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The Chiefs wide receiver group has been one of the key storylines to track during training camp, with the absence of Tyreek Hill and a bunch of new faces fighting for the opportunity to earn a significant chunk of targets from Patrick Mahomes. One player who hasn’t been able to make much headway over the past week-plus is JuJu Smith Schuster, who has been sidelined by a knee injury.
Smith-Schuster is still not at practice Monday and he has missed each of the team’s two preseason games as a result of the injury as well. It isn’t considered a serious issue at this point, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters last week there’s a “good chance” Smith-Schuster would return to practice this week. That hasn’t happened yet, at least, and he’s missing opportunities to lock himself in as Mahomes’ top target among the wide receivers.
And that’s what Fantasy players are expecting from Smith-Schuster, who is going off the board in the fifth round of NFC drafts over the past week. That puts him well ahead of the non-Travis Kelce pass-catchers in this offense, with Skyy Moore at 100.54 in ADP while Marquez Valdes-Scantling is at 124.77 and Mecole Hardman is all the way down at 147.02. I’m not moving Smith-Schuster down in my rankings because of this just yet, but I’d sure like to see him back on the field before long.
One player who hasn’t benefited from Smith-Schuster’s absence is Moore, who was a clear third on the team’s WR hierarchy in preseason Week 2 – he was one of the biggest losers of the week, in my view. There’s still plenty to like about Moore and his potential path to playing time, but the hope that he would be an immediate contributor looks like a long shot at this point. If you’re drafting him, you’ll need to be patient early on.
Here’s the other news from Monday around the NFL you need to know about.
It’s surprising because of what the Raiders invested in him – $11 million total, including a pretty sizeable dead cap hit for this season with his release – but that was a decision made by the prior leadership group, and Drake has been the clear fourth running back on the depth chart in the preseason. This seemingly clears Ameer Abdullah up to be the primary pass-catching back in this offense, which makes him a viable late-round target given how often Josh McDaniels’ offenses targets running backs in New England. It also clears a path for Zamir White to have a game day role. He’ll be the backup to Josh Jacobs, in all likelihood, but should see some touches early on and could be the lead back if anything happens to Jacobs – or if the coaching staff decides they want a look. Like Drake, the new decision makers in Las Vegas didn’t bring Jacobs in and have no long-term commitment to him after turning down his fifth-year option for next season. White remains a great late-round target as a sleeper.
That’s what we expected when they traded for Mayfield, but they still went through the motions of a “competition” with Sam Darnold. As I wrote when the Panthers acquired Mayfield, Mayfield should be a significant upgrade for the Panthers’ offense even if he isn’t particularly good himself – that’s just how bad things have been there since Cam Newton‘s peak and subsequent decline. Mayfield had 7.2 yards per attempt last season, in a season pretty much everyone agrees was a disaster; Darnold’s career mark is 6.5. Since D.J. Moore entered the league in 2018, the Panthers have had one season with more than 17 touchdown passes, and their overall touchdown rate is just 3.2%, compared to Mayfield’s 4.8% mark for his career. This news didn’t come as any kind of surprise, but it’s still nice to get confirmation.
Spiller left Sunday’s preseason game with an ankle injury and will miss the preseason finale, with coach Brandon Staley acknowledging “there’s a chance” he’ll miss the season opener against the Raiders. Spiller was hoping to push to be the primary backup to Austin Ekeler in camp, but he’s been consistently running behind Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree for that job. It looks like Kelley is going to open the season as Ekeler’s backup and primary complement, which makes him a viable late-round sleeper – there is significant upside for the lead back in this offense if something happens to Ekeler, as Justin Jackson showed in averaging 18.8 points in five games with a snap share higher than 40% since 2018.
It’s not clear why Brady was absent – vague personal reasons, anonymous sources, and Reddit sleuthing aside – but he was back at Bucs training camp Monday. His absence was strange, but there was never any indication that the team was worried he wouldn’t be back for the start of the season, and now he’s got more than two weeks to make sure he’s back to full speed. The Bucs have dealt with a lot of injuries during camp, including two prospective starters on the offensive line, but as long as Brady has his weapons, I’m not gonna bet against him. This should remain one of the most productive passing games in the league.
Evans has been out for nearly two weeks with a hamstring injury, but it was never considered a particularly serious issue, and this confirms it. Evans has an opportunity to carve out a bigger target share than usual early in the season if Chris Godwin isn’t 100% coming off his torn ACL, and he’s a viable WR1 (or excellent WR2) in drafts right now.
Thomas is working his way back from a torn ACL and there’s still no guarantee he’ll be ready for Week 1, but this is a good sign. He was the No. 4 tight end in Fantasy in 2020 and could be a worthwhile late-round target as a sleeper if he’s healthy for the start of the season, especially if you’re a believer in Carson Wentz. I have Thomas ranked as a top-20 option at the position, but I’m probably not drafting him in most leagues.
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Fantasy Football injuries, news and notes: JuJu Smith-Schuster dealing with knee injury, Kenyan Drake released – CBS Sports