10 crucial fantasy football developments from opening week of NFL training camps

·9-min read

CeeDee Lamb enthusiasm

If you’re a big CeeDee Lamb fan, it’s perfectly okay to get excited about training camp highlights — the circus-level practice catches sure are awesome to watch — where he looks like a total freak. Football is exciting! We should greet its arrival, even in padded practice form, with enthusiasm.

But that’s not what has gotten our engines revved up about Lamb over the last week:

The fact that Lamb has been moved around the formation is huge after he was almost exclusively pigeonholed in the slot as a rookie (93% of his routes). I spoke with Yahoo’s own Charles Robinson about why it’s so crucial this development comes to fruition in the regular season.

With Amari Cooper likely missing most of camp, we should expect Lamb to continue taking reps at and proving just how good he is on the perimeter. The team won’t be able to keep him out of that spot.

Don’t hesitate for a second; CeeDee Lamb is absolutely worth his ADP and has legitimate top-five upside.

Michael Pittman’s breakout buzz

Regardless of what you think about Michael Pittman as a player (I’m on the positive side), one thing has been clear all along: The Colts are absolutely counting on him to be a breakout player.

The Colts made no significant additions to their pass-catching corps after 2020. In order for this receiver room to not be a significant stumbling block as the team looks to rehab Carson Wentz, some of the in-house talents will have to outkick industry expectations. The logical choice here is Pittman, the lone player who profiles as No. 1 X-receiver.

Pittman’s usage was inconsistent amid an injury-plagued rookie season but it’s also worth noting a player of his skillset is antithetical to a quarterback like Philip Rivers was. I’d confidently bet Pittman’s air yards per target mark significant jumps from his 8.6 of 2020.

With an ADP outside the top-40 receivers, Pittman is a screaming value. All the risk that Wentz just isn’t good is baked into his ADP — but the upside that he could become a fantasy WR2 if he garners 110-plus targets is not.

The Jaguars WR cluster

A rather large series of gaps exists between the ADPs of (in order) DJ Chark, LaViska Shenault, and Marvin Jones. And I’m not sure why.

The general tenor around Jaguars camp is that while each member of this trio possesses a specific skill set, no one is truly ahead of the others in terms of the pecking order. With that in mind, it’s hard to justify why Chark has an ADP inside the top-30 receivers while Jones is always outside the top-50 with Shenault going somewhere in the middle.

Would anyone be shocked if Jones straight-up out-produces Chark this year?

Jones is a trusty veteran who has familiarity with new Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. He could become a favorite of Trevor Lawrence from the jump and do what he does every year: Beat his ADP.

Shenault is appropriately ranked in fantasy right now but it’s time for Chark and Jones to inch closer to the second-year receiver. They’d just be coming from opposite directions.

Taysom Hill > Jameis Winston ... for now

The Saints quarterback competition rages on. No one should be surprised that Taysom Hill has run with the first team in the opening days ahead of Jameis Winston.

Hill seems to be the golden boy in Sean Payton’s eye but there’s more to it than that. If Michael Thomas was in the picture, it might be worth going down the Winston rehabilitation path. However, with Thomas out for weeks, it makes no sense to roll out the highly volatile Winston while running a pass-friendly offense featuring zero proven wide receivers or tight ends.

If Hill holds onto the job, expect the Saints to almost emulate the 2019 Ravens as one of the most run-heavy operations we’ve seen. Alvin Kamara and even Latavius Murray are about to get pounded with work.

Michael Carter is the Jets RB1

Some of the optimism that Michael Carter was going to start at running back for the Jets was already baked into his ADP ... but not fully baked in. So it was good to see the fourth-rounder already running as the RB1 for many reps in camp.

If Carter holds this gig, he could look like a solid value in the RB30 range. We don’t expect the Jets offense to be extremely potent but the style of rushing scheme brought over by this branch of the Shanahan tree has been consistently productive.

Damien Harris distancing himself

Another back in the AFC East also looks to be leaving other members of the roster behind him. Damien Harris might just be entrenched as the Patriots RB1:

There’s been a steady drumbeat all offseason that Harris would be something closer to the guy level of back than we are used to seeing out of New England.

If Harris continues to perform well in camp, he could well outkick his ADP and even pass up guys going much earlier like Mike Davis or Myles Gaskin. With the Patriots set to feature a run-heavy offense, this is a key story to track.

Courtland Sutton is not all the way back

Usually, injury optimism is seeping through the air this time of year. So it’s a little troubling the tenor around Courtland Sutton is more than a bit cautious considering his injury was almost one year ago:

I’m far from putting a nail in Sutton’s 2021 season; not even close. However, I was having a hard time choosing between the Broncos’ receivers and justifying their ADP in general. That offense is crowded and we can’t expect much passing volume (or efficiency) here with a great defense and middling quarterbacks in tow.

Sutton not getting off to a hot start might be just the thing I needed to put a gap between Jerry Jeudy and his counterpart.

Terrace Marshall Jr. buzzing in the slot

The Panthers lost Curtis Samuel in free agency after he shined in the slot for Carolina. It looks like part of their replacement plan is to drop rookie Terrace Marshall into that role.

Marshall has been getting rave reviews from camp after he fell to the Panthers amid injury concerns. He is a bonafide excellent prospect, however, and demonstrated first-round talent at LSU last year. If he’s the Panthers' big slot receiver this year, he could garner legitimate volume given this offense’s three-wide tendencies.

He might not be an every-week factor in fantasy as a rookie but I’d keep tabs on him. Chase Claypool similarly rocketed up the charts and crushed expectations in his first season because he was simply too good to be denied despite having talented teammates. Perhaps Marshall is this year’s version.

David Montgomery could see the targets

If anyone tells you to “Fade David Montgomery because he won’t finish as high as he did last year,” you can safely ignore them.

We all know this! That’s why his ADP is RB15 or lower and nowhere near the RB4 ranking he ended as in 2020. All the negative factors are already baked into his ADP. That said, the ceiling really isn’t and there’s something brewing in Bears camp that might help him access that upside:

Tarik Cohen (PUP) does not appear close to ready to make a big contribution. If Cohen isn’t on the field, Montgomery should retain some of the passing work that helped vault him up the charts to end last year. This would immediately alter his ceiling and floor projection.

Again, no one is telling you to expect 2020’s results from Montgomery. But he is an attractive target at ADP right now.

Brandon Aiyuk may be unstoppable

I love projections. I do my own every single year and they’ve helped me tremendously when preparing rankings and tiers heading into each season.

However, we can sometimes get lost in our spreadsheets when trying to dole out volume based on historical trends of an offense. What we fail to properly account for is a player can sometimes be so far superior to previous cohorts at his position that he changes the way volume is distributed.

Brandon Aiyuk might just be that good.

Aiyuk has drawn rave reviews as a true chore to cover in camp. Jason Verrett, the man charged with this task, compared him to Julio Jones after a practice ... another player who altered the volume distribution for a Kyle Shanahan offense.

Aiyuk is already coming off a season where he led the team with 96 targets and instantly showed to be a beast route-runner with explosive traits. Don’t get lost in the weeds of the small sample of games where George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Aiyuk played together. 

Brandon Aiyuk is the next star receiver in the NFL.

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