In this wild NFL offseason, without a preseason, fantasy football owners are tasked with paying closer attention to training camp than usual. Rookies tend to have the most to gain from positional duels, but this offseason makes it even more difficult for first-time players to leave their mark.
Some of these “battles” aren’t what we’re used to considering but more of a fantasy football role definition that will be explored in a similar fashion.
Fantasy football wide receivers
Alshon Jeffery (foot) doesn’t have a timetable for returning, and the Eagles lost Marquise Goodwin to the COVID-19 opt-out before his tenure with Philly official began. DeSean Jackson returns from a season lost to injury, and the second year for JJ Arcega-Whiteside basically has one direction to go if he wants to have a lengthy career in the league. The 2020 first-round selection of Jalen Reagor has gamers buzzing, yet there are ample question marks surrounding his readiness, regardless of the pandemic. At any rate, the opportunity exists. Greg Ward stepped up in an admirable way last year and offers peace of mind to the coaching staff, if called upon. Rookie fifth-rounder John Hightower has been nothing short of impressive through early padded practices. Few rookies show his command of route-running skills, and he’s on a trajectory for a large role while Jeffery is on the mend.
Projected outcome: It’s tough to expect Jackson to stay on the field, and who knows what will happen with Jeffery. Focus on late-round speculative buys of Reagor, and watch Hightower’s standing develop in the next week or so before investing more than a flier in best-ball. Consider this a wide-open competition from top to bottom.
Jacksonville Jaguars No. 2 and 3
Expect a similar utilization of three-receiver base sets by the 2020 Jaguars under Jay Gruden’s play-calling designs as last year’s 78 percent of “11” personnel groupings (base three-wide). DJ Chark is the only stable option of the primary four receivers. Veteran Chris Conley is a possession receiver who demonstrated a hint of downfield skills in 2019. Dede Westbrook enters a make-or-break season as the presumed slot receiver, and the second-round investment in Laviska Shenault Jr. will have the mostly bland Gruden scheming ways to get the ball into the rookies hands.
Projected outcome: Unless there’s an injury or Shenault simply plays his way into the starting lineup, expect the results most weeks to bounce between Conley and Westbrook canceling each other out.
DaeSean Hamilton vs. KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos
This one was shaping up to be an intriguing battle. Hamilton flashed as a 2018 rookie in a different system but was a dud in ’19. A new offense this year left the slot role up for grabs until Hamler suffered a hamstring injury that is expected to cost him several valuable weeks of learning experience.
Projected outcome: Hamilton is likely to open the season as the starting slot man in this base three-wide offense. Hamler is poised to eventually work his way into the mix.Avoid both in traditional drafts.
Mecole Hardman vs. Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
This one isn’t necessarily so much a battle for a lineup spot as it is a competition for carving out a role. Watkins (groin) has missed a few days in a row of practice now and returned Friday. The second-year Hardman was explosive in his debut season, making most of his hay while Tyreek Hill was out of action.
Projected outcome: With such a similar skill set, albeit in different packages, Hardman and Watkins will be maddening to project on a weekly basis, all things equal. Expect Hardman to emerge as the season plays out. Both are merely fliers at this point.
Justin Jefferson vs. Bisi Johnson/Tajae Sharpe, Minnesota Vikings
Being a first-round rookie, it should come as no surprise that Jefferson is the only one of these three going in conventional fantasy drafts. It also shouldn’t shock anyone to hear the Vikings will give him every chance to secure the No. 2 job in an offense that rarely employs three-wide sets. Johnson, however, is a reliable target entering his second year, and that shouldn’t be understated in this specific offseason. Sharpe comes over from Tennessee and figures to be more in line to become the WR4 than having a real shot at starting.
Projected outcome: Early in the year, Johnson likely is the No. 2 starter. Once Jefferson is up to speed, expect there to be a push to get the rookie into the starting lineup. None of these receivers should be trusted components in 2020 fantasy lineups.
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Van Jefferson vs. Josh Reynolds, Los Angeles Rams
A second-round rookie, Jefferson is the son of New York Jets wide receivers coach and former pro receiver Shawn Jefferson — in other words, he’s ahead of the curve. Reynolds has shown capable of being a contributor at times in his young career, and he has an opportunity to step up. However, in the last two years, which injuries hit Rams receivers, Sean McVay actually went deeper into the playbook and utilized even more three-wide groupings. But it didn’t automatically benefit Reynolds.
Projected outcome: This one could be much closer than expected, and Reynolds’ status as a possible sleeper target is in jeopardy with the way Jefferson has performed early in camp. Neither player, though, is worthy of more than a late flier.
Deebo Samuel replacement, San Francisco 49ers
It’s tough sledding thus far in San Fran after losing Deebo Samuel, for what looks like several weeks to start the year, and also seeing Jalen Hurd suffer a season-ending injury. Kendrick Bourne has balled out a time or two, including recently in camp, while Dante Pettis regressed in a major way last season. Trent Taylor, Tavon Austin, JJ Nelson, and the injured Richie James are all cut from the same slot receiver cloth. First-rounder Brandon Aiyuk has speed for days and will be fast-tracked throughout the rest of the offseason program.
Projected outcome: Are of these guys worth drafting after Aiyuk? Bourne is the only one with a sliver of potential. Look for more passing to the running backs and George Kittle as a means of compensating.
Steven Sims Jr. vs. Antonio Gandy-Golden, Washington Football Team
Washington has nothing to lose by incorporating both of these young wideouts early and often. Terry McLaurin is the WR1 of this offense, and the rest of the corps is wide open. Kelvin Harmon was penciled in as a starter on the outside before tearing his ACL, and Sims has replaced him in training camp. The 5-foot-10, 176-pounder is physically modeled more like a slot receiver, a spot that is expected to be occupied most often by Trey Quinn. Sims has 4.35 speed to burn and will see competition from fourth-round rookie Gandy-Golden. Veteran Dontrelle Inman was added but hasn’t been able to stick in any of his NFL stops to date.
Projected outcome: Sims popped off a few times late last year and has a legit chance to be a fantasy asset in 2020, especially if Alex Smith can wrestle away the starting job.
Green Bay Packers No. 2 and 3
Is there much doubt the Packers need someone to step up to take some heat off of Davante Adams and supply Aaron Rodgers another trusted target? Allen Lazard is pegged as that dude by many pundits, and rightfully so. He’s not overly athletic but brings intelligence and size, as well as a strong work ethic. Rodgers loves him, so that’s a bonus. All of that is great, so long as he actually produces. Look for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow to put up a fight. In the end, this really boils down to a battle for scraps as the third target.
Projected outlook: Lazard should lock down the No. 2 role and have flex worth in fantasy, whereas the No. 3 gig appears to be MVS’ to lose. He’s no better than a DFS flier.
Wide receiver injury news
- Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green (hamstring) missed Thursday’s practice, and he’s considered day to day.
- Cincinnati WR Tee Higgins (hamstring) appeared to be limited to individual drills Tuesday, Aug. 18, per Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson.
- Hamler could miss a month with his hamstring injury, according to 9News Denver’s Mike Klis.
- Adams is dealing with a foot/ankle issue that LaFleur doesn’t consider to be serious, per Rob Demovsky, of ESPN.com.
- Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill has a minor hamstring strain, Mike Garafolo, of NFL Network, reports.
- Watkins missed another practice Thursday, according to ESPN’s Adam Teicher.
- Miami Dolphins WR Preston Williams (knee) was given Tuesday off of practice but returned Wednesday, reports Safid Deen, of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
- New England Patriots WR N’Keal Harry (undisclosed) didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss.
- New York Jets WR Denzel Mims (hamstring) didn’t practice again Monday, Aug. 17, according to Connor Hughes, of The Athletic. Head coach Adam Gase said he won’t rush Mims back.
- Jeffery (foot) remains without a timetable to return, per Bo Wulf, of The Athletic.
- Pittsburgh Steelers WR James Washington practiced in a limited fashion Wednesday, Aug. 19, after being activated recently from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
- Samuel (foot) remains out of action indefinitely on the non-football injury list.