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 ones we’ll need to track closely.
Here are a collection of players whose buzz caught my attention during the second week of training camp season across the NFL landscape.
D'Onta Foreman, Houston Texans
July has been a good month for third-year running back D’Onta Foreman. After looking like a keeper in his rookie season back in 2017 before suffering a torn Achilles, Foreman spent essentially all of 2018 on the shelf. The injury is one from which running backs rarely make it all the way back. Yet, the buzz out of Houston holds that Foreman looks like he’s ready to try and beat the odds.
The good news started in early July when running backs coach declared Foreman was light years ahead of where he was this time last year. Since Foreman had just one carry in 2018, that’s a solid start, but it didn’t end there. Head coach Bill O'Brien shared his high expectations for the back when he shared that he believed Foreman has “a chance to be a really good football player.” The drumbeat has been building for Foreman to compete in this backfield since he showed up in great shape to minicamps.
A word of caution: After he threw praise on Foreman earlier in the week, Bill O’Brien perhaps felt the need to keep a carrot dangled. He declared the No. 2 running back job “wide open” this week. Foreman is the odds-on favorite but that does indicate that, for now, Foreman is a handcuff and upside gamble, not a player with standalone fantasy value. As it stands, I have Foreman projected for 134 carries to Lamar Miller’s 185, making him more of a nuisance to those who draft the latter and a pure stash than anything else.
What we need to see:
Beyond a clean bill of health from Foreman all the way up until Week 1, we need to see him clearly battling for the starting gig, not competing for the No. 2 job. Make sure to track him in the preseason. If he’s running with Deshaun Watson in the backfield, you know you have a sleeper on your hands. Time spent with the backups exclusively would indicate Miller still has this backfield locked-up in mediocrity.
Miles Boykin, Baltimore Ravens
After missing some time in the minicamp portion of the offseason, Miles Boykin is on an early hot run in training camp. He wowed multiple beat writers like Jamison Hensley of ESPN who noted he was having a “fantastic start.” With the caveat, it was early and fellow rookie Marquise Brown not in the mix, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec relayed that Boykin was the "most productive and impressive receiver."
With Marquise Brown now practicing, perhaps Boykin loses some of the shine in the coming weeks. But this is notable. Boykin was an excellent college prospect, whom I believe compared favorably to Kenny Golladay. Baltimore isn’t expected to be a particularly voluminous passing game but they spent two Top-100 picks at wideout for a reason; they desperately need help at this position. If Boykin does away with the likes of Chris Moore for playing time along with Brown and Willie Snead, he will be worth an extremely late-round dart throw.
What we need to see:
Since Baltimore will push for the basement in terms of pass attempts, we really need to see Boykin clearly with the first team for him to even be on the fantasy radar. He needs to be a clear starter in camp. We will need to witness almost all of his routes in preseason take place with Lamar Jackson on the field. The margin for error with a Ravens receiver is razor-thin. At least Boykin is building something for the future and perhaps this year.
A few draft takes I feel strongly about with the WR class and no these are not necessarily rankings...
Best film among the big WRs: Miles Boykin
Best film among the non big WRs: Marquise Brown
Prospect I feel most confident in finding success: A.J. Brown
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) April 17, 2019
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Back in June, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe relayed that it was his belief that rookie runner Damien Harris could find himself in a “prominent role.” Howe was back this week to note that Harris is demonstrating real ability as a receiver in the flats and this was "another trait that could make Harris a three-down player."
Harris hype began when Sony Michel was absent from the OTA portion of the offseason. Michel spent a short stint on the active/PUP list at the start of training camp but is officially cleared now. Unofficially, Howe notes that the Patriots are "really taking it easy" on the 2018 first-round back.
The 2019 NFL Draft represented the second-straight year that New England spent a Top-100 pick on a running back. That alone was enough reason to assume they were worried about Michel and loved what Harris could bring to the table. Everything that’s happened since then would only seem to lend credence to both concepts.
What we need to see:
Sadly, any more negativity on Michel’s outlook is a boost to Harris. More news on the former is needed to paint the projection for the latter.
Harris can continue to make this a split backfield, at the least, by his own merit too. Continued sizzle in training camp is nice but a few big preseason runs and this could get far more interesting. For the time being, the rookie looks as appealing a running back selection as you’ll find after Round 8.
Jordan Howard, Philadephia Eagles
We got some mixed notes on the status of the Eagles backfield this week. Some observers were gushing at Miles Sanders’ performance in his return from a small injury. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, 94 WIP's Eliot Shorr-Parks said that it was Jordan Howard who dominated carries with the first-team offense. In his own words, there was “not even a close second.”
Howard running as the top back isn’t a surprise at this stage. He’s the veteran and Sanders wasn’t healthy all offseason. It’s hard to deny that the rookie is the more complete player or at least profiles as such. Howard looks to be staving off his inevitable takeover, which is a big development.
Howard is cheap (RB37 - Round 7) and would have good weekly upside as a touchdown threat. Should these reports continue, we might be looking at a strong early fall performance from Howard.
What we need to see:
For as much as Howard may shine in camp, the workload is more important. Snaps and touches with the first-string offense in preseason will be a key deciding factor. If we see any goal-line situations, it’s Howard who could be out there.
Sanders can also throw a wrench in this machine, as well. Even in a scenario where he’s running with the backups, Sanders looking great in the preseason will only further his cause to get more touches.
There are many ways a Howard selection could turn out to be one wasted. At the very least, he profiles as someone who could get off to a hot start and begin to depreciate in value after September.
Rookie Receiver Roundup
Hunter Renfrow, Oakland Raiders - The Athletic's Vic Tafur reports Hunter Renfrow "dusted" Ryan Grant in the duel for the Raiders’ slot receiver gig. Renfrow is a fifth-round rookie who profiles as your classic quick-twitch, short-area inside-receiver. It’s no surprise he’s found success in this role, even if it’s early. Renfrow was building buzz all throughout the offseason, so the drumbeat here is steady.
It may not be the most fantasy viable job but it looks like he’s going to be the one to step up and fill the massive gap between Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, and the rest of the Oakland receivers.
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts - The rookie receiver caught head coach Frank Reich’s attention this week. Reich told the media after Campbell had a strong day in scoring position, "What he did in the red zone weren’t hybrid, gadget, slot receiver type plays. They were legit, NFL, I’m going to be a stud receiver plays.”
We’ve seen players come out of Ohio State in the last few years and quickly grow outside of the roles Urban Meyer’s coaching staff pigeon-holed them in. Perhaps Campbell is next. There is a good amount of opportunity in the Colts passing offense, a unit I project to lead the NFL in attempts. It is worth noting Campbell missed multiple days of practice with a hamstring injury after he earned that praise, which means Funchess is still ahead of him.
KeeSean Johnson, Arizona Cardinals - The Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim brain trust drafted three receivers this spring. While Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler had more draftnik fans and went ahead of him, it’s been KeeSean Johnson with the early edge in camp, per multiple observers.
The sixth-round rookie “continues to shine,” according to Mike Jurecki of the Cardinals' official website. ESPN's Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss has seen enough to predict that Johnson will start 2019 as the third receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Arizona will be chucking the rock a ton this year, so whoever fills in the backend of this receiver corps will be on our radars.