Some fantasy people will tell you training camp and preseason are a waste of time. Those people are fools. Christian McCaffrey had a third-round Average Draft Position this time last year. Then he went out and played almost every single snap with the starters in four preseason games and by the time September came around, sharp drafters were taking him in the first round. Taywan Taylor was a trendy sleeper but then he ran as the No. 4 wideout throughout camp. Royce Freeman had trouble separating from Phillip Lindsay/Devontae Booker even though everyone presumed Freeman would lead the backfield. The list goes on and on.
The point is we can glean a ton of information by paying close attention to what happens in August. Here are seven questions I hope to get answers on before Week 1.
1. Will Aaron Jones put away Jamaal Williams?
With Mike McCarthy finally out of town, the #FreeAaronJones movement is in full effect. New coach Matt LaFleur continues to say he’d like to use multiple backs, but that’s what almost every NFL coach wants to do these days. The question is to what extent? If Jones can earn an 80% market share of RB touches and snaps, he’ll be a monster in this new zone-blocking scheme, which perfectly fits his style. We also can expect a significant bump in Aaron Rodgers’ target rate at running backs, which was a low 16.2% last season. Note that Jones also averaged 1.09 PPR fantasy points per touch last season, more than Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott. Jamaal Williams was at 0.76 PPR fantasy points per touch.
2. Will Melvin Gordon dig in for the long haul?
Gordon hasn’t gotten the Running Backs Don’t Matter memo. And who can blame him? He’s put his body on the line for the team, been a productive player and wants to be paid at an elite level. The problem, of course, is from a team-building perspective. Sinking a lot of money into the game’s most replaceable, shortest-lived, most-injured position is just bad strategy — especially as the rules continue to make passes far more efficient than runs. So we’re likely headed for a stalemate here as the Chargers have two very good backs in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson ready to rock. Will Gordon or the Chargers cave? If neither one does, Ekeler will be a mouth-watering PPR option as he’s racked up 66 catches on just 543 career snaps from check-down prince Philip Rivers. Ekeler was also PFF’s No. 6 RB among 61 qualifiers last season.
3. Can Miles Sanders make a move?
Sanders missed most of the offseason program due to a hamstring injury, causing Eagles beat writers to go south on the rookie’s Year 1 role. However, I’m not ready to write off Sanders yet. Remember he has the athletic measurables of an elite fantasy running back and the Eagles were enamored with him coming out of Penn State. They are a franchise that understands the relative lack of value at RB and hadn’t used a third-round pick or lower at the position since LeSean McCoy in 2009. As long as Sanders is healthy, his talent will run circles around Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Then it will be impossible for the coaches to keep him from a significant Year 1 role.
4. Will Duke Johnson get traded?
The grossly underutilized Johnson has been trying to get out of Cleveland all offseason. He has even switched agents, joining up with all-powerful Drew Rosenhaus earlier this month. Now the question is if the Browns will relent and allow Johnson to spread his wings elsewhere. With Chubb set to dominate the backfield touches and Kareem Hunt due back from suspension in Week 9, it’s possible they could get away with Dontrell Hilliard as a pass-down back for the first half of the season. Johnson would have serious fantasy upside somewhere like Tampa Bay, where he immediately would be the best back on an offense that will threaten to lead the league in passing yards.
5. Will Donte Moncrief hold off the competition?
With Antonio Brown’s 11.2 targets per game gone and JuJu Smith-Schuster already holding a massive 24.1% target share, there’s a ton of opportunity to be had in Pittsburgh. The key question is who will emerge from a pack that includes Moncrief, second-year man James Washington and third-round rookie Dionte Johnson? Moncrief got his nose in front during the offseason and will head to camp as the frontrunner. Remember, Moncrief is still just 25 years old but has five NFL seasons under his belt. This is a player with plenty of raw tools, as evidenced by 4.40 speed to go with a 6’2/216 frame.
6. Will the Broncos expand Royce Freeman’s role?
All signs point toward the new Vic Fangio regime leaning more on Freeman. The 2018 third-rounder actually beat Phillip Lindsay in most advanced metrics last year and the new scheme is a better fit for a power runner. I still expect Lindsay to open the season in front, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Freeman forces at least a 50-50 role on early downs. That said, we’ll learn a lot during the preseason as Lindsay already appears recovered from his wrist surgery and the battle is on. What we already know is that the current ADPs are too far apart — Lindsay is 51.7 on ESPN and Freeman is 144.5.
7. Will Carlos Hyde put any heat on Damien Williams?
I’m not quite sure why the fantasy community wasn’t white hot on Williams all offseason considering the way he closed last year and the depth chart behind him. Yes, Williams is 27 years old and has never had more than 50 carries in a season — but that’s a good thing when you’re a running back. I’m not going to put the Dolphins’ inability to identify talent on Williams. He also has a 95th percentile size-adjusted speed score (via PlayerProfiler) and Hyde has been the worst running back on his team for three years running as noted here by Warren Sharp. Williams enters camp as the clear-cut feature back, and it will be up to Hyde to put pressure on.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.