ezekiel-elliott-1400.jpg

Real life NFL football was played Thursday night! 

Technically ... The first touchdown of the Hall of Fame game came four minutes into the third quarter, and it was scored by Kalen Ballage, so I think that only technically qualifies as NFL football. But still, it's the best we've had in seven months, so we'll take it.

I'll be breaking down everything you need to know from preseason action right here all month, but with this being the first of four preseason games for the Steelers and Cowboys -- everyone else plays three -- there really isn't much you can learn from this game. Neither starting quarterback played, and nearly every relevant player on the Cowboys sat out. On the Steelers side of things, Najee Harris rushed for 22 yards on seven carries, Diontae Johnson had 19 yards on two catches, and Chase Claypool caught three of four targets for 62 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster didn't play at all. 

Which is all to say, there isn't much to take away from this game. We did see some prime examples of the kind of pre-snap movement the Steelers are going to integrate under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, but without seeing Ben Roethlisberger under center -- and I mean that literally as the Steelers move away from their shotgun-heavy approach of recent years -- it doesn't really matter much. We'll have the first week of real preseason games starting next Thursday, and expect to see much more from the Steelers and Cowboys by then. 

Though you shouldn't expect to see much of Dak Prescott in any of the preseason games, it sounds like. He continues to struggle with a shoulder injury, and it's starting to sound like it might be a bit more serious than the team has let on so far. We'll get to that a little later in today's newsletter when we talk about the latest news you need to know, but first, here's what else is coming up today:

  • RB Week recap -- Everything you need to know about the most important position in Fantasy☑️
  • My Do-Not-Draft list for RB🚫
  • The latest injuries news, and notes from around the league📰

And, before we move on, I just wanted to let you know that our little FFT family is expanding with the addition of the Fantasy Football Today DFS show. We'll be going two times a week beginning during the preseason to make sure you're ready for all of your DFS slates, with Frank Stampfl in the host chair and SportsLine's Predictive Data Engineer Mike McClure and NFL analyst Sia Nejad helping you build your best lineups possible. If you're looking to get into the DFS world or just to step your game up, those dudes will help get you on the right track. Subscribe and win here

RB week recap

We've spent the whole week on CBSSports.com/Fantasy previewing the running back position, with analysis from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, Adam Aizer, Dan Schneier and myself as we try to get you ready for your drafts. Running backs may not be your best players, but how you approach the position will define how you approach your draft. We're here to help you figure out what approach is best. 

Here's everything we did this week:

  • FFT RB Q&A Panel: Jamey, Dave, Heath, Adam Aizer and I answer some big questions about the position heading into 2021.
  • 2021 RB Preview: Heath's draft strategies, projections, and more. This is one of my favorite pieces we run all year. It's chock full of information and Heath's unique perspective on the position.
  • The State of the Position: From Monday's FFT Newsletter, I give a 30,000-foot view of the position, focused specifically on why running backs are going to cost you more than ever in drafts this year.
  • Believe it or not: Heath takes a look at some of the biggest storylines from training camp in the first of his recurring series, focusing on Melvin Gordon's role in Denver to start. 
  • Ideal Draft Day Plan: I take a look at recent ADP history to try to figure out when you should be looking to target running backs and when you aren't going to get a good return on your investment.
  • RB Tiers: Dave's tiers show you where the strength lies.  
  • RB Sleepers: Under-the-radar picks from the whole FFT team.
  • RB Breakouts: Next year's early-round picks this year.
  • RB Busts: Here's who we're avoiding in 2021. 
  • Bust-Case Scenario: Here's how each of the top-12 RBs could steer you wrong.
  • Best and Worst Offenses for RBs: Which offense consistently produce the most points? Which aren't great for RBs? 
  • RB Handcuff Guide: The best insurance policies out there. 
  • Dynasty RB Rankings: Heath's latest update reflects early camp news. 
  • Dynasty RB Tiers: Here's how you can tell them apart.
  • Non-PPR Mock Draft: How heavy is too heavy for RB? And how late is too late for Jonathan Taylor?  

Do-not draft list for RB

In our RB Busts piece Thursday, I picked J.K. Dobbins, Javonte Williams, and Mike Davis as my bust picks, so they're sure to make my "do-not-draft" list, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. Because I'm not necessarily avoiding all of my bust picks. You reach a point in the draft where every player becomes a value, so you certainly don't want to say "never." 

For instance, I can certainly see why Williams is going as RB22 since the start of July. It might take him a while to dislodge Melvin Gordon from the lead role, but if and when he does, he could emerge as a must-start running back. My hesitance comes from the fact that I know most Fantasy players aren't patient enough to wait for those situations to play out, and for good reason. Rosters are small, and if you aren't churning your bench looking for upside, you're going to miss out. It can be hard to keep a guy like Williams around if he's the smaller part of a platoon for the first six weeks of the season -- just ask the countless players who dropped Dobbins and Cam Akers as rookies midseason. The most likely outcome is, many of the people who draft Williams may not get much value out of him, even if he does hit. 

So, I won't be drafting Williams at his current price, even if I can definitely see the appeal. This list is similar, and it's broken up into two sub-categories: Players who I won't draft because of price, and players I won't draft period: 

The price is wrong (Bob)

Derrick Henry, RB4 since July 1; Nick Chubb, RB9; J.K. Dobbins, RB16 -- I group these three in my mind, because they are all different versions of the same player, at least for Fantasy. All three should be incredibly efficient runners, with Henry likely to lead the NFL in carries, Chubb a candidate for 300 carries, and Dobbins likely to lead the Ravens in carries at the very least. They should score plenty of touchdowns, and each one will be a weekly threat to rush for 100 yards. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these players except that they don't catch passes. But even then, all three of them are pretty likely to be fine values at their costs in PPR.

The problem is, there probably isn't a ton of room for profit in any of them either, and Derrick Henry's 2020 season highlights why. Henry was awesome in 2020 -- he had the fifth-most rushing yards ever and the fourth-most rushing touchdowns of the past decade. It's hard to have a better season than Henry did in 2020 running the ball. And, in 2020, he had the third-most points per game among running backs and fifth-most among non-QB -- and you can drop him down a spot if we're including Christian McCaffrey's three games. Henry had one of the best rushing seasons of all time and he didn't even finish as high as he's currently being drafted.

There's value in safety, obviously, and all three should bring that to the table. They're high floor players who should rarely produce outright bad performances. But because all three figure to make little impact in the passing game, they need to have very efficient seasons rushing the ball just to meet the value they'll cost you in drafts. I'd be happy to have any of them on my team, but it's not going to happen with where they are being drafted. 

Javonte Williams, RB22 -- If Williams gets named the starter before the season, an RB22 price tag won't be an overpay, sure. And I think you could talk me into a top-20 pick for him, maybe even top-18. Any higher, however, and you reach a point where you'd have to be taking him over Chris Carson, Miles Sanders, Dobbins, and D'Andre Swift, and I won't be able to justify that. Gordon isn't just going to disappear, after all, and Williams is still unproven and playing in an offense that has a lot of work to do to get to average. The problem, of course, is that if he's RB22 when Gordon is probably still the odds-on-favorite to lead the team in carries in Week 1, Williams would probably leap into the top-12 discussion if he were named the starter. Williams could be worth that, but I can't pass up players who already have the roles we're hoping Williams will get and who have already produced at the NFL level. 

Not the right player (or situation!)

Mike Davis, RB25 -- I've written about this before, but Davis is the 2021 exemplar of an RB archetype who has historically been one of the least profitable for Fantasy: The mediocre veteran projected for a big role. Pretty much all Davis has going for him is that he's projected for a big role. That means, if he has a bad week or two and someone behind him shows signs of life, his appeal might just disappear entirely. Todd Gurley was pretty good in this role for a while because he scored a ton of touchdowns, but he had nothing to fall back on. Davis may not either. 

Damien Harris, RB33; Leonard Fournette, RB35; Zack Moss, RB36 -- It's fitting that all three of these guys are grouped together in ADP, and to be honest, there's nothing wrong with those prices. You very well may get a decent No. 2 RB out of any one of them if everything goes right and there's value in having that player around on your roster. But I haven't even looked at any of the three in a draft this season, because it's nearly impossible to see much upside beyond "decent No. 2 RB." All three play on teams that seem intent on having a timeshare in the backfield, and none of the three are likely to have much of a role in the passing game or dominate goal-line work. As an injury or bye week fill-in, maybe these three could step up in a pinch.

But these kinds of players can lull you into a false sense of security. You can talk yourself into each of them as valuable depth to have around, but if you're ever starting them, it's likely because something went wrong. That means you might be passing on potential difference makers on the wire because you feel like you're already set with your bench backs. That's a bad spot to be in if you want to compete for a championship. If I was going to take one of them, it would be Fournette, who does at least have a path to fringe-RB1 territory if something happens to Ronald Jones. 

Injuries, news and notes

  • Is Dak Prescott's shoulder OK? -- Before the Hall of Fame game, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer talked about Prescott's shoulder injury, describing it as "more of a baseball injury" and saying the Cowboys reached out to the Texas Rangers training staff for an added perspective. Prescott and the Cowboys have continually downplayed the injury, but it went from something that would shut him down for just a day or two to a situation that Joe Buck later said on the broadcast will likely keep him from throwing a football for "a couple of weeks." There's still a lot of time until the start of the season, obviously, and if Prescott is back to practice even in the last week before the season starts, there won't be much reason for concern. But right now, I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't concerned at all. It doesn't seem to be healing the way they thought, and hopefully they'll just continue to take it slow and wait until he's fully healed. There's no need to rush it right now. 
  • Kenny Golladay (hamstring) will miss 2-3 weeks -- That certainly isn't a worst-case scenario, but it's definitely not ideal. Golladay should be fully healthy by the start of the season, but he's missing valuable practice time as he acclimates to his new offense and new quarterback, and that just increases the risk that he never quite gets on the right page. Golladay isn't the same kind of receiver as Stefon Diggs or DeAndre Hopkins, an alpha you feed the ball to over and over. He's a big-play guy who makes most of his money down the field. That means a lower volume of higher degree of difficulty throws, and a smaller margin for error as a result. There's still time for things to get right, but this is not the start we wanted. He's in the WR3 territory for me even if he gets healthy. 
  • Colts expecting Carson Wentz (foot) back sooner than later? -- Glazer -- again -- said the Colts are optimistic Wentz can return from his foot surgery on the shorter end of his 5-12 week timetable. Of course, he's just a few days removed from the surgery, so it's probably too early to say. They'll know more when he has a follow-up appointment in two weeks, and you should still proceed as if Wentz won't be available for the start of the season until we hear more. That means Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger at QB, most likely, which is bad news for the Colts offense. 
  • Texans not answering trade calls for Deshaun Watson? -- Glazer also said on the broadcast the Texans are not returning calls looking to acquire Watson and still expect him to play for them this season. That last bit is just posturing, but this bats down a few reports we've seen in recent days saying the Eagles and Texans were making progress on a potential Watson trade. Until the NFL makes a decision on Watson's availability for this season given the ongoing sexual misconduct investigations involving him, none of this really matters, and it's hard to see any moves happening until that happens, too. 
  • Odell Beckham likely to be limited? -- In a piece about Donovan Peoples-Jones' potential emergence as a long-term difference maker for the Browns, The Athletic's Zac Jackson threw this note in: "Odell Beckham Jr. is still practicing every other day. Beckham was in full pads Wednesday but still isn't doing any competitive drills. … Beckham has said that he won't rush back, and with the Sept. 12 season opener about 10 months off his ACL surgery, it makes sense that Beckham wouldn't be on a full workload in the first half of the season even if he makes it to the opener." Beckham has some appeal as a mid-round bounceback candidate, but he may not get the chance early in the season. Something to watch. 
  • Kirk Cousins was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list -- Cousins was a close contact to a positive test, but since he is not vaccinated, he will have to quarantine if there are any more close contacts. That's the risk he's running, and the Vikings had to practice last weekend with just one quarterback. Cousins' decision is his own, but there is risk here and with any QB who isn't vaccinated, that they will have to miss time if something like this happens in-season. Just keep that in mind. 
  • Tyreek Hill (knee) returned to practice -- Hill sat out with knee tendonitis Tuesday, but he was back at practice without limitations Thursday. It seemed like a non-issue, and it is. 
  • Jalen Richard is out indefinitely with a foot injury -- Theo Riddick recently announced his retirement, so the Raiders have only undrafted free agents behind Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake. We already expected Drake to be the primary passing downs back, but with Richard potentially missing time in the season, we could see touches become very concentrated between the two of them. Jacobs should still get a ton of carries, but Drake could be in line for something like 125-150 carries and 60-plus targets -- ironically, he could be to Jacobs what Chase Edmonds was to him last year.
  • Elijah Moore was working with the starters as an outside WR this week -- There hasn't been a negative word spoken about Moore in Jets world since he was drafted, and if you want to get hyped about him, read that profile from The Athletic on him. He has been pushing his way into the first-team offense rotation, and he was lined up opposite Corey Davis, with Jamison Crowder in the slot. Moore's Fantasy value would probably be higher if he played primarily in the slot, but the fact that he isn't being pigeon-holed into that role right now is a very good sign. He's one of the best late-round RB sleepers, and he might still be worth drafting even when the hype inevitably pushes him to the middle rounds.