What We've Learned: NFC - 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:

NFC East

Dallas - The Cowboys continue to search for a No. 1 receiver, which doesn’t reflect well on the state of the passing game. Third-round pick Michael Gallup has impressed observers and displayed great chemistry with Dak Prescott in the preseason opener and should be drafted first of the options, but perhaps the correct answer is to avoid this passing game, including Prescott. Cole Beasley has been developing his outside receiver game, which could open up slot snaps for Allen Hurns, who hasn’t stood out this summer. Terrance Williams and Tavon Austin are still expected to contribute to muddy the picture further. The best pure receiving talent among the tight ends - former Baylor basketballer Rico Gathers - has added 20 pounds and slowed down while finding himself on the roster bubble.

New York Giants - Evan Engram has been lining up as an outside receiver at times, showing the Giants commitment to making Engram part of the offensive foundation. Even though he’ll have the return of Odell Beckham Jr and No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley taking big target shares, Engram can still grow as a fantasy commodity this year. Barkley’s physical gifts and style will translate based on a sensational first preseason carry, although he has a minor hamstring issue, so we might not see him again in the preseason.

Philadelphia - Carson Wentz is no sure thing for Week 1. Neither is Alshon Jeffery. Nick Foles has back spasms. Nelson Agholor and Corey Clement have lower body injuries that might limit their preseason in an effort to preserve their Week 1 status. It’s possible this offense gets off to a slow start and doesn’t hit the high-efficiency levels that inflated the value of Wentz and his targets last year. Darren Sproles looks like his old self and will likely hold onto a 7-10 touch a game role. Dallas Goedert catching a touchdown in the red zone is something sure enough to set your watch by in practices, and he was very strong in the preseason opener. Not only could he cut into Zach Ertz’s touchdown spike from 2017, he might have rare standalone value as a rookie second tight end.

Washington - No preseason injury has been bigger than Derrius Guice’s ACL tear, but that doesn’t mean that there’s another Washington back to pivot to in the wake of it. Rob Kelley is probably ahead of Samaje Perine, but chances are neither back will seize control of the backfield nor add a lot of value to their touches. Chris Thompson could be used a little more, but the team should be very cautious and pace his workload to keep him on the field, especially considering that he won’t be full strength to begin the season by his own admission. The offense will be less efficient and effective without Guice, but it was still a quality unit without a strong running back when the offensive line has been healthy (it wasn’t for a lot of last season). Alex Smith may have more of the offense fall on his shoulders and still looks like a huge bargain. His best connection has been with Jamison Crowder (who should also be healthier than he was in the first half of 2017), although Jordan Reed’s skill set and area of the field is right in Smith’s wheelhouse. Reed has looked better than last year’s camp, at least in part because he had toe problems on both feet surgically corrected in the offseason. Josh Doctson has had heel and shoulder issues but recently returned to practice. He hasn’t shrugged off the injury-prone label yet. Maurice Harris has been making plays almost every day and could be a name to remember if injuries thin the Washington wide receiver group this year.

NFC North

Chicago - Anthony Miller has captivated observes and should have the slot receiver job going into the season, setting him up for Cooper Kupp level rookie impact. Adam Shaheen has taken to the new offense and looks more confident and physically imposing than last year, which could limit Trey Burton’s upside. The Bears followed through on the promise of using Tarik Cohen all over the formation. This offense will attempt to effectively use a variety of talents and pieces and might not have a consistent high-level weekly performer, but if Mitchell Trubisky - who had an up and down opening to camp - can bring it together the way Jared Goff did last year for the Rams - the offensive production pie will grow by leaps and bounds and create surplus value.

Detroit - The offensive line and running game look a lot more imposing this year and Kerryon Johnson has been one of the few rookie backs to add to his profile in camp and the preseason opener. Paths to a primary back role are becoming apparent, even with Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount in defined roles. Kenny Golladay stood out in camp again, but so did Marvin Jones Jr. The Lions still appear headed for a 1A/1B/1C wide receiver situation with Golladay, Jones, and Tate. Second-year tight end Michael Roberts hasn’t seized the opportunity opened up by the release of Eric Ebron.

Green Bay - Randall Cobb has mostly stayed on the field after having ankle clean up surgery earlier in the offseason. Jimmy Graham has been establishing chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, especially in the red zone (but so was Martellus Bennett at this time last year). Geronimo Allison has established himself as the No. 3 receiver and will be high on waiver wire watch lists if he isn’t drafted (he should be). The rookie trio of JMon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown have all flashed and also had moments that showed they are not going to be big contributors right away. DeAngelo Yancey may push one or more of them to the practice squad. Former Bengals practice squad receiver Jake Kumerow has drawn a lot of praise and might also cost one of the rookies a roster spot. Jamaal Williams has been the clear No. 1 back, but mostly because Aaron Jones has been missing time with a hamstring injury. Ty Montgomery has had a good camp and will play a role in the backfield, but it’s difficult to know if it will be enough to establish consistent fantasy value once Jones returns from his two-game suspension. It doesn’t feel like we understand the Packers backfield better than we did before camp opened.

Minnesota - First and foremost, rest in peace Tony Sparano, the Vikings offensive line coach who helped open up NFL offensive thinking by embracing the wildcat when he was the head coach of the Dolphins. The outpouring of affection and accounts of Sparano as someone concerned with humans first was moving. The Vikings lost mauling left guard Nick Easton for the season and still have right guard Mike Remmers and center Pat Elflein mending from injuries. The Vikings offensive line was a dumpster fire in 2016 but held up well in 2017. This was already going to be a challenge with Sparano, hopefully, the in-house replacements are up to the task. At least right tackle Rashod Hill’s cart off injury was just a scare. Stefon Diggs looks like he is ready to take his game to another level and his chemistry with new quarterback Kirk Cousins was on display in the one drive they played during the preseason opener. There hasn’t been much to say about Dalvin Cook coming back from an ACL tear, which is a very good thing. He’s ready to pick up where he left off in 2017, offensive line willing. UDFA Roc Thomas flashed top speed and looks ready to be the No. 3 this year and backup to Dalvin Cook next year.

NFC South

Atlanta - This has been probably the quietest camp of the 32, and with all of the continuity they have on offense, there’s not a lot to track. Calvin Ridley might return kicks or punts, and Chad Ochocinco was impressed with his speed. We learned that Austin Hooper spent a lot of time working with Matt Ryan in the offseason. Shrug.

Carolina - The Panthers lost standout right tackle Daryl Williams to a dislocated patella and torn MCL and presumptive starting guard Amini Silatolu went down with a torn meniscus, so this offensive line is on our watch list. Christian McCaffrey was treated like a true workhorse and dominated first-team offense snaps in the preseason opener, including the goal line carry he converted. D.J. Moore looked great after the catch and should be drafted as the most valuable wide receiver on the team. The Panthers lost a possible starting corner when Ross Cockrell went down and they should still be a matchup to target for opposing receivers. Fourth-round pick Ian Thomas is standing out, ready for the No. 2 job and could be contributing to the offense sooner than expected.

New Orleans - Cameron Meredith is dealing with an undisclosed injury, reportedly not related to his knee surgery, but his tone on twitter made it sound non-trivial. Third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith is having a great camp and might be the better bench flier from this offense. Jonathan Williams is emerging as the leader to be the No. 2 running back while Mark Ingram II serves his four-game suspension.

Tampa Bay - Ronald Jones needs work in the passing game and hasn’t done enough as a runner to overtake Peyton Barber. There’s still time for Jones to flash, but for now, it looks like Barber will be the starter Week 1 at New Orleans - with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Chris Godwin appears to have seized the No. 2 outside receiver job, but DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries will still have considerable roles in the offense - one that also has two strong receiving options at tight end. Good luck figuring out target distribution week-to-week. UDFA Shaun Wilson is the latest “satellite back” to pop in camp and he might push Charles Sims off of the roster.

NFC West

Arizona - Josh Rosen looked good in the preseason opener, but the offense around him didn’t. He’ll get a chance to work more with the first team going forward. Second-round pick Christian Kirk is starting to surge ahead of an unremarkable group of receivers after future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald.

Los Angeles Rams - Gerald Everett has been sidelined with a shoulder injury that had his arm in a sling the last we saw him, and Tyler Higbee is having a good camp, so he could be a Week 1 sleeper at Oakland or even more if Everett’s injury is worse than the Rams are letting on or he re-injures it. There are murmurs that the Rams are going to pay Aaron Donald and end his holdout, keeping the Rams defense among the league’s elite and worth consideration around the time the Jaguars go off of the board. Cooper Kupp still appears to be Jared Goff’s favorite receiver, but the Rams have been doing more with Brandin Cooks than they did with Sammy Watkins. Cooks’ role should be larger - which makes sense since Watkins didn’t join the team until about this time last year.

San Francisco - Report after report has put Marquise Goodwin atop the pecking order for targets in the 49ers budding pass offense. Pierre Garcon and Jimmy Garoppolo are still working on their chemistry, while Goodwin and Garoppolo already made beautiful music together last year. Second-round pick Dante Pettis has looked good, but he is probably going to open the season as the No. 4 receiver. Matt Breida (shoulder) and Jerick McKinnon (calf) may not play again in the preseason and Joe Williams is still trying to prove himself, so the team signed Alfred Morris, who was a record-breaker with Kyle Shanahan the first time they were together. If this was the middle of the season, Morris would be a hot waiver wire pickup. Potential breakout tight end George Kittle also suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, but like Breida, he’s expected to be back for Week 1.

Seattle - Chris Carson is still the No. 1 back. This is not a ploy to motivate Rashaad Penny. After an offseason filled with glowing reports, Carson continues to get effusive praise from the team and observers. Penny will play a good-sized role, but this is a committee backfield. If C.J. Prosise could ever stay healthy, he would turn it into a three-headed backfield. Doug Baldwin has a knee issue that caused him to be shut down through the preseason. Hopefully, it won’t affect his effectiveness or availability during the season, but that feels like a remote possibility considering how little practice it took for the issue to flare up. Brandon Marshall is legitimately impressing the team and could push for a role in the passing game. Earl Thomas’s holdout has no end in sight, so this could be a long year for the Seahawks defense, which points towards pass-heavy game scripts.