NFC Training Camp Update: Running Back Roulette in L.A.
The final 2021 preseason games are here. Training camp is coming to a close. That means the real-deal fantasy football season is just around the corner. If you’re like me, then you have a few fantasy football drafts this weekend. You may have a few next weekend but haven’t had much time to pay attention to the tail-end of training camp. Whatever the reason, read on below for last-minute news blurbs out of every NFC training camp. Don’t enter your draft without every possible piece of information available to you.
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NFC Training Camps Prepare for Preseason Finale
Kyler Murray is ready to go for the 2021 season. So much so that he won’t see any action in the Cardinals’ final preseason game. This will likely be a trend for most teams across the league. The final preseason game is usually the last look at players who have been fighting for a roster spot throughout training camp.
It’s been somewhat difficult to get a grasp on where many of the Cardinals’ primary fantasy football assets are at with injuries. Throughout training camp, players like Rondale Moore, Chase Edmonds, and others have all missed time here and there. While there’s been time missed, it doesn’t seem like any of the key players are in jeopardy for Week 1.
It’s time to let go of any hope you may have for wide receivers Andy Isabella, and even Christian Kirk, having consistent fantasy success in Arizona. As roster cuts approach, these two players could be looking for jobs elsewhere. The pass catchers you want for the 2021 season are clearly DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore.
Rookie running back, Javian Hawkins, is no longer an Atlanta Falcon. He is now a Tennessee Titan after clearing waivers this week. It doesn’t look like he will be “the next James Robinson” after all.
This is great news for running back, Mike Davis. Hawkins wasn’t a legitimate threat to be a workhorse back, but he could have taken passing down snaps away from Davis. Barring a late training camp trade or signing, Davis is expected to be the lead back in Atlanta.
If you prioritize wide receiver early on in drafts, Davis is a top option at running back to roster. He’s currently going outside the top-20 at the position with the potential to finish much higher, especially on a weekly basis.
Robby Anderson is staying in Carolina for a few more seasons. Anderson is getting $20.5 million guaranteed on a two-year/$29.5 mil extension. This is fantastic for Sam Darnold’s development. The two are teammates again after suffering in an Adam Gase offense on the Jets for a handful of years.
In the team’s final preseason game last night, Darnold showed a glimpse at his potential. He finished with a 119.1 QB rating after completing 19 of 25 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Robby caught one for 8 yards while rookie, Terrace Marshall, Jr., had a 13-yard score of his own. DJ Moore isn’t an afterthought here as he hauled in all six of his targets for 48 yards of his own. Yes, it was against a Steelers defense of second-string players, but that’s what Darnold should be doing against them.
If you believe Sam Darnold is a better fit than Teddy Bridgewater in this offense, then the Panthers’ positional players should all interest you. Last season, both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson posted top-25 PPR seasons at wide receiver. Furthermore, when healthy, Christian McCaffrey averaged a ridiculous 30.3 points per game.
Darnold is a legitimate candidate for 2021 Comeback Player of the Year. It is a major upgrade in almost every facet from Gase’s offense in New York to Joe Brady’s in Carolina. He could offer weekly streaming potential at quarterback, especially in a “revenge game” Week 1 versus the Jets. The real winners here with him under center are the aforementioned positional players. They should be drafted with confidence.
Head coach, Matt Nagy, is adamant that Andy Dalton is the Bears’ starting quarterback. It’s conceivable that his job security will be hanging on by a thread each week with pressure from fans to start rookie, Justin Fields. He will be waiting in the wings to add his ability to run the ball and throw on the run, to this offense. If he goes undrafted in your fantasy football league, Fields will likely become a priority waiver wire add early on in the season.
Allen Robinson is going to finish inside the top-10 at wide receiver in 2021. Considering he’s caught passes from the likes of Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky the majority of his career, Robinson will be just fine with Dalton throwing his way for a bit. Go ahead and trust Robinson as your WR1 with the potential to be the WR1 once Fields takes the field.
Dak Prescott is no longer on a “pitch count” when it comes to throwing the football. He is back to work in 7-on-7 drills, at least, on the training camp practice field. While he won’t take the field in the final preseason game, getting these reps in practice is enough news for me to consider Dak a top-five quarterback for fantasy football. He continues to reiterate that if this were a regular-season game, he would be ready without any limitations.
In addition to Dak’s good injury news, wide receiver, Amari Cooper, looks to be ready for Week 1, as well. In his limited training camp absence, Ceedee Lamb’s ADP has steadily climbed. We can debate all day which Cowboys receiver should be first off of the draft board. Don’t let others’ preference for Lamb deter you from adding Cooper to your roster. They both have top-10 potential in 2021.
D’Andre Swift’s groin injury looks like a thing of the past. Reports out of Detroit’s training camp are nothing but positive surrounding Swift’s workload since missing a short period of time with the injury. Just yesterday, Swift found the end zone three times during team drills in practice.
Trusting Swift in fantasy football weighs more on the Lions’ offense as a whole rather than his own ability. It’s hard to find a worse group of wide receivers than the Lions’. If this team struggles to move the ball, it will limit Swift’s scoring opportunities this season.
Good players can still have success on bad football teams. However, if the Lions find themselves behind on the scoreboard in many of their games this season, Jamaal Williams may work his way onto the field as a pass-catching option out of the backfield.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers looks to be in mid-season form. This isn’t breaking news or really an important training camp update. It’s to be expected at this point, right?
As far as fantasy football expectations go, Rodgers’ QB6 ADP is as fair as it gets. He doesn’t add the rushing stats that those going in front of him do. He does, however, have another chance to keep up in the rankings with just his passing alone. The Packers scored the most points in the NFL last season and are a good bet to repeat this statistic.
As far as who’s going to be catching the ball, Davante Adams is obviously the first-ranked wide receiver. Behind him, though, Marquez Valdez-Scantling is gaining momentum late in training camp. Any given week, MVS, or Randall Cobb, could work into fantasy lineups as weekly flex considerations based on matchups. Keep their names in mind all year long, especially with Rodgers as an MVP candidate, yet again.
Los Angeles Rams
Darrell Henderson’s days as a top-20 ranked running back seem to be over. In the middle of this week, the Rams acquired running back, Sony Michel, from the New England Patriots. The immediate reaction is that Henderson is no longer the workhorse back in Los Angeles.
While that could be true, this trade speaks more to head coach, Sean McVay’s, faith in the depth at the position. Previously, Xavier Jones, a 2020 UDFA, and 2021 rookie, Jake Funk, were set to work in behind Henderson. If the Rams are to seriously contend for a Lombardi Trophy, adding an experienced back, like Michel, is a logical move toward that goal.
McVay claims Henderson will still have a really big role in this Los Angeles offense. If anyone knows how the team expects to utilize these backs, it’s obviously McVay. Meanwhile, Adam Schefter says he expects Michel to be the lead back for this team in 2021.
Figuring how this shakes out this fantasy football season is bound to be a headache. Ironically, that’s how the backfield in New England has been for the last four seasons. I won’t be taking Henderson as high as I have been, but the lead back in this high-powered offense will have value.
Kellen Mond isn’t a threat to quarterback, Kirk Cousins’, job anytime soon. Having missed practice while in the Covid-19 protocol, Mond hasn’t improved much since. He isn’t showing enough in preseason action to instill confidence as the starter at any point this season. Last night, he logged most of the offensive snaps and threw for 196 yards on 23 pass attempts, adding one interception without any touchdowns.
For those who may not know, Kirk Cousins is coming off of a QB11 finish from the 2020 fantasy football season. While he may not be a weekly starter at quarterback you can believe in, he gets the job done running the offense consisting of top fantasy options like Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen.
Speaking of Justin Jefferson, he continues to practice in a red non-contact jersey. After suffering a shoulder injury early in training camp, the Vikings aren’t taking any chances with their young star. He’s in line for another top-10 season in fantasy football after a spectacular rookie season.
Tight end Irv Smith, Jr. needs to present himself as a quality third option in the passing game. Otherwise, the Vikings should look to acquire a receiver from training camp cuts. Cousins’ success, as well as the team’s, may depend on it. Outside of Jefferson and Thielen, it’s starting to look very bleak.
New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston: QB1. Well, for the Saints, at least. Maybe not fantasy football.
Winston is officially the starter for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers. This is important for the value of running back, Alvin Kamara, and potential breakout wide receiver, Marquez Callaway.
The last time Winston started in the NFL, he threw for over 5,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. His stats landed him as a top-five quarterback in points per game and top-three in overall points. Otherwise, Winston is an average fantasy football quarterback. This is certainly good news for the offense as a whole, but Winston will just be a weekly streamer at the position.
Taysom Hill, in four starts at quarterback last season, targeted Alvin Kamara three or fewer times in three of those games. Kamara averaged 7.58 targets per game in the other 12 games with Brees under center. With Winston winning the starting job, Kamara is a much safer selection in the top-three of drafts now. With Michael Thomas sidelined, there’s a more than likely chance Kamara is the team’s top pass catcher for the Saints this season.
Marquez Callaway’s ADP is on the rise. Outside of Kamara, Callaway is going to get the most looks from Winston at wide receiver. In case you missed it, Winston connected with Callaway for five receptions, 104 yards, and 2 touchdowns in the second preseason game earlier this week. He’s going as early as the 12th round in fantasy football drafts.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is back on the training camp practice field. Unfortunately, he is getting work in while donning a red non-contact practice jersey. Head coach, Joe Judge, advises that Saquon is ramping up his conditioning, but doesn’t expect him to play in the final preseason game.
There’s a more than likely chance Saquon plays Week 1. However, without any contact in practice, it could be a slow start to his season. I still value Saquon as a first-round draft pick. His talent and opportunity are just as good as the other top-ranked running backs. If you’re not willing to use your first pick on a player returning from a season-ending injury, nobody will hold that against you. Just be certain the player you take instead gives you the confidence you’re looking for.
Devontae Booker seems like the backup that would carry the load if Saquon is sidelined. The Giants are expected to dress their starters for the final preseason game. Who gets the most run with the first team in Saquon’s absence is important to take note of.
Wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, still isn’t practicing. Similar to Saquon, when Golladay is on the field, his talent and opportunity are hard to overlook. Golladay’s training camp hamstring strain is a bit more concerning, though. This is a player who is missing out on crucial reps with his starting quarterback. Golladay isn’t a wide receiver you can count on to lead your fantasy football team at this time. I would make sure you have a stud or two in front of him on your depth chart. Sterling Shepard is the receiver who benefits the most from Golladay’s lack of practice.
Dallas Goedert is the definitive top target in Eagles training camp. Philadelphia beat reporters emphasize that Goedert is the team’s leader in targets, receptions, and touchdowns in training camp practices. It’s important to note that tight end, Zach Ertz, is also top-three in targets amongst all pass-catchers at camp.
With Ertz playing such a large role in the offense throughout training camp, it’s hard to believe he gets traded at this point. It would be a disservice to quarterback, Jalen Hurts. Ertz is no stranger to a heavy workload in the passing game. If he can produce similarly in 2021, his role is that much more beneficial to Hurts’ fantasy football value. Consequently, it could hinder that of Goedert. Ertz presents a sneaky opportunity as a backup tight end in deeper fantasy football leagues.
Rookie wide receiver, DeVonta Smith, is fully back from a training camp knee injury. He got some work in the team’s second preseason game catching his first NFL pass from backup, Joe Flacco. More importantly, Smith didn’t look limited. He was able to create eye-popping separation from defenders on most of his routes. There shouldn’t be any downgrading to his ADP due to injury concerns at this point.
San Francisco 49ers
We have our first red flag for running back, Raheem Mostert’s, bill of health. During this past week, Mostert stepped out of practice due to a tweak in his back. He is back on the training camp practice field but it was a harsh reminder that he has trouble staying healthy.
I still believe Mostert is the 49ers running back you want on your roster, specifically in the first chunk of the season. If he’s on the field, he should get the bulk of the carries. Trey Sermon is a worthwhile stash for the bench later on in fantasy football drafts. He has a good chance to get more work in this offense after the team’s Week 6 Bye.
Kyle Shanahan says he has a “good idea” of who the team’s Week 1 starting quarterback will be. Furthermore, quarterback, Jimmy Garropolo claims he has a “pretty good idea”, as well. Jimmy G notably said so with a smile.
Rookie Trey Lance isn’t going down without a fight for the starting job, though. He had a rough start to San Fran’s second preseason game going 1-for-6 for just nine yards and a tipped pass interception. From that point on, however, Lance was near perfect, completing seven of eight pass attempts for 93 yards and two passing touchdowns.
It’s likely Garropolo gets the Week 1 start, which is even better news for Mostert’s early production. The 49ers have a history of success running the ball, especially with Jimmy G under center. Pass-catchers, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel will still hold value, but won’t get the extra boost fantasy managers are looking for until Lance takes over.
Rookie wide receiver, D’Wayne Eskridge, is the Seahawks player nobody is talking about. We know DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are in line for big roles in the passing attack. Eskridge, however, could sneak in as a value in fantasy football this season, more so as the season progresses,
Eskridge spent the majority of training camp on the sidelines with a toe injury. Now, in his second week of practice, he is showing what he can do without any setbacks. He doesn’t have the big body that Metcalf has, but he can get off of the line of scrimmage faster than most. The Seahawks’ second-round pick could see a lot of low-depth, quick receptions underneath in this offense.
I don’t expect Eskridge to have an impact right away, as he’s still working himself onto the field. However, as he gets more reps, Eskridge could find a role in this new-look offense. He, more than anything, has value on dynasty benches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There seem to be a lot of mouths to feed on this Buccaneers offense. So much so, that it’s easy to overlook them with expectations that there’s not enough production to go around. There’s going to be plenty, on a team returning all of its offensive starters, but it may be tough to peg any of these receivers as a WR1 in fantasy football.
Mike Evans in particular seems like he’s been around forever. He’s entering his eighth NFL season and second with Tom Brady throwing him the ball. At just 28 years old, it may be easy to overlook and consider Evans as one of the older veterans. However, his connection with Brady continues to be the talk of Buccaneers training camp. Don’t write Evans off just yet. He’s a rock-solid WR2 with weekly WR1 upside.
Washington Football Team
Another week down and Curtis Samuel is still working his way back from injury. Regarded as one of the most exciting offseason signings, Samuel’s WR50 now reflects how things are actually going. Samuel is still dealing with a groin injury that’s kept him out of the entirety of training camp.
Head coach, Ron Rivera, is optimistic he returns next week. That’s not enough confidence to select Samuel with anything more than 12th-round or later pick in upcoming drafts. He shouldn’t be in fantasy lineups at the start of this season.
Meanwhile, rookie, Dyami Brown, is continuing to make plays on the practice field. Fitzpatrick isn’t expected to play in the final preseason game, but keep an eye out for Brown for however long he’s in the game. We should know fairly quickly in Week 1 what to expect from this offense with Fitzpatrick under center.
Like these Superflex Rankings? For more Rankings and Analysis please check out our full 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.
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