Fantasy football insight from NFL reporters

Nobody has more fantasy football analysts and NFL team reporters than ESPN. It’s that rare “backfield by committee” that’s actually a good thing for fantasy managers.

Every Tuesday this preseason, Mike Triplett asked our NFL Nation reporters a series of questions about the week’s biggest stories to help you prepare for the draft. This week’s recap begins with several receivers who could be difficult to trust due to injury issues, crowded position groups, or underwhelming summer performances.

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Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert are back-to-back drafts in average ESPN drafts this summer as late-rounders that could pay off later in the year. Given last week’s news that Gallup could be ready to play in the first month of the season, do you think both are better choices?

Of the two, go with Gallup throughout the season because once he’s in the swing, he’ll see more snaps and therefore more passes. It’s just a question of when he’ll pick up momentum. The hope is that he can play in September but that’s not a guarantee. Tolbert has a good relationship with Dak Prescott, but he showed some issues in preseason (drops, double catches, sideline awareness) that didn’t show up in practice. Let me put it this way: Like Tolbert, Gallup was a third-round pick in 2018, catching 33 passes for 507 yards and two touchdowns. If Tolbert can keep up, then it would be a decent season for the rookie. – Todd Archer

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Do you think Colts pass catchers other than Michael Pittman Jr. could have fantasy relevance this season? In particular, what role could rookie Alec Pierce play?

I think Pierce needs to be considered. First, he’ll get some cheap matchups because Pittman is expected to draw significant attention from defense. Also, Pierce showed some real red-zone chops during training camp. One of his best plays was a hard-fought acrobatic catch on a fade route in the back of the endzone during joint practice with the Detroit Lions. Finally, Pierce’s size and speed make him a major threat as he is quite comfortable in one-on-one situations at the perimeter. – Stephen Holder

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Did we get any clarity on the new WR hierarchy in Kansas City this preseason? Will JuJu Smith-Schuster have the most fantasy value? And how long might it be before rookie Skyy Moore takes on a significant role?

We didn’t learn much, partly because Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman missed time with injuries. But Patrick Mahomes went to Smith-Schuster a lot before his injury at training camp. Mahomes completed 18 passes to 10 different receivers last season and said he thinks that’s how offense would work this season. He also threw three touchdown passes, all to tight ends (but none to Travis Kelce). As for Moore, he’ll be getting significant playing time as the fourth wide receiver, so there’s a chance he could make an immediate contribution. – Adam Teicher

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Sophomore Joshua Palmer caused quite a stir this summer. Is there room for him to break out alongside Keenan Allen and Mike Williams?

Yes. Quarterback Justin Herbert has several go-to-pass catching targets, including Allen, Williams and running back Austin Ekeler. However, if training camp was any indication, space is being made for Palmer. Palmer, a third-round pick in 2021, made several standout catches during camp and appeared to have an improved connection with his quarterback. Allen said Palmer is “a lot more polished” as he prepares for his second season. “His timing is getting better, his patience and understanding of reading progress,” Allen said. “If he’s not the first reader, he can take a lot of time to do technical stuff. You can sell them a little bit more.” In a preseason game, Palmer caught a 41-yard contested pass over his shoulder, then took a short pass and went 18 yards for a touchdown. – Lindsey Thiry

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So far, the Patriots are the last team to pick a WR in average ESPN drafts, with Jakobi Meyers at No. 50. Do you think Meyers or DeVante Parker could be productive enough to exceed those expectations?

I don’t The way the Patriots’ offense is structured should distribute the ball and thus the production of receiver numbers will fluctuate from week to week depending on the opponent’s game plan. Meyers still plans to lead the team in receptions — no one caught more passes from Mac Jones in training camp — but it would be a surprise if he suddenly had a high touchdown total. A string of injuries could change that at any time, but right now it’s difficult to hit the table as a worthy fantasy choice for either receiver. – Mike Reiss

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Michael Thomas drew as much attention as any NFL player in his first few weeks after an ankle injury in 2020, but he’s now missed more than a week with a hamstring problem. Is he safe enough to draft among the top 25-30 fantasy receivers?

Yes. There are a few reasons to dampen expectations for Thomas (the severity of the injury that kept him out all last season; the fact that we’ve never seen him play with new quarterback Jameis Winston; and the suddenly overcrowded WR Raum in New Orleans with Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry). So it’s understandable if you don’t want to include him in the top 20 receivers. But he’s dropped to WR33 in current ESPN average drafts, which is too far for someone with his massive advantage. Thomas actually showed his signature physicality and ball skills in Saints drills prior to the hamstring injury. And while the team hasn’t set a timeline for his return, coach Dennis Allen described it as a “minor” hamstring injury and Thomas has been spotted at team-related events in recent days. – Mike Triplett

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With this team with so many moving parts, do we have any clarity on the WR hierarchy at all? Who is most likely to offer fantasy value once things are settled?

It’s hard to come up with a pecking order for Giants wide receivers. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson will all be Vulture snaps and targets. Toney, when healthy, is most likely to be consistently relevant to fantasy. He was eighth in the NFL last season in goals per route run (29.8%). So he’s her pseudo number. 1, with everyone else in a straight line behind him. –Jordan Raanan

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Before Saturday’s preseason game, ESPN’s Jenna Laine shared a positive update on receiver Chris Godwin’s recovery from the torn ACL in his right knee. However, Laine cautioned that the Buccaneers are yet to commit to playing Godwin in Week 1. Although that remains a possibility, Laine said they will wait until he is ready.

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What are your short- and long-term expectations for Treylon Burks this season after a pre-season full of ups and downs?

Burks probably won’t start the season as a starter, but he will eventually be one. The Titans will primarily use him when traversing routes in game actions to take advantage of his yards-after-the-catch ability. Burks probably won’t tally many receptions, but he has the potential to get close to the 16.4 yards per catch he set in Arkansas. – Turron Davenport

RB Insurance Policies

Finally, this week we reached out to a handful of NFL Nation reporters for insurance advice (if you’re the type of fantasy executive who likes to secure backups like Nyheim Hines and Alexander Mattison, if you’re Jonathan Taylor and Dalvin Cook design in round 1). Unfortunately, the RB2 is less clear in some backfields than others.

Arizona Cardinals: That role was actually marred somewhat in the preseason. Throughout camp, Eno Benjamin was hyped as the guy who could be James Conner’s backup, but then Jonathan Ward played very well in the preseason until he sustained a shoulder injury in week 2. Depending on when and how Ward returns, it could be a combination of Benjamin and Darrel Williams spelling Conner. – Josh Weinfuss

Carolina Panther: I would say D’Onta Foreman. The Panthers signed him in the offseason as insurance in case Christian McCaffrey went down again – and as a pace change that would help in goal-line and close-range situations. – David Newton

Cincinnati Bengal: Historically, Samaje Perine was Joe Mixon’s backup. Perine appears to be on target again for the role, with Chris Evans lurking as a possible option. – Ben baby

Chargers from Los Angeles: Joshua Kelley blitzed, but he didn’t establish himself as the undisputed second running back in a group that also included fourth-round rookie Isaiah Spiller and sophomore Larry Rountree III. However, Spiller suffered an ankle injury late in preseason, leaving a chance he won’t be ready to play in Week 1, making Kelley likely to be the back-up to start the season. – Thiry

New York Giants: Veteran Matt Breida is projecting as RB2, but Raanan wrote in his 53-man squad projection that the depth chart is “a big question mark” behind Saquon Barkley: “Breida was beaten up during training camp and Antonio Williams hasn’t done much in his yet career, even if he is a darling of the new regime.”

Pittsburgh Steelers: It appears Jaylen Warren skipped Benny Snell Jr. on the depth chart to take the primary backup job from the veteran. The rookie undrafted free agent has shown a good combination of speed, burst and power in the preseason. But with Warren largely unproven, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers initially took a committee approach if Najee Harris was injured. – Brooke Pryor

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rookie Rachaad White might be Leonard Fournette’s most prolific companion, but Fournette’s role is unlike others. If the Bucs had to replace him, they would turn to a few people, including Ke’Shawn Vaughn. – Laine

Tennessee Titans: Dontrell Hilliard is the clear No. 2 behind Derrick Henry. Hilliard averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season, including a 68-yard streak against the Patriots. The Titans trust him for pass protection and he runs distances like a wide receiver. He will likely be their primary third down back. – Davenport Fantasy football insight from NFL reporters

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