What We've Learned: AFC - Footballguys

A look at the most important takeaways from the first week of camp and the preseason

The opening of training camps and the first week of preseason games can be a rush, but also overwhelming in a borderline unmanageable way. It’s like drinking from the firehose, with the added difficulty of deciding what to consume and what to ignore. Here’s what has moved my needle so far:

AFC East

Buffalo - None of the quarterbacks have emerged. Avoid this offense, even with the addition of Corey Coleman

Miami - DeVante Parker is getting dominated by Xavien Howard in every practice and generally making little to no impression on observers. Avoid him and be more inclined to take Kenny Stills at ADP. Stills does have an ankle issue, but it sounds like the team will be cautious to avoid having the injury linger into the regular season or risk setbacks. Frank Gore hasn’t lost anything, so Adam Gase’s backfield management style means it’s likely that Kenyan Drake will be disappointing.

New England - Sony Michel’s knee already had to be drained. It’s hard to believe he’ll be near the top of his range of outcomes between managing the knee and missing valuable ramp-up time. Rex Burkhead’s ceiling just went up, but so did James White’s, and Jeremy Hill became more interesting. Burkhead and Hill have injury issues to deal with and Burkhead has missed multiple practices, so stay tuned. Jordan Matthews isn’t going to be the guy to own while Julian Edelman is out, and while the Cordarrelle Patterson fascination won’t go away, it looks like Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett are also going to have roles and make the Patriots wide receiver a dry fishing hole for late round hits.

New York Jets - Isaiah Crowell already has a concussion, and Elijah McGuire has a broken bone in his foot. We were talking ourselves into Bilal Powell at this time last year because Matt Forte was going to break down. Forte did but Powell still disappointed. Look, he’s a lot cheaper this year! Do we dare wade back into those waters? We’re still waiting for Quincy Enunwa to get back to his old self after a thumb injury slowed his return. Sam Darnold did nothing in the preseason opener to dispel the idea that he has a chance to start Week 1. That could hurt Robby Anderson, who riffed well with Josh McCown in the deep passing game, although Anderson is still very cheap considering his production last year and where he is on his career trajectory.

AFC South

Houston - Keke Coutee has a hamstring issue that is measured in weeks, not days, which can be a death knell to rookie wide receiver value, but I’m not ready to give up yet. Lamar Miller looks slimmer and more explosive and D'Onta Foreman is no sure thing to be ready for Week 1, which points even more at Miller’s potential payoff in the mid-rounds. Third-round pick Jordan Akins caught two scores to further complicate a tight end situation that could be valuable if only one player got most of the work, but instead now possibly has a third role to accommodate.

Indianapolis - Andrew Luck returned to practice uneventfully, which is definitely a no-news-is-good-news situation. T.Y. Hilton is looking as good as ever and should be among the league leaders in targets with Luck back. Sixth-round pick Deon Cain was creating buzz and maybe even carving out a red zone role, but he went down with a torn ACL, which paves the way for Ryan Grant to be the No. 2 wide receiver. But he might not be better than the No. 4 receiving target with a strong tight end duo of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron (who the team seems very excited about). Nyheim Hines was a disaster in his first game, Marlon Mack hurt his hamstring, and Robert Turbin hurt his ankle. The universe is paving the way for Jordan Wilkins.

Jacksonville - Keelan Cole is picking up where he left off and is likely to rival Marqise Lee in snaps, if not targets. He’s the Jaguar receiver most worth your attention in fantasy leagues. The Jaguars like Austin Seferian-Jenkins a lot. While the Jacksonville tight end might not end up being an every-week starter, streamers note: Seferian-Jenkins opens with the Giants defense that is usually woeful against tight ends and just gave up two scores to David Njoku. Blake Bortles looked comfortable (not even just for Blake Bortles) and streamers note: he opens with those Giants and the Patriots to start.

Tennessee - Rishard Matthews' mystery injury continues to hang over this wide receiver group, and it’s not comforting to see Corey Davis miss any practices. Taywan Taylor has been getting more work outside and should be on late-round target lists.

AFC North

Baltimore - Kenneth Dixon is struggling to stay healthy and keep his head above water and might be on the roster bubble with Gus Edwards having a good summer. Javorius Allen is looking like the clear No. 2, with some matchup flex appeal and huge Alex Collins injury upside. Lamar Jackson’s short-term prospects look dim with Joe Flacco as healthy as he’s been in three years and Jackson still rough around the edges in early preseason action. John Brown has been playing like, well, John Brown, and so far nothing has popped on the injury front (knock on wood). He’s a favorite late round early reveal (you’ll know whether you have something or it’s time to move on quickly and pick up a hot waiver wire name) pick.

Cincinnati - The offense is showing signs of life and should be at worst middle of the road after last year’s dumpster fire, which should help you generally break ties in favor of Bengals when in doubt. Joe Mixon is being treated like a true feature back again even scored in the preseason game while lined up as a wide receiver. John Ross has had a scene-stealing camp and gave the Bengals (along with progression from Tyler Boyd and Josh Malone, and the emergence of seventh-round pick Auden Tate) reason to release Brandon LaFell. Ross could be inconsistent, but his presence will stretch defenses and open up room for everyone to operate. Tyler Eifert is being given the bubble-wrap treatment but hasn’t gotten hurt yet. Signs point to him being ready for Week 1 against Indianapolis in a stream-worthy matchup.

Cleveland - So far, it appears Buffalo was holding Tyrod Taylor back more than he held them back - yet another Week 1 streaming option in a home matchup against the Steelers. Corey Coleman was traded even though Josh Gordon isn’t at camp, setting up Jarvis Landry for yet another 100-catch season, and opening up an opportunity for Duke Johnson Jr, Rashard Higgins, and Antonio Callaway (despite getting popped while driving with a suspended license and marijuana) to get more wide receiver snaps. Regarding Gordon, the uncertainty is unsettling, but the team isn’t giving indications that they expect to be without him for most or all of the season, and he appears to be working out and otherwise preparing to play again soon. The “he just wants to not be in front of the Hard Knocks cameras” theory is in play and would preserve his value. David Njoku’s two-touchdown preseason opener with displays of dominant speed and ups has summoned up visions of a big year-two leap. Carlos Hyde appears to be the clear starter in the backfield and might be a big value right under our noses.

Pittsburgh - Vance McDonald has been out for two weeks with a foot injury, and Mike Tomlin’s latest comments make it sound like there has been no significant progress in recovery. If McDonald can’t fulfill the Steelers wishes for his role to grow, second-round pick James Washington becomes more appealing late in drafts as he is coming on in the push to establish himself as the clear No. 3 receiver.

AFC West

Denver - Royce Freeman is clearly more capable than Devontae Booker at this point, but will the coaching staff concede this in usage? UDFA Phillip Lindsay looks like an effective satellite back in the making and should turn this into a three-way committee if the coaches are rational. Courtland Sutton has been precocious and might take the edge off of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas’s upside, although the combination of Case Keenum’s addition, Sanders being healthy again, and Thomas being used more like late career Larry Fitzgerald should enhance the passing game in a holistic way. Paxton Lynch is showing why teams push for offset language in first-round pick contracts and should give way to Chad Kelly if Vance Joseph and John Elway are sane.

Kansas City - Spencer Ware might not be all the way back quite yet as his exposure to contact has been limited, but he didn’t open camp on the PUP list and should present a bigger threat to Kareem Hunt’s workload than any back on the active roster during the regular season last year. Patrick Mahomes II II continues to be in the eye of the beholder. He’s learning on the job in camp and flashing the rare constellation of abilities that makes him exciting to roster in fantasy leagues, even in his first full season as a starter. If we’re going by camp and the first preseason game, Tyreek Hill should remain well ahead of Sammy Watkins in the target pecking order.

Los Angeles Chargers - The team hasn’t done anything to upgrade at tight end, although they could still sign Antonio Gates right before the season to give the future Hall of Famer a break during camp and the preseason. Mike Williams is having a good camp and is in position to soak up some of Hunter Henry’s red-zone targets. Justin Jackson has been missing time with a hamstring injury, and Austin Ekeler had a strong preseason opener, so he’s on track to remain the unquestioned No. 2 back behind Melvin Gordon III.

Oakland - Marshawn Lynch can still outrun a defense. Martavis Bryant might not be the best fit in a Jon Gruden offense, but Ryan Switzer is taking to it very well. UDFA Chris Warren has a future in the league and might be more deserving as Lynch's backup than Doug Martin. The Raiders aren't sold on Donald Penn contributing to the team, so first-round pick Kolton Miller could start at left tackle Week 1.

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