2019 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards This Preseason

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 12, 2019

2019 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards This Preseason

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    Circumstances change, which means fantasy football rankings remain fluid. How does one determine if they're getting good value or drafting a player too earlier?

    Everyone has their favorite magazine or source they like to use for standard rankings. But those are like the latest computer model: They're often outdated before they even hit the market. 

    Keen fantasy football participants track the NFL's daily happenings. But that approach is not always feasible. So, a cheat sheet is required. Websites such as Fantasy Football Calcutor provide daily updates of average draft position (ADP) for typical 12-team PPR leagues. 

    The identification of the ebb and flow found within rankings is necessary to assess value. A handful of players who didn't warrant top consideration earlier in the process continue to rise based on occurrences seen during training camp and Week 1 of the preseason. 

    Nine potential draft picks are now flying up boards as the league enters the preseason's second week. All of them rose a full round on average within the past month.

    What's going on with Antonio Brown? Will Hard Knocks cover the story? Is it time to worry about Andrew Luck? What do you need to know after preseason week 1? All that and more on the latest edition of Stick to Football. 

QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

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    A single quote is driving Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson up fantasy draft boards. 

    "I'd bet the over on that one," head coach John Harbaugh said during an interview on NFL Network's Inside Training Camp Live when asked if Jackson will run the ball as much as Cam Newton's single-season career high of 139 carries. 

    The difference between Jackson and other athletic quarterbacks stems from expected usage. The Ravens want him to run. The coaching staff is building a scheme around his ability to create chunks plays with his legs. While he may never be a premier passer, his abilities as a runner greatly enhance his overall fantasy value. 

    Harbaugh added: 

    "You know, if you look back and you think of the history a little bit, the game was probably revolutionized with Bill Walsh and Joe Montana and that's been the model for the last 25, 30 years and we've all been chasing that model pretty much trying to find that quarterback and find that rhythm and all the things that go with that offense, and it really hasn't changed too much. None of us can envision what's going to come in the future."

    Jackson's ADP rose from an average late 12th-round pick to an 11th-round option since the coach's comments. 

    Furthermore, the growth potential in Jackson's passing game is enormous. With an increased emphasis on proper mechanics, the second-year quarterback should improve leaps and bounds over last season's 1,201-yard passing performance. 

    "I think he's throwing tremendous balls out there, compared to what it was in the spring," tight end Nick Boyle said, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "You can see his improvement."

RB Duke Johnson Jr., Houston Texans

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    Duke Johnson Jr. got exactly what he wanted. 

    The running back's representation demanded a trade this spring, which eventually forced his way off the Cleveland Browns. To acquire the running back's services, the Houston Texans flipped a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick that turns into a third-rounder if Johnson is active for 10 or more games this fall, according to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain.

    "We have a vision for how we want to use him," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said Saturday, per the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson. "We're excited about it."

    Johnson's average ADP rose two rounds within days. Originally a 14th-round target, the Texans' new back is coming off boards in the 12th frame. 

    The reason is simple: Johnson is now the second option in Houston's rushing and passing attacks, whereas he often got lost in Cleveland's rotation. 

    Despite disappearing from the Browns offense at times, the 25-year-old multipurpose threat finished second among running backs by averaging 5.8 yards per play over the past three years, according to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp

    "Duke's a first-, second-, third-down running back," O'Brien said. "He's played on special teams. Good in the running game, good in the passing game, good professional. Really excited to have him on board and just really look forward to working with him."

RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

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    Addition by subtraction occurred for Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb once the organization traded his primary backup, Duke Johnson Jr., to the Houston Texans. 

    Eventually, Kareem Hunt will enter the lineup and take some pressure off Chubb, but Hunt won't return until Week 10 after serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. 

    Right now, the Browns' running back depth is suspect. Dontrell Hilliard and D'Ernest Johnson currently serve as Chubb's backups. 

    As a result, the second-year back's ADP continues to climb. He dipped into the late-second-round range as of late July. With Johnson's departure, the Browns' lead back is now an early-second-round lock and continuing to climb. 

    Even with Hunt's eventual return, Chubb will be a focal point of the Browns offense. Odell Beckham Jr.'s addition alongside Jarvis Landry and tight end David Njoku forms a tantalizing receiving trio. Chubb is often overlooked as a result. But the 23-year-old back is arguably the league's most physical and toughest runner. 

    Freddie Kitchens seems to love his feature back, and the first-year head coach plans to feed Chubb. 

    "I will just go ahead and put it bluntly to you,'' Kitchens told reporters. ''We will not be a pass-happy team. We will do what we need to do to win the game or attempt to win the game. We are going to run the football.''

    Chubb finished first among running backs last season with an average of 4.47 yards after contact per attempt and a 103.3 elusive rating, according to Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans

WR Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

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    Individuals mature at different rates. Not all top draft picks are ready for the NFL. Sometimes they need a year or two to realize what it really means to be a professional.

    Curtis Samuel didn't do much in his first two seasons after the Carolina Panthers chose him in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. But if training camp is any indication, the third-year target is about to explode as the Panthers' No. 1 wide receiver. 

    "He's had the most growth out of any player I've ever seen in terms of as a player, confidence...everything," veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith said, per ESPN's David Newton.  "I'm expecting him to have a huge year. He's worked his way to be in that position."

    The 23-year-old caught 39 passes for 494 yards in his second campaign. It's easy to envision Samuel at least doubling both of those numbers based on the praise coming out of Panthers training camp. 

    "He's special, man," fellow receiver Chris Hogan said. "He's explosive. He's quick off the line, has really good hands, runs really good routes. ... He really has primed himself to have a good season."

    The Panthers have lacked a true No. 1 wide receiver since the organization released Steve Smith Sr. after the 2013 campaign. Tight end Greg Olsen served as Cam Newton's favorite target for most of that span. But they aren't bereft of talent. Last year's first-round pick, D.J. Moore, is talented. Smith is still a burner. Hogan can play all three positions if needed. 

    Yet Samuel is the one player at Panthers camp everyone is talking about. As a result, his ADP has risen from a late-10th-round pick in mid-July to a late-eighth or early-ninth-round selection. 

WR DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

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    Expectations for Seattle Seahawks rookie DK Metcalf started at a high level before cratering then rising slightly above initial projections. 

    The reason behind the roller-coaster ADP—which started in the late-ninth-round range before dropping nearly a full frame then jumping almost to the mid-ninth-round area—is potential meeting near-production. 

    Metcalf was a projected first-round pick. However, questions about his change-of-direction quickness and limited route tree at Ole Miss caused him to fall to the last pick of the second round. Even so, Metcalf's combination of statuesque physique, size (6'3", 228 pounds) and straight-line speed (4.33-second 40-yard dash) remained tantalizing. 

    The rookie's standing lost a little luster during the dog days of training camp, but Metcalf flashed during the Seahawks' first preseason contest against the Denver Broncos. This year's 64th overall draft pick managed only one reception for eight yards, yet he worked his way open multiple times only to have errant throws ruin the play. 

    "Ohh… just a hair from spectacular," head coach Pete Carroll said of Metcalf's performance, per NBC Sports Northwest's Joe Fann. "He got behind [the defenders] just like we're hoping. He's a big threat."

    The Seahawks don't have a true second option in the passing game. Tyler Lockett is the obvious top target, and Metcalf's combination of size and speed makes him a true vertical threat and potential No. 2 option. 

WR Josh Gordon, New England Patriots

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    The yearly rumblings have started again. Josh Gordon may return to the field soon. 

    Gordon filed for reinstatement last week, according to Balzer Football's Howard Balzer. The 28-year-old wide receiver stepped away from the New England Patriots last season before the league announced he received an indefinite ban for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL drug policy. 

    At this point, Gordon is a futures bet with no guarantee he'll even play. But his talent is alluring. 

    When active and fully committed, Gordon is as talented as any NFL wide receiver. He led the league with 1,646 receiving yards during the 2013 campaign. His reliability remains the question mark. Since entering the league in 2012, the former supplemental draft pick has played in 52 of 112 possible games. 

    As Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss:

    "I think at this point, everybody here, you're just encouraging and you just hope everything is working right with him—not only with reinstatement but just in life, that he's doing well, progressing the way he needs to progress. If the next step in that progression is coming back to the team, obviously everyone here would be thrilled to have him. He's an awesome person, dealing with things just like the rest of us."

    A late-round fantasy play for Gordon makes some sense.

    First, his talent is undeniable. Second, the Patriots lack a proven outside threat. Currently, rookies N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are Tom Brady's top options as Demaryius Thomas recovers from last year's torn Achilles tendon. 

    Once an afterthought, Gordon's ADP sits at the top of the 13th round. Buyer beware, though. 

WR Tyrell Williams, Oakland Raiders

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    Antonio Brown's frostbitten feet and temper tantrums over an outdated helmet have the Oakland Raiders at a loss. The organization acquired Brown to become the focal point of the offense. 

    "Obviously, [Brown] is going to demand a lot of attention," fellow wide receiver Tyrell Williams said, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Matt Kawahara. "That's going to open up a lot for me to be able to go and win 1-on-1. So I think it's just going to be good."

    The roles could easily change if Brown's feet don't heal and he remains an enigma. 

    "I think everyone that's been at practice is seeing Tyrell not just as a No. 2 receiver," quarterback Derek Carr said. "He can easily take the featured role and be a 100-catch, 1,000-yard guy."

    Williams, who the Raiders signed as a free agent this offseason, has already proved himself a capable target with a 1,059-yard 2016 campaign. But the Los Angeles Chargers featured a deep wide receiver corps, and Williams never received another opportunity as a primary target. 

    Due to the uncertainty surrounding Brown, Williams' ADP continues to rise. Right now, he's being drafted in the 12th round after functioning as a mid-13th-round selection less than a month ago. 

    Even if/when Brown returns, Williams is a solid play as the Raiders' No. 2 wide receiver. The 6'4" wideout is a legitimate vertical threat. Last season, the 27-year-old finished fifth in contested catch percentage (57.9), according to Pro Football Focus

    "Coach [Jon Gruden] is in my ear, 'Hey, get 16 that ball," Carr said, per the Oregonian's Geoffrey C. Arnold. "Get him the ball. Throw that thing up to him. Give him that chance. And we're going to put it on his shoulders to go make those plays and that's what he wants."

TE Evan Engram, New York Giants

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    One look at the New York Giants' wide receiver corps tells fantasy players exactly why tight end Evan Engram's stock continues to rise. 

    Engram is now, on average, the fifth tight end drafted, behind Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Georgia Kittle and O.J. Howard. Of course, the Giants tight end should be behind Kelce, Ertz and Kittle after their record-breaking 2018 campaigns.

    But Engram's potential is enormous, which is why he rose from a mid-sixth-round option to a solid fifth-round pick. 

    New York has next to nothing at wide receiver.

    Sterling Shepard suffered a broken thumb during training camp, though he's expected back for the start of the regular season, according to the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy. Golden Tate, who the team signed in free agency to become its top wide receiver, received a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

    Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard and rookie Darius Slayton, who is currently dealing with a tweaked hamstring, will be the Giants' top three wide receivers if Shepard isn't ready for Week 1. 

    Who? Exactly. 

    Engram is the Giants' best option in the passing game beyond running back Saquon Barkley. The coaching staff's top priority is keeping Engram healthy after the tight end missed five games with injuries last season, and head coach Pat Shurmur expects a lot from the 2017 first-round pick if he's on the field. 

    "When he was there, he actually looked pretty productive," Shurmur said, per the New York Post's Dani Mohr. "I think back to that Houston game when he got hit on the leg and got hurt, he was catching the ball and running and doing good things. Had he stayed out there for all 16 games, I think he would've had big numbers."

TE Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens selected a pair of tight ends in the 2018 draft. The latter of the two already established himself as a top target within the offense and should be an even bigger part of the passing game this fall. 

    While first-round pick Hayden Hurst suffered a stress fracture in his foot last August and missed the first four games of his career, Mark Andrews put together a solid rookie campaign. 

    First-year tight ends are notoriously slow in their development. Andrews didn't post big numbers, but he ranked first among fellow rookies at his position with 552 receiving yards. A deeper dive into his stats shows a target ready to explode in year two. 

    Andrews ranked second among rookie tight ends since 2007 with an average of 11 yards per target, per ESPN's Mike Clay. He eclipsed the numbers previously posted by Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Jimmy Graham and George Kittle. Andrews is one of seven tight ends to average at least two yards per route run with at least 100 routes over the past two seasons, per Fantasy Labs' Ian Hartitz.

    Finally, a unique dynamic emerged between Andrews and quarterback Lamar Jackson. According to Pro Football Focus' Scott Barrett, Andrews finished fourth during Jackson's stretch with a 12 percent target share yet easily finished first with a 26 percent yardage share. 

    "Mark is a dog," Jackson said this summer, per the Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer. "He gets open, he runs his routes, he can block. Man, he's an all-around tight end. ... I don't even have words for him." 

    Jackson's usage is key to Andrews' ADP. An expected run-heavy offensive approach should place an emphasis on heavy sets with multiple tight ends. When the Ravens do pass, the quarterback will likely lean on those big targets, especially Andrews. As such, Baltimore's TE1 saw his ADP rise from a mid-14th-round pick last month into a solid 13th-round selection.