I'm writing this newsletter under the assumption that you aren't content with finishing sixth in your league this season. You want to win the whole thing, obviously. Which means you need difference makers. You need big wins on Draft Day, not small ones. What does that mean?
Well, I'll tell you about it in today's newsletter! I've got some thoughts on the concept, inspired by some conversations I saw going on on Twitter as well as a discussion we had on Thursday's podcast about Zack Moss and how his low ceiling makes him a bad pick even if he beats out his ADP.
Of course, first, we have to catch up on the latest news from out of training camp, with most teams on either their first or second day of practice Thursday. We'll have even more to catch up with coming out of this first weekend, but there are QB battle updates, injuries and more to keep track of coming out of Thursday, so today's newsletter starts with that. Here's what else today's newsletter has for you:
- 3️⃣ big things to know from camp
- How to avoid small wins💸
- A Steelers offense update 📰
- Notable notes and quotes📣
If you've got any questions for me or the rest of the Fantasy Football Today team, send them to Chris.Towers@CBSInteractive.com to get included in a mailbag next week. Now, here's what you need to know heading into the weekend.
Three biggest things to know
1. Taysom Hill got the first-team reps on Day 1
The Saints are having an open competition in camp, so it was certainly surprising to see reports come out that Hill took every first-team rep Thursday, the first day of official practices. But don't take too much from that, as Sean Payton told reporters he plans on having a different set up every day. Was this just deference to the guy who was highest on the depth chart last season?
We'll be keeping an especially close eye on the Saints QB battle because this isn't just a battle for who starts -- this is about what kind of offense the Saints will run. If it's Hill in at QB, the pass volume will be low, as the offense will be built around Hill's legs and the combo of Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield -- Hill was on pace for just 456 attempts last season in his four starts. Hill is probably the better Fantasy option between the two of them because of that rushing ability -- 52.3 yards per game with four touchdowns as a starter -- but Kamara's value would take a hit and it would be hard to trust anyone else in this offense beyond those two.
Jameis Winston won't suddenly turn the Saints into his former Buccaneers, especially with Michael Thomas likely to miss the start of the season recovering from ankle surgery. But he's clearly the more gifted passer of the two and the Saints would surely open the passing game up more with him. That would be excellent news for Kamara especially, but it would also open up the opportunity for Adam Trautman and Tre'Quan Smith to emerge as useful sleepers. It would also give Thomas top-10 upside whenever he's healthy.
You can tell which one I'm pulling for, I'm sure. We'll see what the weekend looks like and report back Monday.
2. Dak Prescott is dealing with a "minor" shoulder injury
Prescott left Wednesday's practice early after getting checked out by trainers, and an MRI revealed a muscle strain in his right shoulder. That's considered minor, and he'll simply take two 2-3 days off from throwing before getting back into the swing of things. By all accounts, this isn't a serious concern at this point.
It's not uncommon for quarterbacks on the first few days of camp to report some discomfort, and the first few weeks of training camp, in general, see a higher rate of injuries as players ramp up activity. Remember, Prescott hasn't been practicing since last October, and while he's been training and had minicamps earlier in the offseason, this is probably the first time he's made a high volume of competitive throws in nine months.
Still, you'd rather not see one of the best QBs in Fantasy dealing with a shoulder issue, so we'll keep an eye on this one over the next few days. Hopefully, the Cowboys will sit Prescott out until he's fully past any discomfort because shoulders can be tricky if you don't let them heal all the way. And there's an awful lot riding on Prescott's arm with CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper sitting in the top-20 in WR ADP and expecting a ton of volume from this pass attack.
3. Will Fuller is dealing with an injury
That's all we know right now. He wasn't at practice Thursday with an undisclosed injury, and he's being called day to day right now. Fuller was out there for Wednesday's practice, so hopefully, this is just a small thing that won't follow him around for a while. That's obviously a concern for Fuller, who has missed a ton of time in his NFL career -- though he did manage to make it through 2020 with just one minor injury early before his season-ending suspension. The last thing we would want to see is Fuller struggle with a lingering injury throughout camp, given that history.
Fuller's suspension will carry over to the first game of this season, and then he'll have a chance to step into a Dolphins offense that added Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick in order to expedite Tua Tagovailoa's development. He'll need time to get on the same page with Tagovailoa, and that could potentially be a very potent combination -- I've got Fuller as a top-20 WR on a per-game basis once he comes back from his suspension. He's always been a dangerous deep-ball receiver, but in 2020 he posted the best yards per catch of his career despite a career-low 12.5-yard average depth of target. That's because he posted a career-best 5.5 average yards after the catch.
Fuller proved he can be a No. 1 WR without DeAndre Hopkins around, with 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns in his 11 games, emerging as more of a playmaker in the intermediate range. He'll be a big part of this offense if he can stay healthy, so let's hope this is nothing. With an ADP around 90th overall, Fuller is one of the very best "win-big" propositions on the board.
Don't aim for small wins
What does winning small look like? Well, let's look at last year's results for some examples. Take Kareem Hunt, who managed to finish as RB10 last season. That's a heck of a season for someone who was being drafted in the fifth round, right? But think back to how the season actually played out. Do you actually remember Hunt being a big difference maker for your team if you had him? If you didn't, do you remember regretting not choosing him?
Sure, Hunt finished as RB10 -- in 16 games. But he was never actually the 10th-best RB in Fantasy for any extended stretch.
He started the season with at least 18 PPR points in three of his first five games … and then had just two more in his next 11. In the four games he started with Nick Chubb out, he had 18.3, 7.7, 19.2, and 9.3 PPR points. Someone who plays all 16 games and finishes as RB10 probably wasn't actually all that helpful when it came down to, y'know, winning games, even if you get him as RB24, where Hunt is being drafted right now.
A small-win player is a guy who is good enough to keep on your roster and maybe start but isn't good enough to make a real difference, ultimately. You'll need some players like that to fill out your lineup, but they can also lull you into a false sense of security in thinking you don't need to upgrade their roster spot -- former CBS Sports-er Ben Gretch wrote about this topic on his excellent Stealing Signals newsletter last week.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately but was prompted to write about it by a couple of things I saw on Twitter Thursday. One was a discussion about Russell Gage as a mid-to-late round WR target, and the other was a poll asking who of Melvin Gordon, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, or Javonte Williams was most likely to lead the Broncos in Fantasy points. I think Gage and Gordon are two examples of "small-win" players.
The most likely outcome is likely that Gordon leads the Broncos position players in Fantasy scoring -- that's what I have projected, anyway. But what will that get you? His ceiling is probably a mid-range RB2, whereas Sutton and Jeudy probably have WR1 upside if Drew Lock makes a leap. And Williams is the classic rookie RB who looks likely to be much more helpful than their full-season rank once they get the chance to be the lead back -- think Cam Akers or J.K. Dobbins last season.
Gage is an even more stark example of the principle. He's WR55 in ADP right now, which seems like a pretty good value for a guy who finished as WR37 last season, but that really doesn't matter for your Fantasy team. Because if you are relying heavily on Gage and his 11.0 points per game, something has gone very, very wrong for your team. And it's hard to make a case for Gage doing much better than that, given that he played more than half his games essentially without Julio Jones last season, and is likely to just be third in the hierarchy in this passing game yet again with the addition of Calvin Ridley.
Gage is averaging 6.7 yards per target for his career with five touchdowns on 193 targets, so he'll need to get a lot better this season to really be worth starting, no matter how many targets he ultimately gets. Gage might outperform his current ADP at WR by 20 spots, and it won't make him a valuable player to have on your roster.
I've written this offseason about how J.K. Dobbins is a player with a high floor but a very narrow path to superstardom, so if you want a more high-profile example of this, he could work. He could finish as a top-12 RB, but probably not too much better than that, which makes me a lot more likely to invest in the likes of David Montgomery, Miles Sanders, or Chris Carson -- guys with similar median projected outcomes but with more avenues to a top-five season, largely thanks to their passing-downs potential.
Mike Evans is another guy who might just be a small-win player in 2021, given how crowded that receiving corps is and how TD-dependent he is. If he repeats last season's WR11 finish, his WR14 ADP will be fine, but it won't give you a big edge; and that would require another career-high touchdown rate. Here are some other potential small-win players I'm not really looking to draft in 2021:
- Matthew Stafford (QB10)
- Baker Mayfield (QB18)
- Leonard Fournette (RB32)
- Zack Moss (RB39)
- Adam Thielen (WR21)
- Jarvis Landry (WR44)
- Tyler Higbee (TE11)
What else you need to know
- The Steelers are backing away from their shotgun-heavy approach -- This was expected with the ascension of Matt Canada to the offensive coordinator job and the installation of an all-new offense, but the start of training camp is the first time reporters have been able to confirm it. Ben Roethlisberger used play action on just 9.6% of his dropbacks, nearly half as often as the second-lowest rate in the NFL (Drew Brees was at 17.8% last season). It's going to be interesting to see how Roethlisberger adapts to that because he had the ball in his hands for less than 2.5 seconds on 73% of his dropbacks last season, the highest rate in the NFL. It's not unreasonable to be worried about how a 39-year-old quarterback will handle such a dramatic shift.
- Deshaun Watson is not working as the first-team QB -- In front of cameras, everyone is saying the right things, but it's clear the ill feelings go both ways at this point. Watson's trade demands are well known, and the Texans have been using him as the fourth-team quarterback as well as a scout-team safety and running back at times. The Texans are likely waiting for the NFL to announce what penalty, if any, Watson is likely to face as a result of the ongoing investigations into sexual misconduct allegations against Watson, and there probably isn't much value in talking about Watson until we get word on that front. It's pretty much the only relevant thing right now.
- The Packers acquired Randall Cobb -- This was rumored to be one of Aaron Rodgers' requests upon his return to the team, so it makes sense it got done. Cobb should fit in as the slot receiver for the Packers, who rotated Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the slot last season. I would expect Lazard to move outside and adopt more of a deep-ball role, but I wouldn't count on anyone outside of Adams to be much more than bench depth in this offense.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are competing for the WFT starting job -- But it doesn't really sound like it's an open competition. Fitzpatrick should be the heavy favorite to start in Week 1 for the Football Team, though he might have a somewhat short leash. What else is new for Fitzpatrick? His ability to extend plays and make tough throws has Fantasy players excited about the potential for Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, Curtis Samuel and Antonio Gibson to have career-best numbers, but he's going to be pushed, at least.
- Denzel Mims is still working with the second-team offense -- That was the case back in minicamps and it's been the case in the first two days of camp. The Jets added Keelan Cole, Corey Davis, and Elijah Moore to the receiving corps this offseason, and it looks like those three and Jamison Crowder are going to be the top options in this receiving corps. Mims has his work cut out to break into that group.
- Kenyan Drake is on the Non-Football Injury list -- It's not clear what the issue is, and Drake was able to participate in minicamp back in June, so hopefully, it's nothing serious. Drake has a chance to be a big part of this offense after signing a not-insignificant two-year deal this offseason, and we were hoping to get a sense of how they might use him and Josh Jacobs together early in camp. Instead, those of us drafting right now are left without any clarity until Drake gets on the field.
Other odds and ends
Zach Wilson signed his rookie contract. Now he'll report to camp after having missed just two days. There's plenty of time for him to get up to speed, and I'm glad it didn't linger. ... Michael Gallup is dealing with an ankle injury. It doesn't sound serious, but with Amari Cooper not yet cleared to practice, this means we're gonna see a lot of CeeDee Lamb camp highlights in the coming days. Jamey Eisenberg's Twitter account has all of the Lamb highlights you could want. … O.J. Howard (Achilles) looks like he could be getting close to making his camp debut. … Justin Jackson was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list. He's competing for the No. 2 role with Joshua Kelley and is reportedly on the roster bubble, so he couldn't afford to miss much time. … Travis Homer (calf) is on the active/PUP list. ... Giants G Shane Lemieux was carted off the field with a knee injury. .. Falcons G Matt Gono is expected to start the season on the PUP list. …
They said it …
- "When we drafted him, we thought he'd be a three-down back because he was a three-down back at a high level at Alabama. We'd be disappointed if he wasn't." -Steelers GM Kevin Colbert on rookie RB Najee Harris. Those of us in the Fantasy community who have him ranked as a top-10 running back would be awfully disappointed too, Kevin.
- "Now he has an opportunity to really compete for the lead spot." -Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on RB Damien Harris. Some coaches are so effusive in their praise of every player, you can't believe much of anything they say -- Pete Carroll comes to mind. When it comes to Belichick, you have to wade through a fog of obfuscation to try to find praise, and this is about as strong as you're going to find. I would read this as, "Harris is our lead back." That's what we expected.
- "But the surgery took place, and obviously, we would've liked that to have happened earlier than later, and quite honestly it should have." -Sean Payton, when asked about Michael Thomas. When pressed to expand on those thoughts, Payton said, "I'm going to leave it at that." Clearly, Thomas' decision to wait until well into the offseason to have surgery isn't sitting well with the Saints' decision makers. Given their lack of options otherwise, Thomas should have his typical significant role when he's healthy enough to play, but this doesn't sound like a situation that is heading toward a happy ending.