The George Kittle Conundrum

·8 min read



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Press conferences: They're either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nonetheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don't lie about players, coaches can't cover up every emotion or lean they have when they're asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away.

Now let's dig into the most important situations of the week -- we'll mainly be looking for fantasy-relevant players and their injuries or, in some cases, playing time. Week 1 didn't give us a lot of news because it's hard to really know the scope of injuries at this point. But let's look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 1 lineups.

The Ravens running back room

There have been some major spills in Baltimore in the lead-up to the season. J.K. Dobbins is questionable as he recovers from his ACL injury, but Lamar Jackson accidentally let loose that the Dobbins timeline may not be this week:

"Hopefully he'll be out in a couple of weeks," is a very interesting timetable to posit to the question "How good does [Dobbins] look to you on the field?" That was the first tell that this situation has probably shifted away from Dobbins this week. Another was when Greg Roman was asked if Kenyan Drake could empathize with Dobbins and said "And any time you have a guy that's been through what [they're] going through, and he can offer that shoulder, that wisdom, of having been there and done that, that's always positive, and that's the kind of guy Kenyan is." That answer to that question paints the injury timeline for Dobbins as ongoing rather than completed. The most encouraging thing you can see from a guy with an injury is that they come to the podium during the week -- there's no upside in dragging up a guy with an ongoing injury. Dobbins did not step to the podium at all, nor did he give a side interview that was caught by the Ravens' in-house people. (Marcus Peters, however, did. Ronnie Stanley? Did not.)

There are a couple of media leans that would suggest that Kenyan Drake would be the preferred back. One of them was when Ian Rapoport up and said that Drake was the "de facto" starting running back (hat tip to Josh Norris), which was buried in here:

Another is that the only question that the beat reporters asked Roman Thursday was about Drake. You might be thinking "why does this matter?" -- remember that beat reporters can't report everything they know publicly, but that you can read into what they believe will happen by the questions. Beat reporters don't ask questions about people they don't believe will matter -- that's a waste of their time. There were no questions about Mike Davis. There were two about Drake.

So does this make you want to play Kenyan Drake in DFS or as a low-end FLEX? It's honestly not the boldest contrarian play I've ever thought about. The Jets look to have an improved front on paper, and the Ravens run game wasn't great last year. But the Jets have been game-scripted many times and Joe Flacco isn't good. If you're going to start a Ravens back, I'd definitely lean Drake based on what we know now.

All the right words about Michael Gallup

While Michael Gallup didn't get cleared to play this week and was ruled out on Friday, the week could not have gone better for Gallup as he recovered from his ACL tear. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was effusive with his praise for the receiver and even went as far as to say that he'd be open to playing him if he practiced, which he did. Friday's appearance from McCarthy was more of the same:

This isn't great news for this week, of course, but the drumbeat around Gallup's recovery is strong and it's absolutely possible he could be ready to get his feet wet in Week 2. I still wouldn't recommend playing him at that point outside of desperation/contrarian scenarios because, well, that's a ton of risk for a guy who very well could play on a snap count. But what that eventually ends up meaning is that Gallup could be trusted by Week 3 or Week 4 in lineups. And considering that we'd heard at times that he might not even be back before Week 3 or Week 4, this has the look of a situation where Gallup is slightly ahead of schedule.

The one cautionary tale I'd throw out there for this is that every bit of optimism is coming from the team at this point. Stephen Jones told a radio station that Gallup would be back "sooner than most people think," for instance. Building the whole plane out of Cowboys sources is a little dangerous. But that is backed as far as we can see in actions -- if the Cowboys were worried that Gallup would miss real time, I think they would have been a little more interested in signing another wideout, right? They wouldn't walk into Sunday Night Football on opening night, with Jalen Tolbert reportedly not looking quite ready for primetime, trying to feed Noah Brown if they thought it would be a long-term situation. That wouldn't make any sense.

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Can Chris Godwin's ACL take an NFL pounding on Sunday?

All the practice participation in the world hasn't been able to save Chris Godwin (ACL) from a questionable tag. The issue divides neatly into two parts: One is that he's wearing a non-contact jersey at these practices -- even if he has shed the knee brace -- and the other is that even if he wasn't, they can't simulate how his body will respond to an actual NFL pounding in practice. The most direct questioning of Bucs coach Todd Bowles on the issue was from Rick Stroud's account on Thursday:

"Until you get hit down there, no one really knows," Bowles said. While they've left this to be a game-time decision, my personal belief from reading the quotes and watching the interviews all week is that this is a simple matter of gamesmanship. Godwin did speak this week, but not through the actual Buccaneers PR staff -- he went on a podcast called In The Moment and shared his perspective:

"It's all going to come down to feel," Godwin started before talking about playing through injury. But he quickly responded to a question about if it matters that he's there in Week 1 with "I don't think it matters. In the grand scheme of things I don't think it matters that much." Bowles only offered a quick "it'll come up to game time" at his Friday availability, and even that was an answer that was kind of guided by the question -- which was (paraphrasing) "will Chris come up to game time?"

Godwin coming off PUP in training camp as early as he did always felt hard to read -- the Julio Jones addition spoke loudly that the Bucs might need more receivers early, and then out of nowhere Godwin was on the practice field. But all practices aren't the same, and based on comments from both Bowles and Godwin, you probably can't trust him in Week 1. There was still much more talk about the process of getting Godwin healthy mentally and for the long haul rather than what Sunday would look like.

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George Kittle and the groin injury

I can forgive you if you had whiplash following the George Kittle saga this week. There was the surprise of him not practicing initially on Tuesday, and that gave way to Aaron Wilson's harrowing report that noted that the injury might be serious enough to keep him out for multiple weeks, describing it as a Grade 2 strain. It apparently originally happened on Monday. And then, Friday afternoon, Kittle drew a questionable tag on the injury report.

Kyle Shanahan's press conference involved him directly being asked about Kittle and leaving with a sh*t-eating grin:

Not exactly the most eloquent question, but the smile is an interesting one for the body language doctors. Shanahan did mention that he was glad they kept four tight ends on the initial roster -- something they haven't normally done -- in case Kittle sat. The other known news is that Kittle did briefly meet with reporters in the locker room and discuss his status, which is something that would push me more towards the idea that he might try to play. We, unfortunately, don't have video of this:

The bottom line is that for most tight ends this would probably be a no-go, but Kittle's pain tolerance has been proven to be strong over his years in the NFL. It would help if he had a second gear as a receiver, yes, as it was discussed in Wilson's piece on his injury. But he probably doesn't need it to be a factor as a run blocker. There are ways that Kittle can play and still help the team.

Those are probably not ways that you care about in fantasy football, though. Even if he does play and have a good game, he's likely to be targeted less, less explosive, and so on. He'll be more of a touchdown-dependent low TE1, someone you'd replace if you had the option to. I am less certain of my read on him here than I am of any other player in the column, but that's only because I have a lot of respect for his ability to play through pain.