Late July and August are all about training camp and the NFL preseason. These are the first data points for incoming rookies to carve early career roles on their respective teams. For dynasty leagues, how are we to handle rising values from camp buzz, big preseason performances, and reporter buzz compared to the valuations during the NFL Draft process and earlier in the offseason?
I tend to evaluate each player on a case by case basis. Ameer Abdullah is an example of a player we should have sold while the rookie hype was there. I think we have to be careful not to do that with every player. For example, if you had sold Stefon Diggs in his rookie year, it’s unlikely you got what he is worth today. You probably cashed out for a mid-to-late first or early second round rookie pick. While you certainly profited, you would rather have Diggs today.
That being said, Anthony Miller and Nyheim Hines feel like players who are being vastly overrated and are clear sell-high candidates by my evaluation. For Miller, I admit that there is potential to be a better-than-average number two option in a Bears offense that is primed for rebound, but I don’t see it happening immediately and his current dynasty price suggests he will be the lead option in that passing game. If you can cash in for the equivalent of a mid-first this year or next year, I’m doing that deal all day. For Hines, the hype is just ridiculously out of control. We shouldn’t be paying a first-round rookie pick for this guy under any circumstance, yet I’m seeing it happen in several of my leagues. He’s a satellite back who fumbles much more than I would like. His size and skills are such that he will have limited deployment, much like Austin Eckler or Tarik Cohen. He’ll never be a primary option, so paying the premium that you might pay for a back like that for Hines is a losing proposition. If you are on the selling end, I would definitely look for any first rounder and perhaps even an early second if you can’t find anyone to bite on that.
As a dynasty owner, much like the stock market, it's time to evaluate your fellow owners needs, rosters, and draft picks. Think about moving up into the draft, acquiring additional picks, or trading picks away to capitalize on the hype and other owners desire to move up for one of those "wave crashers".
As far as revisiting or making wholesale changes to your player rankings and evaluations done before/after the NFL Draft, it's important to trust your gut on the player first (before the draft). We all make adjustments to account for landing spots and the opportunities that can change a player's early outlook for playing time. One shouldn't overlook either of those components. Treat them like an anchor as if you’re negotiating for a trade. However, be willing to trust what your eyes are telling you, how they're being used by their teams/coaches and how that dynamic is unfolding in the preseason as far as playing time, projected role and if the team's pace, scheme or game scripts could be different than anticipated earlier in the off-season.
For some players, the writing is all over the wall and it's so pronounced that it cannot be overlooked - like Russell Wilson or Anquan Boldin. Neither were sure things. In fact, drafting them in the first round or early second would've been considered a reach, but the payoff in hindsight was obviously ridiculous. For every player that does fulfill the hype there are others who bust for many reasons. I'm one who believes in taking risks, trusting your evaluations and be prepared to eat your mistakes because you'll get enough right that it will balance out in the end.
Let's review some players that we should take a closer look at under this lens.
Nyheim Hines - as a converted receiver with exceptional speed, he's someone that flashed early on in the post-draft process as reports flowed out of OTAs of the coaches using him all over the field. The Frank Reich angle here makes him even more intriguing as does the expected return of Andrew Luck. I have taken the bait on Hines in many best ball leagues, even pairing him with Jordan Wilkins in later rounds. One thing that I noticed about Hines that could be a fluke, but does bug me a little, is his lack of touchdowns as a receiver in college. He's a playmaker, no doubt, but that could simply be a marker for positive regression or a sign that he may be more sizzle than steak.
Jordan Wilkins - the cheaper option for the Colts backfield and potentially the better fit for a featured role if Marlon Mack falters, Wilkins has better size and he comes into the league having faced the gauntlet of SEC defenses with a level of production that bodes well for his long-term chances of being a legitimate part of a backfield committee (at worst). One could argue his upside is even higher than Hines for touches, scoring and sustainable production. I'm buying his stock all day long at his current price.
Deon Cain - what's with the focus on the Colts?! They are a team undergoing change and the specter of a healthy/unhealthy Andrew Luck creates a wide range of outcomes for everyone involved. Cain is a player I've watched since his recruitment out of high school as a heralded 5-star receiver out of Tampa Tech HS. The hype could build quickly now that he's flashing again in camp after showing big-play capability and red zone potential in OTAs. Couple his pedigree, inconsistent production at Clemson, where he was taken in the draft and the opportunity available on the Colts opposite TY Hilton and you have the recipe for a player whose stock could rise by a round or more in the coming weeks in rookie drafts. Daurice Fountain may prove to be the shrewd pick. Only time will tell. This could have a similar buildup and outcome to when TY Hilton and LaVon Brazil joined the Colts in the same draft class. Both had some hype around them, but a lot of smart people (myself included) took Brazil over Hilton in rookie drafts. That's my payback for snatching Anquan Boldin after my fellow owners took Bryant Johnson several years earlier.
Some players I'm leaning in on because I liked them a lot earlier in the evaluation-ranking process are Lamar Jackson, Anthony Miller, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, D.J. Moore, DaeSean Hamilton, Michael Gallup and Christian Kirk.
Some players that I'm a little more cautious on, but could very well take the hook, line, and sinker if they flash in the preseason games are Kalen Ballage, Justin Jackson, Tyler Conklin, Ronald Jones and Jordan Lasley.
One player that I suspect will flash, but I'll probably be persistently skeptical on is D.J. Chark Jr.
My biggest evaluation period is just after the draft to figure out how all the pieces fit together. I primarily concentrate on rookies drafted in the first three rounds or where a team has a major need for the players drafted in rounds four onwards. I tend to stick with the evaluations formed during this period and rarely become interested in rapid risers. A good analysis by someone I respect goes a long way to changing an opinion, but it is rare. Most of the guys with a boom tend to be the rookies drafted in the later rounds. Many of these players have terrific athletic talent, but there is always a reason other players are preferred.
For every Marques Colston, there are multiple Tajae Sharpe's. For all the criticism they get, scouts do a great job of siftng through the thousands of players entering the league and getting it right way more often than not. Obviously some teams are much better at this than others, but it is rare for an offensive skill player to become a star outside the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Antonio Brown is an obvious example, but he didn't become a star until his fourth year, despite a nice second season. If I am fortunate enough to own these rapid risers, I would almost always sell before the season starts.
On the players specifically mentioned, I would prefer Miller long term, but it is highly unlikely he out performs Allen Robinson and Mitchell Trubisky is far from the finished product. If you have a strength at receiver, sell for the right price.
Onto Hines and Bob made the perfect comment, more sizzle than steak. He is in the perfect position to wn the job outright, but is best suited to that of a role player. If he is fortunate enough to make a big play early In pre-season, the hype is likely to get out of control. Hold and hope to sell for a massive price before he under performs in the regular season.
My dynasty and keeper drafts happen in two flavors - either shortly after the NFL draft, or during the pre-season before the start of the NFL season. This usually makes me a little tone deaf to these type of 'early training camp' noise.
For the upcoming drafts, I'll keep up on my info - but only in so far as it leads into the first and second preseason games. There is a ton of hype at this time of year - for a variety of reasons. Coaches trying to motivate players who have potential, rookies trying to prove they deserve to be the the vets, front office trying to show everyone that they 'made the right off-season moves'... etc. But once the games start, that's where all the hype fades away.
So for the drafts that have already happened, I'm riding the tide - waiting to see how the player reacts to actual game situations. Trading players at this point is hard because if you're selling and the hype is real, you just gave away a guy like Kareem Hunt. If you're buying and the hype is not - you just gave up a chunk of your team for Ameer Abdullah and you're in worse shape than you would have been had you done nothing.
If your draft has yet to happen, this should feed into your projections and draft strategy. If you can take advantage of the info and use it for some pre-draft trades, that could be the best option for your team. Bird in that hand - that sort of thing.
More than many evaluators, I hang on to my initial rookie valuations for a decent span before significant adjustments. As a result, I end up being still below consensus on players I was not a fan of even after their value rise and still above consensus on slow starters who I liked earlier in the process. The white noise factor is real in July and August. The sheer volume of videos, reports, buzz from the camps elicit massive swings in values from the days of early May. I do my absolute best to slow-play my reactions to them. Like Allen Iverson said 'we talkin' about practice. Not a game, not a game, practice.' Drills against air, with or without pads, then in isolated situations, are one thing and turning into regular season impactful production against game-planning, defensive starters is another.
Anthony Miller is this year's poster child for a buzz player I do not understand. He was in the mid-Round 2 rookie pick zone in May. With a few camp reports, Miller is now consistently going in the late first. Miller has a middling profile on paper (old, better raw production than market share) and the Bears passing game is highly competitive for targets between signing Allen Robinson and Trey Burton to big contracts and incumbents Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, and second-year tight end Adam Shaheen. Miller's rise also mandates a huge uptick for the Bears offense overall (plus Miller's own depth chart rise) to a Rams 2017 or higher level of improvement. Both are high bars to relevance as a rookie to validate the moving needle for Miller's initial rookie pick valuation.