The fantasy football draft prep process is continuous all the way through the final draft or auction of the season. The summer begins with no shortage of opinions, leanings and preconceived notions. Then those views evolve through training camp and the preseason, shaped by developments on the field and further research off of it. Some players slide up the draft board, while others fall down it.
The positive side of this equation can be found here. Below, find the negative side. The fantasy stock of these six players has taken a hit this summer.
Alex Smith, QB, Redskins
Quarterbacks make their skill players far more often than the other way around. If a quarterback is legitimately good, he’s going to succeed almost regardless of his weapons. On the other hand, every year a receiver or running back is limited by substandard quarterback play. Such is life when one position holds so much sway over an offense.
Yet, when I look around at what Smith has in Washington and compare it with what he had in Kansas City, I can’t help but worry. Every position is a downgrade, with the possible exception of his No. 2 receiver. Tyreek Hill to Jamison Crowder? Downgrade. Travis Kelce to Jordan Reed? Downgrade. Kareem Hunt to Chris Thompson and some combination of Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Adrian Peterson? Significant downgrade. Paul Richardson may be better than Albert Wilson, but Wilson was fourth on the Chiefs in targets with 62. He wasn’t exactly a must-have player for Smith last year. He even downgraded on the sidelines, going from Andy Reid and Matt Nagy to Jay Gruden and Matt Cavanaugh.
Quarterbacks make their skill players. I’d never argue with that. They can’t make them out of nothing, though. Crowder, Reed, Richardson and the Washington backfield put Washington in the bottom-half of the league in skill position talent, and even that assumes a healthy season for Reed. It’s going to be hard to trust Smith this season.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks
I was a huge Penny fan at the start of the summer. I loved him coming out of San Diego State. I loved him landing in Seattle. I loved the fact that the Seahawks used a first-round pick on him when running back didn’t appear to be a need. And now, I likely won’t have him in many fantasy leagues, unless he comes at a discount.
It’s impossible to ignore everything that has happened in Seattle this summer. First, Chris Carson wouldn’t recede gently into that good night, remaining atop the depth chart into the preseason. Then Penny suffered a broken finger that required surgery to fix. He’s expected to be ready for Week 1, but it isn’t a guarantee. Even if he is, he’s losing out on valuable practice reps and ceding more ground to Carson.
Add it all up, and it’s hard to see Penny with anything more than a timeshare role for at least the first month of the season. It’s also worth noting that Carson played well before fracturing his leg last year, running for 208 yards on 49 carries, catching seven passes for 59 yards, and scoring one touchdown. At this point he’s just as likely as Penny, if not more so, to lead Seattle’s backfield in touches.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Panthers
This is the natural reaction to Christian McCaffrey’s stock increasing this summer. McCaffrey and Anderson are set to share the backfield in Carolina. If one goes up, the other has to go down. It’s as simple as that.
The argument behind McCaffrey’s rise is in the link above. Rather than just state those same points but in reverse for Anderson, I’d like to stress that I’m not fading him entirely, and I don’t think you should either. I’m simply saying that we can’t be as confident in him with Ron Rivera and Norv Turner on record wanting McCaffrey to get as much work as he can possibly handle this year.
Anderson still has his charms, and he’s not going to be completely cut out of the offense. Remember, he ran for 1,007 yards and three touchdowns on a terrible Denver team last year. There’s still plenty of work for him to be, at worst, a valuable depth back this season. The big problems are that he has virtually no receiving upside on a team with McCaffrey, and that Cam Newton is likely to steal away a handful of goal-line scores that likely would have been his with any other quarterback under center. As such, it’s hard to lean on him as anything more than an RB3 or a mid-round zero-RB target.
Ronald Jones, RB, Buccaneers
Coachspeak runs rampant during the summer, but sometimes they say something worth heeding. The Buccaneers coaching staff started the summer insisting that Jones and Peyton Barber would compete for the starting gig, despite the fact that the team spent the 38th overall pick on the former. They’ve repeatedly told us that Barber is the starter and that Jones is having some issues transitioning to the pro game. The most telling statement, however, came after camp wrapped when running backs coach Tim Spencer questioned Jones’ ability as a pass-catcher.
Barber isn’t just the starter in Tampa. He’s comfortably ahead of Jones on the depth chart, no matter the draft capital the team spent on the rookie out of USC. At this point, it would be foolish not to take the Buccaneers’ coaching staff at face value, especially since Jones will still cost you a pick in the middle of the sixth round, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. The opportunity cost is simply too great, given where Jones stands heading into the season.
Jones should not fall completely off your radar, however. For what it’s worth, Barber hasn’t exactly made the most of previous opportunities. He got 108 carries last year, running for 423 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 16 of 19 targets for 114 yards. He ran the ball well enough in four of five starts down the stretch, but it’s clear that the door remains open for Jones. He was a star in college, racking up 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground in his final year at USC. The price should come down, and if it does he’d be a worth selection. So long as he’s going inside the first 90 or so picks of a draft, though, it’ll be hard to believe he can live up to his price tag.
Josh Gordon, WR, Browns
This has little to do with Gordon staying away from the Browns during training camp. He’s in a unique situation, and whatever he feels he needs to do to put himself in the best spot to stay active and on the field all year is the right decision. Rather, this is about Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and the nature of long layoffs.
Landry is one of the most underappreciated receivers in the NFL. Written off as a non-threatening slot receiver, Landry is thought of widely as a player who cannot hurt opposing teams in any meaningful way. That willfully ignores how productive he has been his entire career, during which he has caught 400 passes for 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons. It also ignores that Cleveland is going to ask him to do things that Miami never did. Landry will be lined up outside the numbers more often than he ever was with the Dolphins, and that’s going to eat into Gordon’s target share. There’s also the fact that, even playing on the inside, Landry is a target hog who’s very efficient with his opportunities. No matter if it’s Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield under center, the Browns’ quarterback is going to lean on Landry.
Njoku has been one of the breakout players for the Browns this summer. Exact preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s telling that both of Njoku’s catches in his first preseason action went for touchdowns. At the very least, it gives us an idea of how the Browns will deploy him this season. He was a first-round pick last year, bringing nearly the same upside to the table as Evan Engram. There is approximately a 0% chance he doesn’t get more than the 60 targets he had last season.
Finally, you don’t need to tell me how good Gordon was in his breakout season. I was there. I remember it. That was five years ago, though. Gordon has played 10 games since the end of the 2013 season. I admit the upside is immense, but he’s still going around the same time as Golden Tate, Allen Robinson and Brandin Cooks. Are you trying to tell me those guys don’t have upside? Gordon has to slide down draft boards given this summer’s developments.
Corey Davis, WR, Titans
Davis needed to have a strong summer to maintain his high average draft position, which sat in the middle of the sixth round when training camp began. Davis hasn’t had a bad camp or preseason, but he hasn’t had a great one, either. He has had a completely acceptable summer, and there’d be nothing wrong with that if he didn’t slog his way through injuries during a lost rookie season in 2017. That’s exactly what he did last year, though. And, despite the nondescript summer, his ADP is up a couple of notches since the start of training camp. That doesn’t make any sense.
I love Davis’ talent as much as anyone. I watched as he carved his way through the MAC during his final season at Western Michigan, and nodded approvingly when the Titans made him the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft. After last season, though, his NFL potential is still nothing more than a theory. Could he break out? Sure, of course he could. But his draft-day price almost requires him to, and that’s not a bet you should be making.
Furthermore, Davis’ stock received an understandable jolt when Rishard Matthews suffered an undisclosed injury in practice. That injury has still yet to be disclosed, but the Titans signed Matthews to a one-year extension through the 2019 season while he was on the shelf, so clearly they aren’t too worried about it. Matthews has been one of the most undervalued receivers in the league during his two seasons with the Titans, catching 118 passes for 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns. With Matthews on track to miss little, if any, time, Delanie Walker locked into a significant role, and Dion Lewis sure to increase the backfield’s profile in the passing game, Davis could hurt for volume relative to his extreme talent.