It will be a training camp period unlike any other, and with no preseason games and modified practice structures, information will be limited relative to prior years. But that doesn't mean we can't track the news we do get.
Every year, Average Draft Positions are impacted in July and August based on news reports about positional battles, as we start to get a clearer idea of what player roles might be for the coming season. News on that front has thus far been light, but we'll presumably start to get some reports as we approach the season. And you need to know what to watch.
Below, I discuss five position battles where it seems to me there will be a clear value by ADP when it's said and done. For most of them, the contenders vying for the spot are all going in the double-digit rounds, so consider these roadmaps to late-round picks with upside or deeper league targets for the time being, and be ready to pounce if positive information starts to clear up the murkier situations.
We also covered these and more positional battles on Tuesday's Fantasy Football Today. Be sure to subscribe for nonstop Fantasy football content through the season, and nominate us through Friday for The People's Choice 2020 Podcast Awards in the "Sports" and "People's Choice" categories.
Whether these situations are cleared up or not, there are several spots where there should be some value for Fantasy football managers based on current drafting trends.
There's no questioning the upside of the Chiefs offense, but Fantasy drafters do have questions about who will fill the third downfield receiving role behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Sammy Watkins is back, but Mecole Hardman was an incredibly efficient 21-year-old rookie last season, and he looked like a perfect fit for Patrick Mahomes and this offense.
The question is whether Hardman will earn more snaps, because in 2019 he played his biggest role early after Hill was injured in Week 1. Hardman played at least 50% of the snaps in each of his first six NFL games, but from Week 7 on, after Hill was back, Hardman crested 50% just one time in 13 more games through the playoffs — and that was another game Hill left early in Week 11.
That would seem to indicate Hardman was used as something of a direct backup for Hill, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the potential to be used differently in his second season. Of course, if he is indeed in that limited role again, Watkins might be a full-time player again in an elite offense as a double-digit round flyer in terms of ADP. He'd almost certainly smash that price.
Fantasy managers remember Jackson fondly for a solid stretch late in 2018, including a Week 15 spot start after both Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler were hurt where Jackson totaled 85 yards and a score. But Jackson is a former seventh-round pick who the Chargers opted to not use frequently in 2019 when Gordon was holding out, and then after letting Gordon walk, they took Kelley in the fourth round.
That seems to indicate the team isn't quite as high on Jackson, but it's not clear why. He's averaged over 5 yards a pop on 79 career carries, and has shown an ability to catch passes out of the backfield, primarily in 2018. Earlier this offseason, I leaned toward Kelley in this competition for secondary touches behind Ekeler, but I'm warming up to Jackson with Kelley facing the prospect of a shortened training camp as a rookie. Both are priced very low, and one should rise if we get any indication he'll be the clear No. 2.
Ito Smith RB
DAL Dallas • #43
Age: 28 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Brian Hill RB
SF San Francisco • #35
Age: 28 • Experience: 5 yrs.
PIT Pittsburgh • #41
Age: 27 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Todd Gurley will be the clear No. 1 in Atlanta, but his arthritic knee issues and the long-term rotational tendencies of the Falcons suggest there could be some late-round value for whoever breaks camp in front among this trio of Falcons backups. Smith's my preferred option, as he has the receiving chops, while Ollison has mostly been used as a short-yardage bulldozer. That leaves Hill, who might have the best shot at an early-down workload if Gurley were to miss some time. In deeper leagues, both Smith and Hill seem overlooked in the later rounds of drafts, and there's a decent possibility this backfield is something like a 60/40 split with Gurley the clear lead but plenty of work left over for the rest of the crew.
The successful offenses Cam Newton has operated over the years have tended to have at least one outside contributor. We didn't see that much in Patriots offenses led by Tom Brady, and thus there doesn't seem to be much interest here.
Harry is the 2019 first-round pick with the forgettable rookie season but whose collegiate track record still indicates plenty of upside. Veteran free agent acquisition Marqise Lee might have been Harry's most direct competition, but Lee opted out of the 2020 season. Then there's Sanu, who doesn't profile as an outside receiver, but for whom New England traded a second-round pick last year, and that can't just be ignored.
If we think of Julian Edelman as occupying something resembling the Greg Olsen role in prior Newton offenses — meaning he'd see a lot of the short and intermediate targets — there's still room for someone in this offense to have a Kelvin Benjamin or Devin Funchess type impact on the outside. My bet is on Harry, but whoever it is will likely crush their ADP.
NYG N.Y. Giants
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
IND Indianapolis • #11
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Zach Pascal WR
Age: 28 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Philip Rivers should breathe a lot more value into the Colts passing game, even as this is a team poised to play a soft schedule that might stay run heavy. In 2018, with Andrew Luck under center and in Frank Reich's first season as a head coach, the Colts ran rush plays on 38.1% of their total snaps, easily below the league average of 41.2% that year. In 2019, they were well above league average at 46.4%, despite a 7-9 record in 2019 after going 10-6 in 2018.
Rivers is a better quarterback than Jacoby Brissett — with a solid track record of skill position production for Fantasy — and should throw more than Brissett did, even if Indianapolis is in favorable game scripts. Pittman figures to compete with Pascal for an outside role, while Campbell might have the inside track on the starting slot gig. Rivers, of course, loved targeting Keenan Allen out of the slot for the past several seasons with the Chargers.
More to watch
There are several more interesting situations to watch, but I'm less certain there will be clear Fantasy value there. The Eagles wide receiver situation stands out, but it's just not clear who will be on the field. Fantasy drafters prefer DeSean Jackson and rookie Jalen Reagor. We also know Philadelphia involves the tight ends and running backs more than any other team in the league.
Atlanta's third wide receiver spot could also prove fruitful. Russell Gage paced for more than 100 targets there over the final nine games of 2019. Washington likewise should have a second viable receiving option outside of Terry McLaurin — in 2019, they became just the second team since 2006 to run fewer than 900 plays in a season, and their new coaching staff should bring more play volume to the offense if nothing else. I like Steven Sims there, but Logan Thomas is one of my favorite sneaky very late tight end options.
Jacksonville's No. 2 wide receiver spot is interesting as rookie Laviska Shenault has considerable upside if he can win the job at some point in 2020. That might be difficult with a limited camp, and we might see a rotation between him and Dede Westbrook along with Chris Conley on the outside all playing behind D.J. Chark, at least early in the season.
And with the Jets, it's just always an Adam Gase concern. But if Sam Darnold takes a step forward, Jamison Crowder is probably a fine value and one of Breshad Perriman or Chris Herndon could be useful, especially with rookie Denzel Mims already missing practice time.