We have a month until the official start of the NFL’s regular season. That leaves a lot of time for depth charts to be sorted out, injuries to happen and roles to be determined. Each Tuesday until the season starts, I’ll highlight pertinent news coming out of camps and preseason games. The more information we have, the better lineups we can make Week 1.
1. Darren Sproles sneaking up on everyone
Most of the Eagles’ RB talk has focused on the health of Ryan Mathews and the upside of rookie Wendell Smallwood. The forgotten man has been Darren Sproles, likely due to his narrow skill set and 33-year-old body. But Sproles has been getting significant first-team reps on a team with arguably the worst wide receiver corps in the league (even before Jordan Matthews’ knee injury). When Sam Bradford is looking at 1-on-1 matchups, he’ll often identify Sproles as the most likely to be open. At just $4,200 against the Browns on full-PPR DraftKings in Week 1, there’s plenty of GPP appeal with Sproles and an Eagles D/ST stack. He’s also the heavy favorite to serve as the primary punt returner, giving us a double-dip opportunity.
2. Sammie Coates tearing through Steelers practices
As soon as the Martavis Bryant year-long suspension was announced in March, my first thoughts turned to Sammie Coates. Then Le’Veon Bell got suspended for four games, shifting even more responsibility to the pass game. So once Coates started lighting up training camp and getting rave reviews from coaches, it was beyond time to take notice. OC Todd Haley said there’s a “night and day” difference between last year and this season. It’s rare a day goes by without a beat writer or coach raving about the 6’1/212 freak with 4.43 speed. For more on Coates, check out my Favorite Fliers article.
3. Derek Carr and Amari Cooper bunking up
Yes, Carr and Cooper requested to live together during training camp, perhaps furthering a bond that yielded a 72-1070-6 line as a rookie for Cooper in 2015. The biggest red flag in Cooper’s line was a lack of red-zone usage. He got just eight targets inside the 20-yard line in 16 games, while Michael Crabtree got 16 and Seth Roberts got 11. It didn’t make much sense, especially when we consider Cooper’s extensive red-zone production at Alabama and his 6’1/210 frame. The bottom line is that you don’t sleep near a man for a month and then not throw him the ball in the end zone. I expect Carr ($7,300) and Cooper ($7,200) to be among Week 1’s most popular stacks as they face the Saints.
4. Willie Snead back for more
When the Saints used a second-round pick on Michael Thomas, it was widely assumed he’d step in as the No. 2 WR behind Brandin Cooks. Not so fast. Although Thomas has starred throughout offseason practices, Willie Snead isn’t going anywhere. He reportedly has looked “even better than last season” and is “right in the middle of Drew Brees’ circle of trust.” Note that over the last five years, the Saints have ranked no better than 19th in 3-WR formations when passing (via ESPN’s Mike Clay). Expect Snead to be used more between the 20s and the 6-foot-3 Thomas to be more involved in the red zone. Weekly production will be difficult to pinpoint, especially with Brandin Cooks and Coby Fleener eating up targets as well.
5. Patriots taking it slow with Dion Lewis
Lewis tore his ACL in November of last season, meaning he’s only nine months removed from surgery. This rehab has changed a lot over the last decade and it’s no longer the death sentence it once was. See Arian Peterson, Todd Gurley and Jeremy Maclin as recent examples of ACL success stories. But it’s at least mildly concerning that Lewis still isn’t practicing with the Patriots two weeks into camp. As someone who relies heavily on violent cutting, Lewis is someone I want to see healthy with my own eyes before investing.
6. Titans surprising WR depth chart
When fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharpe ran ahead of Dorial Green-Beckham at OTAs, I brushed it off as a “message move” from the coaching staff. Turns out it was legitimately merit-based. Sharpe has continued to play with the first-string offense through camp, lining up across from Rishard Matthews with Kendall Wright in the slot. Green-Beckham, plagued by the same inconsistency and lack of trust that has bit Jeff Janis, remains a backup as the coaches express their disappointment whenever asked. Sharpe is a low-floor play in Week 1 against a very good Vikings defense, but he is stone minimum $3,000 on DraftKings.
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.