32 Fantasy Football Storylines to Monitor in Training Camp
Ahh yes…the best time of the year is officially here! The official start of NFL training camps can only mean one thing – fantasy football draft season. In this article, I’ll highlight one fantasy-relevant storyline to monitor in training camp for each NFL franchise. From positional battles to injuries to coaching schemes, there’s an edge to be had if you’re up to date on what’s happening in camp. Here’s what I’m watching for in late July and August as we prepare for our fantasy drafts. Camps open for most NFL clubs the week of July 26.
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Who is running as the RB2 behind James Conner?
The RB in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has been extremely valuable over the last couple of seasons. We saw James Conner be a league winner last season, Chase Edmonds had valuable RB2/Flex weeks and in 2020, Kenyan Drake finished as the RB16 after proving to be a league winner down the stretch in 2019 after he was traded to Arizona from Miami. Why is the RB so valuable? Goal line work and TD upside. Conner ranked 2nd in the NFL in rush attempts from inside the 10-yard line last year, and in 2020, Kenyan Drake was tied for first in the same statistic. Should Conner miss any time, the RB2 on the depth chart would be an immediate plug and play must start. The team signed Darrel Williams in free agency (1 year, $1,187,500) but this ESPN report from earlier this summer indicates Eno Benjamin generated buzz at mini-camp and has a shot to win the backup job behind Conner.
Is Cordarrelle Patterson lining up as an RB or a WR?
Patterson was wildly efficient last season for an RB who broke out after the age of 30, but there have been mixed reports this off-season about his potential role in the 2022 Falcons offense. If Patterson is indeed playing more of a traditional RB role, Kyle Pitts and Drake London will have much more clear paths to an elite target share, but if C-Pat is lining more on the perimeter or in the slot, the targets could get spread a bit more. In addition, if Patterson isn’t lining up in the backfield as frequently as he did last year (62% rate), Tyler Allgeier and Damien Williams could be in line for more work.
The drumbeat all off-season has been that the Ravens want to return to their offensive philosophy from 2019 and 2020 when they were among the league leaders in rushing rate. To do that, you would think they need their top two backs, Dobbins and Edwards to be healthy. Ironically, both backs are recovering from 2021 Preseason ACL surgeries. We have concerns about Dobbins’ early season effectiveness coming off a multi-ligament surgery that involved a meniscus injury, but Dobbins himself insists he’ll be ready for Week 1. If either of those two guys isn’t 100%, could we see Lamar Jackson set a career-high in rush attempts? Behind Dobbins and Edwards, journeyman Mike Davis and rookie Tyler Badie are on the roster.
Who is lining up in the slot?
Cole Beasley quietly vacates a 19% target share from a season ago, and as we’ve seen over the last two seasons, there’s PPR value in the slot role for Josh Allen‘s high-flying passing attack. We know Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis are set to play in 2WR sets, but the WR3 role has yet to be set in stone. Early reports suggest free agent acquisition Jamison Crowder could be the dude, but the Bills value Isaiah McKenzie, too. Last year in his biggest opportunity, he played 85% of the snaps and went 11/125/1 on 12 targets. This report suggests McKenzie could remain in his “specialist” role, likely as a gadget player or as a returner on special teams. We’ll know for sure once training camp gets rolling for Buffalo.
Any life for Robbie Anderson or Terrace Marshall Jr.?
There aren’t too many question marks on this depth chart. We know Christian McCaffrey is the workhorse, and D.J. Moore is going to dominate targets as the WR1. I debated putting the QB battle between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, but it seems like the foregone conclusion is that Mayfield is going to be this team’s Week 1 starter after trading for him earlier this month. Instead, let’s see what’s happening with the WR2 role between Robbie Anderson and Terrace Marshall. Marshall’s 2021 rookie season was literally one of the worst all-time, as he registered an abysmal 0.50 yards per route run mark as he struggled to earn playing time. Anderson, on the other hand, played a ton but was just atrocious. His 30.5 yards per game was the worst among 1,056 WRs who have registered 100+ targets in a season. With Baker Mayfield now under center, is there any hope for either of these guys to be worthy of a late-round dart throw?
The development of Justin Fields, and how much he’s being used in the running game.
This one seems fairly obvious and straightforward, but Fields seems to be at a pivotal point in his young career. He enters year two after throwing just seven TD passes in 10 starts as a rookie and now faces multiple question marks in year two under a new coaching staff and offensive scheme. The offensive line is a concern and he doesn’t have true difference makers at the skill positions – can he overcome these variables to be a top-12 fantasy QB in 2022? I’ll be looking to see how he’s playing in training camp and in the preseason as well as looking out for how much the Bears are designing plays for Fields to utilize his legs. Fields logged 35+ rushing yards in six of seven starts to close out 2021.
Are the Bengals going to throw more in 2022?
Joe Burrow and the Bengals passing offense thrived on efficiency last season. The Bengals ranked 19th in pass attempts last season and 14th in neutral situation pass rate. Coming off the complex ACL injury from 2020 behind a bad offensive line, the Bengals predictably chose to feature the run game in the first month of the season. From Weeks 1-6, Burrow attempted an average of 29 passes per game but from Week 7 through the Super Bowl, Burrow attempted just shy of 35 passes per game. Now with an upgraded offensive line via the addition of C Ted Karras, RG Alex Cappa, and RT La’El Collins to protect their franchise QB, could we see Zac Taylor let Joey B sling it more in 2022? If so, Burrow could make the jump into the top-5 at the position.
Who is running as the WR2 behind Amari Cooper?
The low hanging fruit here is the ongoing Deshaun Watson saga. Of course, we all need to be monitoring how long he’ll get suspended as that will have a massive impact on the outlook for the Browns as a whole. But beyond Watson, I’m looking to see how the WR depth chart shakes out. With Brissett under center while Watson is suspended, there probably won’t be any value in the passing game behind Cooper, but with Watson there’s it’s possible the Browns go a bit more throw heavy, and that could open up volume for the WR2. Entering camp, it seems like the most likely candidates to win the WR2 spot are rookie David Bell out of Purdue and Donovan Peoples-Jones. One issue, however, is that Bell is opening camp on the PUP list after suffering a foot injury late in the team’s off-season program. That could open up DPJ as an every down player in 2WR sets, and with Watson under center, could mean big time spike weeks for best ball rosters or in DFS.
The Cowboys were the #1 scoring offense in the NFL last season, but their depth chart will look a lot different this season. They lost two starting offensive linemen via free agency, and now Amari Cooper is a Cleveland Brown. As a result, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Gallup are going to need to step up and be crucial components of this offense. Of course, the issue there is that both are recovering from 2021 knee injuries. Zeke partially tore his PCL in Week 5, and Gallup is recovering from a Week 17 ACL injury. Gallup’s injury is the more serious of the two and will be crucial to track throughout training camp as early reports suggest he’s a likely PUP candidate to open the year. If that’s the case, one of rookie Jalen Tolbert or James Washington will need to step up. As for Zeke, there’s rumblings the Cowboys could use both he and Pollard more this year, specifically with Pollard in the passing game. If the team for whatever reason feels they need to lighten the load on Zeke, Pollard could have viable RB2/Flex weeks with baked in top-12 upside should Zeke miss any time.
Who is Russell Wilson‘s WR1?
There’s no question the Broncos offense will look much better in 2021 with Russell Wilson under center and a new coaching staff in town that projects to be more aggressive. In general, that can only mean good things for Broncos pass catchers, but one of the biggest question marks in all of fantasy football is who is the Broncos WR1? Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy? Both WRs are going in the middle rounds of drafts and present incredible upside if one can carve out a 25+% target share. Camp reports could help determine which WR might be a league winner in 2022 if things go right. Russ has supported at least one Top-15 fantasy WR in every season from 2015-2021. I’ve pegged Sutton as a possible candidate to be this year’s Cooper Kupp.
How far along is Jameson Williams in his ACL recovery?
The Lions gave up a ton to move up to the 12th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft to take Williams out of Alabama, making a long term investment for their franchise for a WR the team likely believes can make an impact for years to come. As a result, it’s no wonder that the team has been vocal that they plan to be smart with their new wide out. In mid June, head coach Dan Campbell said in this article, “I don’t see him being ready for training camp…I am very hopeful, but I don’t see it. We’re going to do this thing the right way & when he’s ready, he’ll be ready. But no, I don’t feel like you’re going to see him out there day one.” Williams tore his ACL in the National Championship game and underwent surgery in mid-January. As a result, we know he’s not yet at 100% for camp, but the question we must answer for fantasy is how long will it take for “Jamo” to get on the field. The longer he is out, the more upside Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson and even D.J. Chark have in the Lions passing game.
At this point, it seems relatively clear that Lazard will be operating as the Packers’ WR1 this season, but the depth chart behind the Lazard King is wide open. With Davante Adams now in Las Vegas, his 30+% target and air yards share from a year ago is up for grabs in this offense. Rodgers has thrown for 4,000+ yards and 25+ TD in five consecutive healthy seasons, so there will definitely be value in this Green Bay pass-catching group as long as Rodgers continues his MVP-caliber play. Sammy Watkins, rookie Christian Watson, Randall Cobb, and 2nd year WR Amari Rodgers could all have usable weeks in fantasy if they can earn playing time, but we’re particularly bullish on both running backs, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon also being beneficiaries of Adams’ vacated usage. We’ll be watching to see who is playing in 2WR sets with Lazard, however.
Who will emerge as the leading RB for the Texans?
Right now according to ADP, the market assumes the leading rusher for Houston will be Dameon Pierce, the rookie RB out of Florida, but given that he was only selected with 4th-round draft capital, that’s not a foregone conclusion. Former Colts RB Marlon Mack could earn the starting gig and veteran Rex Burkhead is also likely to steal a handful of touches as well. If one of these backs can carve out a role where they’re handling the majority of touches, there could be value given that all Houston backs are going in Round 10 or later. That said, if this backfield is a full-blown RBBC, there may not be much to see here given that the Texans sport one of the NFL’s worst win totals entering the 2022 campaign.
How much is Nyheim Hines involved as a pass catcher?
There’s zero doubt that this offense will flow through Jonathan Taylor, but it’s logical to expect the Colts to throw more than they did a year ago now that Matt Ryan is under center and Carson Wentz is out the door. Last season, Indy threw at a 53% rate, which ranked 28th in the NFL, but the year prior with Philip Rivers at QB, Indy ranked 17th. If they revert back to league average in terms of a balanced offense, Hines could work in more than he did last season and be a viable PPR option in the right game scripts. Earlier this off-season, head coach, Frank Reich said in an interview, “I think that last year, as we’ve documented well, we got probably a tad more run-centric than we wanted to be than I wanted us to be. Nyheim still made an impact in games but not as much as normal, and if you look at his years here, it’s been like every other year where he seems to have a better year.”
The Jaguars didn’t do much this past off-season to address the RB position, only drafting Snoop Conner out of Ole Miss in Round 5. That would suggest that the team is relying on both Etienne and James Robinson to be meaningful contributors in 2022, but there’s one issue there – both are recovering from major surgeries. Etienne had Lisfranc surgery last August, and Robinson had surgery in January after he tore his Achilles in late December. We’re more optimistic about Etienne’s recovery given his 1st Round NFL Draft capital and timing of his injury, but both backs are worth monitoring closely in camp.
Which RB is getting goal-line work, and which RB is getting passing down work?
This report from mid-July actually suggests it’s possible Ronald Jones gets cut due to his lack of involvement on special teams. The Chiefs brought in Jones on a 1-year, $1.5 million deal and re-signed Jerick McKinnon to a 1-year, $1.272 million deal. As a result, we can’t really use financial commitment to help us understand how the RB depth chart will shake out. We saw McKinnon be a critical part of the Chiefs roster down the stretch in 2021, so he likely has the trust of the coaching staff and his QB, and of course, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is definitely making this team after the team took him in Round 1 a couple of years ago. For fantasy, if CEH loses passing down work to McKinnon or goal-line work to Ronald Jones, he could be stuck in back-end RB2/Flex territory. As for RoJo, if he does make the team, he’ll need to earn the goal line role to be fantasy relevant as the passing down work is sure to go to one of CEH or Jerick McKinnon. RoJo has averaged an uninspiring 0.4 receptions per game in his career.
Who will win the WR3 job?
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will obviously be the leaders in terms of target share and playing time among the wideouts, but the WR3 role for the Bolts is up for grabs. 2nd year WR Josh Palmer and deep threat specialist Jalen Guyton are among the most likely candidates to emerge. The reason I’m monitoring this is that the Chargers lined up in 11 personnel (3WR sets) at a 64% rate last season, which is just above league average (61%). Specifically, however, on passing downs, the Chargers lined up in this formation at a 76% rate on passing plays, and the Chargers? Well, they love to throw. In other words, there’s spike week potential from this team’s WR3, which is important in DFS and best ball formats. In season-long leagues, if either Williams or Allen happens to miss time for whatever reason, the WR3 on the depth chart would likely have starter potential given the upside associated with catching footballs from Justin Herbert. Kyle recently mentioned Guyton as one of his favorite last-round dart throws in best ball formats.
With the real Allen Robinson please stand up?
There’s really no way to sugarcoat it – A Rob’s 2021 season in Chicago was abysmal. But, prior to 2021’s debacle, he banked back-to-back WR1 finishes in fantasy and was among the league leaders at the position in earning targets. Did he all of a sudden fall off a cliff? Was he unmotivated to play for a bad Bears team? Can he re-vitalize his career with Matthew Stafford the way Odell Beckham did a season ago? He turns 29 in August, so in theory, he should still have a few years of good football left. Certainly, the Rams think so after they signed him to a 3-year, $46.5 million contract this off-season. He’s probably one of, if not the, most polarizing WR in fantasy for 2022, making him a critical player to monitor throughout training camp and the pre-season.
The answer to the question is an obvious “yes.” He’s one of, if not the, best WR in the game. But, we know veteran WRs switching teams generally don’t score as many fantasy points. Part of what made the Davante/Rodgers stack so incredible is their mind-meld chemistry and the Packers’ willingness to feature Adams inside the red zone and inside the 10-yard line. Only Cooper Kupp saw more targets inside the 10-yard line last year. We know Adams will still be productive, but I want to see just how much of the offense is flowing through him, and more specifically, if Josh McDaniels is going to scheme plays for Adams when they get in close.
Which RB is getting goal-line work?
Chase Edmonds was the Dolphins’ first signing in free agency, showing he was a priority target by the team and new HC Mike McDaniel, who comes over from San Francisco. The 49ers’ zone running scheme fits Edmonds perfectly, and we know he’s got the pass-catching profile we generally like to target in our fantasy backs. However, as we saw last year in Arizona, James Conner was far more valuable given his goal-line role and weekly TD upside. Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel are candidates to possibly steal this valuable role from Edmonds, who we project as the Dolphins RB1.
Are the Vikings going to throw as much as the Rams did a year ago?
Right now, there’s a ton of buzz around the Vikings’ passing game thanks to the change in the coaching staff. Kevin O’Connell comes over from the Rams, which should mean great things for Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Irv Smith Jr. But, just because O’Connell worked under Sean McVay doesn’t guarantee the Vikings will run the exact same scheme and offense. In camp, I’m watching to see just how pass-heavy this offense might be and monitoring if the hype from OTAs and mini-camp are real.
Which RB is getting passing down work?
Damien Harris seems locked into the early-down hammer role, but behind him, the pass-catching role is up for grabs now that Brandon Bolden is in Las Vegas (the 2021 leading receiver out of the backfield) and James White‘s hip injury may cause him to miss most of, if not all, of the season. This ESPN report suggests the team likes rookie Pierre Strong, who could fill that void, but Rhamondre Stevenson showed he’s more than capable in the passing game last season as a rookie. If Stevenson can carve out that role in addition to a share of the early down work, he could be a value in fantasy drafts.
How healthy is Michael Thomas?
Thomas’ recovery following his Week 1 of 2020 ankle injury is well documented at this point. After undergoing surgery in the early part of summer last season, Thomas missed all of 2021 and is still not 100%. He was placed on the PUP list to open camp, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be ready for Week 1. Given how long it’s been since we’ve seen Michael Thomas on an NFL field, he’s probably one of the most important players to monitor in camp for fantasy players.
Is Daniel Jones showing any progress in Brian Daboll’s offense?
A lot of people have made comparisons to what Brian Daboll did for Josh Allen‘s progression as an NFL QB. While it would be foolish to expect Jones to turn into Josh Allen, there’s optimism the Giants will be head and shoulders ahead of what they were last season as an offense under Joe Judge and Jason Garrett. Under Daboll, the Bills ranked top-4 in neutral pass rate each of the last two seasons. Look for Daboll to be more aggressive with his play calling, which could obviously benefit Jones and his pass catchers, namely Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay. Of course, this all sounds great, but it won’t happen without Danny Dimes taking a step forward in what is likely his final shot to be an NFL starter.
Breece Hall was our #1 RB coming out of college, and the Jets were reportedly trying to trade back into the 1st round of April’s draft to take Hall, but fortunately for them, he fell to them in Round 2. It’s still strong draft capital for a back who had a great profile, so it’s easy to get excited about Hall in fantasy. That said, Carter was effective when given an opportunity last year, so he’s not necessarily going to completely go away. The question we need to figure out in camp is just how much of the work will Hall get. If he can push for a 65+% of RB touches, he should be able to out-perform his current ADP.
Will Philly return to a pass-centric offense with the addition of A.J. Brown?
From Weeks 1-7 last year, the Eagles were 5th in neutral situation pass rate, but the team completely transformed their offense down the stretch. From Week 8 on, Philly was 2nd in neutral situation rush rate behind only the Patriots. In that sample, they went 7-3. In theory, they’ll want to keep establishing the run behind their elite offensive line, but the addition of A.J. Brown and their 2021 early season tendencies also keep the door open for the team to be more pass centric. Monitoring how the offense is running in camp could provide insight as to the ceiling for names like A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Miles Sanders.
Is Kenny Pickett getting any first-team reps?
It seems likely that Mitchell Trubisky is going to enter the season as the starting QB for the Steelers, but can 1st round pick, Kenny Pickett, push Trubisky for starting reps during camp, and potentially take over as the starter during the season? The fantasy value of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool likely improve if Trubisky is starting just given that rookie QBs generally don’t support elite fantasy upside for their WRs.
Who is the RB1 entering the season?
The Seahawks are almost certain to employ a run-first offense with the combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith under center, which means one of, if not both, of the primary Seattle backs will have fantasy relevance this season. Former 1st round pick, Rashaad Penny was a league winner down the stretch a year ago and re-signed a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, However, the team’s investment of a 2nd round pick in Kenneth Walker out of Michigan State suggests he’s at least the back of the future, but can he win the starting job out of the gate? Our current projections in the Ultimate Draft Kit have Penny as the RB1, but this is one of the more important position battles to monitor throughout August.
Is Trey Lance ready to be an NFL starter?
This feels like one of the more obvious storylines of any team in the NFL. Jimmy Garoppolo was able to hold off Lance during Lance’s rookie campaign last year, but now that Jimmy G has been cleared to start practicing following his shoulder surgery, he was given permission to seek a trade. In theory, that means the 49ers are ready to hand the keys over to Lance, but can he step up and be a real difference maker in fantasy and for the NFL? The fantasy value of Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, in part, largely depending on Lance figuring it out in year two in the NFL and year one under center.
How is Chris Godwin looking in his recovery from his ACL surgery?
Chris Godwin is a critical piece for the Bucs in what is likely Tom Brady‘s “Last Dance.” He underwent surgery for his ACL after suffering an ACL and MCL injury late in the season and projects to at least get off to a slow start. Based on his timeline, it seems like he’ll be fortunate to be ready for Week 1 despite Adam Schefter reporting the Bucs are “hopeful” Godwin is ready for Week 1. If he’s not, Mike Evans could see a massive share of the targets from Brady, and Russell Gage will be thrust into a situation where he’ll need to produce for Brady and the Bucs early in the season. Monitoring Godwin’s recovery throughout August will be critical for fantasy gamers.
Over the last two years, Mike Evans has played 6 games without Chris Godwin in the lineup. His stat lines in those games:
— Fantasy Footballers (@TheFFBallers) July 15, 2022
Can Treylon Burks overcome his early season conditioning issues?
The vibes around Tryelon Burks have been bad all off-season, but is this news or noise? He reportedly struggled with asthma during Titans mini-camp and was allegedly out of shape, but by the time Week 1 kicks off, that will have been months ago. There was even rumors that Nick Westbrook-Ikhine might be starting over Burks earlier this summer. Can he “get right” and earn the trust of his coaching staff to be a focal point of the passing attack even as a rookie? In what was essentially a one-for-one deal of Burks (Pick 18 overall & a 3rd round pick) for A.J. Brown, the Titans will need Burks to step up in year one. Robert Woods projects as the other starting WR, but with Woods now 30 years old, changing teams, and recovering from a torn ACL, Burks will be necessary for Tennessee to have success this year.
Which RB is getting goal-line work?
Remember when it was Antonio Gibson szn for about three days during free agency? J.D. McKissic was reported to have signed with the Bills in free agency then ended back up in Washington to take away any hopes and dreams that we might actually get Gibson in a valuable pass-catching role. To make matters worse, the team drafted former Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr. in Round 4, citing his ball security and tackle-breaking ability as reasons for the selection. He also reportedly has hinted at a “1-2” punch a la Jonathan Stewart and D’Angelo Williams from his time in Carolina. Regardless of how the work is split, the goal line role will be crucial to monitor as it’s possible the only way one of these backs has fantasy upside is via TDs given that this projects as a true three-way RBBC.