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Sun Aug 23rd 2020

Training Camp Hype #1

I Believe The Hype

At this time of year, I'd normally watch every preseason game and write a weekly report on the players I thought stood out in the games. Unfortunately, this year I can only report what coaches and beat writers have said about their players. Their words are far less reliable than watching the games and forming my own opinions based on what I have seen on the field, but it's all I can do this year. Beat reporters are limited in what they are allowed to report by way of formations and depth charts, but they can indicate how individual players have looked in practice. I've taken in all the coach-speak and beat writers reports this week, and have tried to decide what's believable and what's not. After the first week of practice in pads, these are eleven stories I've decided to believe.

Jonathan Taylor

  • Coach Reich said that he plans to use Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor in games this year and use the "hot hand" approach to who gets the most carries. Zak Keefer, of The Athletic, said that he would not be surprised if Taylor becomes the starter early in the season after a few breakout games. Finally, videos from practice emerge of Taylor slicing through the defense and running over defenders. 
  • I believe coach Reich is doing all he can to let Marlon Mack know he's a valuable part of the team, but he already knows who the best running back is on his team. He may allow Mack to start game one, but Taylor will out carry Mack and replace him as the starter and leading carrier by week two or three. Taylor a far superior player, and it will be evident to everyone, including Marlon Mack, right away. Taylor was my number one ranked rookie in this year's class, and he will prove it immediately. Taylor may need time to show he can be useful as a receiver and in pass protection, but Indianapolis is a run-first team with the best offensive line in the league, so Taylor will see plenty of opportunities early in games. Indianapolis's defense has steadily improved since Reich has become the head coach, so they can keep the Colts in close games and keep their running game a priority.

Justin Jackson

  • The Athletic, reports that Justin Jackson split time with the first team during the Chargers scrimmage this week. Other reports stated that Jackson was clearly ahead of the rookie, Joshua Kelley, for the back-up role behind Austin Ekeler.
  • Jackson has been excellent in almost every game he has played. The problem is that he has been injured often and unable to play, which is strange because he was one of the most durable running backs in college, averaging 285 carries a year during his four-year career at Northwestern. I believe that Jackson, if he can stay healthy, will hold off Kelley to keep the starting back-up role in Los Angeles. The Chargers also need a running back to share the load with Austin Ekeler, who has never had the starter role until this year, so Jackson's role is much more of a 1B role to Ekeler's 1A. I am a Kelley believer and drafted him on two of my dynasty teams, believing he would beat out Jackson for the number two role behind Ekeler. These reports have caused me to change my opinion. Thankfully, I have Jackson on both teams, where I drafted Kelley so I can wait more comfortably to see who ultimately wins the 1B role in Los Angeles.

Damien Harris

  • Sony Michel was added to the PUP list. Lamar Miller was signed by New England but was immediately added to the PUP list too. Meaning, Damien Harris is getting the bulk of the workload in practice. Bill Belichick never reveals a thing, but CLNS's reporter, Evan Lazar, reported that Harris appeared to be the best skilled-player through two days of practice. Other reports said Harris was very effective in the passing game during practice. 
  • Things could not have lined up any better for Harris during training camp. If he can't win the starting job this year, he'll never be able to do so. While I usually make it a policy not to draft Patriot running backs because Belichick rotates his backfield so often from game to game, I drafted Harris in several dynasty leagues last year because I had him ranked higher than most league-mates and analysts. Harris was my 8th ranked overall rookie in the 2019 rookie class. Like most owners, I held onto him even though he only had four carries in his rookie year, and I believe he will become the starting running back this year even if Michel and Miller come back from their injuries. If he cannot do so with this opportunity before him, I'll admit that I was wrong in my evaluation of Harris and cut him pretty early into the season.

Chase Edmonds

  • This week, coach Kliff Kingsbury said that he feels like Edmonds is a starting NFL running back. There were not beat reporters writing about Edmonds's great plays at practice. There was just this one quote from the Cardinal's head coach. He said what I've been saying this whole off-season.
  • Edmonds is one of the players I've been trying to trade for this off-season. Kenyan Drake finished the year ridiculously strong after being traded to Arizona, but I still see Drake as incapable of handling a full workload as a starter. He has not done so successfully in his collegiate or professional career so far. He's a great running back, but he needs to share the load with another player to remain healthy and remain productive. I think Edmonds will get 30-40% of the snaps this year. While that's not enough to become a starter in dynasty line-ups, he's one of the best handcuffs to own if Drake is overworked and gets injured. Drake never had more than 100 carries in his college career. Edmonds averaged 235 carries in his four years at Fordham. He's the running back best suited for a full-time role in Arizona. I don't think he will beat out Drake to become the starter, but I do believe, like coach Kingsbury, that he is a startable NFL running back and will share the load with Drake this year.

Breshad Perriman

  • Coach Adam Gase said that Perriman and Sam Darnold had developed chemistry quickly. Beat reports said this as well, stating that Perriman had become a primary target of Darnold's in practice. They also reported on Perriman's excellent route running, getting open more than any other receivers in practices. Jets' rookie wide receiver, Denzel Mims, has been sidelined with an injury, giving Darnold even more time to build chemistry with Perriman. The Jets are thin a wide receiver and signed Chris Hogan this week, so the target-share will be very limited in this offense, at least to start the season. 
  • Perriman could compete to be the top-targeted pass-catcher in New York. He's had breakout end-of-the-season performances each of the last two seasons. He shined in Cleveland to end the 2018 season, leading to a free-agent contract in Tampa Bay where he became the 2nd highest scoring wide receiver in weeks 13-17 last year leading to the Jets signing him as a free agent this off-season. In Cleveland and Tampa Bay, he was added for depth and buried on the depth charts. In New York, this year, he was signed to be a starter. I like Jameison Crowder for his steady floor in PPR leagues, but his upside is very limited. I was far lower on Denzel Mims than the rest of the dynasty industry, ranking him 19th in my rookie rankings though he was drafted near the one and two round turn in most rookie drafts. Perriman has the most upside among all Jets receivers, in my opinion, especially if he and Darnold establish a connection quickly as is being reported.

Preston Williams

  • The drumbeat for Williams has been slow and steady all offseason. He was cleared for practice before practices began after his offseason ACL surgery. The Dolphins reported that they were optimistic that he could start the season, and now he is practicing with no restrictions other than a day of rest each week. Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson decided not to play this season, meaning the Dolphins need Williams to start the season even more. 
  • Williams was on pace for 64 receptions, 856 yards, and six touchdowns before he was injured last year. He is only going to improve on that pace this year. Williams is one of the players I've been trying to trade for this off-season. I gave up a 2021 first-round pick to get Williams and a 2021 third-round pick, which I could not be happier about.

Jalen Reagor

  • Reagor was reportedly starting with the first team in Eagle's practices and is said to be starting at the X position in place of Alshon Jeffery, who is on the PUP list. Not much has been reported more than this, but with Jeffery out and Marquise Goodwin opting out for this year, Reagor should be in the starting line-up week one.
  • Reagor was drafted in the first round, so his draft-capitol demands that he see playing time early this season even if there were no injuries to open the way for him to start. Philadelphia recognized their need for outside speed receivers last year after DeSean Jackson was injured, and they had to rely on better underneath pass-catching options for the rest of the season. Jackson is still on the roster but, at his age, could get injured again. Having two speed-options on the field at the same time will only increase Reagor's opportunities to be involved if Jackson can stay healthy this year. Reagor will be in the starting line-up to begin the season and prove that he should remain a starter even if Jeffery comes off the PUP list, and Jackson stays healthy.

Quintez Cephus

  • According to Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic, Cephus is getting great separation from defensive backs in practice and is competing for the starting slot position in three-receiver sets. Danny Amendola has the slot role currently, and Geronimo Allison opted out of playing this year, so Cephus only needs to jump Amendola, who is older, smaller, and often injured, to win the starting role. 
  • Cephus is ready to win this job. While it may take a few weeks to solidify a starting role, I believe his size and route-running prowess will lead to a starting position before midseason. His poor performance in the Combine led to his fall in the NFL draft, but this 5th round draft pick will outperform his draft capital in his first NFL season. His college film is more impressive than his Combine measurables.

Chris Herndon

  • The Athletic's Conner Hughes wrote several times this week about the Jets' plan to "unleash" Herndon this year. Coach Gase made clear in a press conference that Herndon will be the starter for his teams above Ryan Griffin, who played well last year while Herndon was injured. As I mentioned above, the Jets have a very narrow target selection with only Crowder, Perriman, and Bell competing for targets. Some reporters have speculated that Herndon could even be the second most targeted player in New York, if not the first like George Kittle or Travis Kelce in their offenses.
  • I've already written about Herndon as one of my favorite breakout players for this year. Like his head coach and the beat reporters, I believe Herndon will be a critical part of the offense this year. They need him to be. Darnold showed his propensity to target the tight end position in his rookie season when he targeted Herndon 56 times for four touchdowns and his second season when he targeted Ryan Griffin 41 times for five touchdowns. Gase draws up touchdown targets for his tight ends, and Darnold executes those plays. Herndon is ready for a standout 2020 season.

Irv Smith

  • ESPN's Courtney Cronin and The Athletic's Arif Hasan both reported this week on Smith's likely expanded role within the Viking offense. They experimented with Smith as an outside receiver and a move tight end. There are plenty of targets missing after the Vikings traded Stefon Diggs this off-season. The second-year wideout, Bisi Johnson, and the free-agency-acquired Tajae Sharpe will compete with the rookie, Justin Jefferson, for the WR-2 role. Reports also surfaced this week that Jefferson, whom most assumed would become the WR-2 after being drafted in the first round, is running behind Johnson and Sharpe in practice so far. 
  • The Vikings need Irv Smith to play a significant role this year. He's athletic enough to play any pass-catching position on the field and at 6'2" and 240 pounds is a mismatch for many cornerbacks and linebackers. If the Vikings are creative, they can find many different ways to create match-up problems for their opponents and unleash Smith. They'd be wise to do so, and they need to do so given the inexperience of the rest of their wide receiver corps.

Adam Trautman

  • SaintsWire reported this week that Trautman is already getting reps with the first team and that the man in front of him on the roster, Jared Cook, has given glowing reports about his play, saying that he is "NFL ready." A few videos were released this week as well, showing Trautman making tremendous catches. 
  • Trautman is one to the players I most regret not having drafted in rookie drafts this year. The Saints traded four 2020 draft picks to trade up to get Trautman, which means they have plans to use him and need to get him on the field early to show that he was worth trading away the rest of their 2020 draft picks. Trautman was a Combine superstar, and his athleticism is already showing in training camp. Jared Cook is in the last year of his contract, so the Saints will want to see what they have in Trautman before the end of the year so they can make decisions about Cook's future with the team. After hearing these reports and reconsidering the circumstances, I believe Trautman will get reps with the first team this season ahead of Cooks.  

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