Steelers WR Diontae Johnson told reporters that he played almost his entire rookie season with a groin injury that required surgery this offseason. Johnson got hurt in Week 2. "I was running and it felt like my groin got a little tight on me,” he said. He had surgery shortly after the season ended and is expecting to be cleared soon. The fact that he was playing at less than 100% only makes Johnson's rookie season more impressive. He compiled a 59-680-5 line on a Steelers team that ranked 31st in passing yards and 28th in TDs. Johnson is a 2nd-year breakout candidate if he gets improved QB play from a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Texans WR Will Fuller is making "steady progress" from his January sports hernia surgery, according to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson. Fuller has resumed running and should be a full-go when training camp opens. He's missed 22 games through 4 NFL seasons but has been a difference-maker when healthy. 2020 is a contract year for Fuller.
The Jets have signed QB Joe Flacco to a 1-year deal. It's worth $1.5 million with another $3 million available through incentives. Flacco is still recovering from April neck surgery and isn't expected to be cleared until "mid-September," according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. A healthy Flacco should slide in as QB Sam Darnold's backup. Darnold has dealt with a sprained foot, mono, a toe injury and another foot injury through 2 NFL seasons.
The Seahawks have signed RB Carlos Hyde to a 1-year deal. That follows reports that Seattle had offered RB Devonta Freeman a contract, so the team was clearly looking to add to its backfield. Hyde played surprisingly well in Houston last year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 245 attempts. He ranked 32nd in Elusive Rating and 10th in Pro Football Focus' rushing grades among 45 RBs with 100+ carries. Hyde is solid insurance behind RBs Chris Carson (hip) and Rashaad Penny (ACL), who are both recovering from serious injuries. Carson is expected to be ready for Week 1, but Penny isn't. We'd expect Hyde to open the season as Seattle's #2 RB, although his arrival does add some downside to Carson's 2020 fantasy outlook.
Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) suggested in a Zoom call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday that he's not a lock to be ready for Week 1. “Right now, I’m a little bit ahead of schedule," he said. "But the most important thing right now is just taking it day by day. You know, I can’t predict when exactly I’ll be on the field, whether that’s July, August or September." Landry went on to say that his "anticipated" return date is "sometime in August." He was originally slapped with a 6-8 month timetable for return after his February 4 hip surgery. The short end of that timeline would have Landry back in early August, but the long end would run into October. We'll continue to monitor Landry's rehab.
Falcons TE Hayden Hurst told ESPN's Mina Kimes that he's been making the 5-hour drive from Jacksonville to Atlanta to catch passes from QB Matt Ryan for the past 4 weeks. "That’s helping me a lot," Hurst said. "That’s really going to pay off during training camp." Acquired from the Ravens in March, Hurst hasn't been able to get any official workouts in with his new team due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But any chemistry he can build with his QB is good news for his 2020 fantasy outlook. Hurst as TE1 upside this season as he replaces Austin Hooper, who averaged 6.4 targets per game over the last 2 seasons.
Dolphins WR Preston Williams (knee) is "on schedule" for Week 1, according to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. Williams is rehabbing his November torn ACL. He was enjoying an excellent rookie campaign before going down, compiling a 32-428-3 line in 8 games. Williams sat 36th among WRs in PPR points at that time. Miami didn't make any significant additions to its WR corps this offseason, which would appear to be a vote of confidence in Williams. If healthy, he should open the 2020 campaign as a starter alongside DeVante Parker.
Steelers WR Ryan Switzer was encouraged by what he saw from QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) in a recent throwing session. “Man, he let it rip,” Switzer said. “There was no restraint, no hesitancy, he was just out there. He has been throwing like that for a while and, in my opinion at least, getting out there on that field for the first time and throwing full-speed routes was refreshing. The control factor was taken out of it. He was out there and he was throwing. Did some off-schedule stuff. No restraints. He threw everything — across his body. Everything.” All reports on Roethlisberger's recovery from September surgery on his throwing elbow have been positive. His health is the key to a bounce-back season for the Steelers offense. We'll continue to keep a close eye on Big Ben's progress.
Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy called rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire a "piece of the puzzle” when discussing his 2020 backfield. Bieniemy also mentioned Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson and DeAndre Washington as pieces. He went on to call Edwards-Helaire a “special kid … running the ball, having the ability to get outside in the open field, make some plays as a receiver. You can create matchups with him. He’s one of those ideal kids that fit in what we do.” We know the Chiefs are high on CEH after they spent the 32nd overall pick on him last month. And we’re expecting him to lead the backfield in touches and fantasy points this season. The question is just how much of the work he’ll garner. Fantasy drafters are assuming it’ll be a whole bunch. Edwards-Helaire’s ADP is currently sitting in the early 3rd round.
The Saints have signed RB Ty Montgomery, according to insider Nick Underhill. The 27-year-old was a non-factor with the Jets last season but compiled 107 catches over his first 4 NFL seasons (3.5 with the Packers and the rest with the Ravens). We're interested to see what HC Sean Payton does with Montgomery's unique skill set, but he's unlikely to be a fantasy asset without an injury to Alvin Kamara.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin called RB James Conner a "featured guy" and "proven runner when healthy" in a recent conference call with reporters. “I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality,” Tomlin added. “I think that when you have a featured runner, it gives him the opportunity to drop a stake in the ground and allows others to rally around him, and it gives him a set of core base run plays that he specializes in, and you find a rhythm that way.” Tomlin has had a RB top 240 carries in 7 of his 13 seasons with the Steelers. But Conner has had trouble staying healthy; the Steelers have added Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland to the backfield over the last 3 drafts; and longtime Steelers insider Ed Bouchette expects more of a committee backfield this season. It'll be a situation to monitor closely throughout the summer. Right now, Conner carries a wide range of 2020 outcomes, making him a risk/reward pick in the 4th or 5th round of fantasy drafts.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin is "extremely confident" QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) will be ready for Week 1. Big Ben is recovering from September surgery on his throwing elbow. “We like where we are," Tomlin said. "He’s throwing on a rehab schedule, and it’s going well, and we fully anticipate him being ready to go for that opener.” A healthy Roethlisberger is the key to a bounce-back season for WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and the rest of Pittsburgh's offense.
No one should be expecting new Washington RB Antonio Gibson to approach Christian McCaffrey in production at any point. But tell us, Coach Rivera, is it crazy to compare their styles? "No, that's fair. He's a little bit bigger than Christian, but he's got a skill set like Christian," Rivera told ESPN's John Keim. "This is a very versatile, young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute." Again, no one is saying Gibson will ever become the guy who racked up 326 and then 403 touches over the past 2 seasons. But Ron Rivera's words are worth noting because he just finished coaching McCaffrey for 3 years in Carolina and now leads the team that drafted Gibson in Round 3. Take it as a mark in favor of Gibson's long-term upside. And the "get on the field for us early" makes Gibson an intriguing later-round option for 2020 redraft. There's opportunity available in a Washington backfield with more questions than answers currently.
Jets LB C.J. Mosley tells ESPN's Rich Cimini that he's getting close to full strength in his return from groin surgery and that he should be ready by training camp. “I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent,” Mosley said. “I haven’t made those (cutting) movements, but I feel good. Mentally and physically, I feel great. It’s just a matter of getting on the field and doing it.” Mosley reportedly was on track to participate in offseason workouts, had those occurred. We'll certainly track him through the summer, but expect him to get back to being an IDP factor after missing basically all of his 1st Jets season.
The Raiders signed RB Devontae Booker. The former Bronco has mustered just 3.8 yards per carry over 4 NFL seasons but has averaged 8.3 yards per catch on 105 grabs. He'll compete for a pass-catching role in Las Vegas. Booker is far from a lock to make the final roster, but his addition is another sign that the Raiders aren't ready to hand RB Josh Jacobs a 3-down, workhorse role. The team has also re-signed RB Jalen Richard and drafted RB Lynn Bowden this offseason.
According to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, Ravens GM Eric DeCosta had this to say of rookie RB J.K. Dobbins: "We think he's a three-down back. He's been extremely durable. He's an outstanding fit for what we like to do." That doesn't come as a surprise after the team drafted Dobbins in Round 2 and talked about being surprised that he lasted so long. But it's certainly reassuring for the rookie's fantasy outlook -- especially for dynasty leagues.
The Jets have signed RB Frank Gore to a 1-year deal. The soon-to-be 37-year old averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry in Buffalo last year and was phased out down the stretch. It's worth noting that he played for Jets HC Adam Gase in Miami back in 2018, leading that team with 156 carries and 722 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry. The Jets are reportedly looking to lighten RB Le'Veon Bell's load -- and Gore can help there. Ultimately, though, we're not expecting him to be a major drag on Bell's fantasy production.
Colts HC Frank Reich said Monday that he's expecting TE Trey Burton to step into the role Eric Ebron played the past 2 seasons. "Trey is a big-time playmaking tight end," Reich said. "He’s an incredible route runner. He’s a very smart, instinctive player. I think he fits a big need in our offense. You know that spot in our offense gets a lot of attention ... that role gets highlighted schematically, in certain ways. I expect Trey, assuming he’s going to stay healthy, will have a very productive year.” Burton battled groin and calf injuries last year but posted a 54-569-6 line back in 2018. He also has experience with Riech after spending 2016 and 2017 with him in Philadelphia. Ebron averaged 6 targets per game over the last 2 seasons -- a 16-game pace of 96. We wouldn't bet on Burton seeing that much volume alongside Jack Doyle, but it's certainly possible that he re-emerges as a fantasy factor in 2020.
Jets HC Adam Gase tells ESPN that he would like to "lessen the load" a bit on RB Le'Veon Bell in 2020. "Hopefully, we can get some of the younger backs to where we can make a good one-two punch to where we can really excel instead of feeling like it's just all on him all the time," Gase said. Bell ranked 8th in the league in touches in his 1st season with the Jets (despite missing a game). He handled 69.8% of the team's rushing attempts and 16.1% of the targets in his 15 contests. So there's room for Bell to shed some opportunities and still rank well in those categories. Gase said in the same interview that he hopes more downfield speed in the pass-catching corps will help create space for Bell, who faced the league's 7th-highest rate of stacked boxes on run plays last year (according to NFL Next Gen Stats). With just Kenneth Dixon, 4th-rounder La'Micael Perine and former Eagle Josh Adams currently behind him on the depth chart, we're not worried about anyone stealing a damaging amount of work from the Jets starter.
The Athletic's Ed Bouchette expects the Steelers to go with a committee backfield this season. That'd be a change from what Pittsburgh has usually done under HC Mike Tomlin. But RB James Conner has had trouble staying healthy as lead back. And the Steelers now have depth at the position with Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and rookie Anthony McFarland alongside Conner. "The room is crowded, but there really is not a leader of the pack," Bouchette writes. "Conner will get every chance to show he can stay healthy, and they’re likely to cut back on his carries even if he remains injury-free for two reasons: to help save him and to use some of their other backs." Conner remains the best fantasy bet here by a pretty big margin. Just don't expect him to get the RB1-level volume folks who drafted him in the 1st or 2nd round last summer thought they were getting.
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