The beginning of training camp brings an official end to the NFL “offseason” and a start to the most important month for fantasy football prognostication. While plenty was learned during free agency, the draft, and offseason workouts, the next month should finally offer answers to most of the pressing questions facing fantasy players. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the most important fantasy storylines to follow during camp.
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The biggest individual storyline heading into camp is the availability of LeSean McCoy, who has been accused by his ex-girlfriend of orchestrating an alleged home invasion in which she was attacked. He has not been charged with anything and showed up for camp on time, but this situation is far from resolved. Easily Buffalo’s most important player on offense, McCoy’s being suspended or landing on the commissioner exempt list would destroy Buffalo’s attack, but it still makes sense to invest a late-round pick in Chris Ivory.
In addition to McCoy, it remains to be seen if Robby Anderson, Martavis Bryant, Terrance Williams, or Ricky Seals-Jones will face discipline for their alleged offseason transgressions. Because his legal issues have already been resolved, Anderson seems the most likely of that group to open the season on the sidelines. Bryant’s situation is trickier because it still is not clear if he actually failed or missed a test.
Josh Gordon does not really belong in this group because his absence from the beginning of training camp appears to be voluntary, but his availability is still uncertain. As of now, it appears more likely than not Gordon returns to the team during camp and is ready for Week 1. Mary Kay Cabot reports the “vibe” is Gordon will be back after a “brief respite,” and GM John Dorsey said he “absolutely” expects the receiver to play this season. Still, this situation carries a lot of risk which will only grow larger the longer Gordon is away.
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McCoy’s situation might be the biggest storyline heading into camp, but Andrew Luck’s shoulder is not far behind. After missing all of last season, Luck appears almost certain to be ready for Week 1 and is even expected to get in some work during the preseason. Indy’s handling of the situation last year means they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt, however, so it will be important to watch Luck’s activity early in camp. If he is healthy, the Colts’ offense should be a bastion of value in fantasy drafts.
Luck is obviously not the only fantasy star coming back from injury. Both Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz avoided the PUP list to start camp, which makes them look like locks to be ready Week 1. Allen Robinson also was left off the PUP, and Dalvin Cook was ready for the start of camp as well. Alshon Jeffery did end up on the PUP, but there does not seem to be any concern about his availability for Week 1. Although there is no chance it stays that way, the injury situation heading into camp looks good.
From a big-picture perspective, perhaps the most important fantasy storyline is the workload situation facing seemingly every mid-tier running back. Starting with Jordan Howard in the second round, basically every running back has at least minor questions surrounding their touch total.
Howard, Jerick McKinnon, and Joe Mixon will likely dominate backfield touches, but both Howard and Mixon have talented secondary backs behind them while McKinnon has never had more than 202 touches in a season. Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey are going to get work, but will they see a big enough boost to their carry totals to justify their ADPs? Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones, and, to a lesser degree, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, and Royce Freeman were drafted into potentially large roles, but will they actually earn them? Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake should lead their backfields, but the Eagles have tended to use committees while the Dolphins added both Frank Gore and Kalen Ballage over the offseason.
It is not going out on a limb to say some of those situations will not work out, meaning some of those names will look like terrible picks in a couple months, especially considering how inflated running back ADPs are this year. That said, some of them will also reach their potential and blow their draft cost out of the water. For fantasy players who want to take advantage of the receiver value available early in drafts, picking the correct middle-round running backs will be the difference between success and failure. The next several weeks will hopefully offer some clues.
This year’s receiver class was not as lauded as many of the other groups in recent drafts, but that does not mean the rookies should be ignored in redraft leagues. Several landed with teams looking to replace significant targets, and others ended up in at best unsettled situations.
D.J. Moore, Christian Kirk, and Michael Gallup appear the most likely of the rookies to earn a major first-year role, and all three are currently coming off the board in the double-digit rounds. The first receiver selected in April, Moore’s path to targets is not as clean as the other two, but he earned the most hype of the trio over the summer. With really just Devin Funchess ahead of him on the depth chart, it would not be surprising if Moore emerges as a big part of the offense during the preseason. Kirk has even less competition than Moore, and it would be a shock if he does not win the No. 2 job behind Larry Fitzgerald. Gallup has even less competition still, with his path to the No. 1 spot is blocked by an injury-prone Allen Hurns and not much else. All three could see major ADP jumps over the next month.
While that trio represents the most likely breakout candidates, they are not the only ones. Anthony Miller is a talented receiver who ended up in what should be a much better Bears offense. James Washington looks likely to earn the No. 3 job in one of the best passing attacks in the league. With Julio Jones holding out, Calvin Ridley suddenly has a much better chance to show what he can do. Going even deeper, it would not be surprising if any of Green Bay’s rookie trio or Indy’s rookie pair earned No. 3 duties. Despite a “lackluster” class, there is a lot of opportunity for immediate production.
Considering five quarterbacks were selected in the first round, their progress has to be a storyline heading into camp. Unfortunately, the most promising fantasy options of the group – Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson – likely will not get a chance to play immediately. Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen should get their chance, however, and it will be interesting to see how well they handle the preseason. No one in that trio has an exciting supporting cast, but all of them would at least be worth a look in two-quarterback formats if they win the job.
The quarterback intrigue does not end with the rookies. The returns of Luck, Watson, and Wentz have already been discussed. Patrick Mahomes is taking over an offense which facilitated a QB3 season from Alex Smith last year, Mitchell Trubisky inherited a coach from that team and has the recent trend of sophomore quarterback leaps working in his favor, and Marcus Mariota’s new coach helped Jared Goff improve dramatically last year. On top of that, Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Case Keenum, and Tyrod Taylor are on new teams, Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off his first offseason with the 49ers, and Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, and Eli Manning have new coaches. There could be some big surprises at quarterback this year.
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