The Biggest Fantasy Football Storylines to Watch in Minicamps
Memorial Day brings with it the unofficial start to summer, and that means we're moving closer to another season of NFL action—and with it another season of fantasy football.
Some dynasty fantasy leagues have already conducted (or are conducting) their rookie drafts this year. In many redraft formats, however, draft day is still a way off.
Or at least it should be—don't be impatient.
Of course, just because draft day isn't here yet doesn't mean there's nothing to do. At this time of year, savvy fantasy drafters have already started preparing, pouring over reports from OTAs in an effort to glean information about potential draft values.
With minicamps set to start soon, another round of info will be available regarding sleepers to target and busts to avoid.
Here's a look at some important storylines to monitor.
The Andrew Luck Saga
Two years ago, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts ranked fourth in fantasy points among quarterbacks in NFL.com default fantasy scoring. In 2014, Luck was the highest-scoring player at the position.
However, in 2015 Luck missed nine games. Last year he missed more than that, sitting out the entire season as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
Well, sort of recovered. Maybe. The thing is, we still haven't seen Luck on the practice field this year.
Per CBS Sports, it's entirely possible that Luck, who hasn't thrown a live pass since January 1, 2017, won't be throwing in minicamp, either—although head coach Frank Reich said that if Luck doesn't, he should soon afterward.
Reich also continues to insist, per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star, that he isn't concerned about Luck's recovery proceeding so slowly.
"I'm not worried at all," Reich said.
Reich may not be worried, but fantasy owners are smarter than that. The longer this saga drags on, the harder it is to trust Luck as a starting option in fantasy leagues. Luck's early average draft position at My Fantasy League is QB11—just inside starting territory in 12-team leagues.
If Luck's ready to go Week 1 and has more even-year success, he'd be an absolute steal at that price. But if 2018 mirrors 2017, he'll be a wasted pick—again.
Never mind the effect Luck's situation could have on the fantasy value of wideout T.Y. Hilton, who is coming off draft boards early as a mid-range WR2 in 12-team leagues.
That could also be a big-time value…if a healthy Luck returns to form(ish) in 2018.
The Return of Odell Beckham
Odell Beckham might not be the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy football—that's Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But when healthy, Beckham's in the conversation for No. 2—a player with upside that few players at his position can match.
From the sound of things, minicamps will mark the return of Beckham to the practice field in earnest.
Beckham's made no secret of the fact he's angling for a contract that will make him one of the highest-paid receivers in football. And he missed more of OTAs than he attended.
But as ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan reported, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said Beckham's nearing clearance for a return to practice and he isn't worried about the fifth-year veteran's contract status.
"Dave (Gettleman) said it already, contracts will get done when they get done," Shurmur said. "We're not worried about [there being an issue if negotiations take time]. My experience with Odell has been that he wants to play football and he's looking forward to getting out here. He's isn't quite ready with his ... he hasn't quite finished his rehab yet. So he can't do everything totally."
Beckham's average draft position in the early going is actually a touch higher than Brown's—only DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans is being drafted sooner at the position. Beckham's one of four receivers being drafted in the opening round of fantasy drafts.
Seeing ODB back on the practice field with his teammates is going to make that substantial draft-day investment much more palatable—even with his contract status still looming over him and the Giants.
Jordy Nelson's New Home
Two years ago, only Antonio Brown piled up more PPR fantasy points than Jordy Nelson. Nelson hauled in 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns, his second top-three fantasy campaign in three years.
But much like Andrew Luck, odd-numbered years have been a much different story. Nelson missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Last year, with Aaron Rodgers sidelined for much of the season, Nelson had his worst statistical season (53/482/6) since all the way back in 2010.
That season and Nelson's age (33) led to his release by the Green Bay Packers. Nelson's now a member of the Oakland Raiders, where he will try to get his career back on track in Year 1 of the Gruden era, Part 2.
As Eddie Paskal reported for the Raiders' official website, new teammate Amari Cooper said he's excited to have Nelson in the fold.
"It's been really cool," Cooper explained. "Been learning a lot from Jordy, obviously with him being in the league for such a long time. He knows a lot and he's always sharing his wisdom in the receiver room. It's been cool being around Marty (Martavis Bryant) as well."
Fantasy owners, however, don't appear to share Cooper's enthusiasm. Nelson is barely cracking the top 50 among wide receivers in average draft position. And by barely, I mean barely—the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year is coming off the board at 49 at his position.
That's a WR5 in 12-team fantasy leagues.
It's not going to take much positive news from minicamps to make that modest asking price a risk worth taking. After all, Nelson outperformed that asking price even in last year's faceplant of a campaign.
Monitor Raiders camp, but do so quietly.
We don't want Nelson's price tag to spike.
More from Napa Valley
Jordy Nelson isn't the only player who bears watching as minicamp ramps up for the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders.
It happened with very little fanfare during a disappointing season for the Raiders in 2017, but tailback Marshawn Lynch was quietly pretty danged good. "Beast Mode" didn't quite run wild like in his Seattle heyday, but Lynch topped 1,000 total yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and finished the year inside RB2 territory in 12-team fantasy leagues.
Those numbers would appear to offer an opportunity for value. But there's a problem, because of course there is.
Since arriving in Oakland, free-agent acquisition Doug Martin has consistently turned heads in OTAs. While speaking to Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle, offensive coordinator Greg Olson singled Martin out as one of the most impressive players in early practices.
"Doug has really jumped out in this camp with his quickness, his ability to pick up the offense and what we've given him," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "He's really got a fresh set of legs. And that's probably been the most encouraging thing when you watch him run out here in drills that we've run and the strength and conditioning stuff."
Now, a few practices in shorts and seizing the starting job from Lynch are two different things. Martin averaged under three yards per carry each of his last two years in Tampa—numbers that led to his release. And Lynch was quietly pretty good last year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and topping 1,000 total yards.
But if Martin carries this momentum over into minicamp, that can't be ruled out. There's a new staff in Oakland, and Lynch is 32 years old.
Neither can a full-blown committee attack on the ground. That might suit Gruden and the Raiders just fine, but it isn't going to do fantasy drafters any favors. If no one emerges in this battle, trusting either back in fantasy leagues will become a risky proposition.
Patrick Mahomes' Development
There isn't a young quarterback in the NFL facing more pressure to perform than Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs traded their 2017 and 2018 first-round picks to move up and select Mahomes a year ago. After another one-and-done postseason for the Chiefs, the team sent Alex Smith packing and handed Mahomes the keys to the offense.
There's been more than a little hype surrounding the strong-armed youngster this offseason, but as one member of the Chiefs coaching staff told Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, there's more to that hype than just wishful thinking.
"Oh, it's real" the coach said. "We've been watching him for a year and he just keeps getting better and better. Sure, there are mistakes, but there are also plays I've never seen a quarterback make before."
Mahomes' performance in OTAs has been more or less what one would expect from a promising but inexperienced signal-caller. There have been moments that left coaches clapping their hands and others that left them wringing them.
But the hype appears to have spread to fantasy drafts as well. In early redraft drafts at My Fantasy League, Mahomes has been the 11th quarterback selected—ahead of players like Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and even Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
How Mahomes looks (and plays) won't just affect him. After a fantastic rookie year in which he led the NFL in rushing, Kareem Hunt isn't lasting past Round 1 in more fantasy drafts than not. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill's early ADP is the second-to-last pick of Round 2 in 12-team leagues.
Substantial fantasy draft capital is being invested in Kansas City's offense in 2018, and that offense will go as far as Mahomes takes it.
Back from Wentz He Came
Oh come on, that was clever.
Over the first 14 weeks of the 2017 season, only one quarterback piled up more fantasy points than Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles. In his second season, Wentz threw for almost 3,300 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Then, Wentz tore his ACL in a game against the Los Angeles Rams, and just like that the party was over.
Given that that ACL tear didn't happen until Dec. 10, there's been some legitimate concern about Wentz's readiness to start the season opener for the Super Bowl champions. However, Wentz has been moving well in limited workouts, and Pete Prisco of CBS Sports recently reported that he's hearing encouraging reports regarding the pride of North Dakota State.
"In talking to Eagles people, they think he's going to be ready to go for the season opener," Prisco said. "That would be great for him. The one negative of that is, I hope he plays well in that season opener. Because you know how Eagles fans are. If he struggles at all, 'We want Nick Foles,' right?"
Fantasy drafters are apparently just as optimistic. Per My Fantasy League, Wentz's early average draft position is 29th overall—a third-rounder in both 10- and 12-team formats.
Frankly, no matter how Wentz looks in minicamp, that's absurd. Round 3 is far too early to be investing a fantasy pick in any quarterback—much less one who tore up his knee less than six months ago.
Let someone else pull that trigger and shoot themselves in the foot.
Make Sure Dalvin Is Cooking
The 2017 season was a banner year for rookie tailbacks.
Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints set records and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs led the league with 1,327 rushing yards. Leonard Fournette keyed the offense for a Jacksonville Jaguars team that came within a game of the Super Bowl.
All three finished the year ranked inside the top 10 in PPR fantasy points.
Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings was on a similar pace, rushing for 4.8 yards per carry and averaging 111 total yards per game before an ACL tear ended his season four games in.
As the Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson reported, Cook said at OTAs that his rehab is progressing well and he fully expects to be out there when the Vikings face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.
"I'm going to have myself ready to go by Week 1," Cook said. "That's the goal. I'm right where I need to be. I ain't trying to get myself too much of a workload because the season is not right now. I'm just following my protocol, and whatever they tell me to do, I'm just going to take it day by day."
The Vikings are being understandably cautious with Cook's practice reps, and that caution will all but surely extend into minicamps and training camp.
But with an average draft position of 13th overall, according to My Fantasy League, fantasy drafters would be well-served to monitor's Cook's progress closely before mortgaging their season on bringing him on board.
Mike Williams: Steal or Wasted Pick?
There are as many different fantasy draft strategies as there are colors of the rainbow. More, even. But whether you're into VBD, Zero RB or pulling names from a hat, all fantasy drafters share one thing in common.
Everyone's looking for late-round diamonds in the rough.
At first glance, Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers appears to have the potential to be just that. Williams' rookie year in the NFL was an injury-marred mess, as he missed almost all of camp and six regular-season games en route to recording a whopping 11 catches for 95 yards.
But there's a reason the Chargers made Williams the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. The 6'4", 218-pounder posted 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last season at Clemson.
"I see a lot of potential," Keenan Allen said of his young batterymate, per ESPN.com's Eric Williams. "Last year, he had a lot of potential as well, but I could tell he put in a little bit more work this offseason. I think he's ready to go. [Last year] he wasn't sure about all the plays. This year, he acts like he's been in the playbook. When he runs routes, he's on depth. "
Add in the season-ending ACL injury suffered by tight end Hunter Henry (that should mean more targets for Williams) and a draft-day asking price of WR42 at My Fantasy League, and there appears to be a lot to like.
There's one problem, though. Williams missed time in OTAs while nursing a hamstring injury, and he's of little use to fantasy owners if he can't stay on the field. Getting back out there (and staying out there) in minicamp would go a long way toward allaying those concerns.
Corey Davis: Year 2
Mike Williams wasn't the only rookie receiver who struggled in a big way in 2017. As a matter of fact, all three wideouts selected in the top 10 last year struggled with injuries and were massive disappointments.
That includes No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis, who missed five games and finished his first year with 34 catches and 375 yards.
There was reason for optimism, however. In Tennessee's playoff loss to the New England Patriots Davis had easily the best game of his brief career, catching five balls for 63 yards and his first two touchdowns.
Per Joe Rexrode of the Tennesseean, Davis said he's trying to use his shaky first year as a learning experience.
"I mean, I can’t throw it out," Davis said. "I learned a lot about myself. It was definitely a tough year, I’m not going to lie. There was ups, there was downs, but I’m a man of faith and I trusted my God with everything in me. I trusted his path."
Rishard Matthews is a capable veteran receiver, but he's not the type of wideout who will take over a game. At Western Michigan at least, Davis did just that. On paper, he has everything an NFL team could want—size, speed, physicality and soft hands.
Davis said he intends to show that in 2018.
"That I can play with anyone, can play with the best of them," Davis said. "It pretty much comes down to that."
Right now, Davis carries an average draft position of WR19 at My Fantasy League—a ranking that indicates confidence that Davis' second year will be a big one.
Make sure that confidence is well-placed before paying retail on draft day.
Texas-Sized Questions at Wide Receiver for the Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of late-round fantasy gems, there may be one among the wide receivers of the Dallas Cowboys after Dez Bryant was released.
The $64 question is which one.
As Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams reported, quarterback Dak Prescott said that he isn't worried about the team's lack of a bona fide No. 1 receiver.
"I don’t know if any team in the league necessarily needs a No. 1 receiver," Prescott said. "It’s about getting the ball out, spreading the ball around, keeping the defense on its toes."
The reality is someone is going to emerge as Prescott's go-to guy. Someone has to catch passes. And if one of the receivers separates from the pack, he's going to have fantasy value.
The most proven receiver on the team is Allen Hurns, who topped 1,000 receiving yards with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015. Hurns hasn't had even 500 yards in the last two years, however, missing 11 games in the process.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup caught 100 passes for 1,418 yards last season at Colorado State. But there's a bit of a jump from the Mountain West to the NFC East.
It's Gallup who is coming off draft boards the earliest so far—46th among wide receivers at My Fantasy League. Hurns has an ADP of WR60, meaning that in some shallower fantasy leagues he isn't being drafted at all.
If it looks like Prescott is building a rapport with one of those pass-catchers (or Deonte Thompson, Terrance Williams or Cole Beasley), that player's going to be worth at least a late flier.
Gary Davenport is a seven-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Award finalist and the 2017 FSWA award winner for Fantasy Football Writer of the Year.