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We can tell what stage of the offseason we’re at just from our Twitter timelines. College highlights for this year’s rookies stopped in April. Film breakdowns on second-year players took a backseat in July. Even screenshots of best-ball rosters have started to lose popularity. It can only mean we’ve got actual football to analyze. Or, at least something close to it.
Training camps are in full swing. And, in turn, “confirmation bias szn” is upon us. Everyone is waiting for the beat report or camp video that hypes up their favorite player. It’s time to overreact to press conferences. Football is undoubtedly back. But, before the preseason kicks off on Thursday, I sifted through the latest news for storylines to follow before your drafts.
Concerns in Cincinnati
We were optimistic about Joe Burrow’s recovery earlier in the offseason. Just six months removed from his knee surgery, he was seen passing at OTAs and moving with some confidence. But then camp started and reality hit.
Burrow was seen struggling against pressure early in camp. Zac Taylor wound up giving the Burrow an extra day off to mentally reset. A planned absence, but it doesn’t inspire confidence. Last season, Cincinnati had a 62.1% expected pass rate and continually exceeded the mark while Burrow was active. Being hesitant in the pocket doesn’t lend itself to a fast-paced passing attack. An unproven offensive line adds to the concern. But, at least with Burrow himself, there’s reason for optimism.
Last week’s portion of camp focused on installing the offense. The plays were scripted and Burrow couldn’t check out of them like he would during a game. Now, with more time, he’s able to find his receivers with a little more practice.
Higgins has continued to ascend in his second year. Boyd’s footwork will make him a threat all over the field. But all eyes are now on Cincinnati’s fifth-overall pick and the reports aren’t nearly as glowing.
The negative news regarding Ja’Marr Chase instantly reignited the “Chase vs. Sewell” debate amongst fans. However, after being selected by the Bengals, Chase’s ADP landed in the early rounds. At WR22 on Underdog Fantasy, he carries the highest draft salary of any rookie wide receiver since Amari Cooper. We can all understand the allure in Cincinnati with his college quarterback. But building the bull case for the rookie is tough.
First-year receivers tend to show signs of development during their first year. We just watched Tee Higgins and Justin Jefferson accomplish similar feats last season. But Chase’s situation has an obvious flaw: his own teammates.
Both 2020 rookies were unlimited not just in potential targets, but the types of targets they earned. Neither had to compete with multiple pass-catchers on their own team for increased usage. Chase has two other receivers and Joe Mixon. So, even if he continues to improve on his release techniques, his fantasy expectations will be hard to match.
The Baltimore “Disa-Ravens”
I’m already regretting the pun, but it stays. Unlike the Ravens’ wide receivers at practice. I’m on a roll here. But before we get into the pass-catchers, let’s start with Lamar Jackson.
Jackson was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. After concluding his second stint away from team, Jackson has insisted his decision to not get vaccinated a “personal decision”. However, his decision extends far past himself.
The updated protocols for a positive test would have sidelined Jackson for 10 days. It could have been five days if he’d been considered a close contact. An important consideration considering his QB3-5 ADP. Now, there’s a concern about his missed time. The lack of a preparation period for him to get in sync with his receivers raises doubt in quarterbacks with average accuracy marks. And, to make things worse, most of his pass-catchers won’t be at practice.
Marquise Brown has been dealing with a hamstring injury since the end of July. An ailment that turned out to be worse than initially anticipated by the medical staff. Miles Boykin and Deon Cain sustained minor injuries. And then, the worst possible news came on Tuesday.
Rashod Bateman is a critical piece to the Jackson’s resurgence in 2021. His ability to win on intermediate routes matches the weakness of Baltimore’s passing game. Jackson wouldn’t be expected to convert third downs on his legs with a reliable receiver that can beat man/press coverage as a rookie. We still have Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins’ contributions may prove useful. But Lamar may be forced to carry his team yet again in 2021.
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Dallas Passing Attack on Track
Dak Prescott pulled himself out of practice nearly two weeks ago due to a muscle strain in his throwing shoulder. He still has time, but Dallas’ offensive players are the most sought-after assets in fantasy football. Five of their players are being drafted in the first seven rounds, the most of any team in the league. It’s unknown if we’ll see Prescott at any point in the preseason, but he appears to be trending in the right direction.
Additionally, Amari Cooper is on the same trajectory. After starting camp on the PUP, Cooper has recovered from his ankle injury and is ready to resume practice. He led all Dallas pass-catchers in target share last season on an offense that finished second in neutral pace and 11th in neutral passing. While CeeDee Lamb has earned the spotlight and Michael Gallup continues to be a value, Cooper should still be a target for fantasy managers.
The Forgotten Eagle
Zach Ertz’s departure from Philadelphia felt like a certainty after last season. Between Dallas Goedert’s ascension and the entire franchise being enveloped in chaos, Ertz appeared to be the odd man out. And we accepted it. But the eight-year veteran is playing out the final year of his contract with the Eagles. Plus, he’s determined the make the most of his last ride.
Throughout camp, Ertz has been targeted often enough to put him at odds with his non-existent ADP. The absence of DeVonta Smith only boosts Ertz’s opportunity to connect with Jalen Hurts. So while it’s fair to question how efficient the offense will be, there’s little to question about the veteran tight-end’s involvement in 2021.
Other Stories of Note
Darren Waller has missed practice for the last eight days without an injury designation. There’s been no comment on why the star tight-end has been away, but at least he’s been seen in the building.
Waller’s 2020 season vaulted him into the elite tier of fantasy tight-ends. He even surpassed George Kittle given their relative target shares and offensive situations. But continued time away will only further raise our concerns. Fantasy managers should continue to follow the story and hope he’s back for the preseason.