Fantasy Football 2021 minicamps recap: Position battles, injury updates, and all other key nuggets

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Minicamps are in the books and the NFL goes back into its last quiet period before the 2021 season really kicks off. We’ve got about five weeks until training camp begins — and with it, the real start of the Fantasy Football season. 

While you’re waiting, can I make a suggestion? How about you go snag the CBS Sports/Beckett Sports Fantasy Football Draft Guide? It’s on newsstands now if you want to venture into a brick and mortar establishment, or you can head here to order one now. What does it have? Well, a bunch of unique content, to start with, including my full team previews and an early-round draft road map, plus new features from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings, along with rankings, draft tiers and strategies, Dynasty rankings, and a lot more. It’s great summer reading, so order now!

In today’s newsletter, I’m going to catch you up on everything you need to know from last week’s league-wide minicamps, with the most important notes from every team’s three-day practice sessions. This is the first time teams put helmets and pads on, and it was the last organized activities until training camps officially open, so it’s a key point in the offseason for players to establish themselves before position battles really kick off. There’s some great information here, so make sure you read on. 

But first, here’s what you might have missed from the Fantasy Football Today team over the last week: 

And now, here’s everything you need to know from minicamps:

Minicamp reports

Quarterbacks 

FOXBOROUGH, MA – OCTOBER 15: New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) returned to Patriots practice. The New England Patriots practice at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Oct. 15, 2020.
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • 49ers will let QB competition happen organically — Per ESPN, coach Kyle Shanahan has said that Trey Lance’s development will determine whether he gets a chance to compete with Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo is the incumbent starter and has said all the right things since Lance was picked third overall, and I would bet on him starting in Week 1 at this point. But the good news is, because we know Garoppolo is, at the worst, a competent starting QB, if Lance does beat him out, that should still make us pretty excited about his potential in this offense. Lance has upside as a late-round pick, especially in 2QB leagues. 
  • Andy Dalton is the Bears starter — Matt Nagy has been pretty consistent about this, but obviously training camp and the preseason could change things. For now, at least, assume Justin Fields is going to start the season as Dalton’s understudy, and view him as just a late-round stash in re-draft leagues. However, if he does manage to earn the starting job, Fields could be a starting Fantasy option from day one given his athleticism. 
  • Cam Newton is the starter until someone beats him — That’s what Bill Belichick has been saying all along since the drafting of Mac Jones, though it does seem as if Jones played well enough in minicamp to at least make it a competition. However, as long as Newton was healthy  — he missed some time with what ended up being a minor hand injury — he was the first QB on the field with the starters. The Athletic has a nice breakdown of how Newton and Jones performed in open practice sessions, and while it sounds like Jones has been pretty good as a passer, this offense probably works better with Newton under center, given his rushing ability. He’s certainly the more interesting Fantasy option of the two and would be a fringe starter in that role. 

Running backs

  • Joe Mixon will share the third-down role — Samaje is probably currently the No. 2 back for the Bengals, but it’s rookie Chris Evans who could step into the departed Giovani Bernard’s shoes. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said during minicamp that Evans has, “the most natural hands for a running back that I’ve ever been around.” This shouldn’t change how you view Mixon at all, for the record. He’s going to dominate the rushing downs, and I still expect to see a larger role for him in the passing game than ever before. Mixon was on pace for 69 targets in 2020 and I think that’s more like the floor. He’s a top-eight RB for me. 
  • The Bills don’t have a clear No. 1 RB — Zack Moss didn’t practice during minicamp, and both Brian Daboll and Sean McDermott refused to declare a starter in the backfield. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but Moss has been going off the board at 106.8 on average in NFC leagues, while Devin Singletary has been down at 135.7. Given that Singletary is the better pass catcher of the two, I’m not sure that makes much sense, though I also wouldn’t want to draft either with the expectation they’ll be a starter on my Fantasy roster — the Bills have scored the fewest PPR points at RB of any team in the league over the last three seasons. That’s not a timeshare you want to buy into, but if I have to, I’ll take the one that is three rounds cheaper. 
  • Clarity for the Jaguars backfield? — Jaguars.com writer John Oehser recently wrote that he doesn’t view Travis Etienne as “competition” for James Robinson as much as he is a complement to him. That fits in with Urban Meyer’s comments since the Jaguars drafted Etienne 25th overall, if it doesn’t quite track with how the Fantasy community is viewing the situation. However, it’s worth remembering, the Jaguars were reportedly looking to take UF wide receiver Kadarius Toney before the Giants took him, so it’s not like they were necessarily looking for an RB as much as an all-around playmaker. Robinson and Etienne can share the field in what should be a pretty run-heavy offense, and while Robinson’s perceived value took a hit after the draft, his ADP is just a round later than Etienne’s now since the start of May at NFC. I’m not sure I like taking both as top-24 picks, but it’s possible both could see enough work to be viable starting options. 
  • The Chiefs could throw to their RB more — Outside of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs don’t have an obvious third option in the passing game. Sammy Watkins in 2019 is the only player besides Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill to have more than 62 targets in a season over the past three, and while there are reasons to like Mecole Hardman as a sleeper, Patrick Mahomes talked about wanting to get the running backs more involved in the passing game at minicamp. “We have these running backs who can catch the ball so well, so why not utilize them?” Mahomes said. “They’re really good at running and catching the ball and running routes in space. Using them, as well as tight ends, you’ll see a wide variety of stuff that we come into the season with.” That’s a good sign for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was on pace for 83 targets before Le’Veon Bell joined the team last season. He’s my RB12 and my breakout pick for the Chiefs.
  • Devontae Booker is “clearly” the No. 2 RB for the Giants — Given that Saquon Barkley is still working his way back from his torn ACL and hasn’t committed to being ready for training camp, that’s a potentially valuable role. Booker rushed for 423 yards and had 17 catches as Josh Jacobs’ backup last season, and could be a viable starting option if Barkley has to miss time, just like Wayne Gallman was last season. Booker probably doesn’t need to be drafted in most leagues, but in Best Ball, he’s a solid late-round flier. 
  • Michael Carter could be separating from the pack — Carter got more reps with the first-team offense than any other RB, and apparently impressed especially in pass-catching drills. Carter is expected to work in a tandem with Tevin Coleman, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the fourth-rounder emerge as the lead back before long. The only concern, really, is that he split work in college and the Jets may not want to saddle him with too much work, especially early on. Well, there’s also the concern about the fact that the Jets offense just may not be very good, too, but Carter is a nice sleeper if you don’t have to pay too much for him. Since May 1, he’s cost an eighth-round pick on average in NFC drafts, which is a reasonable price to pay, but don’t be surprised if we’re talking about Carter as a fifth-rounder come August. 

So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen’s huge season, and find out.

Wide receivers

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – SEPTEMBER 13: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns runs off the field after the Cleveland Browns lost to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Will Newton/Getty Images
  • Odell Beckham could be ready for training camp — Just seven months removed from a torn ACL, Beckham was participating in minicamp practices on a limited basis without a brace on his surgically repaired knee. That’s an incredible pace of recovery, and it seems like he’ll be there in Week 1 barring some kind of setback. The question now is whether Beckham, coming off an injury, can rediscover the form that made him such a force for Fantasy in the past. He’s struggled to get going in Cleveland, averaging just 7.7 yards per target while catching 55.1% of his passes from Baker Mayfield, and he was on pace for just 61 catches, 851 yards, and eight touchdowns last season. It’s not a bad idea to bet on a player of Beckham’s stature at his current price — WR31 with an ADP of 76.4 — but if his price starts to rise it’ll be harder to justify. 
  • Courtland Sutton will not open camp on the PUP list — Sutton is also working his way back from a torn ACL, though he suffered his earlier in 2020 than Beckham did, so it’s no surprise he looks ready for camp. Sutton was excellent in 2019, hauling in 72 catches for 1112 yards and six touchdowns, but we haven’t really had the opportunity to see how he fits in next to Jerry Jeudy. My assumption is Sutton will be the No. 1 WR for the Broncos, but Jeudy just may be the better overall talent. Still, there’s plenty of upside in this offense if the QB play is better, and Sutton is a solid target — and he’s actually going off the board behind Beckham, which seems like a mistake. 
  • Tee Higgins is drawing rave reviews — Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals top pick in the draft, has plenty of hype around him, but Higgins was drawing a ton of praise after showing up to minicamp at 220 pounds and in better shape than his rookie season. Joe Burrow saw a “big difference” in Higgins, while Callahan told reporters Higgins was “markedly more explosive” in camp. Higgins has lots of competition for targets between Chase and Tyler Boyd, but it’s not out of the question he could still be the No. 1 WR coming off a rookie season that saw him finish with 67 catches, 908 yards, and six touchdowns. He’s being drafted as WR27 at 64.8 overall — around a round later than Chase — and could join the top-20 in year two. 
  • Elijah Moore turned heads at minicamp — “Moore was the most impressive player — offense or defense, any age — whenever he was on the field,” per The Athletic’s Connor Hughes. With Jamison Crowder reworking his contract and Denzel Mims working mostly with the second-team offense, Moore seems to have an inside track to a starting role for the Jets. He was the No. 34 pick in this year’s draft after putting up 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in just eight games at Ole Miss as a Junior, and he very well could be the team’s No. 1 WR from day one. Moore is something of an afterthought in drafts right now — he’s WR62 in ADP at 172.8 overall — but he’s someone you should make sure you try to snag in all of your leagues with a double-digit round pick. He’s fast becoming one of my favorite sleepers. 
  • “Something clicked” for Henry Ruggs this offseason —  Not every rookie WR thrived in 2020, and Ruggs is looking to make an impact after having just 26 catches in 13 games as the first WR drafted in the class. He drew praise from QB Derek Carr for his play in minicamp: I think something clicked in his head. Just like with everybody, you play a season in the NFL, you go back and watch the tape and you’re like, “Wow, I know what it takes now.” And you either do it or you don’t. And he’s showing already that he said, “Nah, I’m going to do it.” Ruggs has world-class speed, but the Raiders have to figure out how to get the most out of it. He’s an intriguing sleeper heading into year two, especially if we keep getting positive reports. 
  • Laviska Shenault is being viewed as a pure WR — Shenault was the talk of camp from the assembled beat writers, which is a great sign after the additions of Etienne and Marvin Jones in the offseason. Shenault’s unique skill set had the Jaguars lining him up in the backfield from time to time, and I would expect we’ll see some of that this season, but they seem to view him as a pure WR, and he can excel in that role too. 
  • Kadarius Toney worked entirely with the second-team offense — Toney skipped voluntary workouts while working out his contract and apparently spent his time at minicamp working with the backups. That seems to suggest Golladay, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton are at the top of the depth chart, and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if that remained the case into training camp. That’s not a bad top three, and Toney may be destined for more of a gadget and special teams role, at least early on as a rookie. He has some late-round appeal, but Toney isn’t someone I’m necessarily making a priority even among my late-round flier group. 

Tight ends

  • Kyle Rudolph (foot) may not be ready for training camp — Evan Engram was a pretty significant disappointment last season, and the addition of Rudolph (as well as Toney and Kenny Golladay) has definitely made him a less appealing Fantasy option. However, Rudolph may not be ready for a big role right away, and maybe Engram will benefit from a bit less defensive attention. He’s still one of the most talented tight ends in the league if he can figure out how to be more consistent catching the ball. 
  • Mike Gesicki recently had shoulder surgery — It doesn’t sound like this was a serious procedure, and Gesicki was at minicamp, albeit in a red non-contact jersey. He dealt with a shoulder injury last season but still led the team in touchdowns and receiving yards. The additions of Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle may make it tough to repeat, but if Tua Tagovailoa takes a step forward, he could be a rising tide that lifts all boats. 
  • Irv Smith’s role may not change much —  “Honestly, I don’t think it’s any bigger role for him whatsoever,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. That’s an interesting quote because Smith is expected to be a bigger part of the offense with Rudolph out of the picture. However, Zimmer praised Tyler Conklin, who could step into Smith’s role in the two-TE sets the Vikings love to run. Smith is a popular breakout pick, but he and Rudolph combined for just 58 catches, 699 yards and six touchdowns, so maybe there just isn’t that much room for him to do much more. Smith is a talented young tight end, but this offense may not let him show it. At least not enough to be much more than just a low-end Fantasy option. 
  • Chiefs Noah Gray could play a lot as a rookie — In addition to that earlier note about the Chiefs wanting to throw to their running backs more, they also want to throw to their non-Travis Kelce tight ends more, too. And Gray, a fifth-round pick out of Duke could be in line for a solid role as a rookie. Gray didn’t produce much in college, but he’s a solid athlete who could be groomed as the team’s TE of the future. Keep him in mind in deeper Dynasty leagues. 
  • Jace Sternberger is suspended for the first two games of the season — Sternberger, a third-round pick in 2019, has failed to make much of an impact so far in his NFL career, and now he may be facing an uphill battle for a significant role in what could be a make-or-break third season.





More to track…

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