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Another week brings us another set of data points from training camps. Interviews and reports that can help us adjust our expectations as the season gets closer. But now, we also have preseason games thrown into the mix. Games without any effect on the season, but shed some light on who and how coaches want to operate in real situations. And both require context for us to properly approach our upcoming drafts. Let’s dive into the latest camp reports and see what we can expect as teams begin to make their roster cuts.
The Chiefs’ Rushing Attack
The Chiefs’ offseason moves were a clear sign they didn’t want to repeat Super Bowl LV. Upgrades at the guard and tackle position were exactly what Patrick Mahomes needed. But, so did Edwards-Helaire. He had the fifth-highest rate of carries resulting in zero or fewer yards. His nine attempts from inside the five-yard line netted just a single touchdown. The Chiefs’ coaching staff appears to have fixed the issue.
The new linemen aren’t boons for the rushing game just because they’re good blockers. It’s also what they allow the offense to do. Early training camp videos revealed counter run plays allowing Kansas City to maintain their typical formation while creating gaps for Edwards-Helaire. We saw something similar during the preseason.
Travis Kelce starts off detached from the line and the play ends with linemen nearly five yards downfield. The result from Edwards-Helaire is what we want. But Kansas City's ability to keep defenses guessing with new concepts from old formations will give Edwards-Helaire a solid floor this season. Involvement in the passing game gives him a ceiling.
The conspiracy theory throughout last season was that Andy Reid was waiting to unleash Edward-Helaire as a receiver during the playoffs. It was the simplest explanation. His 10.3% target share matched his collegiate usage, but just 9 of his 219 routes run went down field. But now, there’s some creativity being added to his workload.
Edward-Helaire’s third-down utilization was nearly doubled by veteran Darrel Williams last season. His receiver and pass-blocking skills were invaluable given the Chiefs’ offensive line woes. But if the former-LSU star is making strides as a pass-catcher, his utility increases for both real and fantasy football keeping him on the field. He still needs to work on pass protection, but he’s as good of a bet as any at his current ADP.
The Patriots’ Passing Game
Like Kansas City, our training camp focus in New England hasn’t been on their strength. They ended last season 31st in neutral passing rate. Their priority off-season additions included two offensive linemen, two tight-ends, and a receiver with primary skills in the intermediate area of the field. The Patriots are set up as a run-first team. And yet, we’re focused on the passing game.
The quarterback battle between Cam Newton and Mac Jones has been a constant source of speculation. On some days, the veteran has looked to be in command. The rookie has shone on other days. Both have fantasy utility but only one has caught the public’s eye.
The stylistic differences between the two are obvious. Newton’s CPOE has ranked 20th or worse in four out of the last five seasons. He connected on just 34 deep throws last season. But here, we see Mac Jones (in the smallest of sample sizes) put the ball where only the receiver can get it. A culmination of incremental improvements in his connection with the receivers at camp. So, while Jones has more work ahead of him, the door to the starting job hasn’t been closed yet.
Eagles On the Rise
The story on Jalen Hurts as a passer is yet to be written. But we’ve still been concerned all offseason. There was no indication the new coaching staff would tailor the offense to his strengths until this month. His most reliable pass-catcher was either a tight-end or running back. Many signs pointed to the Eagles taking a step back, but there’s some hope.
One camp highlight is exactly that. One highlight. It’s fun to watch, but still, one play. However, it hasn’t been one play for the sophomore receiver. The drumbeat has steadily increased for Reagor after a slow start to camp. A failed physical confirmed the priors of some but he’s been a star of Philadelphia’s joint practices with New England. His ability to gain separation has improved. Plus, Reagor isn’t the only standout.
Quez Watkins’ speed matches Hurts’ aggressive passing style. The two nearly connected during the preseason. DeVonta Smith is also returning, but the message is clear. Philadelphia’s passing game can’t be overlooked this season.
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Other Stories to Note
Chase Claypool is piling up the off-season injuries. He was injured on a diving catch during the Hall of Fame Game and had to be helped off the practice field with an ankle injury nearly two weeks later. It’s been deemed not significant but his recovery time is unclear.
Following up on last week’s story out of Dallas, Dak Prescott continues to ramp up his participation. The latest MRI on his shoulder yielded positive results and he’s on track to play in Week 1. A preseason glimpse of Prescott may be out of the cards but his, and his pass-catchers' ADPs, are secure.
There’s no fire in Buffalo, but we can smell smoke. Stefon Diggs has missed the last week of practice due to a knee injury. Phrases surrounding the ailment have been along the lines of no concern “at this point” and Diggs will be out “at least” awhile longer. No concern has been shown yet, but we’ll all need to watch for the star receiver to return.
Melvin Gordon continues to recover from a groin injury that sidelined him from the preseason opener. He’s not expected to miss Week 1, but his absence gave the coaching staff more time to evaluate rookie Javonte Williams. Gordon’s contract and veteran status may make him the 1A in the rotation, but Williams’ speed and vision may reverse the roles sooner rather than expected.
You typically won’t find any fantasy articles written about Allen Hurns, but here we are. His relevance was tied to his availability to Miami’s passing game. With DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Albert Wilson, and Preston Williams nursing various ailment, Hurns was making strides in the offense. Until he injured his wrist. Depth at pass-catcher continues to be an issue for the Dolphins as they prepare for the season.
James Conner was activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. He immediately falls into the RB1A role next to Chase Edmonds on an offense that’s been first and fourth in neutral pace the last two seasons. Kyler Murray will still be the primary rusher on the team, but Conner’s late-round ADP should be a value to any fantasy drafter given Conner’s situation.