- Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
- Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
- Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate
Nobody has a more stacked lineup of fantasy football analysts and NFL team reporters than ESPN. It’s the rare “backfield by committee” that is actually a good thing for fantasy managers.
Throughout the preseason, our NFL Nation reporters have answered the most pressing fantasy questions. This column is designed to close the loop on things as you make final preparations for your fantasy draft.
If you are a little late getting started on your draft prep or simply didn’t have time to sift through every training camp report and review the all-22 film from every preseason game this summer, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with the most fantasy-relevant developments around the NFL over the past five weeks to get you caught up.
Return of the backs
Let’s start with the best news first. We’ve had nothing but glowing reports on the health and “explosiveness” of elite fantasy running backs, like the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry and New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley, as they recover from significant injuries. Of course it’s fair to be scared off by their recent injury histories and career mileage. But if you wanted an excuse to bet on their tremendous upsides, you got it this summer.
The news has been mostly positive with Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins, too (despite their signing of veteran RB Kenyan Drake). But his status for Week 1 is still undecided, so it might take a few weeks before he’s back to a full workload. Jacksonville Jaguars RB James Robinson is also expected to be eased back into action in Week 1.
There is a tad more uncertainty surrounding the recovery status of New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin. Thomas was generating as much buzz as any player in the league for how good he looked in practice before he suffered a hamstring injury two weeks ago. Godwin has also looked great, but neither has been confirmed as a Week 1 starter just yet. Meanwhile, Tennessee Titans receiver Robert Woods said his knee injury is “not even a thought,” and he is on pace to start in Week 1 — and likely emerge as the top target for his new team.
Rookie Brian Robinson appeared likely to emerge as the lead running back in the Washington Commanders’ committee before he was shot twice in an armed robbery attempt Sunday. Fortunately, Robinson avoided serious injury and was released from the hospital Monday, though it remains unclear when he’ll return to the field.
One of the most significant fantasy-related injuries of the preseason might have been suffered by a player who isn’t even fantasy-eligible: Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith’s torn left hamstring. Statistics show that the Cowboys’ fantasy standouts, like running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott, haven’t been nearly as effective when Smith is out of the lineup.
The reigning Super Bowl champions have several major players dealing with hopefully minor ailments. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has been nursing a sore elbow since last season, while running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson just returned from soft tissue injuries this week. All three appear to be on track to play in Week 1, though.
Other players on the Week 1 bubble because of injuries suffered during the past month include New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (knee), Miami Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle (unspecified), Atlanta Falcons WR Drake London (knee), Philadelphia Eagles RB Miles Sanders (hamstring), San Francisco 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell (hamstring) and Seattle Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III (hernia). None of them are expected to be sidelined for long, though. Waddle and Mitchell have already returned to practice in limited fashion.
Quiet summer for rookie receivers
If there is going to be another Ja’Marr Chase or Waddle in this year’s rookie receiver class, we haven’t identified him yet. The two rookies who have arguably drawn the most buzz this summer are Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick George Pickens and Green Bay Packers fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs.
First-rounders Garrett Wilson (Jets), Chris Olave (Saints), Jahan Dotson (Commanders) and Treylon Burks (Titans); second-rounders Wan’Dale Robinson (Giants), Alec Pierce (Indianapolis Colts) and Skyy Moore (Kansas City Chiefs); and third-rounder Jalen Tolbert (Cowboys) have also shown promise to varying degrees. But none has flashed consistently enough yet to be projected as his team’s top receiver.
Meanwhile, London has the best chance of being a WR1, but he missed most of the preseason. So did the Packers’ Christian Watson (knee). The Detroit Lions’ Jameson Williams (knee) and New England Patriots’ Tyquan Thornton (clavicle) have longer-term injuries that will sideline them for at least the first month. And the Houston Texans’ John Metchie III is expecting to miss the entire season while recovering from a summer leukemia diagnosis.
Of course there is still plenty of time for the WR class of 2022 to change the narrative. Who can forget that one year ago at this time, Chase himself was considered a question mark after battling dropped passes in the preseason?
Nobody soared up ESPN’s fantasy rankings over the past month more than Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce. The fourth-round draft choice has moved up more than 70 spots in ESPN’s rankings since June, securing the starting job while veteran Marlon Mack was relegated to the practice squad.
Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds is another riser after emerging as the leading man in one of the NFL’s most overcrowded backfields. Raheem Mostert also appears to have secured a key role in Miami, while fellow veteran Sony Michel was released.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara made a minor but notable jump in the ESPN rankings (from 14th to 10th overall) when he had another preliminary court appearance delayed from Aug. 1 to Sept. 29 in his looming battery case (with no trial on the horizon yet). It’s still possible Kamara could be suspended during the 2022 season — especially if he reaches a plea agreement with a lesser charge at some point. But the chance of a 2022 suspension lessens with each delay in the case.
Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota and Geno Smith were all declared starting quarterbacks for the Panthers, Falcons and Seahawks, respectively — and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mitch Trubisky is the front-runner in the final undecided QB competition. But none of those decisions should move the fantasy needle too much.
Others who improved their stock in the past month to varying degrees include TE Cole Kmet; RBs Rhamondre Stevenson, Isiah Pacheco and Zamir White; and WRs Gabe Davis, Allen Robinson II, Adam Thielen, Christian Kirk, Brandon Aiyuk, Joshua Palmer and Nico Collins. Plus WR Julio Jones, technically, because he landed a new job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Nobody had a more unexpected fantasy plummet this summer than Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki, who went from receiving the franchise tag to being dangled in trade talks while being relegated to more of a blocking role. “Gesicki might be the No. 2 tight end on his own team right now, so it doesn’t make much sense to make him the No. 1 tight end on yours,” Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques cautioned.
Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs and Commanders RB Antonio Gibson both appeared to lose their grip on the leading-man roles they had last season, as those two teams turned to more of a committee approach this summer (though Gibson’s role could increase while Robinson is sidelined). Akers could also wind up splitting time with Henderson — but we won’t have a great feel for the Rams’ plans until both backs are healthy at the same time. Veteran Ronald Jones appeared to fall behind the trio of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon in Kansas City’s crowded backfield. Meanwhile, rookie Isaiah Spiller wasn’t able to emerge as the Chargers’ RB2 — in part because of an ankle sprain. And that backfield became even more crowded behind starter Austin Ekeler when the Chargers signed Michel.
Giants receiver Kenny Golladay was another rankings faller after a sluggish summer performance that makes him particularly hard to forecast. Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was another obvious rankings faller after agreeing to an 11-game suspension. As a result, Browns receiver Amari Cooper’s value also took a slight dip.
“1A and 1A”
Last but not least, Packers coach Matt LaFleur took the backfield-by-committee trend to a new level when he coined the term “1A and 1A” to describe running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. But at least in Green Bay’s case, there should be enough work for both of them in the passing game to earn that title.
We took a deeper dive into some of the NFL’s most convoluted backfield committees in our NFL Nation reporters’ Q&A two weeks ago. Even Colts coach Frank Reich joined in on the murkiness by vowing to reduce Jonathan Taylor’s workload a bit this season and getting Nyheim Hines more involved. But don’t worry. You should still feel comfortable taking Taylor No. 1 overall in any format.
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