There is a lot of absurd, fluffy rhetoric that emerges during OTAs. In case you haven’t heard, every player is in the best shape of his life, Amari Cooper is targeting 2,000 receiving yards and DeVante Parker is headed for the Hall of Fame. We safely can ignore all that noise, but there’s still value in following the minicamp news closely. Coaches are installing formations, players are recovering from injuries, depth charts are being established and beat writers are there to capture nuggets.
These are the biggest fantasy football takeaways from OTAs:
1. Damien Williams enters camp as clear-cut starter
The Chiefs signed Carlos Hyde in free agency and added Darwin Thompson in the sixth round of the draft. That seems to be giving a lot of fantasy people pause on Williams even though he averaged an eye-opening 25.5 DK points per game over the final six games of last season (including playoffs). But head coach Any Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Beiniemy squashed any talk of a committee during OTAs, saying Williams is their starter, he’s prepared on/off the field for this featured role and they plan to let him produce.
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise as Hyde is on his fourth team in three years and had to settle for a one-year, $2.8 million contract. Thompson is very small for any kind of significant workload at 5’8/200. So even though Williams is 27 years old, a former UDFA and barely got to play in Miami, the Chiefs quietly have shown a lot of faith in him. The way he played down the stretch last year and his elite size/speed combo is enough to project Williams for the lion’s share of running back touches. And that role in Reid’s offense has always been very fantasy-friendly — even before he had all-world Patrick Mahomes running the show.
2. Packers pencil in their 3-WR set
The AMM (After Mike McCarthy) era in Green Bay breeds optimism. Although new boss Matt LaFleur had a rough go as the Titans’ offensive coordinator last season, ranking 23rd in yards per play, we can pin a lot of those struggles on personnel. Upgrading from Marcus Mariota to Aaron Rodgers will allow LaFleur to scheme far more creatively. So it’s very notable the Packers locked in a starting three-WR set of Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison during OTAs. Note that Adams and MVS project as the starters in two-WR sets, with Allison coming on to play the slot in “11” personnel. Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow, J’Mon Moore will be fighting an uphill battle for playing time in training camp. Allison has seen at least 40 snaps in a game with Rodgers at quarterback nine times. He’s averaging 4.55 catches for 69.4 yards and 0.33 TDs in those.
3. Sony Michel’s knee issues bubble up
The Patriots’ decision to use No. 31 overall in 2018 on Michel was a head-scratcher for a lot of reasons. One of which was Michel’s history of knee issues. He suffered a torn left ACL in high school and again strained his knee in the 2017 SEC Championship game. In the weeks leading up to the draft, there were reports of a bone-on-bone condition. Then Michel had to have fluid drained last August, causing him to miss the season opener. He also missed two weeks in the middle of the season due to the knee.
So the news that Michel missed the entire offseason program due to a knee scope can’t just be taken in a vacuum. When we take in the context of Michel’s knee history as well as the selection of Damien Harris in the 2019 draft, there’s reason for concern. We already had a game-flow dependent player as Michel saw 11 targets in 13 games last season. Any reduced workload — particularly near the end zone — would be a huge concern for someone playing the old LeGarrette Blount role.
4. DK Metcalf has some work to do
Last year the Seahawks used the No. 27 overall pick on Rashaad Penny, but played him behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis. Back in 2012, the Seahawks gave Matt Flynn a $26 million contract but ended up going with third-round rookie Russell Wilson as their starter. The point is this Pete Carroll regime doesn’t let money or draft capital factor into depth charts. During OTAs, the Seahawks’ primary three-WR set was Tyler Lockett, David Moore and Jaron Brown. That doesn’t mean second-rounder DK Metcalf won’t be in the top-three by the time Week 1, but it’s far from a guarantee. And we also are talking about one of the few remaining teams still firmly on #TeamEstablishTheRun. Seattle only threw 47% of the time last season, dead last in the entire league by a wide margin. In this Brian Schottenheimer scheme, consistently supporting any wideouts beyond electric Tyler Lockett is going to be difficult. Between the depth chart, efficiency and scheme concerns, Metcalf is an easy pass in redraft formats.
5. Devonta Freeman puts health woes behind him
The Falcons played it safe with Freeman last season, declining to rush him back from a foot bruise and sports hernia surgery. He ended up appearing in just two games all year and the last one was Oct. 7. The goal clearly was to ensure Freeman would be 100% for the 2019 season, which it appears he will be. Freeman participated fully in OTAs and reportedly looked like his old self. He also no longer is dealing with pressure from Tevin Coleman, and the Falcons used first-round picks on the offensive line. The Falcons ranked fourth in yards per play last season and 10th in points per game and this is going to be one of the league’s best fantasy environments again, setting up a nice situation for a healthy Freeman.
6. Curtis Samuel making a leap in Year 3
Sameul has caught only 54 passes through two NFL seasons, often playing behind Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin and even Jarius Wright. That’s all in the rearview now. Samuel, the No. 40 overall pick in 2017, has made serious strides this offseason. With Funchess now in Indy, Samuel is the unquestioned No. 2 wideout and was reportedly the offensive star of the offseason program. Let’s not forget this is a player with 4.31 speed and a 91st-percentile size-adjusted speed score (via PlayerProfiler). And while it seems crowded in Carolina’s target totem pole with Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore up top, there’s very little beyond that. The corpse of Greg Olsen, Chris Hogan and Torrey Smith can’t touch Samuel’s rising upside. The ADP gap between Moore and Samuel likely will close quickly before September hits.
7. Duke Johnson demands trade
The #FreeDukeJohnson movement has hit reality. It’s no longer just fantasy players who want Johnson to find a team that appreciates his skills — now Johnson has had enough and asked for a trade. The gifted pass-down back sat out all voluntary workouts and then begrudgingly reported for mandatory work. A trade would be very interesting as the Browns hesitated to use Nick Chubb on pass downs last season, resulting in just 29 targets over 16 games last year. If Johnson ends up gone before Week 1, we can project more pass-down work for Chubb a reasonable role for pass-catching specialist Dontrell Hilliard. Once Kareem Hunt comes off suspension in Week 9, Johnson (if still on team) and/or Hilliard will become expendable. Meanwhile, a fresh landing spot like Tampa Bay would be really exciting for Johnson’s outlook.
8. Trey Quinn puts a lock on slot job
Quinn was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2018 draft, but he’s pushing for relevance now. One of the DraftNik community’s favorite sleepers has earned a major role heading into camp. “Trey Quinn has taken over the inside slot role,” said coach Jay Gruden. “He’s confident, he’s quick, he’s got strong hands, he’s physical and he’s tough.” Quinn will step into the Jamison Crowder role, which yielded 6.3 targets per game over the past three seasons. Dwayne Haskins showed the ability to generate big numbers out of the slot last year with Parris Campbell. At worst, Quinn is a name for deep-leaguers to keep an eye on.
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