The preseason rolls along. With it, the steady stream of news and opinion shapes fantasy football draft values. Some of it has more meaning than others. We're looking at all of it and deciphering what is worth your time.
The good news is that as we get closer to the start of the season, more of the conversation moves from speculation to fact. In the meantime, we'll gaze collectively into our murky crystal balls and see what there is to see.
Last year, George Pickens was more smoke than fire. He turned heads with highlight reel catches. Consistency was an issue. But that could be changing, according to The Athletic's Mark Kaboly.
"He's no longer just a deep-ball or highlight-catch guy like we saw last camp and last season," Kaboly wrote. "He has transformed into a more polished receiver with an expanded route tree, and that will do nothing but help Pickett and this offense."
There is talent in the Pittsburgh offense. A progression by second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett will go a long way toward unlocking it. It's also contingent on players like Pickens doing their part to get better. If the wide receiver can make the leap in Year 2, he'll turn out to be a solid sixth-round fantasy option in 12-team leagues.
A year ago, fantasy enthusiasts had high hopes for Javonte Williams. Sadly, his 2022 season ended with a major knee injury in Week 4. Since then, the Broncos have expressed cautious optimism about the young back being able to play. Seeing him on the field this weekend will be a big step in a positive direction.
It's become common to see players come back from ACL tears within a year. It's also common to see those players struggle in their immediate return. It seems like Williams isn't completely out of the woods yet, but fantasy managers can draft him with a little more confidence now.
Nonetheless, proceed with caution. He's currently coming off the board at the end of the sixth round in 12-team leagues. It's best not to count on him as more than a third running back until we see more. It's also a good idea to target Samaje Perine, who's sure to have a solid role in the Denver offense.
Once the Falcons drafted Bijan Robinson in April, it felt like a wrap for Tyler Allgeier. Why wouldn't Atlanta use the rookie as a workhorse? He was considered the best back in the draft class. They spent the eighth overall pick on him. That all adds up to Robinson being loaded up with touches.
Not so fast, according to The Athletic's Josh Kendall. He projects that Allgeier could factor into the offense with around 170 touches. It would be down from the 226 touches he had last season. But it's not falling off a cliff.
The Falcons again figure to be run heavy in 2023. If they're serious about trying to not overwork Robinson, then Allgeier is going to be a key piece of the attack. He's going in the 11th round in 12-team leagues, long after his rookie teammate. That could turn out to be a huge value. With 170 touches, Allgeier could have standalone value. At worst, he should be a Zero RB darling. If anything happens to Robinson, Allgeier walks into a big workload. With last year as a backdrop, we know he can produce if given the opportunity.
Ruh roh. Per The Athletic's Zac Jackson:
"Anything that involves Deshaun Watson remaining in the pocket has been an adventure, and not since early in camp have we seen strings of consecutive completions in any 11-on-11 period."
Watson's return to the field last year was awful. But it was easy to explain it away. Maybe an accumulation of rust after such a long layoff. Maybe the stress of the (self-created) firestorm around him. Perhaps the pressure of living up to the big contract the Browns gave him. Whatever the explanation, there was reason to believe things would be different in 2023.
I am not ready to say we were too optimistic. There's still time before we truly need to hit the panic button. The camp struggles might give people pause, but I'm inclined to believe there is too much talent here for things to not improve. The downside is that if Watson can't get it going, he's liable to sink Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and David Njoku's fantasy production.
At least there's still Nick Chubb.
There was a moment when it looked like Dalvin Cook was going to Miami -- at least, if you try to divine your free-agent news from cryptic social-media posts. The former Viking openly mused about being a "perfect fit" for the team that would have allowed him to return home to South Florida. The Dolphins apparently didn't return that love. Now Cook will ply his trade for the AFC East rival Jets.
It's no surprise that Mike McDaniel would express appreciation for the guys in his running back room. What else was he going to say? And in a pure football sense, having three guys who can run the rock isn't a bad thing. But in reality, the Dolphins were one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league last year. Cook would have immediately been Miami's RB1. Adding him would have made the offense more dynamic. It would have given opposing defenses something extra to worry about. And it would have added clarity for fantasy managers looking to add a piece of the Fins offense. Instead, we're in for another year of rolling the dice on a running back group without a true alpha.
It's a genuinely good thing to see opportunities going to young players. It's even better when they feel positive about the experience. That's the case with Cowboys rookie Deuce Vaughn. The sixth-round draft pick had a nice preseason debut last week against the Jaguars. Early reports after that game indicated Vaughn's effort could put second-year pro Malik Davis on the roster bubble.
For now, however, it might not be enough to put Vaughn on the fantasy radar. Tony Pollard owns the top spot on the depth chart, and Rico Dowdle looks to be the No. 2 option so far. Vaughn's path to getting consistent touches is blocked at the moment. That's always subject to change, but it's best not to let any glowing reports of added confidence sway your draft decisions.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who has too many kids' songs stuck in his head. Send him your earworm dilemmas at @MarcasG or on TikTok at marcasgrant.
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