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.
Here are a collection of players whose buzz caught my attention during the second week of training camp season across the NFL landscape.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
Since showing up to training camp 100 percent healthy, in his own words, the positive drumbeat around Chris Carson has been steady. Now, Carson is not exactly a sleeper and we all know that Pete Carroll and his band of merry men in Seattle are sunshine and rainbows at all times. So this is a bit different from many of our other cases in “Drumbeats Notebook.” However, Carson is still worth a gander because he feels quite overlooked at his low-end RB2 ADP.
In addition to health, one of the other positive notes singing out of Seahawks camp is the possibility of more passing game work for Carson. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made clear his desires to involve Carson more in the passing game. When making clear his plans, Schottenheimer described Carson’s abilities in detail: "He’s got unbelievable hands, and he’s a problem for people coming out of the backfield."
The Seahawks are one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. It’s a core tenant of their organizational structure. However, it would be wise to substitute some inefficient runs with short passes to both Carson and Rashaad Penny. Carson drew just 24 targets in 14 games last year. While he’s still a strong candidate to clear 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, a boost for his 11.6 yards per game average from 2018 would go a long way to improving his weekly floor.
What we need to see:
It appears as if Carson is clearly established with the first-team offense as the top back. Preseason showing is unlikely to reveal anything different. Coaches typically don’t want to tip their hand with play-calling tendencies or scheme in exhibition contests, either. So Schottenheimer may not provide us with many hints as to Carson’s passing down assignments. Seattle is historically problematic with the truth as it is.
So we may not get a ton more noise to build this drumbeat. Yet, the good news on Carson is already more than enough to justify his draft cost.
Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins
Washington has appeared to be an offense that we should all agree to just leave alone in 2019. The backfield is crowded and the passing game overall looks like one of the more undermanned units in the league.
And yet, value is value. As fantasy managers, if there is a late-round gem to mine with any sort of potential, we really can’t help ourselves. In the dregs of Washington’s passing game, it appears that one has emerged.
Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has earned steady praise from the coaching staff, per Kareem Copeland of The Washington Post. Copeland goes on to note McLaurin’s speed, hands, and special teams ability as traits that stand out. He also reports that the rookie is trying to make himself of use in the slot, flanker and X-receiver positions in an attempt to increase the odds he sees the field.
The Ringer’s Robert Mays noted on their most recent podcast that McLaurin’s words to the media already show he’s an advanced technician. Mays believes the rookie already sounds like a veteran receiver when it comes to understanding the savvy portions of the game.
Coach Jay Gruden admitted, “I didn’t know he was this good,” and called McLaurin one of the best players in camp. Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson are the theoretical starting outside receivers and it sounds like Trey Quinn is entrenched in the slot. However, McLaurin is making a strong case to get reps. He could usurp one of the outside veterans early in the season, if not sooner.
What we need to see
We have a bit of a two-parter here. Positive camp reports are nice but as usual, we want to see McLaurin crescendo this drumbeat into a reality in the preseason. Taking some reps with the first-team offense and making an impact would go a long way.
Additionally, we need Washington to not waste any time and have Dwayne Haskins as the Week 1 starter. Who knows what you’re trying to accomplish with Case Keenum or god forbid Colt McCoy out there for any significant stretch of time. Haskins would clearly take this passing offense up a notch with his ability to thread the needle at all levels of the field.
His first performance was a bit mixed but we saw enough positive signs to have hope. If he has a strong exhibition sequence, we’d only feel better about McLaurin (his former teammate) as a late-round flier. Even more intriguing, McLaurin dressed for the first preseason game but took just one snap — he was rested like a starter.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Avoiding rookie tight ends most years and avoiding the Detroit passing game in 2019 both seem like solid strategies. One player might be making enough noise to move us on both positions.
Detroit has shown us with their personnel and coaching moves, in addition to their public statements, that they want to be a run-first team. It’s unlikely we’re mining gold from Detroit’s aerial attack, despite Kenny Golladay’s hefty fantasy sticker price.
The other ascending young talent in the passing game, rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson, is challenging our assumptions. Tim Twentyman reported last week that the Top-10 draft pick was a fixture with the first-team offense all summer. That’s great news as it sets the unique Hockenson up to buck the trend of a slow NFL learning curve at his position. It makes sense given his advanced and diverse college profile.
Unlike Golladay, Hockenson is noticeably cheap in drafts. He goes outside the Top-12 tight ends and well into the double-digit rounds. The volume in Detroit is not going to offer a ton of bang on a weekly basis but this keeps him on the radar as a draft dart throw and in-season streamer.
What we need to see:
Hockenson was treated like a starter in the first week of the preseason. More of this treatment only hardens our belief. Watch the third preseason game to keep tabs on his individual performance.
Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots
You can’t look at the Patriots depth chart and not think, “Who the hell are they going to throw to?” We know New England will figure it out but this is one of the most barren pass-catching corps in the league beyond Julian Edelman and the running backs.
Similarly, you can’t read reports from Patriots camp and not wonder if Jakobi Meyers has a chance to be an answer to this query. Meyers has risen from the ranks of the undrafted to reportedly outplay first-round pick N’Keal Harry. Boston Sports Journal's Greg Bedard called Meyers Tom Brady’s favorite target in camp.
After drawing rave reviews in camp, Meyers did exactly what we want to see these drumbeat players do: Make it a reality in preseason. He caught six of his eight targets for 69 yards and a pair of scores. At the very least, Meyers might well have locked up a roster spot with this performance. If he’s on the Patriots Week 1 roster and has the trust of Brady, you can bet we will be talking about him in fantasy.
What we need to see:
Meyers just needs to keep doing what he’s doing: Earning the trust of his coaches and Hall of Fame quarterback with strong performances in camp. Turning that reliability into exhibition game production only hardens his case.
The other side of this coin comes with N’Keal Harry. Whatever the first rounder loses in chances, the UDFA gains. Harry has reportedly had a rough offseason and some theorize he’s buried in the rotation. Harry did haul in some patented contested catches in the first preseason game. If he starts rising, and he could at any moment, it’ll slow Meyers’ hype train.
-To no one’s surprise, it’s been all sunshine and rainbows out of Seattle when it comes to their rookie receiver. But D.K. Metcalf almost smacked the drum himself by coming inches away from a massive preseason debut. Metcalf continues to be a strong late-round flier with a steady offseason progression.
-Preston Williams had a strong preseason debut with 97 yards on five targets. He and Josh Rosen took their practice chemistry into “real” game action. Neither player is likely to be a Week 1 factor but Williams is worth knowing. There will be volume available in Miami and the players above him aren’t all running with a clean bill of health.
-Pat Shurmur may want us to “slow your roll” when it comes to a quarterback controversy but Daniel Jones made that difficult with a strong preseason debut. More performances like this are only going to make the drumbeat grow louder. Jones is a flawed player but might offer more sizzle than the wilting Manning at this stage. The preseason performance was more evidence to those who noted Jones’ live arm in comparison to Manning’s at this stage.
-Rookie receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd are surging as the offseason wears on. This comes as assumed top wideout Dante Pettis "has yet to consistently step up his game on the practice field,” according to NBC Sports' Matt Maiocco. It’s the early signals of a drumbeat but it is enough at this stage to give us pause when going to click on Pettis in the mid rounds.
-NFL.com's Amber Theoharis relayed that some inside the Steelers organization give rookie Diontae Johnson the edge over James Washington for the No. 3 receiver job. This serves two purposes. One, it’s more of a crescendo for Donte Moncrief. Also, whether this becomes a reality or not, it shows where Washington is at this point. He’s not a draftable player at this moment.
-Parris Campbell was inactive for the preseason opener. The Colts rookie needs to get back on the field to pick up on
the note he left off on when his drumbeat was building earlier in camp. More missed time with this hamstring injury will take him off our radar.