The NFL Draft has come on and gone leaving us with just as many questions as answers as we now begin the race to Week 1. We saw teams such as the Falcons, Titans, and Packers pass on addressing major offensive skill needs while teams like the Ravens and Jets loaded up early and often to bolster their skill positions. With all these moving parts and fresh faces coming in, even NFL teams fall victim to the “new hotness” that is rookie fever which creates every fantasy manager’s favorite thing; uncertainty on the depth chart! So let’s take a look at few places where we could see potential turnover that leads to fantasy relevancy right away.
Melvin Gordon III vs. Javonte Williams
Our first stop takes us to the Mile High where we saw the Denver Broncos take easily a top-three running back in this year’s class in the second round at pick 35. Not only did Denver take Javonte Williams in the second round, they TRADED UP to get him giving away picks 40 and 144 while getting 219 in return. That is not typically draft capital we see used for teams to get back-up players (*cough* Green Bay *cough* A.J. Dillon) so we have to expect there will be an immediate role in this offensive for Williams. But just what role exactly will he fill for this team?
Earlier this offseason we saw the Broncos let former Pro Bowler Philip Lindsay walk in free agency vacating 125 touches over 11 games played. This extrapolates to nearly 200 touches for what will now be a 17 game season or roughly 11 per game. This falls slightly behind current starter Melvin Gordon III who averaged just over 16 touches a game last season. Looking at these numbers there is no question as to whether Williams will have a role in this offense.
The question now is will he surpass Gordon for the bulk of the touches and become the lead dog this year? When you take into account that Gordon is playing on the final year of a two-year contract and entering his seventh year in the NFL at age 28 and pair that with the fact that every skill position player of relevance is entering their third season or younger the writing appears to be on the wall for Gordon in Denver. The future for fantasy football managers is clear, the question is if that future is now.
Boston Scott vs. Kenneth Gainwell
The next battle we are going to look at might come as a surprise to some as it’s not about a “starting” role necessarily, but here we’re going to look at who will be the pass-catching back or “third-down” back in Philadelphia. With the addition of newly appointed Head Coach Nick Sirianni, this role will better be defined as the Nyheim Hines role in the offense. We saw last year (RB20 according to Fantasy Pro’s), it can be extremely relevant for your fantasy teams. When you look at the three-year sample size we have with Sirianni as the Offensive Coordinator in Indianapolis you can see from the beginning that he valued a pass-catching back highly for the offense when they drafted Hines in the fourth round of 2018.
Since then Hines has averaged over 130 touches per season including the rollercoaster that was 2019 after Andrew Luck abruptly retired. Now reading this you might not think that 130 touches are worth that much but when you consider that 43% of those touches are receptions, sign me up for that potential in all PPR formats, please. So how can we project this to the Eagles roster moving forward? When you look at their RB room you start to see the similarities between what Sirianni helped build in Indy and what he has already started to build as HC now.
At the top, you have Miles Sanders who is locked into that 1st and 2nd down role and 12-15 touches per game, but what we are here for are those 3rd down dump-offs and draw plays in open space during passing situations. The Eagles could easily find themselves in the cellar of the NFC East and playing behind frequently so look out for extra passing volume for 2nd year QB Jalen Hurts and either Gainwell or Scott. Over the past two seasons veteran Boston Scott has filled into that pass-catching role admirably, however, in his first NFL Draft calling the shots with a roster that had plenty of holes across the board Sirianni drafted Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell in the 5th round.
Gainwell leading up to the draft was projected as some to be the best pass-catching running back in this year’s class over guys like Travis Etienne who went 25th overall, so you have to think that Sirianni saw the same potential that he did with Hines back in 2018. With the new regime showing a history of how much work the third-down back can get and incumbent Scott playing on a one year deal with no real ties to the organization, it is going to be imperative that he impresses early and often in camp or we can see Gainwell start creeping into a sneaky fantasy-relevant role in 2021 as a backend RB2 high-end RB3 in PPR formats.
Christian Kirk vs. Rondale Moore
After discussing two different backfield battles let’s turn our eye to an interesting Wide Receiver competition out in the Arizona desert. When most people think of the Cardinals they think of the great air raid, high tempo, “spread you out” offense that Kliff Kingsbury runs but last year that only produced 575 pass attempts which ranked them at just 15th in the NFL surprisingly. Taking into account a minimum of 150 of those attempts going to Deandre Hopkins we are left with just 425 targets for the rest of the offense. Adding newly signed veteran AJ Green to man the outside opposite Hopkins, we all of a sudden are left with just one more spot available in three-wide sets for either Kirk to continue to see the field or second-round pick Rondale Moore to crack the lineup consistently.
After this offseason played out, we saw nearly 150 targets vacated from the Cardinal’s offense that needs to be filled. With a healthy Green most likely taking about 80-90 and another 20 going to the backfield, we are left with about 40 vacant targets to distribute. It will be very important to monitor these two receivers going back in forth in Cardinals camp this summer. Christian Kirk, having been a second-round pick, has not turned into the alpha outside wide receiver that the Cardinals might have hoped.
Now Kirk enters the final year of his contract having seen them spend back-to-back second-round picks on potential replacements between Andy Isabella and now Rondale Moore. If either can capitalize (my money is on Moore) and impress in camp we can start to see Kirk’s grip on that slot role slip away and possibly create the potential for a 100 target season for the rookie out of Purdue. Pair this with the potential for Moore to get some gadget rushes and we could be looking at a weekly flex play with boom potential coming out of this offense and straight into your lineup.
Jameson Crowder vs. Elijah Moore
Our final camp battle takes us back east to examine the rebuilding “J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS” and their shiny new QB Zach Wilson. Everyone in the fantasy community knows Wilson will be starting under center but where we are going to look at is who the safety blanket over the middle of the field that all young quarterbacks need will be. For the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been an absolute target hog in this offense averaging over 100 targets even after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. With that being said though, we now see an again Crowder entering the final year of his contract (see a theme here yet?) and the Jets having jet spent essentially a late first on what projects to be a slot receiver in Elijah Moore at pick 34 of this year’s draft.
When you look at this Jets football team across the board they have a handful of interesting pieces on offense after bringing in Corey Davis in free agency and Denzel Mims in last years draft but both of those players are your typical outside perimeter receivers without the demand for targets that an alpha like Hopkins or Davante Adams would require. This leaves the Jets with the ability to spread the ball all over the field which, when you look at what OC Matt LaFleur did with San Francisco, is the perfect scheme fit for this personnel. Knowing this and pairing it with the fact that Crowder averaged 11.9 fantasy points per game in half-point PPR last year, good to tie him for WR 21 on the year, it becomes increasingly interesting who will be able to take over this slot receiver role for Zach Wilson and this offense.
One determining factor for this situation will be to monitor whether or not Crowder can stay on this roster by the start of the season as cutting him would save the team over 10 million in cap space while only carrying a one million dollar dead cap hit. Should the Jets keep Crowder I would advise staying away from this WR group unless you fall into bye week hell or someone such as Mims turns into that alpha X receiver for Wilson. However, should Crowder be cut, it’s “all systems go” for the explosive weapon that is Elijah Moore. You can look for him to put up flex-worthy or better numbers weekly with sole possession of that slot role.
So there you have it, four key roster battles to watch after the NFL Draft came and went. As we all know there will be plenty of other camp battles to monitor as we get close to the start of the season and teams look to finalize their regular season rosters so keep an eye out for more breakdowns throughout the offseason as you prepare!