Fantasy Drumbeats 5.0: Checking in on Kyler Murray, Kalen Ballage and more

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The NFL training camp and preseason portion of the year is long and full of terrors. Player value is set as we head into August fantasy drafts but often, nothing is as it seems. It’s important to follow what I refer to as “The Drumbeat” on possible draft ascenders.

Here in this weekly notebook, we’ll check in on the drumbeats building or fading for a handful of players the fantasy community is excited about. These players will be ones with a shot to shoot up draft boards, but the ones we’ll need to track closely.

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In Drumbeats Notebook 5.0, we’re going to take some time to check back in on the tempo of a few players we’ve covered in previous editions. We’ll also look into a couple of new names. Remember, this is all about tracking progress through all parts of the action heading into Week 1. So these updates are key.

Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

After a steady crescendo of positivity from Cardinals camp on Kyler Murray, the stick went through the snare in his second preseason game. The Arizona offense looked overwhelmed, non-functional and lost against Oakland. Some in the fantasy realm are in full panic-mode, but this is a good time for a reminder: We’re using the preseason to monitor usage and deployment — not performance.

The panic over Murray reminds me a bit of Cam Newton’s rookie year:

Newton wasn’t the only dynamic quarterback to struggle in exhibition games. We just did this two years ago with Deshaun Watson. Even RGIII looked middling and Washington went out in an offense that didn’t resemble anything like the progressive, RPO-heavy scheme it threw out in Week 1.

We know all those passers went on to tear it up their rookie year. It remains to be seen what happens with Murray but keep in mind these play-callers often are more concerned with not tipping their hand in the preseason than dusting backup defenses.

Donte Moncrief, Pittsburgh Steelers

The longer camp went on, the more it seemed the No. 2 receiver job in Pittsburgh officially belonged to Donte Moncrief. James Washington drew mixed reviews and reportedly had some in the building rooting for Diontae Johnson over him for the No. 3 gig. Just the fact that a pair of Day 3 draft picks were competing for scraps behind Moncrief showed what type of strong offseason it has been for the veteran receiver.

James Washington turned it on in the Steelers preseason opener, however, laying a deep catch and a score on the moribund Buccaneers defense. It’s worth remembering that Washington also shined in exhibition games last year before offering a miserable regular season. Perhaps the second-year wideout could make a late run at Moncrief but that’s the less likely scenario right now. Washington was a good prospect coming out but wouldn’t be the first receiver who only lined up on one side of the field in college to take a while to find his groove.

As of August 16, Moncrief should be the presumed second Steelers receiver. That puts him in line for a strong role in a good offense. He’s a Top-50 fantasy asset at the position. Washington is a fine late-round flier with the volume of air yards up for grabs in the wake of Antonio Brown’s departure.

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

The drumbeat has only increased for Royce Freeman since we first checked in on him for Drumbeats Notebook 1.0. Phillip Lindsay has been a full participant at training camp but it hasn’t stemmed the talk of Freeman being a big part of this backfield. Yahoo’s own Charles Robinson reported that the Broncos “are hoping to finally establish the true split-touch situation that they envisioned between Freeman and Phillip Lindsay last season.” According to Robinson, that plan is “fully on track,” in the eyes of the team brass.

With both backs looking like they could crack 150 carries, it’s just smarter to take the cheaper one. Freeman has not lost steam and can be had after the seventh round.

Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones continues to get praise from Bruce Arians but is not the starter. Peyton Barber started the Buccaneers preseason opener and saw more first-team work. It looks like this backfield is still in open competition. Jones needs to make more plays in the preseason to push his way to the top spot on the depth chart.

As it stands, neither of these backs is much more than a fantasy flier. No Bucs runner found their way into the Top-40 in my running back tiers.

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions

Kerryon Johnson saw nothing but W’s since he was covered in Drumbeats Notebook 2.0. Pass-catching utility back Theo Riddick was cut mere hours after that piece went live. It looks like we’re going to get a full-sized feature workload for Johnson in his second season. We’d still like to see how they roll him out in future exhibition games but all signs are good thus far. He’s crept into the RB1 range in ADP and it’s hard to make a list of factors going against him right now.

Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Since we last covered Kalen Ballage in Drumbeats Notebook 2.0, the drumbeat has only grown louder that the Dolphins backfield will be an even timeshare. There might not be a beat that loves their team’s offensive players more than the Miami group. Nevertheless, Ballage has drawn steady praise from practice and continues to get first-team reps, which matters more.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Ballage got another stock boost in the form of Kenyan Drake’s foot injury. The issue could stretch into Week 1 but Ballage will be the starter until then. He needs the extra time to impress. Despite the positivity from camp, Drake still out-snapped his cohort with the first team in the preseason opener, nine to four.

Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers

All signs pointed to Tevin Coleman being the lead back in San Francisco heading into training camp. That has only become more clear. The team’s 2018 free agent prize, Jerick McKinnon, looks like he will open the season on Injured Reserve. The 49ers goofed by letting him go through one light practice and now cannot place him on the PUP.

With McKinnon shelved for at least eight weeks, it constricts the backfield just to Coleman and Matt Breida. Even if Breida is the superior pure runner, which I believe to be the case, Coleman brings enough juice as a runner and receiver to be worth his mid-round cost. Both 49ers backs should be on your radar.

D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

He got cut like the day after I posted Drumbeats 3.0. He’s with the Colts now. Neat. Don’t draft him anymore.

Miles Boykin, Baltimore Ravens

Miles Boykin continues to do exactly what you want in these drumbeat players. Not only does he continue to make plays in practice but he’s translated that to the real games. Boykin didn’t record a catch in his second preseason game but drew a target from Lamar Jackson with the first-team offense.

By no means does he have a starting gig locked but with the dearth of outside weapons in Baltimore, Boykin has a shot to earn that job before long. The Ravens will be far from a voluminous passing game but Boykin is good and his vertical skills make him a fine end-of-draft best ball flier.

Quick hits on new names

Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens

The star of the Ravens second preseason game, Justice Hill made his presence felt against the Packers. Kenneth Dixon was the second man in behind Mark Ingram, so Hill might not have the backup job locked down. However, his explosiveness would look quite good next to Lamar Jackson in this offense. It will be important to track Hill’s usage in he third week of the preseason and monitor whether this performance earned him a promotion. He’s still one of my favorite late-round stashes.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

We covered Jordan Howard in a prior edition of Drumbeats Notebook and posited that the day may well come that Miles Sanders usurps him. That day might be here. The rookie back looked the part against the Jaguars in Week 2 of the preseason. He ripped off a few 10-plus yard gains all while playing next to a quickly eroding quarterback spot.

NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt came away from the game thinking, "Increasingly hard to project Sanders as anything less than this team’s No. 1 running back." Howard is still a factor but the drumbeat is getting deafening for Sanders. He’s running with the first-team in practice and showing out. As a talented player on what could be one of the NFL’s best offenses, he’s well worth a mid-round dart throw. Even if Howard makes things frustrating, it looks like Sanders will lead this team in touches.

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