What matters in training camp? There are some who will tell you nothing matters – that it's "silly season" and you're best off ignoring everything you heard during training camp.
This is my 12th season writing about Fantasy Football professionally and third doing a daily newsletter, so I think I'm qualified to say that, while a lot doesn't matter during this time of the year, you're doing yourself a disservice if you just ignore everything. It's not a question of whether training camp and the preseason matter; it's about figuring out what matters and filtering out everything else.
In tomorrow's Fantasy Football Today Newsletter, I'm going to give you my updated rankings for every position along with my thoughts on some of the key players, but just know, those rankings remain subject to change, and stuff we hear about in training camp and see during preseason action will surely play a part.
But not everything will change how I view a player. In today's newsletter, I'm going to give you a quick guide to figuring out what you should actually be looking out for at this time of the year and what you can ignore. Then, we're going to go through all of the news I think you actually do need to know about from the first few days of training camp.
What matters in training camp?
The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to training camp is that most of what we're hearing about comes from second-hand sources, at best. Many teams now have policies restricting what media members can actually report, often including details like who is lining up in which formations, alongside which players, in which situations. I'm not exaggerating. Here's an aside The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue included in her writeup of Tuesday's Rams practice session:
"Media members cannot report on schemes or the depth chart unless addressing it directly with a coach/player in an interview."
The problem is that's probably the most valuable information we could possibly hope to gain from training camp reports. Depth charts are fluid, especially early in camp, but if we learned that, say, Rhamondre Stevenson was dominating first-team reps ahead of Damien Harris, that would be a sign that Stevenson might be worth moving up your draft boards.
Which is to say: Focus on things that have some concrete value. While it's nice to know that Isaiah McKenzie has been playing well during early practice, he's doing that in individual drills and in non-contact situations while Jamison Crowder is missing. File that information in the back of your head in case McKenzie comes out during the preseason as the primary slot option with the first-team offense, but you should probably otherwise ignore proclamations from beat writers about who "looks good."
That applies to position battles, too. Zack Moss has been the subject of write ups from Bills beat writers in recent days, but the only detail I care about is this one, from The Athletic: "Moss receiving ample time working with Allen through the first two practices shows he isn't as far behind as some might think."
We don't care if they think Moss looks faster, or more confident, as a pass-catcher. We care that the Bills are, at least early on in camp, incorporating him into the RB rotation with the first-team offense. It doesn't mean Moss will have a role on game days – the Bills have rarely had three true running backs active in recent years – but it does mean that what was already an ambiguous situation between Devin Singletary and James Cook might be even messier. I'm not moving Singletary or Cook down, but I'm going to remain skeptical about an RB split in an offense that hasn't produced a lot of Fantasy value for running backs in recent years.
Injuries often matter during training camp, though it's important to remember that, for most veterans, at least, the primary goal is to get through camp healthy. Some injuries linger and spoil whole seasons – I had Curtis Samuel on so many of my teams last season, and he was just never healthy from an offseason injury. But don't forget about the borderline panic when the Colts lost Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson to nearly identical foot surgeries around this time last year. Both ended up making it back in time for Week 1, and obviously Jonathan Taylor ended up the No. 1 RB in Fantasy. Getting there by Week 1 is the most important thing most of the time.
However, rookies are a different story. Missing early reps in your first training camp isn't a guarantee of struggles, but I generally take them as a sign that I need to remember to be even more patient than usual. I like Christian Watson's upside, but he's opening camp on the PUP list, and if that lingers for more than a few days, it'll definitely be harder to include him in that late-round upside range of wide receivers – especially given how long it can take to gain Aaron Rodgers' trust in Green Bay. I'll still potentially draft him, but I'll do so knowing that an early impact is unlikely.
The biggest lesson when it comes to training camp news is just to not overreact. Your priors should take more than just a vaguely worded report or grainy highlight video in one-on-ones to shake. But, once you know what to look for, it becomes easier to separate the signal from the noise. And hey, that's what this newsletter is here to help you with.
Now, let's get on with the news that maybe matters from the first few days of camp.
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Injuries, news and notes
This weekend should get us our first round of depth chart notes and coach quotes to sink our teeth into as teams ramp up practice effort and start to put pads on. But here's what you need to know about as of now:
Deebo Samuel reported to camp
Samuel reportedly demanded a trade in the offseason and is still working with the 49ers on an extension, so don't be surprised if he's not involved much early on. The more interesting thing to come out regarding Samuel on Tuesday was coach Kyle Shanahan telling reporters he and Samuel are "on the same page" regarding Samuel's role. Samuel was reportedly unhappy about being used as a true running back late last season, though it's not clear if the understanding he and Shanahan came to involves the 49ers limiting that role for him. If Samuel isn't used out of the backfield, the path for him to live up to his WR7 price tag becomes a very narrow one in what figures to be one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league. If you buy him at that price you're betting an awful lot on Trey Lance hitting the ground running, which is no sure thing. He's one of the biggest make-or-break players in the league this season.
Leonard Fournette's conditioning seems to be a non-issue
Fournette's shape was the subject of a lot of jokes and more than a little consternation when he showed up to minicamps overweight, but all signs indicate that he's slimmed back down to his playing weight or close enough that Bucs coach Todd Bowles told reporters "as far as running the ball and playing in games, he can play right now." Fournette's weight earlier in the offseason is an example of a story that ultimately didn't matter.
Gus Edwards is in question for Week 1
Because J.K. Dobbins' injury was a bit more complicated, I thought he might be a bit behind Edwards even though his injury occurred earlier, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't give specific timetables for either, reports indicate that Edwards is "questionable" for Week 1, something we haven't heard from Dobbins. In fact, Dobbins recently tweeted, "I'm damn sure going to be ready for Week 1."
- Kyler Murray is being paid to study – Murray's massive new extension includes a curious provision that requires him to spend four hours per week during the season doing independent study to prep for games. I don't think this actually matters, but it did lead the Washington Post to discover that Murray's Fantasy production has declined by 23% after the release of the annual Call of Duty title. And hey, same, Kyler – there have been more than a few instances where I've gone to bed at 5 am when I finished this newsletter at 1 am because I switched over Warzone or Civilization VI. Professional athletes – they're just like us!
- A Jimmy Garoppolo trade remains a seeming inevitability – Garoppolo reported to camp and has been cleared after offseason shoulder surgery, with coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledging he likely would already have been traded if not for the injury. There's still a chance he upgrades the Seahawks QB situation, at least, though there aren't many obvious spots for him otherwise.
- Joe Burrow is having his appendix removed – He'll miss some practice time, but there's no reason to think this will have any impact on his availability when it counts.
- The Rams will limit Matthew Stafford's reps in camp – Stafford is coming off elbow surgery, but it isn't expected to limit him at all once the games start. He remains a low-end, rock-steady QB1.
- Geno Smith and Drew Lock will split QB1 reps – Smith got the first reps in practice, but Lock will likely alternate days as the QB1, similar to how he did in Denver last year with Teddy Bridgewater. In that instance, Lock was the incumbent who got the first reps, but he ultimately ended up losing the battle to Bridgewater. I'm expecting Lock to end up the winner here, but neither he nor Smith does much to excite me. I'm very scared of that offense.
- Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold will split QB1 reps – This certainly feels like giving Darnold, the incumbent, the benefit of making it an open competition, but it's a competition I fully expect Mayfield to run away with. If he doesn't … well, maybe Darnold finally made a big leap, but I think it would bode very poorly for the Panthers offense if Mayfield wasn't able to beat out Darnold.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire opened camp on the PUP list ... and was activated the next day – It's not even clear what the issue was, but it seems safe to assume it's of little concern. He'll face competition from Ronald Jones in camp, and the expectation of a split has driven CEH down draft boards. I wouldn't target him as a starter, at the very least.
- Raheem Mostert (knee) has been cleared for the start of camp – That's what Mostert tweeted earlier this week, at least. He has experience in the offense Mike McDaniel is porting over from San Francisco and has been a difference maker with his speed, but has also had a lot of trouble holding up to regular usage. He has some appeal as a potential short-term option for Fantasy in the later rounds if he's healthy.
- The Saints signed Malcolm Brown – This figures to be just a depth signing, but it's noteworthy given the questions surrounding Alvin Kamara's off-field issues. A suspension seems likely; the question is whether that is going to come this season or next.
- Zamir White has missed three straight practices – It's not clear what is going on with White, who I included in my recent sleepers column as a potential late-round target if the Raiders sour on Josh Jacobs. However, missing time in your first training camp is always a concern for rookies, so I'm tempering expectations until I see him out there and getting first-team reps.
- The Ravens signed Corey Clement – With both Edwards and Dobbins opening on the PUP list while recovering from their torn ACLs, it's not surprising to see the Ravens bringing in some depth. Mike Davis is also here, as is rookie Tyler Badie, but we'll wait a few weeks before looking at which of the backups to consider drafting in the event Dobbins and Edwards aren't ready.
- The Steelers signed Jeremy McNichols. He'll provide a pass-catching option on the depth chart but shouldn't see the field much if Najee Harris is healthy.
- DK Metcalf and Diontae Johnson are sitting out practice – It seems this is more about both players looking for new contracts than anything else. While they are both missing early reps with new starting quarterbacks, I don't expect this to linger long enough that I'll be concerned about drafting either – at least not because of this. Their QB situations are question enough.
- Marquise Brown (hamstring) was placed on the active/NFI list – Brown has had his troubles staying healthy in the NFL, and this is his first camp with a new offense, so this is certainly less than ideal. It's too early to really worry, but hopefully we're talking about an absence of days and not weeks – hamstring injuries can be tricky like that.
- Sammy Watkins is on the active/NFI list – It's not clear what the issue is, but – stop me if you've heard this one before – it's not expected to be a significant issue. Watkins has had a lot of trouble staying healthy, and while it's possible he could be a difference maker catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, nobody is really betting on it at this point.
- Sterling Shepard (Achilles) is on the PUP list – Shepard is coming back from a ruptured Achilles in late December, so it's not unrealistic for him to be cleared by Week 1, however how good he'll be is a big question mark. I'm filing him behind Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay in the Giants pass-catching hierarchy, and possibly behind Saquon Barkley, at least until we see him at full speed.
- Titans coach Mike Vrabel doesn't expect Treylon Burks to be limited in camp – Burks was having conditioning issues in minicamp but passed the team's conditioning workouts and will be a full-go for training camp. He has a chance to lock in a starting wide receiver spot and has the physical tools to be the A.J. Brown replacement they need after trading him to the Eagles.
- KJ Hamler (ACL/hip) is on the PUP list – Hamler might have some sleeper appeal even in a deep Broncos receiving corps if he could get healthy, but that's been a persistent issue through his career.
- Mike Strachan had knee surgery – I liked him as a deep sleeper for the Colts at wide receiver, but this pretty much takes him off the board, even if he's expected to be back on the field by the end of training camp. Keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, the Colts are still considering signing the 33-year-old T.Y. Hilton, per GM Chris Ballard.
- The Dolphins signed Mohamed Sanu – It would be a huge surprise if Sanu was even a starter for the Dolphins, let alone a Fantasy relevant one.
- Justyn Ross (foot) was placed on IR, ending his season – Ross was a 1,000-yard receiver as a freshman at Clemson, but injuries have been a serious issue since. He remains a deep, deep long-term target for Dynasty leagues.
- Chiefs LT Orlando Brown is not reporting to camp – Brown was given a franchise tag but hasn't signed it, and it's possible his absence could last into the season. That's less than ideal given how important Brown is to this line, though it's probably not enough to consider downgrading this offense just yet.
- Roquan Smith will skip training camp – Smith is waiting for a contract extension offer heading into his fifth-year option season, and he is reportedly willing to wait the Bears out.
- Logan Thomas (ACL) is on the PUP list – Thomas also tore his MCL, so this is a bit more complicated than your typical recovery. He's a candidate to open the season on IR and could get off to a slow start even if he's active, so don't draft Thomas expecting him to be your starting tight end.
- The Bears signed Riley Reiff – Reiff missed the Bengals' Super Bowl run with an ankle injury. He figures to make this run game even more effective if he's healthy.
- The Browns expect Jack Conklin (knee) to be on the field during camp – When that will be remains unclear, but Conklin should be ready to play early in the season if not Week 1.