Who are we if we can't admit that maybe we were wrong? Like some of you, I spent way too much time look at changes to teams all offseason and projecting what I expected to see when real news started to come out in the second half of the summer. What I have seen has challenged my beliefs, and while sometimes the right answer is to stick to your guns, no one should think that changing your mind this close to the season is uncalled for. Here's where I think I was the most wrong before camps started.
Jeremy Hill, RB, CIN - Hill was tentative and ineffective last year. The touchdowns did come - sometimes in bunches - but week-to-week consistency eluded Hill all season. Hill’s bounceback was foreshadowed by an offensive approach that is likely to become more conservative with fewer downfield targets. He has his 2014 edge back and the Bengals are good enough on offense and defense to keep game scripts in the sweet spot for Hill, who the team trusts like a traditional automatic goal line back inside the five.
Recommendation: Very good RB2 target in the 5th.
Will Fuller V, WR, HOU - Fuller has some Ted Ginn Jr to his game in both good and bad ways, but the good has shown up more than the bad this preseason. He and Brock Osweiler are on the same page, especially on sideline balls, and defenses are going leave Fuller in single coverage matches he can consistently beat. He can make your week on one play and the vulnerable Chicago secondary is up first.
Recommendation: Late round priority WR in the same tier as Terrelle Pryor and Tyrell Wiliams. Pull the trigger as early as 11th/12th if you don’t like what’s on the board.
Arian Foster, RB, MIA - Foster is running in wet cement between the tackles, but he was effective and the goal line and he’s still smooth like lemonade in the passing game. The Dolphins offense looks like it will embrace short passing and an uptempo pace, which could feed Foster to the tune of 5-8 receptions a week. The offense also looked a lot better with Foster than Jay Ajayi, who isn’t as natural in the passing game. His shelf life might be short, but Foster was a PPR RB1 last year while he was struggling to move the ball in the running game. I've moved Ajayi down in my rankings, but his time is likely coming in light of Foster's injury history. He'll be a mid-season buy low target.
Recommendation: Target in the sixth round if you’ve only taken one running back or if you’ve taken Le’Veon Bell.
Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA - The offseason painted the picture of Lockett as a player who would take over close to a full-time role in a pass offense that made him into a minor star in his rookie year. The preseason picture had Lockett sharing the #2 role with Jermaine Kearse, the better blocker, and Paul Richardson Jr, the better vertical threat. Lockett has the talent force his way into a bigger opportunity, but it might take patience. The Seahawks tend to err on the side of conservative offensively and have been slow to change their approach to embrace the passing game and its talents in recent years. The good news is that Seattle opens with Miami, who will have a starting rookie corner (Baylor’s Xavien Howard) who has barely even practiced this preseason.
Recommendation: Instead of an essential upside pick a round or two ahead of ADP (ie in the 4th/5th instead of the 6th), Lockett is now in a tier with Josh Gordon as a luxury item at wide receiver only meriting a pick at ADP.
Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN - I’ll admit to pulling the Laquon Treadwell bandwagon out of the driveway before it had any wheels. Diggs has emerged as the clear #1 receiver in this offense. Even with low volume overall, he can be a solid WR3/Flex with occasional WR1/WR2 weeks thrown in. He has looked even sharper than he did during his rookie year breakout, and the team seems to have a strategy to help him with the press coverage that thwarted him in his rookie year.
Recommendation: Scoop Diggs up 7th round a high floor WR4/Flex, or even in the sixth as a high floor WR3 if you’ve gone more balanced early in your draft.
Chris Hogan, WR, NE - The signing of Hogan didn’t raise my eyebrow in the offseason, but he has been a standout performer since he showed up, and Tom Brady exhibited nice chemistry with Hogan on a long score in the dress rehearsal. Hogan has to compete with two strong tight ends and Julian Edelman for targets, but Dion Lewis’ absence won’t hurt his target share. Injuries could put him in line for more targets at any time. He might require some patience if the passing game is subpar with Jimmy Garoppolo for the first four games.
Recommendation: Target late in drafts with long benches
Melvin Gordon III, RB, SD - Gordon has already scored two more times this preseason than he did in his rookie year. He appears faster and more confident coming off of microfracture surgery. The Chargers running game has been all that robust, but the loss of Branden Oliver could free up a few more touches for Gordon. It’s hard to predict a leap to top 20 running back numbers as long as Danny Woodhead is healthy, but we could look back as 2015 as more the aberration than norm for Gordon by the end of the season.
Recommendation: Still not a great buy at 6th round ADP, but worth a look if he falls a round or two past that.
Sammie Coates Jr, WR, PIT - Coates looked like a cake that was taken out of the oven too early in the first two preseason games. By the third, he was running behind waterbug slot receiver Eli Rogers. Coates also looked relaxed on a touchdown and long gain - albeit with Landry Jones. The Steelers still want Coates’ speed and athleticism to play a big tactical role in their offense, but he might not get more than a few rotational snaps at the beginning.
Recommendation: Instead of being a priority pick in the 9th-11th round range, Coates becomes a late bloomer bench stash for long bench leagues. The value of the deep and red zone targets he could eventually garner should keep some interest here, but the payoff will likely be delayed.
Carlos Hyde, RB, SF - The 49ers are going to back into a starting quarterback and in a season that will look more like a smoldering crater than a construction site. Hyde’s talent appears to line up ideally with a Chip Kelly offense, and the offensive line is falling into place with the return of Anthony Davis and addition of first-round mauler Josh Garnett, but the game script risk from last year is intact, and Hyde already has a concussion. Too many things have to line up well for Hyde to have persistent, consistent value in our lineups.
Recommendation: Let someone else take him in the fourth, and take Jeremy Hill over him in the fifth.
Whole Tennessee Offense - “Exotic Smashmouth” is too fun to say with derision. Silly names aside, the Titans appear to be on the same page and exhibiting rare clarity in identity, attitude, and personnel. Marcus Mariota has been hyper-efficient, both running backs are outperforming all but the most optimistic expectations, and fifth-round pick Tajae Sharpe has the look of an opening day #1 wide receiver for his team. The first month still brings the tough Minnesota, Oakland, and Houston defenses, but after that the schedule opens up and includes four matchups with the Colts and Jaguars defense, including three in a stretch that also includes Cleveland, San Diego, and Green Bay between Weeks 5 and 10.
Recommendation: The running backs are still a bit overpriced, although Derrick Henry and Demarco Murray have more injury upside than they had at the beginning of camp. Sharpe is climbing the priority late round wide receiver list, as his story and preseason production portend things that transcend his pedestrian draft slot.