It’s been a while since the Packers had a consistently reliable running game. Three players tried to revive the position for Green Bay last season. The first was Ty Montgomery, who played an average of 89.5 percent of the team’s snaps at running back. He got hurt in Week Four, however, and never regained his ground before suffering a season-ending injury in Week Ten. Aaron Jones, a rookie, took over after Montgomery’s injury and averaged 86.5 rushing yards while scoring three times through four games. The injury bug got Jones as well and paved the way for Jamaal Williams, a fellow rookie, to run away with the starting job. Williams averaged 62.9 rushing yards and 27.6 receiving yards while finding the end-zone five times. Heading into 2018, all three are healthy and primed to challenge for a surprisingly good fantasy situation, though Jones is suspended the first two games. Not only did the Packers average 22.7 rushing attempts per game last year (which is enough to make a significant dent in fantasy games), but defenses will have to ease up on the run game in order to focus on a healthy Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. Of course, this all assumes that new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin (remember him?) doesn’t switch to a committee approach.
Prediction: Jamaal Williams
This is an interesting “battle” in that personally, I would take Mack hands down. The second-year running back is penciled in as the starter after flashing in limited roles behind Frank Gore last season. He exceeded nine touches just four times, but only once did he fail to produce double-digit fantasy points during those four games. Not bad for a guy who reportedly played the entire season with a torn labrum (which has since been surgically repaired). The other real challengers (sorry, Robert Turbin) were both just drafted by the Colts. Fourth-round pick and Swiss Army Knife Nyheim Hines brings speed to a crowded backfield. Hines, a former receiver, might also be the best catcher of the bunch. Fifth-round pick Jordan Wilkins had a productive year before jettisoning to the draft, though he did miss 2016 due to an academic suspension. Wilkins is a lean, agile runner with balance and vision akin to that of Kareem Hunt. Like the Packers, though, a threat of committee looms over a team that was tenth in rushing attempts a year ago. If new coach Frank Reich does decide to stick to one guy, this could be an enticing fantasy situation.
Prediction: Marlon Mack
Someone needs to catch balls from Dak Prescott, especially with that other guy gone. Per reports, Allen Hurns has locked up the primary receiver spot. That leaves the spot opposite of him wide open. Williams, a five-year veteran, has been consistently alright. Not great, not bad, but just kind of there. I don’t have much confidence that this will finally be his year, especially since he was scoreless last season. Beasley, another career Cowboy, could show that his experience is enough to promote him to a starter. Sorry to all you Beasley fans out there (who may or may not exist), but a five-foot eight receiver with no more than four receptions in a game last season doesn’t inspire high hopes. That brings me to one of my favorite rookies (you can see me gushing over him here): Michael Gallup. Reports are that Gallup has been looking good, and I’m not the least bit surprised. An argument can even be made that Gallup is the Cowboy’s best receiver. Of course, you never truly know what you’ll get from rookies, let alone any player for that matter.
Prediction: Michael Gallup
New Orleans has been balanced in their passing/running approach in recent years. Still, any time you can grab someone from the second-best offense in the league, you take it. The question is who? Meredith is the best bet, yet he hasn’t played since 2016 when he flashed on a horrendous Chicago offense. Here’s hoping the talent is still there, for Meredith’s sake. Coleman is the type of player who will have one outstanding week, causing fantasy owners to rush to add him before dropping him two weeks later. While Coleman may have experience in the Saints system, he has never produced enough to be considered a viable option. Nonetheless, counting out all options is a silent killer in fantasy football. Similar to the Cowboys’ scenario, I favor the rookie, Tre’Quan Smith. The third-round pick has reportedly been the star of camp so far, and while no one should ever base their expectations after just five days of practice, Smith’s film backs up his talent. Whoever wins the second starting job can be almost guaranteed a big share of Drew Brees’ passes, especially with defenses zoning in on budding superstars Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
Prediction: Tre’Quan Smith
Surprisingly enough, the 49ers were pass-happy last season, likely because they were behind for most of their games. They ranked second in pass attempts, though most of those passes were before Jimmy Garoppolo came to town. Now that Jimmy G has had an offseason to further acclimate himself with the team, the question remains: Who will be his favorite target? The answer, per reports from training camp, is clearly Marquise Goodwin. However, being the second option is still pretty good. Veteran Pierre Garçon was the team’s best receiver last season before going down with a neck injury in Week Eight. He still could be a viable receiver but his recovery certainly makes him a guy to keep an eye on. Second-round pick Dante Pettis is another rookie who has been “the biggest standout [of camp] so far”. Pettis has the speed, hands and route running skills to be a star in the league, and ultimately a reliable fantasy option. A pass-oriented team with a budding star quarterback and innovative head coach? Every fantasy owner should be drooling over the potential of the 49ers’ offense.
Prediction: Dante Pettis
This is another example of a supremely productive offense with loads of potential fantasy options. The quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions are basically set in stone. That leaves the starting tight end job, a relatively barren fantasy position, up for grabs. The Rams did nothing to address the spot this offseason, so it comes down to Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee. Everett, a wide receiver/tight end hybrid, found the end zone just twice in his rookie campaign. However, the former second-round pick is listed as atop the early depth chart. His high draft selection and versatility could point to Everett as the starter, but Higbee has certainly had more opportunities. The third-year, fourth-round pick saw the field almost 40 percent more than Everett did last year. Despite having similar target rates, Higbee scored just once in 2017. The downside here is coach Sean McVay could continue to downplay his tight ends, but his storied history with tight ends suggests the opposite. A sneaky good sleeper could arise from this battle.