Each week this preseason, fantasy football analyst Matt Harmon will be sifting through all the training camp noise to uncover relevant signal — key information that fantasy drafters can use to their advantage this year.
Michael Thomas returns from PUP
The great enigma returns to the field.
After a brief stint on the PUP list, Michael Thomas returned to practice for the Saints this week. It’s been forever since we’ve seen Thomas in peak form. One good week of practice is far from a guarantee that we’ll see that player again. It’s still a good sign and the Saints are certainly better off if he’s in the fold this year.
Thomas has been a tough player to rank going into the season. That’s still true even if he takes the field in Week 1. I’m still not sure where I’ll stand on him going into the season, although this was a welcome sign.
One thing I’m not doing is moving Chris Olave down the ranks. No matter what, Thomas was never going to be a 30-percent target share player like he was in 2019. It sounds like the Saints offense will be more wide receiver-heavy this season, rather than centered around backs and tight ends. That makes sense because Thomas, Olave and Jarvis Landry represent a good trio.
Olave and Jameis Winston’s skills, in particular, should overlap in the deep game and the rookie is already such a polished route runner. He still carries strong upside to lead all rookies in receiving yards.
Kyle Shanahan confirms the team has moved on to Trey Lance
If you’ve been closely following the team all offseason, this was not a shock. If you’ve been obsessed with conspiracy theories and click-bait rumors, maybe it was.
The 49ers have kept Jimmy Garoppolo locked out of the facility all offseason. All the offensive players have been working out with Trey Lance. As Shanahan said this week, Garoppolo would have been traded by now if he didn’t have the (necessary) surgery.
Lance being the guy in 2022 was always going to be the outcome.
We still don’t know how Lance will perform. Frankly, the 49ers certainly still have their questions because, well, he’s barely played.
However, it’s time to project this offense as if Lance will be the starter for 17 games. That likely means a high-rate of rushing plays, with far more going to the quarterback and less to the backs — and Deebo Samuel. We’re also likely to see more of a vertical-based passing offense. Lance averaged the most air yards per attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air-yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.
That is going to be a huge change in how this 49ers offense operates and could mean big things for outside-the-numbers, downfield receiver, Brandon Aiyuk. The third-year receiver drew big praise from Shanahan this week; it doesn’t sound like Aiyuk will be back in the doghouse anytime soon.
Diontae Johnson “holding in,” Chase Claypool lining up at slot
The training camp holdout is basically gone. Under the new CBA it makes more sense for players to show up to camp but not really participate in major drills — aka, “holding in.”
It looks like Diontae Johnson will be one of several key big-time receivers trying this out over the summer.
All offseason, the decision-makers for the teams that employ DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel were optimistic about signing those guys long-term. The Seahawks kept true to their word and inked Metcalf to a monster deal on Thursday. Meanwhile, the buzz on Johnson's extension from Steelers camp has been a bit more lukewarm. We’ll see if Johnson’s move can push them to get a deal done. The Steelers desperately need him as he’s the lone player who profiles as a No. 1 receiver.
One other interesting receiver development out of Steelers camp involves Chase Claypool. The hulking receiver was taking snaps from the slot with rookie George Pickens lined up outside.
Steelers first team offense on air:
Mitch Trubisky, Najee Harris
George Pickens, Chase Claypool (slot), Diontae Johnson
Dan Moore, Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, James Daniels, Chuks Okorafor
— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) July 27, 2022
How the Steelers deploy their receivers has been one of my biggest questions all offseason. I’m not sure I was more disappointed by a player more than Claypool when reviewing receivers this offseason for Reception Perception. He just straight up struggled to get open and you cannot blame that on Ben Roethlisberger.
Moving inside and running more high-percentage routes can help fix some of those issues. If he’s going to spend more time in this role, I’ll be more willing to take a shot at his comfortably late ADP.
Wan’Dale Robinson confirmed as the starting NYG slot
The Giants made a surprising pick by taking Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson early in the second round. That kind of draft capital foreshadowed a big plan for a player — and the early camp reports cement it.
Robinson looks like a Day 1 starter for the Giants, playing inside with Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay in three-receiver sets. It makes sense considering Sterling Shepard is a long shot to be ready for Week 1 with him on the PUP following a late-season Achilles tear.
New Giants HC Brian Daboll got some good play out of a smaller, explosive player in Isaiah McKenzie down the stretch with Buffalo last year. Perhaps he sees Robinson as that type of guy. It’s hard to say that the Giants will be good enough for Robinson to be a consistent fantasy factor but he’s a name worth monitoring.
Michael Gallup on PUP and confirms he won’t play Week 1
The idea that Michael Gallup wouldn’t play Week 1 wasn’t surprising but to hear him just come out and say it was. Frankly, it was kind of refreshing for him to just set realistic expectations, for his sake:
Assumed but confirmation here we won't see Michael Gallup in Week 1 https://t.co/13690QCKA4
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) July 28, 2022
Dallas is light at receiver after CeeDee Lamb; guys like James Washington and Noah Brown don’t move the needle. Rookie Jalen Tolbert is going to be a popular late-round pick, however, and for good reason. He’s a solid separator who can win contested passes. He sneakily has one of the best talent/early opportunity/quarterback cocktails of any of the rookies, even if he was a third-round pick.
The Rams staff is in love with Allen Robinson
On a recent episode of The Athletic Football Show, Jourdan Rodrigue and Robert Mays expanded on some of their takeaways on how Allen Robinson is fitting in with the Rams.
Spoiler alert: It’s going well.
Los Angeles envisions Robinson lining up all over the field and has already emerged as a central figure on the team. He’s impressed with his details, separation ability and precision in the contested-catch game. The Rams haven’t had a receiver quite like Robinson before and he’s certainly never played in an ecosystem like this at any point.
If you think Allen Robinson isn’t about to have a major role with this team, you’re kidding yourself. And if you think he’s washed up, then you’re just drunk on “yards per (whatever)” efficiency stats, which are a product of quarterback play and environment — and you haven’t watched him play. He’s looking like a fantastic bet at ADP.
Some clues on Washington RB usage
While Antonio Gibson sat out practice with a hamstring injury, we got some clues on how Washington’s backfield usage could be split.
We know that J.D. McKissic is going to handle a bulk of the passing down work. The team was aggressive in bringing him back at the 11th hour after he agreed to a deal with Buffalo, so he’s not ceding his role. Speaking on the other two backs, Ron Rivera said Brian Robinson is “a big, strong, powerful downhill runner, more so than anything else.” The head coach said Antonio Gibson “is a little more elusive guy more off the edge, where with Brian, we can take it inside, or we can take it off the edge.”
That sounds like the early rumblings of a split in the early-down duties. As long as he has a good summer, it appears Robinson is going to have some role with the first-team offense. Ben Standig of The Athletic believes “at a minimum” he’s going to handle short-yardage work.
The coaching staff appears to believe that part of the appeal of Robinson in the offense is that he’ll keep Gibson fresh by not forcing the latter into “grinder” carries.
That’s great for Gibson’s health, not so much his fantasy appeal.
Rhamondre Stevenson seems to be splitting duties with Damien Harris
The fantasy football community really seems to want Rhamondre Stevenson to happen. Early rumblings look like they might just get their wish.
"My guess after being around this team a little is that Rhamondre Stevenson probably will get the bulk of the carries."https://t.co/iLSGyhbTg2
— Jared Smola (@SmolaDS) July 29, 2022
Stevenson has been mixing in with Damien Harris for the early down work, although Harris has routinely gotten the first crack. But the most crucial note out of Patriots camp has been that Stevenson has been a fixture in the passing game, getting targets from Mac Jones at a rate similar to some of the top receivers.
Passing down work is the key to unlocking both Stevenson’s standalone value and ceiling, as he’s unlikely to straight-up replace Harris. So these developments are great news. He’s one of my favorite running back picks outside of the top-30 players at the position.
A couple of deep sleeper receivers to track
Isaiah McKenzie seems to have an early edge as Buffalo’s top slot receiver. Veteran Jamison Crowder has been banged up and unavailable, which has left the stage open for McKenzie. The latter got a new deal from the team this offseason and flashed speed and man-coverage beating ability from the inside.
Personally, I want to see him win this job, so we need to track this one.
Across the way, Donovan Peoples-Jones looks locked into the Browns WR2 role. Rookie David Bell started on the PUP list and fits better in the slot anyway. Peoples-Jones has been a vertical receiver to this point in his career and is reportedly a Deshaun Watson favorite early in camp. We still don’t have clarity on Watson’s availability yet but keep an eye on DPJ through camp.