Examining the Fantasy Impact of Latest NFL Training-Camp Buzz
Training camps are underway around the NFL, which means that real, meaningful on-field work is finally taking place again.
The start of training camps also marks the beginning of fantasy-draft season. In the coming weeks, most season-long leagues will hold their drafts, and for serious managers, the prep work has already begun.
Here, we'll dive into both topics, examining some of the latest news, notes and rumors coming out of training camps and what they could mean for the upcoming fantasy season.
What's the latest word? How is fantasy stock being affected? Let's dive in.
Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold Sharing 1st-Team Reps
In theory, the Carolina Panthers' quarterback in 2022 could be a viable fantasy streamer or high-end backup option. Star running back Christian McCaffrey is healthy following two injury-plagued campaigns, and the Panthers have some quality receivers in D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson.
The question is whether it will be Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield under center in Week 1.
The Panthers recently acquired Mayfield from the Cleveland Browns to add competition at quarterback. For now, it appears to be a true competition between him and Darnold. According to Augusta Stone of the team's official website, Mayfield and Darnold alternated with the starters Friday after each receiving a full day with the ones to open camp.
This means that there is no clear-cut QB1 just yet, though Carolina wouldn't have traded for Mayfield if it believed Darnold was the guy. For now, both quarterbacks are best avoided in early fantasy drafts, as there's no telling who will actually start in the regular season.
Both had miserable campaigns in 2021, though Mayfield was playing with a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder and may provide the most upside. He had 27 touchdown passes as a rookie in 2018 and 26 scores in 2020 to go with only eight interceptions.
Mayfield is trending as the 28th-ranked quarterback in fantasy drafts, while Darnold is QB35.
Diontae Johnson Not Fully Participating in Steelers Camp
There's a lot to unpack with Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson, who tallied 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The team will have a new quarterback in 2022—likely either Mitchell Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett—and Johnson is still angling for a contract extension.
Johnson is at camp but isn't participating in team practices.
This will potentially hurt Johnson's chemistry with Trubisky, Pickett and/or Mason Rudolph. It also opens up camp opportunities for other receivers, like rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III.
"There could be a battle brewing at the short-term and long-term receiver positions," The Athletic's Mark Kaboly wrote. "The more Johnson decides to be a spectator, the better the chance that battle comes to fruition."
According to Albert Breer of SI.com, both Pickens and Austin have "turned heads" early in camp and "have come as advertised."
Both could see significant playing time this season and project as potential deep sleepers, though with Johnson and Chase Claypool in the mix, there's a fair risk-reward element to drafting them.
Johnson's holdout, meanwhile, makes him a huge risk as the 15th-ranked fantasy receiver in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues. If it continues, he could be eyeing a diminished role as receivers like Pickens and Austin prove their worth.
Pickens is trending as WR75, while Austin is at WR123.
DK Metcalf Gets Extension, Deebo Samuel's Could Be Coming Soon
While Johnson is "holding in" for a new contract, the Seattle Seahawks no longer have to worry about that scenario with DK Metcalf. The fourth-year receiver recently inked a three-year, $72 million extension, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
This should ease the concerns of any fantasy managers looking to target Metcalf, at least to a degree. While is no threat of a holdout, he may still be overvalued as WR19.
Over the past two seasons, the Mississippi product has produced 2,270 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns. However, Russell Wilson is no longer at quarterback after bring traded to the Denver Broncos, and Metcalf will have either Drew Lock or Geno Smith as his signal-caller in 2022.
Managers should expect a drop-off in his production and perhaps a significant one.
His extension may also make San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Deebo Samuel the proverbial next domino to fall. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, Samuel and Metcalf are both represented by Tory Dandy of CAA.
Samuel is a "hold-in" at camp, but San Francisco has been trying to sort out his contract.
"We're working," general manager John Lynch said, per The Athletic's Jeff Howe.
Samuel, who had 1,405 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards and 14 combined touchdowns in 2021, is trending as the 10th-ranked receiver. There's a tangible risk in targeting him at that range until his new deal is done and the potential for a holdout dissipates.
Marcus Mariota Is the Starter in Atlanta for Now
The Atlanta Falcons traded longtime fantasy starter Matt Ryan this offseason. To replace him at quarterback, they brought in veteran Marcus Mariota and rookie third-round pick Desmond Ridder.
This is a situation worth watching, as Atlanta has quality receiving weapons in tight end Kyle Pitts, receiver Bryan Edwards, receiver/runner Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie wideout Drake London.
It doesn't appear that there will be a full-on competition between Mariota and Ridder, however. Mariota is entering camp as the starter.
"Obviously, we've got a plan for each of them. Marcus is the starter," quarterbacks coach Charles London said following Atlanta's first practice of camp, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic. "That's how we're going into this thing."
Mariota, who is trending as QB29, has some legitimate sleeper potential in the Falcons offense. In addition to having a respectable receiving corps, he possesses some dual-threat ability.
In his last full season as a starter (14 games), Mariota rushed for 357 yards and two touchdowns. He has averaged 6.0 yards per carry for his career. Those aren't overwhelming numbers, but they could be enough to make Mariota a serviceable streamer or spot starter. Ridder, for the time being, should be avoided in non-dynasty formats.
Buccaneers C Ryan Jensen Potentially Out for Season
Centers don't get drafted in fantasy, but they can be instrumental to the success of quarterbacks and running backs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a good one in Pro Bowler Ryan Jensen. Unfortunately, they may not have him this season.
Jensen suffered a left knee injury Thursday and could miss the entire season.
"We don't know the severity of it, per se, but I do know he'll miss some significant time, up to a couple months," head coach Todd Bowles said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine. "Whether he'll be back later in the season, November or December, depends on what they find. But he won't be available any time soon."
The Bucs may have to rely on 2021 third-round pick Robert Hainsey or take a look at a free agent like JC Tretter. According to Bowles, per NFL.com's Eric Edholm, the Bucs will give Hainsey and 2020 UDFA Nick Leverett the first shot at the job.
Either way, there's some uncertainty at the position, which managers will want to keep in mind.
If targeting Tom Brady (QB8) or Leonard Fournette (RB11), managers should note that Tampa's offensive line may not be what it was a year ago. Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet retired this offseason, while fellow 2021 starter Alex Cappa has been replaced by trade acquisition Shaq Mason, giving Tampa an entirely new interior line to start the regular season.
This will be a situation to watch during the preseason, as it could negatively impact Brady, Fournette and the rest of the offense.
Chris Godwin Not on PUP List to Open Camp
Fortunately, it hasn't been all bad on the injury front in Tampa. According to NFL Network's Sara Walsh, standout receiver Chris Godwin avoided the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.
Godwin suffered a torn ACL in Week 15 last season, and there always seemed to be a chance that he would miss the start of the 2022 campaign. It's been just over seven months since the injury.
The fact that Godwin isn't on the PUP list is a good indicator that he may be in the lineup for Week 1.
"Things are looking cautiously optimistic about Chris Godwin being back for Week 1, but the Bucs aren't set on him being ready just yet," The Athletic's Greg Auman told SiriusXM (h/t Michael Fabiano of Sports Illustrated).
Managers will want to monitor Godwin's situation throughout camp and the preseason, though it wouldn't be surprising to see him sit out exhibition action. However, it feels likely that the 26-year-old will be on the field early, even if he isn't ready for Week 1's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite appearing in only 14 contests last season, Godwin amassed 1,103 yards and five touchdowns. He's a high-end WR2, and given the positive recovery news, he is likely undervalued as WR29.
Michael Thomas Back at Practice for Saints
Godwin is ranked just above NFC South rival Michael Thomas, who is trending as the 31st-ranked wide receiver for PPR formats. Like Godwin, the New Orleans Saints pass-catcher is working his way back from injury.
Thomas missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from ankle surgery. He also battled ankle issues in 2020, which contributed to his least productive season as a pro. However, Thomas now appears to be healthy and is back at practice.
"Man, I'm kind of lost for words," Thomas said Wednesday, per ESPN's Mike Triplett. "I didn't want to come up here and get emotional or anything. But it was a blessing to be back out there with the guys."
During his first four seasons in the league, Thomas was one of the top performers in fantasy. He averaged 118 receptions, 1,378 yards and eight touchdowns per campaign during that span. Of course, he'll have a new quarterback in 2022.
When Thomas last played, Drew Brees was the starter. He'll now catch passes from Jameis Winston, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and/or journeyman Andy Dalton.
Still, Thomas has proved himself to be a top-tier fantasy receiver when at his best, and he's worth a gamble as WR31.
Treylon Burks Is in Shape and Making Plays
Rookie first-rounder Treylon Burks is poised to take over for A.J. Brown as the Tennessee Titans' new No. 1 receiver. However, his offseason got off to a rocky start as asthma and conditioning issues caused him to miss time.
"I'm assuming he didn't go in there in great shape," Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman told 104.5 The Zone (h/t Mike Moraitis of Titan Wire). "It's the same way when he was a sophomore [for the Razorbacks]. He wasn't in good shape, he couldn't last practice and all. And it's not that he just quit. He just couldn't do it anymore."
While Burks undoubtedly isn't where he would be with a full offseason, he's earning the confidence of quarterback Ryan Tannehill in camp.
"Knowing what you're going to over there. If he wins consistently and makes plays like that, it gives you a lot of confidence to go his direction," Tannehill said, per ESPN's Turron Davenport.
Managers will want to monitor Burks, but this is an early sign that he can be Tennessee's top target in 2022. While it's hard to accurately predict his numbers in the Titans' run-based offense, he should be a viable WR2.
Trending as the 46th-ranked wide receiver, Burks is an underrated target who could provide tremendous value on draft day.
*Fantasy rankings from FantasyPros and based on PPR scoring.