After spending months in the offseason staring at rosters, coaching changes, OTA reports, researching and searching my mind for a picture of what we’ll see when the big reveal happens in Week 1, training camp and the preseason always shakes things up. Even the most “stick to your guts” fantasy analyst has to grant that very little goes exactly how we exactly expect, and there is often a roster, depth chart, or injury shakeup to force us to re-examine our beliefs about the range of outcomes and most likely outcome for players, units, and teams. Some of you might believe this is evidence of how wishy-washy I am (which is fair), but I see it more as evidence that things do change in the summer, and even the most prescient fantasy analyst has to keep their head on a swivel.
This offense isn’t going anywhere this year. It’s difficult to want to buy any tickets for this ride.
DeVante Parker is dead to us after a poor summer and injury putting his Week 1 in doubt, which makes Kenny Stills the #1 by default and Danny Amendola a sleeper to lead this team in targets after he took hold of the slot position job. Adam Gase’s history with Miami and handling of Drake and comments about Gore during the preseason and camp has to raise at least a little doubt about how this backfield will be used during the season.
Julian Edelman up (moderate), Jordan Matthews down (great), Cordarrelle Patterson up (moderate), Phillip Dorsett up (moderate), Sony Michel down (great), James White up (moderate), Jeremy Hill up (moderate)
It’s the Patriots, so formerly well-regarded talented like Hill, Patterson, and Dorsett all deserve late-round or waiver wire watch list consideration - with Matthews being eliminated from that category after he was hurt and released. Edelman looked fine upon his return to the lineup and might be a target hog. Michel’s knee being drained put a cap on his season-long upside after missing key acclimation time. More paths to value for White came open with Michel and Rex Burkhead both having knee issues in August.
Clarity that Crowell would clearly lead this backup got murkier as the preseason progressed. Powell was treated more like a 1A than a complement. Anderson might not be a clear #1 with Enunwa’s return, and the team seemed to want to make Enunwa central in the passing offense when he got back on the field.
Miller is closer to his Miami weight and looks quicker, while Foreman may start the year on the PUP, presenting no threat to Miller this year. Griffin has emerged from a crowded tight end picture and might earn waiver wire consideration. Coutee lost his inside track for the slot role to Ellington when he went down with a hamstring injury, but he’s back and could make noise yet, especially with Ellington’s injury history.
Andrew Luck might not have his fastball back yet, but he’s going to be the engine of the offense and help support T.Y. Hilton’s possible return to fantasy WR1 status. Eric Ebron is generating some excitement around the team, and there is going to be more than enough balls to go around for competent targets with the weakness at wide receiver and in the passing game. Hines couldn’t hold onto the ball and Mack couldn’t stay on the field, so Wilkins could get an opportunity by default early in the season.
Lee’s injury makes this one self-explanatory. Cole has a chance to have semi-consistent value and be the closest thing the team has to a #1, and Westbrook, another ascendant young talent, can be the closest thing they have to a #2.
Matthews preseason meniscus surgery certainly creates worry for the size of his role in a new offense. Davis has a chance to be a #1 receiver and mostly stayed healthy, while Taylor was a preseason star on plays that seemed to be designed for him, as he cross-trained to become an outside receiver all summer. Walker has a toe issue, which could open the door for Smith to do more in year two, and Smith has been generating good buzz.
A summertime battle between Allen and Kenneth Dixon to be the backup to Alex Collins never materialized as Allen appears to be the clear #2. Brown was his old self, which puts Crabtree’s status as a #1 receiver in doubt for as long as Brown can stay healthy.
Ross flashed everything the Bengals could have hoped for except consistency, but he’s the kind of player who opens things up even when his hands and execution have hiccups. Dalton should benefit from the Ross effect, and the passing game looked lethal in the third preseason game. The running game looked the same as it did in 2017, and not heavily used, which hurts Mixon’s upside. Giovani Bernard got a lot of work with the starters in the dress rehearsal game, which could make him more of a committee back than the team’s use of him last year. Eifert stayed healthy through camp and the preseason (confetti!)
McDonald’s offseason hype went poof and vanished when a foot injury robbed him of his summer with the team. Conner looked like a middle-class Jordan Howard with better hands, and he’s ready for the team’s life after Bell. Washington had a slow start to camp, but his contested ball skills were dazzling in games. As long as his abdominal injury isn’t too bad, he could have an impact in the Steelers WR3 role.
As long as there’s rational coaching, Freeman will lead this backfield in touches by a large margin. Booker doesn’t look worthy of a roster spot even in light of the team’s continuing fascination with him. Sutton might force a 1A/1B/1C situation, with Thomas the clear loser and Sanders closer to a push because he has looked renewed after an ankle injury slowed him last year.
Ekeler never got a battle from Justin Jackson and is the clear backup to Melvin Gordon III (in addition to looking great this summer). Williams' back issue is behind him and he could be the leading red zone target with Hunter Henry out.
This was one of the situations I changed my mind on the most over the summer. I’m worried Spencer Ware will be a much bigger threat to Hunt’s touches than Charcandrick West was, with Ware coming into the summer no sure thing for Week 1 and now West on another roster. Mahomes to Hill might be the stuff that dreams are made of. In fact this terrible defense combined with a gunslinger like Mahomes and four excellent skill players could end up creating a special offense for fantasy football purposes.
I already wanted to like Lynch at his depressed ADP amid murmurs about the team loving Doug Martin. His showing of youthful speed and the team treating him like a clear lead back with little usage just cemented that. Nelson was being written off by a lot of us, but many observers insisted that he still has something left - but still not enough for me to take him at ADP.
The offensive line injuries and lack of passing game inspiration could cap Elliott’s ceiling. Gallup has looked like the most likely candidate to have lasting value in the passing game, although none of above is still the odds-on favorite to be the right answer.
Barkley’s hamstring injury might be a non-factor this season, but you never want your first-round pick to have already broken the seal on lower body soft tissue injuries. Gallman emerged as the clear backup to Barkley and became more interesting when Barkley got hurt. Engram was being used more as an outside receiver and can preserve 2017 value when he was targeted by default even with Beckham back and Barkley on board.
Jeffery’s Week 1 (and more) being in danger has brought his value down considerably, while giving Wallace and Goedert a bigger window for early season impact, but that is balanced with Wentz also not being the clear Week 1 starter, and Foles not exactly impressing in the preseason. You have to wonder how long it will take for Wentz to get his feel back and how good he’ll look if his mobility is limited. Goedert’s red zone prowess and immediate big involvement make me think Ertz’s 2017 touchdown spike was temporary.
Guice’s injury was the single biggest development of the preseason. It opened the door for Adrian Peterson to be relevant again in a running game that is better than they showed last year when the line was a mess. Reed stayed healthy and is set to be a target hog with Alex Smith, as is Jamison Crowder. Richardson and Doctson haven’t proven to be as good of fits with Smith as Crowder and Reed and look more like frustrating up and down role players.
The team has been using Howard on third downs, and he looks like a true lead back. Robinson is just now fully back to speed and doesn’t have the feel of a #1 right now. Miller stole the show in camp and has the kind of buzz that instant rookie hits create leading up to a break out season. Burton had tremendous instant chemistry with Mitchell Trubisky. An injury to Adam Shaheen will give Burton a chance to get off to a hot start.
Golladay stayed healthy and the Lions appear to be moving closer to a 1A/1B/1C approach at wide receiver.
Graham and Rodgers made the pitch and catch look easy, and Rodgers raved about Graham. Allison easily held off the competition for the #3 wide receiver job. Jones was banged up for most of camp, Montgomery is already dinged, and Williams cemented his status as the lead back.
The offensive line worries and Latavius Murray looking much better than he did at this time last year are combining to lower Cook’s ceiling. Diggs had natural chemistry with Kirk Cousins and looks ready to sustain his early season spikes from the last two years if he can stay healthy.
None. Well, okay, maybe I’m a little worried about Matt Bryant as a top-five kicker after missing a lot of time this summer.
Christian McCaffrey up (moderate), CJ Anderson down (great)
The team seems insistent on giving McCaffrey most of the backfield touches. They might find that was a poor strategy with Anderson on the roster, but it is impossible to ignore all of the signs pointing towards 300+ touches for McCaffrey and Anderson being relegated to more of a backup role.
Williams the most talented back of the candidate to be the #2 running back until Mark Ingram II is back. He didn’t run away with the job, but should still at least make the team and get some Week 1 touches to show his stuff. Meredith failed to generate momentum this summer, but Smith did with a variety of plays to potentially be another instant hit as a second-day pick in this offense.
Peyton Barber up (great), Ronald Jones down (great)
Jones showed no sign that he’ll overtake Barber any time soon. Barber is a lunchpail guy, so he still might not be a top priority target at ADP.
Kirk should be at least in the top three wide receivers with him and Chad Williams both having good summers, but I’m not sure if this offense can support two fantasy relevant wideouts. Edmonds quickly established himself as the clear backup to David Johnson in his first camp.
The team is making more of an effort to use Cooks in a diverse way than they did with Watkins, who showed up via trade late in the game. Woods could be the biggest loser if Cooks shifts the target shares among the wide receiver. Kelly looked great and at worst would be the better part of an RBBC if Gurley goes down.
The signing of Alfred Morris could turn this into a three-way committee. Breida was on his way up with some reports that he might lead the backfield in touches some weeks, but then he got hurt and Morris crashed the party. McKinnon has a tricky injury and little momentum heading into the season. Garcon never got a chance to be the #1 receiver for Jimmy Garoppolo, Goodwin already had that role locked up heading into camp.
Baldwin’s knee keeping him out most of August is ominous, but he still has a sky-high ceiling. Lockett is looking better than last year, and Baldwin’s knee makes it possible for him to have a breakout season. Carson is the clear starter heading into the season and he’s vastly improved, meaning it will be harder for Penny to overtake him.