I've never done an "On Second Thought" post although Jason Wood, Sigmund Bloom, and David Dodds did them in the past. I always liked the idea of sharing my list of players who, for good or bad, might be changing my mind about their prospects for the 2021 NFL season.
In some cases, I have lingering doubts but I'm still sticking to my projections. In other cases, I'm making a big change in course.
Arizona Receivers Other Than DeAndre Hopkins
I've been high on Rondale Moore and A.J. Green this summer. Both players have tons of ability — yes, Green still has it, based on reports from new teammates and veteran coaches who have been around the NFL block. However, my RSP Quick Game co-host Mark Schofield of TD-Wire brings up a terrific point about the Arizona Cardinals scheme that gives me pause: Kliff Kingsbury refused to move his players around to create mismatches last year until much later in the season.
Has Kingsbury learned his lesson? If he hasn't, he won't be getting the most from some of the most dynamic talents in the league at the wide receiver position. This will be especially disconcerting given that all of his receivers with the exception of Andy Isabella can play multiple receiver spots at a high level.
If Kingsbury has learned his lesson will he go overboard with the shifting? This is a concern when considering that Hopkins told the media that if Green wants to switch positions with Hopkins pre-snap so he gets Hopkins' route, then he's all for it. The presumption is that Kyler Murray will be cognizant of these changes, but as Schofield notes, the quarterback can be unaware of some last-second switches while he's looking at the defense and is usually the player dictating changes based on his observations.
A lack of shifts or early disaster with this freelance could lead to a static offense that won't give Moore and Green the easy-optimal looks against mismatched defenders or the available holes in coverage.
I'm still rolling with Moore and Green as potential draft-day values because I believe Kingsbury has learned his lesson, but some minor doubts are creeping in.
Rhamondre Stevenson: There and Back Again
It's safe to say I helped chop down the wood for the Stevenson bandwagon before the draft. The videos in the linked post are excellent displays of Stevenson's versatility, on-field intelligence, smooth feet, and underrated burst. When it was time for me to deliver my initial projections of the Patriots offense, I had Stevenson as the second-most productive option on the running back depth chart with the presumption he'd emerge during the second half of the season.
During the past few weeks, Stevenson earned a lot of acclaim for his in-game preseason performances although much of what I saw was far more hype than substance — creases than any back with contributor-level skill should have accessed with ease. Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears also tried to keep media expectations low with his answers to the Stevenson buzz during post-game press conferences. He told reporters that Stevenson had a lot to learn.
With Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James White, and J.J. Taylor all on the roster at the time and performing well, I was beginning to think that the hype on Stevenson was overblown. However, I didn't adjust my projections to veer away from Stevenson. When the Patriots traded Michel, I only added to them. And from what I'm hearing, Stevenson has a strong shot of not only earning significant snaps in the offensive rotation, but he could also split red-zone looks with James White and earn the close-out carries when the Patriots have a lead.
Schofield, who covers the Patriots, believes White and Stevenson could also be a regular backfield tandem on passing downs.
As a result, I still think Damien Harris is the 1-A option for the Patriots, but not necessarily a 1-A option for fantasy GMs. This could remain one of the most difficult backfields to assess from a fantasy perspective and it usually pays to draft the best values of the bunch, which are White and Stevenson in that order.
Mike Davis gets no love
This may be a misleading statement because the only person I know who has written anything positive about Davis' 2021 prospects is my friend Gene Clemmons at the Athletic. And the reason he's the only person I know is that I rarely read other people's work due to time constraints with doing my own analysis.
I've been relatively quiet about Davis this offseason. I've long been a fan of his play, appreciating his contact balance, excellent footwork, and passing-down skills despite the fact he has always been a fringe roster guy early in his career. I've seen my share of naysayers about Davis this year, believing that Atlanta made a dumb choice during free agency because Davis was somehow exposed during the final weeks of the 2020 season in Carolina.
This is one of those narratives that happens when people don't understand running games and look solely at box scores to inform their analysis. Offensive lines usually have to be good for running backs to earn great production. The exceptions to that rule are running backs with fantastic vision, footwork, quickness, and the ability to get lost in traffic due to a low center of gravity. Christian McCaffrey has all of these traits and skills.
Davis has above-average vision and footwork for a starter, but average quickness and he's hard to lose in traffic due to his size. Without good offensive line play, he's not going to consistently deliver top-tier production without a ton of volume and teams leave the ground game at the side of the road when it stops working and the scoreboard dictates.
This is what happened in Carolina.
By the way, breakaway speed isn't the answer either, it's the most common myth that fans, media, and even former executives have about players have about running backs and other skill players. I actually read a thought that a former executive shared about a recently cut skill player that was a perfect example of this behavior.
This player was an early-round pick years ago who has never shown the technical skills to be anything more than fast. He's unreliable and lacking versatility and has been on more teams than he probably deserves because executives see his speed and think that's a tool to work with despite the major drawbacks that give coaches and teammates headaches. This player was projected as a starter for the team that cut him and now, this former executive is lauding the potential value of this one-dimensional player. Meanwhile, I shared this with one former scout and league consultant (at a very high level) and he chuckled about the lack of imagination and predictably wrong-headed mentality of the league that continues to breed this mindset with its behaviors.
Another consultant with a scouting background had actually talked to me about this player months ago when given an opportunity to assess this team's depth chart and we had a similar conversation.
So, no, Davis isn't a breakaway back, but he's behind a young offensive with some underrated zone skills — and already a stronger unit than the Panthers had last year. By the way, our Matt Bitonti ranks the Panthers' unit last in the league. Davis has the skills to earn hard yards and Atlanta has the offensive potential to help Davis get enough easy ones that the recent cuts of D'Onta Foreman and Jaylen Hawkins are reaffirming my thoughts on Davis as a double-digit touchdown talent.
Although I believe we'll see Atlanta add a veteran runner cut from another team in the coming days — Ameer Abdullah and Royce Freeman come to mind — Davis' role as the central cog in Atlanta's ground game looks safe.
Desean Jackson: I might play DFS early this year
I'm not much of a DFS guy. We have a ton of guys who are good at it and skilled at writing about it. That said, the one season I invested $20 in it, I finished the year with $700 — not including a nice second-place prize to Jason Wood among our entire staff over the course of the year in a DFS staff contest.
Then why not play more? Analyzing football for a living is more of a sure thing and a bigger priority of my time. I don't think I can afford another 5-7 years of learning to game a system as the pros do.
That year, Ted Ginn Jr was a fun, low-cost/little-used weapon of choice for my rosters. DeSean Jackson has stayed healthy this summer and he's light years ahead of Ginn as an actual wide receiver. Jackson and Stafford are so simpatico as a fit that if you aren't using Jackson as a cheap and early weapon in your DFS builds for as long as he stays healthy, I think you're doing it wrong.
If you have early-season injury concerns on your receiver depth chart in season-long or you drafted a weak unit, Jackson is probably on your waiver wire. He's a great spot start with league-leading potential for the first 4-6 weeks of the year. He's old, thin, and he has been brittle, but he's a legitimate playmaker even at this age who hasn't lost his legs. This is a multi-dimensional speed guy who can do more than run fast.
If you need a player early, Jackson could be giving you 15-30 fantasy points in any given week that he can run unhindered. I'm not counting on it all year, but I'm bullish for September.
I didn't see anything special from Callaway as an NFL Draft prospect. He had a second gear as a vertical route runner with an extra burst to the ball that was notable and he used his stems well to manipulate defenders with these routes. He used his hands violently when pressed and he showed an effort to break back to the ball but he was too passive with his hands at the point of the catch, fighting the ball too often.
That said, he took contact well at the catch point and he had a knack for the acrobatic. We're beginning to see these skills from Callaway emerge in the NFL. His preseason performances and consistent production throughout training camp make him the potential primary option for Jameis Winston until Michael Thomas returns.
Callaway is a default fantasy option due to volume, but I'm not sure there's much of a difference between Callaway and Kenny Stills long-term. I'm looking forward to seeing him during the regular season to make this assessment. He's earning my attention but I'm not yet sold on him as more than a long-term contributor who will rarely earn primary looks beyond emergency situations like this year.
Watkins was part of the same class as Callaway and I saw him as a compelling developmental prospect with game-breaking physical skill and a promising foundation of technical skill that he could make an active roster and eventually earn playing time. He has elite speed, and starter-caliber acceleration but his change of direction quickness needed work.
Like Callaway, Watkins can win the ball with skilled adjustments mid-air, but he's also a better tracker of the football in contested situations. Not that Callaway is bad; Watkins is just that good.
I'm looking forward to seeing Watkins against man-to-man coverage because I want to assess the quality of his breaks. This was an issue for him when he starred at Southern Mississippi.
Add Watkins to the list of early-season waiver wire candidates who could help your team. I'm looking forward to watching his progress.
I'm still unequivocally sold on Lance's talents but not on his production potential this year. I saw Lance as a midseason option who could give you that Lamar Jackson-like rookie stretch-run. This may still happen, but if the 49ers are using Lance in specific packages, I'm beginning to believe that the 49ers will be good enough to contend and it means Jimmy Garoppolo keeps his job and earns an extended tryout for a new team in 2022.
I'm thrilled about this potential outcome as a dynasty GM because I believe that many of the best quarterbacks to play the game have gotten time to sit during their rookie years. Lance has the talent to become a top NFL quarterback and it's encouraging to see his team potentially ease him into the NFL.
David Moore's release is a sign that the Panthers don't need a hedge for Marshall, who has been as advertised in training camp and the preseason. Marshall could eventually become the most versatile receiver on the Panthers' roster and the primary option by 2022. You may have questions about Sam Darnold and Darnold could hold back Marshall some this year, but I'm thinking 70 catches from the rookie isn't out of the realm of expectation. Marshall might even lead this receiving corps in touchdowns.
John Brown's request to be released might be a sign of two potential developments — and both might be true — A) Brown didn't like his role in the offense and wanted to shot a play a bigger role elsewhere (Detroit could use his speed) or B) He liked the Raiders' scheme but had serious questions about the organizational management. The latter has been the reputation of the Raiders for a long time and with multiple coaches and GMs, so I'm not saying anything new even if there are different reasons with each incarnation of staff.
Brown's departure is also a clear indication that Bryan Edwards is likely to challenge Darren Waller for the team lead in yardage and touchdowns this year. Edwards has dominated the past two years of training camp and has the best size-speed-contested-catch combo of traits to deliver mismatches against opposing defenses. Although I'm a fan of Hunter Renfrow's underrated capabilities as a player, he can complement what Edwards and Henry Ruggs III bring to the offense better than Brown, who is more of an outside vertical option.
Edwards is not only in a position for a strong shot at 1,100 yards and 7-9 touchdowns, but also an elite season of 1,300-plus-yards and 12-14 scores, thanks to the upside of his talents and the improvements the Raiders have observed with Ruggs. If this offensive line stays healthy and holds up inside, Derek Carr can deliver big plays in the play-action passing game that can put Edwards over the top for fantasy GMs.
I've gone from "nice sleeper," to "must-have," when it comes to Edwards.
Kidding. I have no doubts. I'm all in.
Next week: Bold Predictions