Shark Bites

Fantasy drafters are confident that Mike Gillislee will operate as the Patriots' early-down back this season. He's going in the early 6th round of recent MFL10 drafts. Rex Burkhead, meanwhile, is lasting into the 17th. While we're still betting on Gillislee producing more fantasy points, the situation isn't as clear as those price tags would suggest. In fact, Burkhead has been receiving goal-line reps in training camp -- as well as impressing as a pass-catcher. He might just be the most well-rounded back on New England's roster. Insider Phil Perry went as far as predicting that Burkhead will lead the team's RBs in snaps this season. He's well worth a look late in drafts.

Patriots DE/LB Rob Ninkovich retired this week. His evolving role didn't promise much IDP impact for 2017, as the veteran appeared to be moving away from DE reps. His departure, however, adds a little clarity for upside candidate DE Kony Ealy and takes 1 guy out of a still-jumbled LB mix.

Browns HC Hue Jackson said Wednesday that QB Cody Kessler will open training camp as the starter. As expected. Kessler, despite entering just his 2nd NFL season, is the only 1 of Cleveland's top 3 QBs who was with the team last year. Rookie DeShone Kizer and Brock Osweiler both remain in the mix, though, per Jackson. Kizer worked in with the starters in June minicamp, while Osweiler was with the 2nd team. We'll keep an eye on this one, although whoever starts for Cleveland will be just a lower-end QB2 in fantasy football.

The Patriots will open training camp with LB Dont'a Hightower on the PUP list. Hightower missed offseason workouts after dealing with knee and shoulder issues last season. The knee cost him 3 games and landed him on the injury report 8 times, but New England re-signed him in the offseason after the Jets and Steelers took seemingly serious looks at the vet. Durability has been a perennial issue for Hightower, who should continue to present more value to the Patriots than IDP owners when on the field. The team can activate Hightower from the camp PUP at any time.

Ravens TE Benjamin Watson was on the field for Tuesday's minicamp practice. He's about 9 months removed from surgery to repair a torn Achilles. His recovery has taken on increased importance since Baltimore lost TE Dennis Pitta. Watson is 36 but posted a 74-825-6 line in his last action back in 2015 with the Saints. He'll duke it out with Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller for playing time this year.

The Patriots spent a 3rd-round pick Friday night on a potential sleeper for the edge. Youngstown State DE Derek Rivers racked up 37.5 sacks and 56.5 total tackles for loss over his 4 college seasons. That included 13 sacks as a sophomore and 14 as a senior. Rivers might need to bulk up from his 248 pounds to be ready for a regular edge role in New England, and we'll see whether the Patriots plan to align him at DE or OLB. But the Pats clearly aren't concerned about his lower level of college competition. This will be a high-upside target for IDP dynasty rookie drafts.

On the same day they signed Bills RFA RB Mike Gillislee to an offer sheet, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Patriots signed RB James White to a 3-year extension. The Super Bowl star would have been facing unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2017 season but is now under contract through 2020. With White, Dion Lewis and the additions of Rex Burkhead and Gillislee (unless the Bills match), New England's backfield is looking quite crowded. It's a high-value situation, but the committee could prove tough to predict week to week for fantasy football owners. All 4 RBs carry some late-round intrigue -- especially in early best-ball drafting -- though White's new deal might threaten Lewis the most. We'll be watching this situation develop into and through the summer.

The Titans this week dumped veteran CB Jason McCourty. The 29-year-old (30 in October) spent 8 seasons in Tennessee but lost 16 games to injury over the past 2 years. He's likely to find a new landing spot fairly easily in a league always hungry for solid CBs. We'll see whether that new home keeps McCourty in a full-time role and supports his consistent IDP value.

10:07am EDT 3/18/17

The Bucs have signed K Nick Folk. He'll compete for the starting job with K Roberto Aguayo, who's coming off a disappointing rookie campaign that saw him convert just 71% of his FGs. Folk has bested that mark in 7 straight seasons.

The Patriots signed RB Rex Burkhead. He joins Dion Lewis and James White in the backfield. (RB LeGarrette Blount remains a free agent.) Burkhead was mostly a special-teamer in Cincinnati but flashed when given a bigger opportunity this past year, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per catch. That included a 144-total-yard, 2-TD outing against the Ravens in Week 17. At 5'10, 210 pounds, Burkhead is the biggest of New England's top 3 backs (5 pounds heavier than White). He could be a sneaky option for early-down work, although stealing significant passing-down action from White and Lewis will be tough. As usual, we'll need to keep a close eye on the Patriots' backfield this summer.

12:00pm EST 1/1/17

Titans CB Jason McCourty (chest) is inactive for today's finale against the Texans.

Patriots QB Tom Brady was pulled late in the 3rd quarter of Sunday's game against the Jets with the score 34-0. He finished the day 17 of 27 for 214 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Fantasy owners certainly can't complain about that line -- although getting the 4th quarter would have been nice.

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) is inactive for today's game against the Jets. It's a matchup that some New England LB could exploit for IDP value -- perhaps Shea McClellin -- but the fluid playing time makes it a tough situation to mine for your fantasy football lineup. The team D remains a strong play even without Hightower.

The forecast for today's Jets-Patriots game calls for a 95% chance of rain with winds around 10 mph. That wind isn't a major concern, but it looks like this will be a sloppy game. We still don't expect the Pats to have any trouble when they take to the air, but the weather could push them further toward the run if (when?) they get out to a big lead.

The Titans have ruled CB Jason McCourty (chest, shoulder) out for Sunday's game against the Jaguars. That can only help the fantasy outlook for QB Blake Bortles and the rest of the Jacksonville passing offense against an already soft secondary. Of course, if you were planning to use the Tennessee D in fantasy, you were doing so because of the matchup rather than the Titans' talent. So McCourty's absence shouldn't affect your outlook too much. It does bring the floor down a bit.

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) and CB Malcolm Butler (hip) are active for today's game against the Broncos. Both entered the day questionable but should be fine to use at their normal IDP levels.

Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu (groin) put in a full practice on Friday and isn’t listed on the final Week 15 injury report. He’ll play against the 49ers on Sunday and figures to serve as Atlanta’s #1 WR with Julio Jones out. The groin issue adds some risk, but Sanu is certainly in the WR3 discussion.

Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu (groin) practiced on Wednesday. That gives him a shot to return for this weekend's game against the 49ers. Sanu could find himself as the #1 WR if Julio Jones sits again.

WR Mohamed Sanu (groin) has been ruled out for this weekend’s game vs. the Rams. Between his absence and WR Julio Jones’ turf toe, WR Taylor Gabriel figures to play a big role on Sunday. He’s a viable WR3.

The Falcons are not optimistic about WR Mohamed Sanu's (groin) chances of playing against the Rams this weekend, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. His absence would figure to mean a bigger role for WR Taylor Gabriel, who's already seen 5+ targets in 4 straight. He'll be on the WR3 radar if Sanu ends up inactive.

 
 
 

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