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.
The Cardinals (ARI) situation is a crapshoot beyond DeAndre Hopkins
We know Hopkins is the No. 1 receiver and likely to get 160+ targets, but this preseason offered little to solve the rest of the puzzle. Rondale Moore flashed in practice at times, but his role wasn’t consistent. A.J. Green looked good, too, but doesn’t he always before getting hurt? And Christian Kirk was quiet but still sits high on the official depth chart. Figuring out the No. 2 target could be a key to winning your fantasy league.
Calvin Ridley (ATL) has a clear path to the top of the rankings
Julio Jones is on the downslope of his career, but he and Matt Ryan still had undeniable chemistry. Shipping Jones to Tennessee unlocks Calvin Ridley’s opportunity to vault from top-12 to No. 1 overall. If Davante Adams doesn’t repeat atop the fantasy charts, Ridley is neck and neck with Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs as the odds on favorite to take his place.
Baltimore’s (BAL) grand redesign is still under construction
No one can accuse GM Eric DaCosta of not investing in the Ravens' receiving corps. He used high picks on Marquise Brown (1st round), Miles Boykin (3rd round), Devin Duvernay (3rd round), Tylan Wallace (4th round), and Rashod Bateman (1st round), yet the team enters this season alarmingly thin and unproven thanks to injuries to Bateman and Boykin.
Tee Higgins (CIN) should have been our priority, not Ja’Marr Chase
Chase’s long-term future is undeniable, but he’s struggled this summer, and it’s hard to fathom the rookie outperforming either Tee Higgins or veteran Tyler Boyd in September. Higgins had an elite rookie season, but Chase overshadowed his rising star. That was a mistake. Higgins has chemistry with Burrow and dominated with subpar quarterbacking after Burrow’s injury last year. The sky is the limit for Higgins; don’t be surprised if he’s a top-15 fantasy receiver in 2021.
Odell Beckham Jr (CLE) remains an X-factor
After three years, Odell Beckham Jr trailed only Randy Moss in NFL annals; he was on a Hall of Fame trajectory. But his last four years have been abysmal; he doesn’t even rank in the top 100 over that span. For his seven-year career, he sits 34th. Respectable? Yes. But far short of his potential. Yet, this summer passed by without any clarity on Beckham’s status. Is he 90% of his former self? 70%? 50%? Your guess is as good as mine.
Jerry Jeudy (DEN) is ready for the spotlight
Jeudy’s rookie season was uneven, and that’s being kind. His catch rate was abysmal, although much of the blame could be put on his quarterbacks. With Teddy Bridgewater winning the job, Jeudy can parlay an excellent training camp into a classic Year 2 breakout.
Detroit (DET) is a fantasy wasteland, we think
Tyrell Williams looks like the No. 1, but he’s miscast in that role. Rookie Amon St. Brown earned a significant role, but he doesn’t have the refined skill set to emerge as a fantasy star in Year 1. Brett Perriman didn’t make the final roster. Does Jared Goff have any hope?
Randall Cobb (GB) may be the receiver we all kick ourselves for not drafting
This year, Randall Cobb was a free lottery ticket in drafts; you could’ve taken him as your last receiver in nearly every league. Aaron Rodgers demanded his return from the Texans and then praised Cobb’s route-running, intelligence, hands, and anticipation. Sometimes fantasy football is simple, and trusting an MVP quarterback to target his most trusted receiver seems like a logical decision.
Michael Pittman Jr (IND) will be a household name after this season
The much-discussed Zach Ertz trade never happened, and T.Y. Hilton is seriously hurt. Meanwhile, Pittman was the star of the training camp. Expect Pittman to thrive as the top target, whether it’s Carson Wentz or Jacob Eason under center.
Mecole Hardman (KC) was one of the draft season’s best values
Hardman was inconsistent through two seasons, but the stars aligned this year, and he secured the No. 2 role behind Tyreek Hill. While the summer wasn’t perfect, the good far outweighed the bad, and there’s every reason to think he could join Hill and Travis Kelce in the 1,000-yard camp.
Bryan Edwards (LV) will have respect put on his name
Edwards was overshadowed by Henry Ruggs III last year, and then both rookies got hurt and were fantasy afterthoughts. Both are set for better second years, but it’s Edwards who had a dominant training camp and looks poised to emerge from a crowded receiver room as Derek Carr’s favorite target beyond tight end Darren Waller.
Do the Dolphins (MIA) have a stud fantasy receiver?
We all wondered whether Davante Parker, Will Fuller V, or rookie Jaylen Waddle would emerge as the clear-cut No. 1 target. None of us gave Albert Wilson his due. As the dust settles, all four appear to have roles, and Preston Williams remains on the roster, too. Is there a star? If so, we’ve yet to see evidence in support of the player.
Marquez Callaway (NO) is a must-have late in drafts
If you haven’t drafted yet, Marquez Callaway is a priority target. Michael Thomas’ injury and Jameis Winston’s starting role set Callaway up for a textbook breakout.
Corey Davis (NYJ) could be a league winner at his draft cost
Despite the Jets paying big dollars to David in free agency, many fantasy analysts were more excited about rookie Elijah Moore or Jaguars castoff Keelan Cole or incumbent Jamison Crowder. Yet, Davis had the best summer and exited the preseason as Zach Wilson’s favorite target.
Quez Watkins (PHI) is the top waiver priority if you’ve already drafted
The second-year pro entered training camp on the roster bubble, overshadowed by Jalen Reagor and rookie DeVonta Smith. Yet, it was Watkins who stayed healthy all summer, performed well in every single practice, and earned a starting role alongside his more heralded teammates.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT), Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool all have their supporters, and we won’t all be right
Ben Roethlisberger is radioactive in drafts this year, which is hard to fathom given how excited the fantasy community is for not one, not two, but three Steelers receivers. All three won’t live up to ADP unless Roethlisberger has a top-10 season. My money is on Smith-Schuster because he’s been a dominant outside receiver and a productive possession compiler; he can get fantasy points in any situation.
Julio Jones (TEN) throws a wrench in A.J. Brown’s emergence
Sometimes a high-value No. 2 receiver can unlock the No. 1 receiver’s value by keeping defenses honest. Julio Jones joining the Titans isn’t one of those situations because Tennessee won’t have the passing volume to justify A.J. Brown as a top-5 fantasy receiver and support Jones as a top-20 option. The reality is Jones will take just enough way from Brown to make him a mild disappointment versus his early second-round ADP.
Curtis Samuel (WAS) may be the worst money spent this summer
Washington broke the bank on Curtis Samuel, which made sense given his familiarity with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner. But Samuel missed the entire preseason seems like a poor fit for Ryan Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger mentality.
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