There are many fantasy questions that we are seeking clarity on as training camp sets to begin; in this article, it's time to tackle the most pressing fantasy question for every team in the AFC. You can check out my NFC write-up HERE:
Can Kenneth Dixon finally emerge?
As things stand now, Alex Collins is set to be the team's feature back with Buck Allen as the passing down, change of pace back. That can all be turned on its head depending on how well Dixon looks this preseason. He's the X-factor.
Standing 5'10", 215 pounds, Dixon was my number three rated running back coming out of college in 2016 ahead of guys like Kenyan Drake, Jordan Howard and … Alex Collins. He's a superior athlete to Collins, and despite the perceived size difference between the two, they are essentially the exact same size and weight.
In college Dixon had 87 all-purpose touchdowns, which ranks second all-time in college football history, with a rock solid 5.59 career yards per carry average and on tape athleticism. All of that, of course, means nothing now in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.
In his 2016 rookie season, Dixon battled through injuries, but in just 12 games, he rushed 88 times for 382 yards and two touchdowns, at a 4.3 yards per carry clip. He added to that, 30 receptions for another score. That's not bad for an injured and time-share rookie who missed most of training camp.
Dixon was primed to emerge in 2017 and spent most of the off-season training with Danny Woodhead, working out at 6:30 a.m. every day and then reviewing plays and tape in the afternoon. Unfortunately, his season was derailed by a PED suspension and then a torn meniscus, causing him to miss the whole year.
Fully healthy, and with an upgraded (and healthy) offensive line, it is likely that Dixon will push Allen back to the bench and even possibly turn this backfield into a full-blown committee. Alex Collins looked great last year, but Dixon is lurking in the background. We should get a clear picture of where this backfield stands by mid-August. Right now, I'm still aboard the Collins train but taking a late stab at Dixon as well.
Two more things to watch for:
Receiver John Brown is a special player who has been unable to stay healthy due to his battle with sickle cell. Dry and extreme heat is supposedly awful for people suffering from the diseases, which makes a move from Arizona to Baltimore a good one for Smokey. He's a great late round grab and has been lightening it up in camp so far.
Finally, while Joe Flacco will most likely remain the Ravens starting quarterback this season and supposedly looks great, if rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson performs well during camp, it would not be a shock to see Flacco traded if a team loses its starter like we saw last year in Miami. The future of this team lies with Jackson, and Robert Griffin III III is the perfect backup. Give the running backs a good fantasy boost if this ends up happening.
Is this offense going to have any reliable fantasy relevance?
This is an offense with a ton of question marks and no sure things. With LeSean McCoy looking like he may find himself on the Commissioner's Exempt List for the season, who will step up in his place? Chris Ivory is currently the next man in line, but perhaps they trade for a player like Ameer Abdullah or Jalen Richard. There will be some value in whoever assumes the role of lead back, but keep in mind, this team has a bottom of the barrel offensive line.
In any event, all eyes will be on rookie first-round quarterback Josh Allen. He looks like Carson Wentz, but his play in college was atrocious. He completed just 56% of his passes with a 7.8 yards per attempt average for only 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He's inaccurate and makes bad decisions consistently. Can he surprise and show that it was his college supporting casts fault? It's doubtful, and his supporting cast on the Bills is one of the worst in the league. Without McCoy and behind this offensive line, things will likely be ugly in Buffalo.
Can the team's two top draft picks from 2017 live up to the hype?
Receiver John Ross has dealt with a slew of injuries since college. He had a meniscus injury to both knees, a torn ACL, microfracture surgery and even surgery to repair a torn labrum after the Combine last year, never getting healthy during the season. Yet, despite all of those injuries, he still set an NFL Combine record by running a 4.22 forty and put up a monster 11'1" broad jump.
But don't just dismiss Ross as some mere deep threat, while he may seem to be built more in the DeSean Jackson mold, at his best, he could possibly be as dynamic a player as T.Y. Hilton. He just has to stay healthy and prove that he was worth the 9th overall pick in last year's draft.
The Bengal's second-round pick from last year was running back Joe Mixon who stands 6'1", 228 pounds with 4.45 jets. I viewed him as the second-best running back in last year's dynamic class behind only Leonard Fournette. Over the past three seasons of college draft prospects, he holds the top spot in Graham Barfield's yards-created metric. Unfortunately, in his rookie season, Mixon mostly disappointed as he was stymied by splitting reps with Jeremy Hill, dealing with inept coaching and running behind one of the leagues worst offensive lines. Despite all of that, Mixon finished the season tied for the 10th best Pro Football Focus (PFF) running grade (82) on the season. Additionally, this year the Bengals have dumped Hill, have committed to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (a Chip Kelly disciple), upgraded their line significantly and Mixon has shed ten pounds, coming into camp at 218 pounds. There is a lot of upside with Mixon.
Lastly, Tyler Eifert is coming off yet another surgery, although he stated that he should be ready for camp. Possibly the leagues slowest healer, he is a dominant red-zone threat when healthy. Will he ever be healthy?
Who will be the Browns lead running back?
After signing an extension this off-season, Duke Johnson Jr is set to resume his role as the team’s primary passing-down back, so the battle for early down duties will be waged between Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb.
Many like to dismiss Hyde, but he’s a quality running back and a capable receiver. Working behind a horrendous offensive line last season on the 49ers, Hyde ran for 938 yards and 8 touchdowns, adding 59 catches for an average of around 15 fantasy points per game. He averaged 2.8 yards after contact, which was above the league average of 2.5, and since entering the league in 2014, he ranks 8th of 41 running backs (minimum 350 carries) in yards after contact. Almost more importantly, he finally stayed healthy for all 16 games last season and this year he gets to run behind one of the leagues best offensive lines.
Meanwhile, rookie Nick Chubb is Matt Waldman’s top running back in this year’s class in terms of pure running ability, which is very notable. He stands 5’10", 227 pounds (Hyde is 6’0”, 230 pounds) with solid 4.52 forty speed. Chubb is a no-nonsense runner with good quick area burst and an ability to get tough yards. Now fully healed from a knee injury that he sustained his junior year of college, he will push for playing time right out of the gate. Unfortunately, he was essentially a zero in the passing game in college so his path to significant snaps may be limited this season unless he can prove he can outperform Hyde, who offers some duel threat versatility. Does Chubb need volume to be successful? His early fantasy prospects depend on it. Long term though, Hyde is an eventual goner.
One more thing to watch for is the play of rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway. He stands 5’11”, 200 pounds and ran a 4.41 forty. Callaway would have been considered one of the top 3 or 4 receivers in this year’s class if it weren't for his off-field transgressions. He was charged with sexual assault (which he was eventually cleared of), a misdemeanor marijuana citation, involvement in a credit-card scam that resulted in a season-long suspension, and was caught smoking marijuana just prior to the 2018 NFL Combine. In terms of talent, think this year’s Tyreek Hill, who had similar issues coming out of college. If Callaway stays out of trouble, he’s pushing Corey Coleman to the bench or trade block.
Who will lead this team in carries?
Despite spending a third-round pick on Freeman, the team has seemed to indicate that Booker will head into camp as the team's primary starter. As a runner, Booker has shown very little, averaging just 3.8 yards a carry last season. However, he could carve out a very viable fantasy role as the team's primary receiving back, gaining positive grades in both pass protection and pass catching from PFF. In PPR leagues, he seems like a decent flex play with upside for more.
Freeman was drafted in the third round and is a capable back, but not a great back. He stands 5'11", 229 pounds with 4.54 forty speed, so he looks the part. He was productive in college running for 5,621 yards with 60 touchdowns, adding 79/814/3 as a receiver. However his vision is not great, he's still raw as a pass protector, and he just doesn't really pop on tape. He's a fine back and he's big. If Booker struggles as a runner, Freeman could easily get the bulk of early down and at the goal-line work, while ceding most passing down work to Booker.
Henderson, on the other hand, popped as a runner in preseason last year and is the most intriguing option of the three. Unfortunately when you are a 6th round pick, you are really going to have to earn your carries and an oblique injury has kept him out of all preseason activities. Can he make up ground?
On the receiving end, pay attention to tight end Jake Butt. He stands 6'5", 248 pounds and fell in the draft last year after tearing his ACL at the end of the season. After a redshirt year, he is fully healed and was moving well in OTAs. He has strong hands, runs good routes and makes tough catches. In his final two seasons as a starter for Michigan, he was a first-team All-American twice, catching 97 passes in 2015 and 2016.
One last thing to watch for is the ascent of rookie wide receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Both are great players and they performed well in OTAs. That said, neither is going to supplant Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in the starting lineup this season, but as their near clones, they should both ascended to lead roles next year. Sutton should at least be on the field in all three-wide sets.
How healthy is Deshaun Watson?
Things are relatively settled in this offense. Lamar Miller should be the teams lead back to start the season, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V will be starting outside and rookie Keke Coutee should play in all three-wide sets over Bruce Ellington and, the soon to be cut, Braxton Miller. Coutee is an intriguing player to monitor, although he will probably not be a reliable fantasy asset unless Fuller or Hopkins gets hurt.
The main thing to watch here is Watson's health, as he tore his ACL last season. Reports have been positive on his recovery so far, and he has been spotted without a knee brace, so he appears to be on track to be ready for training camp.
What's troubling is that early drafters are taking Watson as if he will pick up right where he left off last season, playing at a historic level, averaging 24 fantasy points per game with a league-leading 8.3 yards per attempt, 13.5 yards per completion and 9.3% pass to touchdown rate. Sorry to break it to you, but like Matt Ryan last year, Watson is going to see a regression to the mean, what exactly that mean is though, we don't know yet.
Regardless, one thing that is certain to hold him back is the leagues worst offensive line, and it's not even close. Three of the Texans starting linemen have PFF grades in the 40's, one in the 60's and they will be starting a rookie at right tackle. They are last in almost (if not all) offensive lines rankings being put out right now. Playing behind this line could be downright dangerous for Watson even if he is at full health, let alone hobbled.
How injured is Andrew Luck's shoulder?
All eyes are on Andrew Luck's shoulder. He missed all of last season but appears to be making progress and even holding an off-season training session with his receivers at Stanford University this week. This is a positive sign, and when healthy he is a top-five option.
At least Luck is coming back to better looking offensive line. His blindside will be protected by left tackle Anthony Castonzo (82 PPF grade), while the addition of free agents Matt Slauson and Auston Howard should help solidify the right side of the line.
As for the rest of the offense, running back is a mixed bag. Marlon Mack is a tantalizing talent, but he's Mr. Bounce Outside, always looking for the big run, which just isn't going to cut it especially since he can't pass protect. The real battle for starting duties will be waged between rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.
Hines is 5'8", 198 pounds with 4.38 forty speed and can be a great fantasy asset even if he is a part-time player. Make no mistake about it though, he's a very good running back and posted 197/1,113/12 rushing (5.6 yards per carry) on the ground his final year of college to go with 89/933/1 receiving throughout his career. He could easily be Chris Thompson or perhaps even Brian Westbrook.
Wilkins, on the other hand, is a 24-year-old rookie who profiles more as a grinder, standing 6'1", 216 pounds with around 4.55 forty speed. If the team is looking for a bigger back, he certainly fits the mold, but he didn't necessarily always play to his size in college.
As for the receivers, T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle should make for reliable targets. They really need Eric Ebron to be the player he was drafted to be by the Lions and for another receiver to step up. Keep an eye out for rookie receiver Deon Cain who stands 6'2", 202 pounds with 4.43 forty speed. He can get down field, plays with physicality and reminds me a bit of Roddy White. Chester Rogers has also been making some noise this off-season.
Which of the Jaguars receivers will lead the way?
Before diving into the wide receivers, it's worth monitoring the play of Blake Bortles throughout the preseason. He was able to help the Jaguars reach the AFC title game last year, but he was a complementary piece in this offense and not the one driving it forward. If he stumbles out of the gate (again), the Jaguars could be making a play for Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco or even Tyrod Taylor.
According to beat writers, Moncrief and Lee seem to be the Jaguars' top two projected receivers on the outside, while Cole appears to be the best fit for the slot. Westbrook, Chark, and Greene all offer the versatility to play inside and outside, a trait that wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell covets.
Due to Bortle's limitations, Jacksonville went three wide on just 46% of their plays, which was near the bottom of the league. That's unfortunate for Cole and for intriguing second-year player Westbrook, who was the 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner and a Heisman Trophy candidate. He missed most of last season but flashed at times. If Moncrief disappoints, Westbrook's role could easily expand.
Also, keep in mind that the Jaguars added tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins who seems motivated and who clicked well with Bortles in OTAs. Moncrief and Sefarian-Jenkins provide Bortles with a pair of great red-zone targets.
Kansas City Chiefs
Will Patrick Mahomes be the quarterback he is being drafted in fantasy leagues to be?
This offense is loaded with Travis Kelce at tight end, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins at receiver and Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware at running back. How dominant this group will be though all depends on redshirt rookie quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes has excellent athleticism, a huge arm, outstanding accuracy, and patience. He looked up to the task last preseason, and in his only start in 2017 against the Broncos in week 17, Mahomes put up 285 yards with a 62% completion rate. He also ran 7 times. Not a whole lot to learn from that game beyond sound composure, some good decision-making, and solid mechanics. With Andy Reid guiding his development, many are hoping we see DeShaun Watson 2.0. It's optimistic, but not out of the question.
It's also worth watching how good Spencer Ware looks in camp, as he is coming off of a torn ACL. Ware averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry in 2016, although before his Week 8 concussion, he averaged 5 yards per carry and 18.4 yards per catch, after the concussion, this fell to 3.7 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per catch. He's a true three-down back and even finished second in the league in forced missed tackles on his 33 receptions two seasons ago, and fifth in the league in percent of runs with positive yards after contact. 4-for-4's Joe Holka also stated in his Rushing Expectation series that after charting 60 running backs, he has seen very few running backs come close to the dominance that Ware has shown in his methodology. He stated that among his 60 player sample, Ware finished in the 94th percentile in terms of Expectation Score on the ground and 99th percentile through the air.
While Hunt is the team's unquestioned starter, Ware could steal some work, especially in the passing game.
Los Angeles Chargers
Can this team stay healthy?
This team is locked and loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball, but every season they are hit by the injury bug. Already they have lost stud tight end Hunter Henry for season. While they have enough time to plan for his absence (perhaps signing a guy like Browns tight end Seth DeValve), they cannot afford to lose anyone else.
Per ESPN/PFF roster rankings, the Chargers come in 6th overall, with their only slight weakness at inside linebacker. The Chargers even upgraded their offensive line by adding Pro-Bowl Center Mike Pouncey in addition to getting 2017 second round rookie guard Forrest Lamp back from injury after he missed all of last season.
Beyond that, things are pretty much set for fantasy. Keenan Allen is the alpha male at receiver, the Williams sisters (Tyrell and Mike) will rotate on the outside in 2-wide sets and both be in on all 3-wide sets, and Philip Rivers will take some splash shots to deep threat Travis Benjamin.
In case of injury, Ekeler will probably keep his change of pace role, while the 6'0", 199-pound Jackson has a chance to lead the way. He rushed for 5,440 yards and 41 touchdowns in college while adding 122 receptions. He had a 76th-percentile SPARQ (athletic) score and ran a 4.5 forty. For those playing the handcuff game, Jackson would be my target.
Drake appears to be the team's lead back with Gore spelling him and perhaps handling a good amount of red-zone work. After Jay Ajayi was jettisoned last season, Drake averaged 15.35 fantasy points per game, which would have been good for 10th best on the year. As Scott Barrett of PFF pointed out, over the past two seasons, Drake has averaged 5 yards per carry, which is the best in the league for all backs getting a minimum of 150 carries over this span. Barett also noted that Drake averaged a monstrous 4.29 yards after contact per attempt, which is by far better than any back in the past 10 years (Adrian Peterson came in second averaging 3.93 in 2012). Drake obtained a rock solid 82 running grade and 72 pass-blocking grade on the year from PFF. In 53 attempts, he only allowed 1 quarterback pressure. The guy can play.
Enter old man Gore. While the juice may be gone, that has never really been his game. He averaged less than 4 yards per carry with the Colts last year, but they had a horrible offensive line and no Andrew Luck. Despite this, Gore scored a solid 80 run grade by PFF. How much Gore has left in the tank will be interesting to see, one could assume quite a bit, as his tape from last year looked more than fine to me. While Drake will likely end up seeing more carries, Gore could vulture more than a few touchdowns.
It's also worth noting that the Dolphins drafted rookie running back Kalen Ballage, While he certainly looks the part at 6'1", 228 pounds with 4.46 forty speed, he's never truly lived up to his potential in college. He is a reliable pass catcher though and a decent all-around back, but he may be more of a special teams player to start the year unless he can make Gore irrelevant, which won't be easy to do.
Also, keep an eye on newly acquired wide receiver Danny Amendola who takes over slot duties for the departed Jarvis Landy. While he always struggles with health, there is major PPR value in this role. Over the last four seasons Landry caught 84, 111, 94 and 112 passes from the slot for the Dolphins and HC Adam Gase has already indicated that the role is Amendola's. As our own Sig Bloom also pointed out, last season Kenny Stills caught 6 touchdowns , all six were out of the slot. It's the featured receiving role in this offense, and when bodies start flying, this is the area of the field that Ryan Tannehill will target.
Albert Wilson is another new addition, but HC Gase has indicated he will not play in the slot. Pro Football Focus noted Wilson led the league in wide receiver rating (the passer rating when targeted) on targets at or behind the line of scrimmage last season. At 133.3, he was far ahead of Jarvis Landry, who was No. 2 at 107.4. He will likely be used as a movable chess piece, but will be tough to rely on every week unless there are injuries in front of him.
New England Patriots
Who is the team's starting outside receiver?
Like the Chargers, the Patriots offense is pretty well settled. Rookie Sonny Michel should slide right into the role abandoned by Dion Lewis and form a relatively well-defined committee with Rex Burkhead and James White. The key to Michel's value depends on him not fumbling, an area he struggled with in college.
The outside receiving role opposite starter Chris Hogan is up for grabs. Jordan Matthews is best suited for the slot and should occupy that role while Julian Edelman serves his four-game suspension. After that, he's probably going to hold little value as a rotational player and insurance policy in case Edelman gets hurt again.
Despite being drafted in the first round by the Colts, Phillip Dorsett has yet to emerge as anything more than a deep threat. Some beat writers have him on the roster bubble, while others seem to think his rapport with Tom Brady has begun to emerge.
The Patriots would love for Mitchell to win the role, but he has to get healthy and seems to be still dealing with a curious knee injury that has lingered for two years now. At the moment he is unsure if he'll be ready for training camp. I loved Mitchell coming out of college, as did noted analysts Matt Harmon and Greg Cosell, and he seemed to click with Brady during the limited action he saw his rookie season. I'm hoping for the best, but he's tough to draft until he proves he can stay on the field.
That leaves us with the mercurial Britt. When properly motivated he can be a dominant force on the field, but at this point, he's also just as likely to get cut.
The Patriots could very well add another receiver during the preseason, especially if Mitchell can't get healthy. They have been very active in trading the past two seasons and we could see someone like Corey Coleman or even Dez Bryant land up here very soon.
New York Jets
The Jets are one big question mark.
At quarterback, it's just a matter of time before rookie first-round draft pick Sam Darnold takes over the reigns. Exactly how soon? Well, that is the big question. Darnold is very young, turning 21 just this year, but so far he has looked good during off-season activities. Meanwhile, Josh McCown is a capable placeholder and a great mentor, while Teddy Bridgewater has looked like the best passer in OTA's, but his health is still questionable. Bridgewater could be dealt sometime before the season to a team like the Jaguars or Dolphins, although if he truly pops, perhaps he stays on and they show McCown the door. It's very possible the cheap contract they gave Bridgewater was a sign and trade scheme from the get-go.
At running back, Isaiah Crowell is a near lock to handle early-down duties. Along with the whole Browns offense, he had a brutal 2017 campaign. In 2016 however, Crowell was fourth in the league in breakaway runs (runs over 15 yards) and ranked fourth and tenth in breakaway percentage in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In 2016, Crowell also created more yards after contact than all but one running back. Hopefully, he can return to form, although keep in mind, the Jets have a poor offensive line.
The real intriguing battle will be between Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell for the Duke Johnson Jr, third-down and passing-down role. Powell (now 30 years old) averaged 4.34 yards per carry last season and has always performed well when given a chance; unfortunately, he has never been given a proper chance.
McGuire showed some promise last season, and reports from OTAs have been favorable. He will start camp behind Powell, but there is an outside chance he makes Powell expendable, especially if they want to keep Thomas Rawls as an insurance policy behind Crowell. Otherwise, look for Rawls to be cut and this to be a three-headed monster of a mess.
The receiving core is even more up for grabs; it's a six-way battle between Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor, ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. This is a group that comes in all shapes and sizes and is very athletic if nothing else.
As long as he isn't in trouble with the law or the league, Anderson should start outside where he abused defenses with his lanky 6'2" frame and 4.36 forty speed. Enunwa looks the part standing 6'2", 225 pounds with 4.4 forty jets. He is capable of playing both outside and then kicking into the slot in all three-wide sets, which the Jets did on a substantial 63% of their plays last year. It should be noted that he is coming off of an injury, which is something to monitor. The slot role looks to be his at the very least.
The real battle will be between Pryor (6'4", 228 pounds 4.38 forty speed) and Kearse (6'1", 210 pounds 4.43 forty speed) for the X receiver role. Kearse played well after coming over from Seattle just a few days before the start of the season. He's really just a guy, but he's a capable and reliable guy who has been called the leader of the group.
Pryor, on the other hand, significantly disappointed last season but was supposedly dealing with injuries all season long. He was placed on injured reserve just before Thanksgiving after opting to have surgery on his ankle, an injury he had been dealing with since Week 2. He has a tremendous work ethic to go along with his insane athletic ability. Pryor has the highest ceiling of the bunch but with the lowest floor. It would be great to see him succeed.
What's certain is that all four of those guys will make the team with second-year players Stewart and Hansen buried behind them. Hansen has shown well in OTA's and looks destined to be on the Patriots at some point in his career. In the meantime, he will probably back up Enunwa in the slot. Stewart's talent is tantalizing, but he has to prove it on the field. We've seen many players like him come and go and he will probably settle into a special teams player this season without a few injuries in front of him.
Can Martavis Bryant fulfill his potential (and stay on the field)?
Before getting to Bryant, so long as Marshawn Lynch is healthy, he is the teams starting running back with Doug Martin backing him up. When you hear reports of Martin looking great in camp, just remember he always looks great in camp. Keep an eye on DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, one of them could easily be traded and find themselves in a useful fantasy position. Both have starter talent.
As for Martavis Bryant, it's all about availability. The 6'4", 211-pound receiver, with 4.42 jets, has tantalizing talent and had three productive seasons with the Steelers when he was actually on the field, catching 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging 15.2 yards per catch.
Unfortunately, he missed all of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and another violation would mean he misses all of this season. Reports have been swirling, and the team reportedly is awaiting a ruling by the NFL about his status. Michael Gehlken, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is as dialed in as any beat writer around the league and he has been sounding the alarm bells. Keep in mind, it is not only a failed test that can lead to a further violation but also any failure to adhere to the program that the league had set up for him, such as meeting with a clinician. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who played most of last season with an injured back, has been raving about Bryant and Jon Gruden's plans to take full advantage of his talents. If he does play this year, he will end up being a steal at his current ADP in the 11th round.
The Raiders other new addition, Jordy Nelson, supposedly looks good too, albeit now out of the slot as a sure-handed Anquan Boldin type. Nelson could very well catch 100 passes, although for perhaps only 850 yards.
The Steelers are another team with very few question marks beyond the date Le'Veon Bell will report to camp, which doesn't look like it will be any time soon. One theory is that they want to use him up and spit him out. It's a cold world take, but it's easy to get the sense the Steelers are content putting as much mileage as possible on Bell and then just drafting his replacement next season. If James Conner struggles in pre-season, look for this team to add a back like Jalen Richard or Ameer Abdullah.
Another thing to watch closely for at camp is the development of rookie wide receiver James Washington. He stands 5'11", 213 pounds with 4.54 forty speed. In college, he was a big-play specialist putting up 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns this past season, including a massive 20.6 yards per catch rate. He tracks the deep balls very well and has the athleticism and physicality to make tough catches. He also has a second gear once he gets going and was this year's Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the best college wide receiver. He's drawn comparisons to guys like Marvin Jones Jr and Pierre Garcon and appears to be the Steelers latest great wide receiver find.
Exotic smash mouth is a thing of the past, and the Titans have finally entered the modern era of the NFL. New Titans offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, worked under Kyle Shanahan on the Falcons from 2015-2016 and then under Sean McVay for the Rams last season. Those are some great mentors. The Titans offense should be up-tempo, with a lot of RPO (Run-Pass-Option) plays and will have Mariota playing out of the shotgun. This offense should be flying.
Despite claims that Derrick Henry will be the team's lead runner, it doesn't seem like this offense is set up for his style of play. Providing Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman type versatility, Dion Lewis' skill set seems a much better fit for this offense than Henry's, who needs volume to be effective. Look for Lewis to lead the way through three quarters, with Henry acting as a 4th quarter hammer to close out games when defenses are tired.
More intriguing to watch will be the development of the team's two, second-year wide receivers. It's best to view last seasons Mularkey-led offense as a redshirt year, which means hope abounds for both Davis and Taylor to breakout this year.
Davis stands 6'3", 209 pounds with 4.48 forty speed. He is a great athlete; a precise route runner and it would not be crazy to think he has A.J. Green upside. He dealt with a hamstring injury for most of last preseason, which seemed to never heal during the regular season. As the 5th overall pick in the draft last year, TitansOnline.com's Jim Wyatt reports Corey Davis was "one of the stars" of Titans spring practices. It is all systems go for Davis and a major breakout could be coming.
Taylor, on the other hand, stands 5'11", 203 pounds with 4.50 forty speed and he reminds me a bit of Emmanuel Sanders. He caught 253 passes for 4,234 yards and 41 touchdowns throughout his college career, and as a senior, he caught 98 passes for 1,730 yards and 17 touchdowns alone. That's production. Taylor should take on the Cooper Kupp role in this offense, albeit, with much more athleticism. As for playing time, LaFleur's last team, the Rams, went three-wide on a league leading 81% of their plays last season; Taylor can expect to see the field a lot this season.
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