Note: This article was originally published on July 18 and updated on August 27. Updates are in bold.
Top fantasy target: Alex Collins
Other notables: Kenneth Dixon, Buck Allen
Last year, the Ravens ranked 27th in total yards and 31st in yards per play. But that didn’t bother Collins, who went from a September practice squad addition to one of the NFL’s surprise stories.
Stepping in for injured teammates Kenneth Dixon and Danny Woodhead, Collins popped off 4.6 yards per carry and averaged a rock solid 3.0 yards after contact per attempt. He did so despite missing G Alex Lewis for all of the season and G Marshal Yanda for almost the entire year. The O-line looks shaky in spots entering 2018.
Power should remain Collins’ calling card. He showed it on tape at Arkansas and goes a stout 5’10, 217 pounds.
He’s not fit to play much on passing downs, though. Pro Football Focus charted him with 1 of the worst pass-blocking grades — albeit on just 27 snaps. He also dropped 4 passes.
That last stat brings us back to his rushing, where ball security has been an issue. He lost 2 fumbles early last season. And in total, he’s fumbled 6 times on just 277 career touches.
Still, Collins’ 2017 play says he deserves to be the lead back. His July ADP has him as RB22; our PPR ranks place him 19th at the position.
Now, he’ll still need to hold off challengers — mainly Dixon. As Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun wrote this month: “If Dixon can prove that the health of his knee is not a problem, the 2016 fourth-round draft pick could challenge Collins atop the depth chart.”
Dixon’s college tape impressed us. And his workout numbers backed up the tape’s tale of a shifty, short-area dynamo. We saw some of that in his rookie year, but 2017 was a flat-out disaster. He tore his meniscus and underwent surgery in July. While on season-ending IR, he served a 4-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and a 2-game ban for substance abuse.
Back healthy entering training camp, he’s a potential threat to lower Collins’ touch ceiling.
Allen’s quietly posted 45- and 46-catch seasons across the last 3 years. But he brings little playmaking ability and a low TD projection. He’s merely a deep league PPR flier.
Update: Collins's preseason workload went like this: two carries in Week 1, zero in Week 2 and one in Week 3. He also sat out the Hall of Fame game. All indications are that Baltimore's readying him for a big regular season role.
Dixon, meanwhile, missed part of camp with a hamstring injury. He was once on the roster bubble, but we expect him to make the team. Allen looks like the favorite for pass-catching duties out of the gate.
Top fantasy target: LeSean McCoy
Other notables: Chris Ivory
The Bills have ranked top 4 in rush attempts in 4 of the past 5 seasons. While they’ve cycled through several play-callers over that span, their latest OC clearly brings a run-first approach.
Alabama’s 2017 offense — under the direction of OC Brian Daboll — ranked 15th in the country in rushing attempts and 7th in rushing yards. Daboll’s NFL stops (Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City) turned up finishes of 6th, 22nd, 6th and 5th in attempts.
Set to start either Josh Allen, A.J. McCarron or Nate Peterman, Buffalo’s poised for a another run-heavy attack. But what about status of their lead back?
McCoy posted a career-low 4.0 yards per carry last fall, lost 2 of his best linemen over the spring and brings extra baggage to training camp. He’s facing domestic violence accusations, which both the Bills and the league are looking into.
Time will tell whether a suspension arises. But McCoy was already a full-on pass for us at his late-2nd-round ADP.
If McCoy’s sidelined, Ivory figures to handle a starting role. The rest of Buffalo’s depth chart doesn’t produce much excitement: Travaris Cadet, Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford.
Now 30, Ivory just posted a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in Jacksonville. A big part of that likely comes from the situations in which he was used. NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats show he faced 8+ box defenders on nearly 51% of his attempts. That was 3rd most among qualifying backs.
Ivory’s missed 7 games over the past 2 years and brings an extensive injury history. Yet, potential for volume — and his status as a relatively safe #2 RB — make him a fine late-round target.
Update: McCoy suffered a minor groin injury in mid-August. He rested during Week 3 of the preseason and is a lock to sit in Week 4 as well. His issues remain a poor O-line and a shaky QB situation. Now 30, he's not a primary draft target. Ivory is just a handcuff.
Top fantasy target: Joe Mixon
Other notables: Gio Bernard
Mixon failed to meet rookie-year expectations. That’s magnified, perhaps, by the successes of fellow rookies Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt.
But the reality is this OU product slogged his way to 3.5 yards per carry. And he posted a long run of only 25 yards (178 attempts) behind a leaky O-line. He at least supplied 30 catches at 9.6 yards per.
We don’t see a major cause for concern, though. Cincy ran the fewest total plays in the league last year (927) — way down from their 2016 tally (1,050). They ranked 29th in 3rd-down conversion rate and 32nd in time of possession. This unit should rebound a bit.
Mixon also played last year at only 21 years old. And he had only 2 years of college experience — 300 carries and 65 catches. For as clear as Mixon’s physical gifts are, experience certainly matters.
He now has that — plus a revamped O-line — entering training camp. That includes LT Cordy Glenn, rookie 1st-round C Billy Price and a new OL coach in Frank Pollack. He helped Dallas’ line flourish from 2015-2017.
Bernard still lurks as 1 of the game’s top receiving and change-of-pace backs. He out-produced Mixon last year with 4.4 yards per carry, although it’s worth noting a key stat. Gio saw 8+ defenders in the box on 12.38% of his carries, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. That was easily the lowest mark among qualifiers. Mixon, meanwhile, checked in at 24.72%.
A year 2 leap from speedy WR John Ross and even a semi-healthy season from Tyler Eifert would help loosen up defenses.
We’re ultimately thrilled with the prospect of grabbing Mixon at RB14. Coming in at RB45, Bernard’s a fine later-round PPR grab.
Update: The Bengals' O-line has yet to gel; Mixon owns just 1.8 yards per carry on 13 preseason attempts. It's clearly a small sample size, though, and he's flashed as a receiver with 3-48-1. Cincy's used him in the slot, too. Breakout appeal remains legit here. Bernard, meanwhile, retains later-round appeal as a potential 40-catch back.
Top fantasy target: Duke Johnson
Other notables: Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb
Johnson won’t lead this group in carries, but he’s easily the top receiver here. His 188 catches since 2015 rank #1 among RBs.
“Luckily, Duke can do some things that the other two cannot do,” RB coach Freddie Kitchens said this summer. “He can probably do those things more efficient with more success. Ultimately, all three of those guys can run our running game. Duke can do a few more things in the passing game.”
Johnson has been a tackle-dodger throughout his career. In 2017, he earned Pro Football Focus’ 3rd highest forced missed tackle rate (25%). The Browns have moved him all over the formation, as roughly 34% of his routes run last year came out wide or from the slot. We’d expect more creative usage under new OC Todd Haley, who has experience utilizing elite 2-way back Le'Veon Bell.
Chubb and Hyde figure to battle for the early-down role in camp. We’ll side with youth here and the guy Cleveland drafted in Round 2 after signing Hyde.
Chubb’s college career took a dark turn following a major knee injury in 2015. But he looked close to his dominant, pre-injury self in 2017. He exits college 2nd all-time in rushing among SEC backs.
“I think his violence,” Kitchens said of what stands out about Chubb’s game. “I think the one thing that we liked about Nick during the evaluation process, during his interviews and during the draft process, he is all business. He has a great work ethic. He is physical in everything that he does. He will take a handoff, and the handoff is violent. I think that is a very unique perspective from a running back standpoint that everything he does is violent. I think that he brings that to the table.”
Hyde popped in 8 TDs for the 'Niners last year but benefited from a massive 28 carries inside the 10. Only Todd Gurley posted a bigger figure (32).
Hyde averaged just 3.9 yards per carry but posted a strong 2.9 yards after contact mark. Hyde played most of the season without Jimmy Garoppolo under center and was routinely the main focus of opposing defenses.
With Hyde’s ADP several spots ahead of Chubb’s, though, he’s not someone to aggressively target.
Update: We had high hopes for Chubb, who arrived early in Round 2. But he's been outplayed this summer by veteran Carlos Hyde. Chubb's a worthy late-round flier on talent alone, while we're not particularly interested in Hyde at ADP.
The safest PPR bet in this backfield remains Duke Johnson. Our projections peg him for 43 catches.
Top fantasy target: Royce Freeman
Other notables: Devontae Booker, Phillip Lindsay, De’Angelo Henderson
Booker will likely open camp as the starter. But that would only happen because of his veteran status.
While he’s excelled as a pass catcher, Booker’s sitting on just 3.6 yards per carry through 2 seasons. He mustered a mere 79 rush attempts last year in 13 games. A wrist fracture cost him the first 3 weeks. Booker also has a 2015 meniscus tear behind him.
Perhaps we see a 3rd-year jump, but his advanced age — 26 — isn’t ideal.
Freeman, a 3rd-round rookie, is the shiny new toy. He couples above-average athleticism with an impressive body of production. He exits Oregon with 5,620 career rushing yards — plus 79 career catches. We wouldn’t bet on a 3-down role, but it’s within his range of outcomes.
Back on draft day, GM John Elway said the rookie is “a big banger that we haven’t had for a while… so we’re excited to have him.’’ In OTAs, HC Vance Joseph said the rookie's “absolutely” capable of being a lead back.
Currently projected for 233 touches, Freeman’s a fine target with an ADP of RB28.
Henderson’s undersized but brings plus athleticism and strong college production. He’s simply a long-shot to earn more than a few weekly touches.
Update: No surprise, but Freeman's looked like the top talent in this backfield, taking 15 preseason carries for 84 yards and 3 TDs. He hasn't been used as the clear-cut lead back, though. In Week 3, Freeman saw 5 opportunities (carries + touches) compared to 3 for Booker and 3 for rookie Phillip Lindsay. We're still most interested in Freeman on draft day.
Top fantasy target: Lamar Miller
Other notables: D’Onta Foreman
It’s tough to like this situation entering training camp.
Miller averaged just 3.7 yards per carry (238 attempts) last season and was among the least elusive backs league-wide, per Pro Football Focus.
Houston’s O-line wasn’t an asset in 2017, and it remains a weakness heading into 2018. The Texans came in dead last in our Offensive Line Rankings.
If we’re constructing an argument in favor of Miller, it has to include durability, age and potential volume. He’s played in 78 of 80 games over the past 5 seasons. And he turned just 27 in April.
If his body continues to hold up, Miller could remain busy for a unit that’s ranked top 12 in run rate for 4 straight years. That’s especially true if Foreman’s not healthy for Week 1. The 2017 rookie tore his left Achilles in Week 11 and might open the year on the PUP list. If so, he’d miss the first 6 games.
Still, we haven’t heard about any rehab setbacks, a sentiment echoed by teammate Nick Martin. “I’m very satisfied with D’Onta,” Houston’s starting center said. “I’ve been rehabbing with him in the offseason. What he’s doing to get back is a special thing.”
Foreman, when healthy, showed flashes of strong play. The 6’0, 235-pounder had his best performance in the game he went down, posting 65 yards and 2 scores on just 10 rushes. If healthy, he’s clearly capable of overtaking Miller.
Update: Miller has played all but 1 preseason snap alongside Deshaun Watson. Foreman is on the PUP list and remains in danger of missing early-season games. We're on board with Miller as a Round 4 pick, while Foreman's off the redraft radar.
Top fantasy target: Marlon Mack
Other notables: Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, Christine Michael
Mack played through a torn labrum in 2017. That — and a shoddy O-line — makes the 4th-round rookie’s 3.8 yards per carry acceptable.
So we’ll give him credit for playing through pain. He should also be applauded for averaging the 7th most yards after contact per rush (per PFF). A big-play athlete, Mack took 10 of his 114 touches for 20+ yards.
All that said, don’t assume he’s a lock for lead-back duties. Mack missed May and June practices because of the shoulder. And the Colts’ new HC-OC combo (Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni) were given 2 rookie backs: Hines and Wilkins.
Hines brings pass-catching upside at a Sproles-like 5’8, 198 pounds. With enticing rushing and receiving production at college, it’s no wonder why his coach has gushed over this big-time athlete.
“We had our eye on him from the very start,” Reich said of Hines. “I mean, this was a guy who has explosive traits, and elite speed. I think in the history of what our offensive staff has done together with some elite speed guys, it was very easy to picture him in our offense.”
Wilkins is a well-rounded prospect, albeit an older one at 24. He’s coming off a big season at Ole Miss (155-1,011-9) and carries dark-horse fantasy appeal.
Update: Mack looked like he was losing ground in the Colts' backfield. He suffered a hamstring injury on August 9 and hasn't practiced since. But backups Hines, Wilkins and Michael have done little to solidify roles. Hines, in particular, has struggled with ball security this preseason. Mack currently looks iffy for Week 1, but if he makes it back, the 2nd-year man should handle lead-back duties.
Top fantasy target: Leonard Fournette
Other notables: T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
Fournette was busy as a rookie. He racked up 304 touches despite 3 absences — 2 injury-related and another due to a suspension. Jacksonville ranked 5th in time of possession, helping the team finish #1 in total plays.
A subpar passing game allowed defenses to focus on slowing Fournette down. He popped off the longest run of the year — 90 yards against Pittsburgh — but tallied a season-long yards per carry of 3.9. NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats show that he faced 8+ defenders in the box on 48.69% of his rushes — 5th highest among qualifiers. So the poor efficiency makes sense.
He got a boost this offseason, though, with the signing of G Andrew Norwell. One of the top run blockers in the game, he instantly upgrades Fournette’s outlook on inside runs.
We also like the talk of a weight cut. Here’s what Fournette said in early July:
“I feel like I play my best at that weight — 223, 224 — that's what I played in college [at LSU]. Why not? I don't want to be average. I want to be above-average, be the greatest one to play this game. I feel lighter, quicker, and I have a lot of my burst."
It’s only a 5-pound drop from his listed weight, but it’s nevertheless noteworthy.
Backups Yeldon and Grant figure to remain gently used as long as Fournette is healthy. OC Nathaniel Hackett pumped up Grant back in May, calling him a “major change-of-pace back” The 26-year-old averaged 8.3 yards per carry on 30 attempts and caught 3 passes for 41 yards across 16 games. A big leap in touches remains unlikely.
Yeldon projects as the 3rd-down complement following years of 36, 50 and 30 catches. There’s just not much playmaking upside or TD potential here.
If Fournette misses times this year, expect Yeldon to be the leader of a committee attack alongside Grant.
Update: Fournette passed the eye test this preseason and enters September as a candidate to lead the league in rushes. Yeldon and Grant have garnered some summer buzz, but it's hard to see standalone value as long as Fournette's healthy. They're both in play as late-round options in 14+ team setups.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top fantasy target: Kareem Hunt
Other notables: Spencer Ware
Hunt answered the bell when Ware suffered a torn right PCL and LCL last August.
He became just the 6th rookie in NFL history to lead the league in rushing. His 1,327 yards bested Todd Gurley by 22 and were the 19th-most ever by a rook. Hunt also proved durable, playing a hefty 665 snaps and all 16 games.
But it’s wise to expect a step back in 2017 — largely based on volume. His 67.2% carry share was the 2nd highest in Andy Reid’s 19 seasons as a HC.
He’ll face more backfield competition this year with Ware expected to be fully healthy by Week 1. Currently, we project Hunt for ~30 fewer carries than he had in 2017.
We’ll also see how Patrick Mahomes performs in his first go-around as a starter. We’re intrigued by his upside, but there’s no question he’s the antithesis of Alex Smith. The Chiefs finished last year top 6 in total yards and points.
We’re staying away from Hunt at his current RB7 ADP.
Update: Hunt's still a 1st-round pick we're avoiding. Ware has returned from his injury and figures to resume #2 duties. He saw only 3 preseason carries -- all in Week 3 -- but that was almost certainly for maintenance purposes.
Los Angeles Chargers
Top fantasy target: Melvin Gordon
Other notables: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson
Gordon appeared on the injury report last year with knee, shoulder, foot and ankle issues. But he suited up for all 16 games for the first time. That helped the 25-year-old rank 5th across fantasy formats.
Entering year 4, Gordon again projects for heavy volume. We have him pegged for a sizable 312 touches. And his receiving ceiling certainly grew following Hunter Henry’s season-ending injury.
Gordon’s a fine target around the 1/2 turn of 12-team drafts.
Elsewhere, Ekeler has a leg up on Jackson for the backup gig. A 2017 UDFA, Ekeler took 6 of his 74 touches for 20+ yards last year.
Jackson racked up a ridiculous 1,264 touches across 4 years at Northwestern. 122 of them came via receptions. As a Round 7 pick, though, he’s unlikely to make much of a 1st-year impact.
Update: No change for Gordon, who'll be busy as a rusher and a receiver. Ekeler is cemented as 1 of the top handcuffs in the game and should mix in for a few weekly touches. He's worthy of a roster spot in 12-team leagues.
Top fantasy target: Kenyan Drake
Other notables: Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage
Drake was awesome in the 2nd half of 2017.
Over the final 8 games, only 7 RBs topped his fantasy output. He posted 2 games of 100+ rushing yards and had the underlying numbers to support that his surge wasn’t fluky.
He plowed his way to a league-best 4.3 yards after contact per attempt. Pro Football Focus also charted him with the 5th best rate of tackles avoided per attempt.
So, what’s to dislike? Drake’s injury history is fairly robust for a 24-year-old. He hasn’t missed an NFL game thus far, but he’s just 166 carries into his 2-year career.
It’s also worth noting that Drake’s carries didn’t immediately increase following the Jay Ajayi trade. It wasn’t until Week 13 — following Damien Williams’ season-ending injury — that Drake’s touches shot up.
Then over the spring, Miami signed Gore and used a 4th-rounder on Ballage. Gore’s on his last legs as an NFL contributor but brings experience and durability. Ballage looks like a stud off the bus, although his tape had us wanting more. Nevertheless, he’s garnered steady praise throughout the offseason.
"[Kalen] can catch the football," OC Dowell Loggains said this summer. "He can be a weapon out of the backfield, but he’s also big enough in pass pro. Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL is going in there, and you’ve got odd defenses, and you’ve got spinners and floaters and trap blitzes and all of those things. He’s got to master that stuff. The more exposure that he gets, the better he’s going to get at it.”
No matter who’s toting the rock, the return of Ryan Tannehill should help boost this unit’s outlook. Last year, Miami ranked 25th in yards per game, 28th in points per game and last in 3rd-down conversion rate.
Update: Gore was essentially kept in bubble wrap this summer, as he handled only 1 preseason carry. Drake's looked spry with 102 yards on 15 attempts. The 24-year-old is a breakout candidate behind Miami's improved O-line. Ballage has dropped off after a promising spring. He's not draft-worthy in 12 or 14-team formats.
New England Patriots
Top fantasy targets: Rex Burkhead, James White
Other notables: Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill
Dion Lewis leaves behind 180 carries and 35 targets. Michel — arriving as a Round 1 pick — figures to benefit.
He was a do-it-all back at Georgia and really busted out as a senior. 2017 turned up a whopping 7.9 yards per carry and 16 TDs. Plus, he exits college with 64 career catches at 9.7 yards per.
The drawbacks are pretty clear. He tallied a poor career fumble rate (1 every 54.6 touches). And he has an extensive injury history that includes a broken shoulder, hand and forearm. He’s been dinged up with ankle and knee issues, too.
Ace beat writer Mike Reiss believes Michel’s ability to pick up blitzes will be key for his chances of making an “early impact.” We’ll monitor that development.
One thing’s clear, though: Bill Belichick’s backfield rotations have the potential to cause headaches. Over the last 10 years, only LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have reached 200 carries.
Michel has the raw talent to command that much work. But he’s joined by a pair of solid, versatile pieces.
Burkhead signed a fresh 3-year deal in March and worked with the starters in OTAs and minicamp. He caught a career-best 30 balls last year but missed 6 games with knee and rib injuries.
White’s 156 catches since 2015 rank 5th among RBs. He’s perhaps the surest thing in this backfield — albeit the one with the lowest fantasy ceiling.
Update: Here's a tough backfield to solve ... but what else is new? Burkhead missed some practice time with a slight knee tear, although he returned to the field on August 19 and appears fine for the opener. Michel just returned to practice (August 27). He had been out since August 1 after having his knee drained to deal with a meniscus issue. He's unlikely to make an early-season impact. White, however, profiles as the safest fantasy bet -- particularly in PPR. He's currently projected for 47 catches, an attainable number when you also consider the Pats' suddenly thin WR corps.
New York Jets
Top fantasy target: Bilal Powell
Other notables: Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire
Crowell signed a 3-year deal with $6 million in guarantees this spring. Only 25, it’s possible his best football is in front of him.
He’s coming off a down season, but Cleveland’s supporting cast supplied little aid. The issue in New York is that his environment again looks lousy, from QB to OL to WR.
Seemingly every N.Y. beat writer expects another committee approach from this backfield. The presence of Powell and McGuire makes that possible.
Annually under-appreciated, Powell’s combined for 4.83 yards per carry on 309 attempts over the past 2 seasons. He’ll be pushed by 2nd-year man Elijah McGuire, who drew a (shocking) comp to LaDainian Tomlinson from the Jets RB coach.
Crowell’s the only guy we have interest in drafting here, and that’s largely due to a dirt cheap price tag (RB42). There’s little downside at that cost.
Update: Crowell seemed like a lock to be the lead back all spring and summer. But Powell played all 13 snaps on the Jets' opening series of Week 3 of the preseason. He ended it with a 10-yard TD run on a toss play. HC Todd Bowles has said they'll play the "hot hand," but it's clear Powell owns the momentum right now. McGuire is sidelined with a fractured foot and won't play Week 1.
Top fantasy target: Marshawn Lynch
Other notables: Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, Chris Warren
Lynch’s comeback season wasn’t flashy. But he showed enough to be right back in the starting mix this summer.
Missing just 1 game — on suspension — he slashed 207/891/7. That’s a solid 4.3 yards per carry.
The advanced numbers look strong, too. PFF charted him with 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, putting him in company with names like Kareem Hunt and Mark Ingram. Lynch also forced missed tackles at a higher rate than all but 7 qualifying RBs.
Sure, the cliff is certainly near for a 32-year-old with over 2,500 career touches. But he should be boosted by 1 of the NFL’s top O-lines (especially along the interior). HC Jon Gruden's fully expected to implement a smash-mouth run game that'll include a fullback.
Beyond decline risk, Lynch’s lack of receiving upside supplies another negative. He snagged only 20 passes last year and has reached 40 just once in his career (2008).
Martin’s career has spiraled since a sparkling 2015. Last year, he missed 1 game with a concussion and 4 with a PED suspension. Oakland took a low-risk, 1-year flier on him in free agency, hoping their top-tier O-line sparks a revival. We just don’t see it. And Martin — like Lynch — doesn’t offer much in the receiving game.
That role — in addition to possible change-of-pace work — could belong to Richard or Washington. Both undersized, they certainly bring more juice than either of the vets. Richard out-performed Washington in 2017, but this figures to be a tightly contested camp battle.
Update: The Raiders are fully expected to carry a fullback, so you know Jon Gruden's looking to hammer the run game. They should find success given a largely dominant O-line. But we'll see how rookie Kolton Miller fares at LT, while veteran Donald Penn -- a career-long LT -- is transitioning to the right side. Lynch enters the regular season clearly ahead of Martin, who's a sneaky cut candidate. Warren leads all preseason rushers with 250 yards on 46 attempts (5.4 per carry). Ace beat writer Vic Tafur recently said Warren "looks like" Lynch's 2019 replacement. We wouldn't go that far, but such a comment is reflective of his size/talent combo.
Top fantasy target: Le’Veon Bell
Other notables: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels
Bell will play under the franchise tag again this fall.
While he enjoyed a huge 2017 — ranking 1st in touches and 2nd in fantasy points — Bell did start slowly. That wasn’t a huge shock, as he didn’t report to the team until September 1.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler believes we’ll see a similar pattern in 2018. We’ve heard some chatter about Bell possibly missing regular season games, but it’s highly unlikely.
So perhaps Bell comes out of the gate relatively slow in games against Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. None of those squads profile as strong in run D, though.
Bell’s training camp absence opens up reps for Conner. The 2017 third rounder played sparingly as a rookie and underwent surgery for a torn right MCL in December. He suffered the same injury to the same knee in 2015.
He’s at least made progress this summer, declaring himself 100% in June and drawing praise from media members. The specter of a Bell holdout — albeit slim — puts Conner in play as a late-round dart throw.
Samuels is more interesting in dynasty, but he’s worth mentioning given Bell’s situation. The rookie 5th rounder lined up all over the formation in minicamp and OTAs — hardly a surprise. He exited NC State with 181 career carries and 202 career catches.
Update: Bell remains away from the team as of August 27. He's fully expected to report before Week 1, though. He's our #2 overall pick across formats, but we won't deny the risk. Conner, meanwhile, brings value as a late-round pick. He's a clear-cut handcuff who's excelled in training camp and preseason play.
Top fantasy target: Dion Lewis
Other notables: Derrick Henry
Tennessee inked Lewis to a 4-year, $20 million deal ($11.5 mil guaranteed) early in free agency. That’s noteworthy, especially with the Titans ushering in a new HC (Mike Vrabel) and OC (Matt LaFleur).
Lewis capitalized on a great situation in 2017, leading the Pats RBs in carries (180), yards (896), yards per carry (5.0) and TDs (6). He caught 32 of 35 targets. And he played all 16 games for the first time ever.
Injury risk will remain for an undersized back with 3 knee surgeries and a fractured fibula behind him. But the key detail is that he’s 100% entering camp.
There, he’ll look to wrestle carries away from Derrick Henry. The 3rd-year man is expected to be the “lead back,” per top Titans reporter Jim Wyatt. He also wrote this offseason that Henry’s “focused on getting better as a pass catcher and in pass protection.”
That’s where our hesitation lies, as Lewis is clearly superior in the passing game. Currently, we peg Henry for just 17 catches. So unless a high TD rate surfaces — something that is possible given this young, potential-packed offense — it’s hard to see Henry crushing value at RB19. We’re more likely to consider Lewis (RB25) on draft day.
Update: Lewis handled 22 first-team snaps during the preseason. Henry checked in with 19. As expected, Lewis out-snapped Henry on 3rd downs (8 vs. 2). It's the type of split we expected, and it's one that might make Henry a bit TD-dependent. We're continuing to target Lewis in the Round 5/6 range.