Fantasy football necessarily involves our ability to be zen masters and hold contradictions in our heads. "Stick to your guns" competes with "Admit when you were wrong" during camp and the preseason. We've spent months visualizing depth charts, roles, projections, and seasons for these players. Then camps open, preseason football starts, and we have to be able to tell the new reality from the sand castle that will disappear by the morning. Here's a quick snapshot of some players I have moved up or down in my rankings over the last few weeks.
Drew Brees, NO - Rookie Michael Thomas has been better than anyone could have imagined and third-year UDFA Willie Snead has also impressed this summer, setting Brees up with one of his best sets of weapons in his career when you add in Coby Fleener, Brandin Cooks, and (for now) a healthy C.J. Spiller.
Terrance West, BAL - West has been turning heads since the preseason opened and he could push his way into part of the Ravens backfield on early downs.
Devontae Booker, DEN - Booker needs to work on his pass protection, but he is poised to win the backup running back job, which means he would be a C.J. Anderson injury away from being a fantasy starter. Even if Anderson stays healthy, Booker could get a lot of work on a run-first team.
Josh Ferguson, IND - There’s no guarantee that he would even be as good as Boom Herron if he got the shot, but Ferguson has played his way into the backup RB job and should hold it going into the season.
Spencer Ware, KC - Ware would share with Charcandrick West if Jamaal Charles misses time during the season, but he appears to have pulled away from a timeshare and given the Chiefs more a primary backup than a committee behind their starter.
Bilal Powell, NYJ - Powell is in line to get a similar role to Matt Forte, just as he got similar money this offseason. Forte has missed weeks with a hamstring, and while he’s back that is something we never want to see in a back who is turning 31 this year.
Darren Sproles, PHI - Sproles got an extension into 2017, showing that he is in favor with the new coaching regime. He is also a terrific fit in the short passing game and Sproles has already shown that he can be an effective red zone back.
Melvin Gordon, SD - Gordon’s long catch and run touchdown was still just the result of a defensive breakdown, but confidence can be a tricky thing, and that play should give his a boost.
Christine Michael, SEA - Michael has had an “awakening” according to most reports out of Seattle, and he is slated to be the #2 to Thomas Rawls, who could be eased in coming off of serious ankle injury. Michael has the raw talent to force his way into more touches with this opportunity, and he’s definitely the handcuff to Rawls, which was not a given this offseason.
C.J. Spiller, NO - Fantasy gods help me: I've been spending late round picks on Spiller. He's healthy (for now) and you can't get over that talent once you've seen it. It might be gone forever, but if it's back in that situation, Spiller will be a PPR fantasy points generator.
Mike Wallace, BAL - Wallace failed a conditioning test to open camp, but since then has taken advantage of extra time in practice with Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman to build deep and red zone timing with Joe Flacco. He’s worth a late-round pick to see what happens.
Sammy Watkins, BUF - After lots of uncertainty regarding his foot this offseason, Watkins was cleared for camp and has resumed looking like one of the best wide receivers in the NFL without incident.
Terrelle Pryor, CLE - Pryor is having a great camp and could open the season as the Browns #1 receiver. His size, speed, and ball skills make him an instant big play threat.
Anquan Boldin, DET - Boldin has inherited a #3 wide receiver role on a team that should pass a lot. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, should come to depend on him in the slot. Boldin could wring out one more fantasy relevant season in this situation.
Will Fuller, HOU - Fuller has taken over the #2 job and should have a deep threat boom/bust weekly scoring profile that merits some attention in best ball leagues and DFS, if not in redraft, too.
Stefon Diggs, MIN - Diggs has had a great summer and has stood out as the #1 receiver for the Vikings heading into the season.
Malcolm Mitchell, NE - Mitchell was generating momentum towards a starting job, then he suffered a grisly looking dislocated elbow. He returned to practice within days and picked up where he left off. He should be the #1 “X” receiver for New England.
Sammie Coates, PIT - Coates had a terrific offseason and open to training camp. He did fumble twice in the preseason opener, but Ladarius Green’s headaches should give Coates an even bigger opportunity in a potent pass offense. Coates will get every chance to fail before Darrius Heyward-Bey gets a shot, and if Coates stumbles early, you'll be the first one to pounce on Heyward-Bey.
Tyrell Williams, SD - Steve Johnson’s injury has opened the door to more playing time for Williams, who has to compete with Dontrelle Inman and new addition James Jones (who reportedly had trouble separating off of the line) for playing time. Williams has been riffing well with Philip Rivers and displaying his prodigious physical tools in camp.
Tyler Lockett, SEA - Beyond the Matt Harmon bump, Lockett has shown that he is capable of making another leap from year one to year two in an offense that will aim to be run-heavy but could end up following the more pass-centric trend of the second half of 2015.
Bruce Ellington, SF - Ellington has emerged as one of the top three options in a passing offense that will likely focus on short passing. He could rack up touches in an offense that will be playing from behind a lot.
Tajae Sharpe, TEN - The rookie came out of the spring as a starter over Dorial Green-Beckham. While this was seen as a motivation ploy for Green-Beckham, he never got the memo, and Sharpe should enter the season as a starter.
Tyler Higbee, LA - It is probably asking a lot for Higbee to have redraft value this year, but he has come out of the gate strong and evoked images of Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce on a team without an anchor in the passing game.
Cameron Brate, TB - Brate has overtaken Austin Seferian-Jenkins as #1 on the depth chart. He could be a favorite red zone target of Jameis Winston, especially if Seferian-Jenkins doesn’t make the final roster.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - New head coach Adam Gase has gotten the best out of Peyton Manning and very steady play from Jay Cutler, but Tannehill doesn’t seem to have taken to the new offense designed by Clyde Christensen. He’s becoming a less essential late quarterback to target.
Matt Forte, NYJ - Forte missed multiple weeks with a hamstring injury he suffered before training camp, and he was already overrated as more of a 50-50 RBBC back than a workhorse - just as he was last year in Chicago.
Dion Lewis, NE - This could all just be a bad dream and Lewis suits up and takes half of the running back snaps in Week 1, but it could also be a sign that he had a setback or will miss time - even stay on the PUP - to open the season. It is impossible to ignore, but also important to not overreact if he falls too far in your draft.
John Brown, ARI - A concussion has had him out for over two weeks. Another one during the regular season could lead to an even longer absence.
Breshad Perriman, BAL - Another year, another knee injury that finds Perriman behind schedule in his return.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR - The news that Benjamin needs to get in game shape just to finish deep routes without getting winded and play 30-35 plays by the end of preseason is dismaying because he had conditioning problems in the past. Devin Funchess is coming on, and this pair could be much closer than their 100-pick ADP gap suggests.
Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, DEN - The quarterback situation in Denver is getting less clear, and that’s not a great sign for the team’s receivers. The passing volume should drop precipitously from last year’s 37.9 attempts a game.
Jordy Nelson, GB - Nelson was activated from the PUP after experiencing tendonitis in his “good” knee, but it is still ominous as he is coming back from an ACL tear. He's still not back to the top of his tier.
DeVante Parker, MIA - Parker hasn’t had a bad camp, but the Miami offense has been having trouble coming together, and Adam Gase spoke about favoring the short pass offense to save Ryan Tannehill from more punishment. That kind of passing game won’t maximize Parker’s role as a downfield target.
Nelson Agholor, PHI - The Chip Kelly selection hasn’t been generating any buzz in Eagles camp even though he is basically a starter by default in a weak group of receivers. A group that just added another disappointing 2015 draft pick in Dorial Green-Beckham. The arrows aren’t pointing in the right direction.
Dorial Green-Beckham, PHI - The Titans officially washed their hands of Green-Beckham, who actually is in a better situation because of the lack of proven outside wide receiver options on the Eagles. He still has to build himself from the ground up on his new team. It’s never good for a second-round pick to lose his team’s trust before the beginning of his second year, but at least he is wanted now.
Josh Doctson, WAS - Doctson’s achilles issue hasn’t cleared up yet, which will limit his early season impact and could make it hard for him to break into the starting lineup this year.
Jordan Cameron, MIA - Cameron had a big opportunity in Adam Gase’s offense, especially in light of what Julius Thomas did in Denver, but he has failed to expand his role or build momentum in training camp. His dropoff since coming to Miami has been stunning.
Ladarius Green, PIT - Green’s lingering headaches are threatening his 2016, if not his career. The Steelers seem to be moving on, making Green an afterthought in fantasy drafts unless this situation turns itself around.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB - Seferian-Jenkins was booted from a practice this spring and while he is saying the right things and getting back into a position battle with Cameron Brate, he’ll share time in any event, that is if he makes the final roster. He could be traded a la Dorial Green-Beckham