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It’s hard to believe the NFL regular season is here, but Week 1 gets underway on Thursday. If you're like me, you've still got several key drafts to get done in the next few days. 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 look at how my viewpoints have evolved from initial expectations in early May.
Kliff Kingsbury (ARI) is going to use the hot hand approach at running back
When James Conner signed with the Cardinals, many hoped it would be as a backup to the younger, more explosive Chase Edmonds. But both were treated with kid gloves in the preseason, and there’s no reason to doubt both will be used, while healthy.
Mike Davis (ATL) really will get the chance to be a workhorse
I kept waiting for the Falcons to add a credible alternative this summer, but it never happened. I still doubt Davis’ ability to handle a full-time workload, but head coach Arthur Smith apparently disagrees.
Gus Edwards (BAL) may finally get a shot at the No. 1 role
J.K. Dobbins’ season-ending injury opens the door for Gus Edwards, and the front office made no moves to bring in alternatives. In the Lamar Jackson era, no running back has averaged more than 13.5 carries per game, but Edwards should get enough goal-line work to be an every-week fantasy asset.
Zack Moss (BUF) didn’t distance himself from Devin Singletary
Moss was dynamic in OTAs and early camp, lending many to believe he would pull ahead of Singletary and become a legitimate No. 1 tailback. Instead, he faded with nagging injuries while Singletary surged, and it looks like another full-blown committee.
David Montgomery (CHI) remains the best value pick at any position
I begged everyone to consider Montgomery as a legitimate No. 1 fantasy back and assumed the ADP gap would close as everyone realized Tarik Cohen wasn’t a threat for touches. Somehow people still doubt Montgomery’s abilities. Don’t make that mistake.
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) shouldn’t have gone for a discount in drafts
Fantasy enthusiasts are a fickle bunch, and we collectively discounted Dallas’ powerhouse tailback because of an inconsistent 2020. Based on how strong he looked from beginning to end of camp and the improving health of the Cowboys offensive line, those who passed on him in the mid-first round are likely to regret the decision.
Rumors of Melvin Gordon III’s (DEN) demise were greatly exaggerated
Javonte Williams has the talent to be an every-down workhorse for years to come, and maybe that’s the plan in 2022 and beyond. But this year, Denver clearly wants to squeeze whatever juice is left out of Gordon, too. Barring injury, this situation has RBBC written all over it.
D’Andre Swift (DET) isn’t going to justify my early excitement for him
Coming out of the NFL draft, I had Swift solidly within the Top 10 at the position. That was too aggressive for a few reasons. One, he’s been banged up this summer, again. Two, Jamaal Williams is going to have a meaningful role. Three, the Lions' offense could be among the league’s worst.
Aaron Jones (GB) is elite and should’ve been drafted earlier
I treated the Green Bay Packers' skill players like kryptonite for months until we knew Aaron Rodgers’ status. Had Rodgers retired or changed teams, all the Packers were due for significant shortfalls versus ADP. But as we know, Rodgers and the front office made peace, which leaves Jones in a position to match last year’s Top 10 showing.
David Johnson (HOU) isn’t a late-round bargain
It’s next to impossible to draft a bonafide starting running back past the 8th or 9th round of fantasy drafts, yet David Johnson was available that late for months. Unfortunately, his availability correctly reflected a fear the Texans were ready to move on from the veteran in favor of a collective including Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram II.
James Robinson (JAX) ended up the best draft value at the position
The Jaguars' selection of Travis Etienne took the wind out of Robinson’s sails, and his ADP fell into the range of runners who are the clear 1B in a 1A/1B committee. That was the correct read – albeit disappointing given how great Robinson was in 2020 – until Etienne went on Injured Reserve. Robinson should now be one of the NFL’s true workhorses.
Cam Akers’ (LA) career may never be the same, and the Rams don’t have a replacement for him
Cam Akers’ Achilles tear was gut-wrenching news, and while he’ll fight hard to come back, history hasn’t been kind to running backs who suffer this injury. While some are excited about Darrell Henderson, he’s not durable enough to handle a full-time workload. And while Sony Michel helps stop the bleeding, he’s not reliable, either.
Myles Gaskin (MIA) isn’t the unquestioned star of the Dolphins backfield
Gaskin was excellent last season in the rare instances he was given a lead role, and the Dolphins seemingly did little to add competition in the offseason. Except someone forgot to tell Coach Flores that Malcolm Brown is “just a guy” and appears set to split the workload.
Damien Harris (NE) will be the Patriots lead back, but I’m still not sure it matters
Any tailback with a path to 200+ touches is worth rostering, but Damien Harris’ new position as the No. 1 – following Sony Michel’s trade to Los Angeles – doesn’t necessarily mean fantasy stardom. It’s been a long time since Josh McDaniels gave any runner consistent touches.
Saquon Barkley (NYG) will be on the field much faster than feared
Barkley’s recovery from multiple knee ligament tears has gone well, and he returned to practice a week ago. While his status for Week 1 remains in question, there’s little doubt he’s on pace for a return soon. 14 or 15 games of Barkley can still be a league-winning puzzle piece.
Miles Sanders (PHI) won’t be mired in a committee
Sanders struggled last year like most of the Eagles, and his fumbles and drops were alarming given the arrival of a new coaching staff with no predisposed loyalty to the incumbent. But head coach Nick Sirianni made it clear Sanders is the team’s top tailback, and they kept him in bubble wrap all summer so he’ll be fresh for the regular season.
Trey Sermon (SF) may not start over Raheem Mostert in Week 1, but he’ll be the 49ers best tailback
Kyle Shanahan can generate a productive ground game from anyone, and Raheem Mostert is better than many NFL running backs. He’ll get the first crack at the top job, but Trey Sermon passed every test in the summer and is the more talented player in every facet of the game.
Ronald Jones II (TB) was the Buccaneers’ back to target, not Leonard Fournette
Leonard Fournette is more talented than Ronald Jones II, but I was too sure that talent would win out without weighing maturity, focus, and goodwill. Giovani Bernard further complicates the fantasy outlook, but he’s already hurt. Jones is the one who got the first-team carries this preseason and garnered near-universal praise from his coaches and teammates.
Antonio Gibson (WAS) may be a workhorse, at least until he breaks down
I avoided Antonio Gibson last year because of his shockingly small collegiate workload, which was a mistake. With his coaches comparing Gibson to Christian McCaffrey this summer, and no credible alternatives on the roster, it’s time to seriously consider what Gibson might do in a 15-to-20 touch role each week. At least until he breaks down, which I think is likely if the coaches overwork him.
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