2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and what to watch at training camp

By July 26 every NFL team's training camp will be in full swing. It's a time filled with hope and optimism. Of course, it's also a time full of coach's quotes and reports that players are in the best shape of their lives. It can be a little disorienting, but I'll help you sort through that with a weekly column called Believe It or Not. 

Until then, here are the 10 things you should be on the lookout for as training camp begins. 

  1. Do we see Melvin Gordon (or Ezekiel Elliott)?

After last year's debacle with Le'Veon Bell, the last thing we wanted to hear was speculation about a star running back sitting out due to a contract dispute. In the last weeks before camp opened we heard speculation about two. They do feel like very different situations.

Gordon is entering his fifth season, has previously expressed support for what Bell did and could theoretically be a free agent if he sits out this entire season. He also plays for a Chargers team that is no stranger to contract disputes. 

Elliott only has three years in the league and needs to report to camp by August 6 to accrue another year toward free agency. He also plays for a Cowboys team owned by Jerry Jones. Heading into camp I'm not adjusting my projections for Elliott at all. I think it's very unlikely he misses even one game of action. That feeling won't change unless he hasn't shown up by early August.

As for Gordon, I'm worried enough that I wouldn't draft him in the first round until we see him show up. If we get to preseason games and there has been no sign of progress, I may drop him to the third round. The longer he's gone, the more enticing Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson get as late-round lottery tickets.

2. Do we see anything at all from Todd Gurley

Before the Gordon news we thought Gurley was going to be the elite back we spent camp over-analyzing. He has the upside of the No. 1 overall player and showed his floor the last time we saw him, getting outperformed by C.J. Anderson. He also has a knee injury that has some sort of arthritic component, according to his trainer

We aren't going to get an ironclad answer to Gurley's health in camp, but everyone will feel better if we at least get a chance to see him going full speed. If not, his slide down draft boards may continue. 

3. Key Position Battles

Chris Towers wrote plenty about position battles here, so I won't go through every battle you need to watch. I will tell you the three I'll be watching most closely:

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting running back -- I forecast Peyton Barber as the favorite, but Ronald Jones is getting plenty of summer hype again. My dark horse is rookie UDFA Bruce Anderson.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers No. 2 wide receiver -- There are 226 targets available in Pittsburgh this season. Donte Moncrief seems to have the edge going into camp, but there may be more upside in James Washington and Diontae Johnson
  3. San Francisco 49ers starting running back -- There may not be a running back situation in football messier than this one. Kyle Shanahan has said he wants all of his backs involved, which isn't great news for the upside of Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. Coleman is thought to be the favorite, but McKinnon's health will play a role as well.

4. Some sort of Tyreek Hill resolution, including his short-term replacement.

This could probably fit as a position battle as well, but it's more than that. 

At some point in training camp I would anticipate we're going to find out if Tyreek Hill is suspended and for how long. At one point this offseason, we were projecting the Chiefs as if Hill wouldn't play in Kansas City in 2019. As of the start of camp, my projections reflect a six-game suspension for Hill. To be clear, that's speculation. I wouldn't be surprised by anything from two games to eight. 

With Hill out, I expect Sammy Watkins to be a No. 1 Fantasy receiver, but the Chiefs will need another receiver to step up. Demarcus Robinson has the most experience, Mecole Hardman has the most upside and Byron Pringle had the best summer. One of these receivers figures to be Fantasy relevant for the first quarter of the season. 

5. Is Emmanuel Sanders really OK?

You'd be forgiven if you already wrote off Sanders. He's 32 years old and he hasn't even had a full nine months to recover from his Achilles tear. Yet Sanders has said he thought Week 1 was a possibility, and a recent video he posted on social media looked pretty good. 

I'm still skeptical, but if Sanders continues to progress you have to downgrade the breakout potential for Courtland Sutton

6. Lamar Jackson's improvement as a passer

Two things that seem hard to reconcile are absolutely true. Jackson was a borderline No. 1 quarterback in Fantasy last year and he looked terrible as a passer at times. I personally don't believe he was quite as bad as some people will have you believe, and you could even make the case he was better statistically than Jared Goff, Mitchell Trubisky and Carson Wentz

If Jackson makes the same leap those quarterbacks did as second-year passers, he'll be a top-five Fantasy quarterback in 2019.

7. Rookie acclimation

One of the great unknowns heading into this season is how quick this rookie class will acclimate to the NFL. We saw guys like Rashaad Penny really struggle early last season while others like Phillip Lindsay seemingly came out of nowhere. You can't take everything at face value during camp, but it's worth examining claims about rookies closely. There will be running backs who are struggling with pass protection, receivers who can't pick up the playbook, tight ends who can't block a lick. Those things can make it really tough for rookies to get on the field. 

8. The first-time play-callers

It's not just the rookie players to watch in training camp. Arthur Smith, Chad O'Shea, Rich Scangarello, Kellen Moore and Kliff Kingsbury are all going to be calling plays in the NFL for the first time ever this season. As someone who tries to project every offense, that's terrifying.

We aren't going to learn a ton about these guys during camp, but we may be able to glean some insight into their intent. I'll be watching, or listening, when they talk about what they want to do and who they intend to do it with. 

9. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

If ever there was a boom-or-bust offense in the NFL, this Cardinals offense is it. Kingsbury brings the Air Raid system to the NFL, and while there's plenty of reason for optimism there is no reason for any type of certainty. Murray is an undersized elite athlete with the pedigree of one of the best college passers in recent memory. He could be this year's Mahomes or he could struggle mightily behind a patchwork offensive line. The entire receiving corps outside of Larry Fitzgerald is an unknown as well. It won't take much for the hype train to get out of control with this offense, just watch for reasons for caution as well. 

10. Surprising veteran cuts

It's going to happen, we just don't know when or to who. There will be a few veterans let go that surprise all of us. Maybe it's Theo RIddick in Detroit, opening up more targets for Kerryon Johnson. Maybe it's LeSean McCoy, because the Bills have certainly added enough running backs in the offseason.

Whoever it is, we'll have updated rankings and projections to account for the opportunity created. 

So which Fantasy Football breakouts should you be all over? And which rookie running back is set to explode? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that has simulated the season 10,000 times, and find out.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Heath Cummings is a Senior Fantasy Writer that covers Daily Fantasy Sports of all types. Before coming to CBS Sports he was a staff writer for Footballguys and the host of The Fantasy Football Show on... Full Bio

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