Every Friday until the end of fantasy draft season, SI.com fantasy football experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice will bat around a number of questions in a quest to help you assemble the best fantasy team possible.
Now that all 32 teams are knee-deep into training camp, is there one particular news tidbit that you found particularly significant?
Fitz: The glowing reports about Sammie Coates are starting to convince me that he, not Markus Wheaton, is the Pittsburgh receiver to target in the middle to late rounds of fantasy drafts. Wheaton has an average draft position in the low WR40s, while Coates’s ADP is around WR60. Wheaton hasn’t made much of an impression during his three years in Pittsburgh, and you’d think that if he was destined for a breakout, either it would have happened by now or we would have seen obvious signs that there were good things ahead. Coates is just as fast as the fleet-footed Wheaton but is two years younger, two inches taller and more than 20 pounds heavier.
Coates’s rookie year was essentially a redshirt season, but it sounds as if he’s now ready to make an impact. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley told Charles Robinson of Yahoo! that there is a “night and day” difference between where Coates was last year and where he is now, and the second-year receiver has reportedly gotten himself into terrific shape. There’s been speculation from the Pittsburgh media that Coates will start opposite Antonio Brown.
The book on Coates coming out of Auburn was that he offered stopwatch-melting speed and an alluring combination of height and leaping ability, but he had questionable hands. I tend not to worry that much about drops. (Does anyone really think that Mike Evans is terrible after all the passes he dropped last year?) Coates can give the Steelers the vertical dimension to their passing game that Martavis Bryant was expected to provide before he was suspended. With such positive buzz regarding Coates, I’ll look to grab him in the middle to late rounds, and I’ll avoid Wheaton at his current cost.
Beller: I’ve been intrigued by everything I’ve heard coming out of Giants camp regarding Sterling Shepard. He entered camp as the favorite to start opposite Odell Beckham Jr. in what should be a pass-happy offense, and he has certainly done nothing over the first week of camp to open the door for anyone else.
Before camp even opened, the stars were already aligning for Shepard. The next receivers on the depth chart behind Beckham are Victor Cruz, who is still trying to make his way back to the field after missing nearly all of the last two seasons with knee and calf injuries, and Dwayne Harris, whose largest impact is likely to come as a returner. Shepard didn’t need to have a particularly strong camp to earn a starting gig, but it’s definitely encouraging that he has impressed everyone who has watched him thus far. The Giants’ running game is still a work in progress, and so long as Eli Manning and Beckham are in Giants blue, this is going to be a pass-first, pass-second and pass-third team.
Even though rookie receivers have been able to find instant success over the last few seasons—highlighted by Beckham and Mike Evans two seasons ago, and Amari Cooper last year—the position can still pose one of the hardest transitions in the game. Shepard has a leg up on some other receivers, thanks to the offense he played in at Oklahoma. Sooners coach Bob Stoops has long favored a pro-style offense, and that should help Shepard hit the ground running, not only in camp but also when the real action begins. Contrast that with Corey Coleman, the first receiver off the board in this year’s draft, who played in Baylor’s spread offense that just doesn’t translate to the NFL. Shepard should have a much easier time learning the Giants’ offense than Coleman will learning Cleveland’s.