Fantasy Football 2020: Top Training Camp Storylines to Monitor Before the Season

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2020

Fantasy Football 2020: Top Training Camp Storylines to Monitor Before the Season

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Fantasy football enthusiasts want to know—what's the buzz around training camp?

    Without preseason games, we're completely dependent on reports from practices and press conferences with coaches to piece together team depth charts and project player roles for the 2020 campaign.

    Despite a small sample size of practices, we can see some separation within the position ranks. Veterans in new places and rookies have solidified roles, though teams still need to iron out the pecking order in other spots.

    With a focus on point-per-reception leagues, we'll go through the top storylines that have fantasy football implications, which means an emphasis on starters, the important running back position and players who can make a significant jump this season.

Atlanta Falcons' Hayden Hurst Emerges as an Every-Down Tight End

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    Curtis Compton/Associated Press

    Following Austin Hooper's departure to the Cleveland Browns via free agency, this report from Kelsey Conway about Hayden's Hurst's role shouldn't surprise anyone.

    The Atlanta Falcons traded second- and fifth-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens for Hurst and a fourth-rounder with the intent to unlock the 2018 first-rounder's upside.

    Behind Hurst at tight end, the Falcons don't have any consistent playmakers or high draft picks to develop in the offense.

    Luke Stocker goes into his 10th year, but he's never caught more than 16 passes in a season. Khari Lee and Jaeden Graham have 11 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown between them. Undrafted rookie Jared Pinkney will battle for a roster spot. 

    Hurst is TE8 with an average draft position of 7.08. Although he's a gamble because of his modest production with the Ravens over the last two years, the South Carolina product belongs on your watch list.

    In 2019, under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons recorded the most pass attempts (684), and Matt Ryan led the league in completions (408).

    Hurst should have plenty of opportunities to post big numbers in Atlanta. If he makes more plays in the passing game during practices, his stock will rise significantly before Week 1. Managers can get an early jump on him while his every-down role seems secure right now.

Baltimore Ravens' Running Back Situation Is a Fantasy Football Headache

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    Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram II
    Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram IIGary Landers/Associated Press

    Don’t draft a Baltimore Ravens running back before the fourth round. Mark Ingram finished 11th in points among tailbacks last year, per FantasyPros, but he's probably going to see fewer touches in 2020.

    The Ravens selected running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round of April's draft. He can play on all three downs, racking up 5,104 yards from scrimmage (4,459 rushing and 645 receiving) through three terms at Ohio State. 

    Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic thinks Justice Hill may handle an expanded role, which creates an unpredictable four-man platoon with Gus Edwards also in the fold.

    "The reality, however, is it might be a weekly decision for Greg Roman and company on who is getting the carries and when," Zrebiec wrote. "Justice Hill could be in the mix as well. The same running back who is first off the bench in the first quarter might be third or fourth in line by the fourth quarter."

    Even if Ingram claims the starting role, that designation means very little with so many running backs able to contribute out of the backfield. Stay away from this group until the middle rounds. Because of Ingram's experience and Dobbins' upside, they will likely come off the board first among this stable.

No Clear-Cut Starting Running Back for the Denver Broncos

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    Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III
    Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon IIIDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Melvin Gordon III has been one of the best receiving backs in the league, recording 224 receptions for 1,873 yards and 11 touchdowns through five campaigns. He'll likely see most of the third-down looks in the short passing game.

    However, Phillip Lindsay isn't going to vanish off the fantasy football radar. He's a capable pass-catcher with 70 receptions for 437 yards and a touchdown in two seasons. Furthermore, head coach Vic Fangio suggests that the offense will feature two running backs, per Zac Stevens of DNVR Sports.

    "I anticipate both playing enough where we really don’t have to designate a starter," Fangio said. 

    Gordon said after an August 16 practice that he was struggling with the altitude in Denver, which may require an extended adjustment period.

    "Right now it's tough, trying to finish downfield, and things like that," Gordon said, per ESPN's Jeff Legwold.

    While managers shouldn't have too much concern for Gordon yet, Lindsay could take on a majority of the rush attempts for the first few weeks of the season. Once Gordon is acclimated to the conditions, the Broncos will have a solid one-two punch at running back.

Indianapolis Colts' Rookie 2nd-Rounders Ready to Make an Early Impact

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    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Without hesitation, buy stock in the Indianapolis Colts' second-round rookies. Wideout Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor could open the season in prominent roles. 

    Head coach Frank Reich said the team will "ride the hot hand" out of the backfield. As an early-round draft pick, Taylor should have a chance to lead the running backs in touches for any given week.

    The Colts passing attack doesn't feature an established wide receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, so Pittman may have a crucial role in the starting 'X' receiver position.

    According to The Athletic's Zak Keefer, Pittman and Taylor have practiced with the starters, suggesting they're primed to see a lot of action in 2020.

    "Both Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor saw a healthy amount of first-team snaps during the Colts’ second padded practice Tuesday, a telling suggestion of where the coaches see the rookies on the current depth chart," Keefer wrote. 

    Despite the condensed offseason, it seems as though the Colts will rely on their top two rookies to contribute right away. Taylor has an ADP of 4.03, while Pittman's is 14.02. Based on their perspective workloads, both can outperform their draft positions.

Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson 'Distancing Himself' from Young Group

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Through early practices, Justin Jefferson has made a strong impression. The rookie first-rounder may soak up a good portion of the targets that went to Stefon Diggs in recent seasons. 

    Although the Minnesota Vikings will employ a run-heavy attack with Gary Kubiak transitioning from offensive adviser to coordinator, Jefferson's offseason strides put him in a position to become the secondary pass-catching option behind Adam Thielen. Thus far, he's impressed fellow wide receiver Olabisi Johnson, per Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune.

    "I was telling him [Sunday], his releases were crazy," Johnson said. "He was working everybody off the line. We knew coming in this guy was going to be a star, and he's proven just that." 

    Jefferson attributes his quick learning curve to similarities between the Vikings' and LSU's offensive systems.

    "We pretty much ran the exact same offense, just different terminology," Jefferson said, per Krammer. "Actually, being in that pro-style offense last year, it kind of helped me with what I'm going through now. It's kind of easier to pick up plays, concepts, so just being here is kind of making my life a little bit easier." 

    Jefferson looks pro-ready in Minnesota. Krammer also noticed the LSU product lined up in different spots, so he'll likely see targets in the slot and on the perimeter. 

    Jefferson has a shot to lead all rookies in catches and receiving yards this season.

New England Patriots Backfield Has Too Many Variables

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    New England Patriots running back Sony Michel
    New England Patriots running back Sony MichelSteven Senne/Associated Press

    Similar to the Baltimore Ravens, the New England Patriots backfield has too many potential contributors to warrant an early-round pick.

    Since coming out of Georgia as a 2018 first-rounder, Sony Michel has led the backfield in carries by a wide margin, though he may have a slightly reduced role in the upcoming term.

    Thus far, running back Damien Harris, a 2019 third-rounder, has flashed at practices following a nondescript rookie campaign, logging four carries for 12 yards. The Patriots signed ninth-year veteran Lamar Miller, who's on the physically unable to perform list. James White will likely maintain his role as the primary pass-catching back. Rex Burkhead is a holdover in a reserve role.

    Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears thinks Michel has a chance to suit up for Week 1, per Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal.

    "I think he'll be ready when he has a shot to get out there. Hopefully we have some time before the first game for him to be out there. If not, we'll take him when we get him," Bedard tweeted. 

    If Michel returns well before opening week, expect him to handle the majority load, though his lack of receptions (19 in two seasons) caps his value in PPR leagues. Miller, Burkhead and Harris may steal some touches, which would create a complicated situation in the Patriots backfield.

New York Giants QB Daniel Jones Primed for Sophomore Surge?

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    New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones
    New York Giants quarterback Daniel JonesVera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    If you're looking for a potential sleeper at quarterback, consider Daniel Jones.

    ESPN's Jordan Raanan thinks the second-year signal-caller could blossom in his second term.

    "Daniel Jones 2.0 is coming soon to a stadium near you," Raanan wrote. "He is bigger, he's stronger, and all signs point to him being better than ever in his second professional season as the New York Giants' quarterback." 

    Jones put in a concerted effort to work on his body in hopes the physical transformation translates on the field.

    "I wanted to get stronger and wanted to gain some weight for what that does for every part of my game—standing in the pocket, running when I need to, and obviously throwing the ball as efficiently as I can using my strength, my lower body," Jones said.

    Jones isn't the only player who worked on himself during the offseason, so he's not unique in that sense. Nevertheless, the Duke product will play with a quality group of pass-catchers, including Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley.

    If Jones shows moderate improvement and his offensive weapons stay healthy, the Giants' passing offense could be prolific. He's in the discussion among second-year quarterbacks who can take a significant leap.

New York Jets WR Breshad Perriman Clicking with QB Sam Darnold

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    New York Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman
    New York Jets wide receiver Breshad PerrimanSeth Wenig/Associated Press

    Breshad Perriman has underwhelmed in five seasons, but he made the most of his opportunities at the end of the previous term with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    While wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin battled hamstring injuries down the stretch, Perriman racked up 25 receptions for 506 yards and five touchdowns with a 67.6 percent catch rate between Weeks 13 and 17

    Perriman will have a chance at a career rebirth with the New York Jets. Per ESPN's Rich Cimini, head coach Adam Gase said the sixth-year wide receiver has developed "good chemistry very quickly" with quarterback Sam Darnold. 

    Rookie second-round wide receiver Denzel Mims suffered a hamstring injury before the team had padded practices, and he hasn't returned to action. With limited sessions this offseason, that's a lot of lost time.

    Jamison Crowder remains a quality weapon in the slot, but Darnold needs a consistent threat on the perimeter. Perriman can fill that role. He's a sleeper with an ADP of 13.12.

San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk Earns 1st-Team Reps, Injuries Hamstring

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    San Francisco 49ers wide receiever Brandon Aiyuk
    San Francisco 49ers wide receiever Brandon AiyukJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers need healthy wide receivers. Jalen Hurd tore his ACL. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday that he hopes Deebo Samuel can suit up for the season opener after he broke his foot during a workout in June. General manager John Lynch said in late July the wideout could "miss some games."

    Rookie first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk put together solid performances on the practice field and earned his reps with the starters, but he suffered a hamstring injury during Sunday's practice, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area.

    Prior to the injury, Aiyuk would've been a favorite to open the season in a starting role.

    "Kyle Shanahan said Brandon Aiyuk has earned his reps with the first-team offense, showing up both mentally and physically. The #49ers expect Aiyuk to play a lot this season," Rob Lowder of Blue Wire Podcasts tweeted. 

    If Aiyuk avoids a major setback, he could see a lot of targets in the first few weeks. While tight end George Kittle remains the top pass-catcher in the 49ers offense, the rookie out of Arizona State has a chance to carve out an early role as the lead wide receiver.

    In the best-case scenario, Aiyuk returns to action sooner than later and establishes a sustainable rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that extends throughout the campaign even with Samuel healthy.

Washington Football Team RB Bryce Love Has Real Shot at No. 2 Spot

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    Washington Football Team running back Bryce Love
    Washington Football Team running back Bryce LoveAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team closed ranks within their running back group after they released running back Derrius Guice following his arrest on domestic violence charges.

    While the ageless wonder Adrian Peterson is atop the depth chart at 35 years old, he hasn't provided much in the short passing game, hauling in 37 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown in Washington.

    In April's draft, Washington selected Antonio Gibson in the third round. He'll convert from wide receiver to running back with a probable role on passing third downs. 

    According to JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington, Bryce Love took first-team reps with Peterson on the sideline, and his ascension to the No. 2 spot "seems quite real." 

    Love sat out the entire 2019 season. He tore his ACL during his senior term at Stanford and underwent a follow-up surgery on his knee last October, per Finlay

    Now healthy, Love could play a major role in 2020.

    In 2017, Love accumulated the second-most rushing yards (2,118) among Division I ball-carriers. He can also catch out of the backfield, hauling in 49 passes for 465 yards and two touchdowns as a collegian. 

    Right now, Love may have a lead on Gibson for primary backup duty behind Peterson. If he becomes a third-down target in the passing game, the second-year tailback would have flex appeal in PPR leagues.


    Average draft position (ADP) provided by Fantasy Football Calculator.