It’s hard to believe we’re a week away from the NFL regular season. After spending more than four months focusing on every bit of minutiae, every tidbit, every coach’s quote, and adjusting our rankings and projections, accordingly, a lot can change from our original expectations. Here’s a quick look at some of the most significant changes from my initial thoughts back in early May.
On Second Thought…
J.K. Dobbins (BAL) will be the bell cow by November
No disrespect to Mark Ingram II, but the Ravens are in the championship window and won’t hesitate to replace a very good running back with a great one. Dobbins looked the part from the first snaps of camp, and Ingram is too good of a teammate to not step aside for a better player.
Zack Moss (BUF) will significantly outperform Devin Singletary
I was higher on Moss than most at the start of the summer, but even I couldn’t have imagined Singletary fumbling his way from the lead role to a committee timeshare and now, possibly, to a backup role. Moss isn’t an All-Pro talent, but he’s a fit in the Bills system and will gobble up red-zone touchdowns.
Tarik Cohen (CHI) is a great value in PPR leagues
I’ve never been a Tarik Cohen fan, and neither had Matt Nagy. But with David Montgomery already hurt and the front office doing nothing to bolster the depth, Cohen could catch 80-100 receptions in an offense without many other playmakers.
Joe Mixon (CIN) got paid, and be a fantasy stud as a result
I ranked Mixon as a top-10 fantasy back to start the summer, but his contract dispute and phantom ‘migraines’ put me off him as a first-round pick for a few weeks. But the Bengals shockingly caved to his demands and paid him $12 million per year. He’ll be happy and motivated, and likely a star.
D'Andre Swift (DET) isn’t going to break the Lions curse
Kerryon Johnson has the pedigree to be an every-down workhorse, but he’s already too banged up to ever bank on it. D’Andre Swift had an opportunity to swoop in and reverse the decades-long curse of Lions’ running back futility. Unfortunately, Swift missed most of the padded practice portion of camp, and that’s going to set him back.
David Johnson (HOU) may be the RB we all hate ourselves for undervaluing
It’s hard to believe David Johnson was the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick just a few seasons ago – the NFL is a fickle beast. He was viewed as the “other” part of the DeAndre Hopkins trade, but the reality is he’s healthy and goes to a team more than happy to give a running back 300+ touches.
Jonathan Taylor (IND) isn’t going to wait his turn
Marlon Mack is not a bad player; he has talent. But my suspicions of a full-blown running-back-by-committee may have discounted Taylor’s exemplary profile. The guy is a prototypical every-down back and has looked the part throughout camp. Even Mack seemed to concede his fate as Taylor’s No. 2 in a recent Zoom call with the media.
Devine Ozigbo (JAX) is the deepest sleeper worth knowing
Everyone has focused on Ryquell Armstead as Leonard Fournette’s potential replacement in Jacksonville. That may be the way things pan out, but Ozigbo has as much talent as Armstead and is healthier. He’s still nearly free in 12-team drafts, so consider him as the ultimate late-round lottery ticket and be prepared to cut him for a hot waiver claim in a week or two if Armstead pans out.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) warrants a first-round ADP
Edwards-Helaire was the consensus No. 1 pick in dynasty rookie drafts, with good reason. He’s a pedigreed SEC player drafted in the first round of the April draft by the league’s best team. But I didn’t think he was worth drafting as an RB1 because Andy Reid wasn’t going to give a rookie a full-time workload when there were proven veterans able to share the load. But as we all know, Damien Williams opted out and cleared a path for Edwards-Helaire to dominate much in the way Kareem Hunt did as a rookie a few seasons ago after Spencer Ware got hurt.
Joshua Kelley (LAC) is a handcuff worth targeting
In my best Jeff Probst voice, Joshua Kelley outsmarted, outplayed, and outlasted Justin Jackson this summer. Jackson is talented, too, but Kelley has stayed on the practice field, passed every test, including blocking assignments, and has a higher upside that would make him the more exciting replacement for Austin Ekeler if he gets hurt.
Cam Akers (LAR) may lead all rookies in rushing yards
Take a look at the Rams depth chart, and you’ll see Malcolm Brown at the top. Darrell Henderson – who I loved in May – is banged up again. Akers has gotten better each week, and I think he could take the NFL by storm no later than Week 2. If he gets a shot at the lead role, he won’t give it back.
Dalvin Cook (MIN) is the riskiest consensus top-10 running back
Dalvin Cook was the second-best fantasy back on a per-game basis last year behind the otherworldly Christian McCaffrey. But he was hurt when it mattered most – the fantasy playoffs. Why do we put so much faith in a guy with not one, not two, but three shoulder injuries and a torn ACL already? Oh, and he’s livid about the lack of a hefty contract extension. Hard pass at his ADP.
James White (NE) is, once again, the RB to own in New England
Bargain-hunting in the Patriots backfield is trickier than fishing for king crab in the deep sea. Damien Harris looked like a winning lottery ticket until a finger injury put his Week 1 status in doubt. Sony Michel looked like the Whammy but is now back practicing. Yet, the answer was in front of us all along—Venerable James White and his 80-100-catch upside as Cam Newton’s de facto safety valve.
Alvin Kamara (NO) is worth a top-5 pick if the Saints can satisfy his contract demands
I initially ranked Kamara far below consensus because I wanted to see if he was healthy after last year’s debacle. But he was a stalwart throughout training camp, and as long as he’s taking all the practice reps, he deserves his top-5 ADP. But that assumes the Saints will find a way to pay him in the next week. If not, things could get ugly and possibly even lead to a shocking trade.
Le’Veon Bell (NYJ) is going to have another frustrating season
Remember when we all thought Adam Gase was the wunderkind next great play-caller? Me, neither. Now he’s making silly proclamations about how much he loves 68-year old Frank Gore and trying to trade for Kalen Ballage after the Dolphins announced they were releasing him. Bell isn’t going to get the volume he’ll need behind a subpar offensive line, and it’s going to frustrate fantasy enthusiasts who drafted him hoping for a return to stardom.
James Conner (PIT) will return to form
Credit to my colleague Matt Waldman for showing me the film of Conner and reminding me of how special this guy is in all facets of the game. After last year’s lost season, I had forgotten what a refined receiver Conner was and that he matched Le'Veon Bell’s fantasy production on a per-touch basis before last year. With Ben Roethlisberger back, we need to stop using the 2019 Steelers as a predictor of future performance.
Leonard Fournette (TB) gets a new lease on life but is now even more overdrafted
The Jaguars – arguably the NFL’s worst team – released Fournette, and the power back somehow lands on a stacked Buccaneers team with Super Bowl aspirations. In terms of real-life, Fournette had a fantastic turn of events. But for fantasy purposes, his situation took a hit. In Jacksonville, he would’ve been one of the NFL’s most-used tailbacks – as he was last year. In Tampa Bay, there are way too many mouths to feed, and Coach Arians isn’t going to give up on Ronald Jones II or LeSean McCoy, either. This backfield is a committee, and that means anyone thinking Fournette is worth a top-20 pick is going to be disappointed.
Antonio Gibson (WAS) is going to get a chance to be something he's never been -- a feature back
Every beat writer expected Adrian Peterson to be the team's Week 1 starter, but clearly Ron Rivera had other ideas. Peterson was a surprise cut, leaving rookie Antonio Gibson, second-year Bryce Love, and veteran J.D. McKissic as the backfield committee. Based on the coaches' pull quotes, Gibson is going to have the first crack at the starring role. The former Memphis Tiger scored 12 touchdowns last year, but only touched the ball 77 times. He's never been a feature back in junior college or Memphis, and was even considered a wide receiver by many draft evaluators. Regardless of how he was perceived in April, he'll now have the chance to disprove the doubters who think he can't handle a heavy, weekly workload.