Francisco 49ers:
It seems asinine to me but the “surprise cut” rumors about Carlos hyde have been intense this off-season. The 49ers backfield is pretty full both of questions and backs. Aside from Hyde being the presumed starter and early down back, the niners drafted 4th rounder Joe Williams amid Kyle Shanahan’s desk pounding, brought in free agent Tim Hightower and received Kapri Bibbs via trade. Not to mention undrafted rookie Matt Breida. I’m picturing that scene from 300 where the guy screams “this is madness” and Kyle shanahan and John Lynch kick in him in the chest yelling “this is San Fran!” Seriously though, someone is going to emerge out of this pack with rb2/flex potential but not much else behind pro football focus’ 26th ranked o-line. Given Shanahan’s history of pass catching 3rd down backs I would look for Hightower to emerge as the best option in ppr leagues.
The Cowboys passing attack was good last year, but not great as Dak Prescott’s rookie campaign ending as a QB1 would imply. Dallas finished 23rd in passing yards and one TD over the 16th ranked team. A large factor is a lack of wr depth. After Dez, the next best option is Cole Beasley. Terrance Williams is next but really the 4th option behind veteran Jason witten. Brice Butler showed some promise last year and rookie Ryan Switzer has been getting a lot of love through the preseason. If someone can make the jump to line up across from Dez, not only will the ‘boys passing game improve there is a potential for a breakout fantasy impact (amplified by Dez’s injury history).
The eagles now have Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor fighting for a slot position with new additions Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith playing on the edges. Agholor is going into his third season, which is when WRs are supposed to break out. But he has a case of the drops and has been just so underwhelming every season since coming into the league. Matthews is moving from the outside #1 WR, where he was underwhelming, to the slot. This move could help Matthews see less skilled defenses and boost his actual and fantasy production. Either way, an efficient slot receiver is huge asset to a young or middling QB (similar to TEs below) and whoever comes out of this on top could see WR3/Flex or better numbers
Green Bay Packers:
Cobb vs. Adams
This isn’t a typical training camp/preseason battle because both players already have pretty defined roles. This is more a litmus test to see who is getting more reps and more balls from Aaron Rodgers. As mentioned with the RB battle in Green Bay everyone on an Aaron Rodgers led offense has fantasy potential. Adams who many people believe to be the less talented WR of the two put up at WR1 showing last year. Cobb who has battled injuries as of late put up a top-6 WR season back in 2014. One of these two has a huge season ahead of them if they can stay on the field.
The Titans spent money and draft picks this season to bolster their receiving core. Early signs point to rookie Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews (the solo returning veteran with any promise) starting the season as the primary two WRs. Eric Decker, although older and coming off a season ending injury, has been a touchdown machine and could earn his way into one of those top two spots. If not, Decker will split the slot with another rookie Taywan Taylor. Taylor is most likely going to be on the outside looking in but has shown flashes worthy of keeping him on the watchlist. This will be an interesting one to watch as apparent news of Demarco Murray and Corey Davis both dealing with some sort of hamstring tweaks.
The Bears are an interesting team with a lot of question marks including whether Howard will return as an RB1. I’m putting the bears TEs here more so than the bears WRs because a bad QB targets his TE more than his WRs. Yes the WR fight is wide open and there are some really interesting plays but the TEs are going to be more integral in the offense. So the camp battle is whether rookie Adam Shaheen can move veteran Zach Miller to back up duties (that’s if Miller’s health doesn’t bench him first). The Bears made some head scratcher draft moves and one of them was trading up to get get Shaheen. If his college dominance (granted it was at the D2 level) is an indicator of NFL production he could become a favorite target of whoever becomes the bears QB.
Wow Baltimore has been plagued with injuries this offseason. Flacco is down which hurts all the pass catchers but the TE position is even more turbulence with the departure of long time staple Dennis Pitta. Ben Watson is the favorite going into camp Crocket Gilmore just went down with an injury and Maxx Williams is fighting to get first team reps. If Flacco stays injured, the TE safety valve logic can be intensified in Baltimore as well. Not to mention, Larry Donnell just showed up on the injury report as well. Whoever gets the first team nod will get a lot of PPR targets (Pitta was the 3rd most targeted TE in 2016) and possibly some high value red zone targets.
So these are just some of the more fantasy relevant preseason battles I’m watching. Let me know which preseason battles you’re watching on Twitter!