Who knew that LeSean McCoy was about to become one of the most relevant running backs in fantasy football again this past weekend?
McCoy's own value might not change drastically with his move from Buffalo to Kansas City, but suddenly Bills rookie Devin Singletary has become one of fantasy’s hottest commodities, while the future looks less promising for the Chiefs’ duo of Damien Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson.
Throw in the Houston Texans’ trade for Carlos Hyde, the growing optimism that Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys and the lack of progress between Melvin Gordon and the Los Angeles Chargers, and this was quite a weekend for running back drama.
But we’ll start with Singletary, who was by far the biggest winner.
“There are probably better options to start in Week 1. But if you’re still drafting, I think Singletary by the end of the year could make you look like a genius for taking him in the middle rounds,” said Bills reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques, who said he thought the third-round draft pick from Florida Atlantic was looking like a flex-worthy player in PPR leagues even before McCoy was released. “He already had this gadget, James White type of third-down role carved out for himself. And now I imagine they’re going to be using him between the tackles a lot more.”
Louis-Jacques stressed that ageless Bills veteran Frank Gore will still have a prominent role -- much like he did with the Miami Dolphins last year, when he ran for 722 yards at the age of 35. ESPN Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe wrote an insightful profile on what keeps Gore grinding, and Louis-Jacques said that by all accounts Gore looks great this summer. To start with, Louis-Jacques said he could see something close to a 50-50 split in which the Bills ride the hot hand.
But Louis-Jacques doesn’t think veteran backup T.J. Yeldon will be a big factor in Buffalo’s backfield. And he thinks that if anything happens to Gore or if Singletary develops rapidly, the 5-foot-7, 203-pound rookie could wind up getting a maximum of 70 percent of the workload.
“I think this guy could be special. I don’t know if it’s gonna be this year, necessarily. But [down the road], I think he could be the next great gadget PPR back,” said Louis-Jacques, who said he would probably draft Singletary after guys such as Duke Johnson Jr. and Austin Ekeler for this year only, but ahead of guys such as Tarik Cohen and Derrius Guice.
Unfortunately, it's harder to get excited about anyone having a breakout year in Kansas City now that the backfield is so crowded. But Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher said it's not an indictment on Williams, whom the Chiefs were prepared to use as an RB1 until McCoy became available.
McCoy was a special opportunity because of the close connection between him and his former Philadelphia Eagles coach, Andy Reid. And Reid said Monday that it didn't take long for him and general manager Brett Veach to decide McCoy still has something to offer when they watched recent tape of him.
"He still has the great feet and the vision," said Reid, who added that the Chiefs plan to have McCoy available in Week 1.
Teicher said it's impossible to make a definitive statement on how the touches will be divided this season. But his advice is for fantasy owners to still start Williams in Week 1 and to hold on to Thompson, who had such an impressive summer, to see how his role shakes out.
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league with ESPN's NFL Nation reporters:
Cincinnati Bengals: It's a good sign that the Bengals didn’t place receiver A.J. Green on short-term injured reserve to start the season. That means they expect him back from ankle surgery in less than eight weeks -- though, as Ben Baby wrote, they haven’t put a specific timetable on his recovery.
Dallas Cowboys: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that contract talks with Elliott are “intensifying.” And coach Jason Garrett suggested that Elliott should be able to get back up to speed quickly whenever he does return. But Todd Archer said it would seem unlikely for Elliott to carry a hefty load in Week 1 if he signs later this week.
“This is different than 2017, when he was suspended for six games and returned. He had at least a base of training camp and the first eight games of the season to work from that year,” Archer said.
That could make rookie Tony Pollard useful in Week 1 even if Elliott does return. And Archer said he expects Pollard to get more of a look all season long than Elliott’s backups usually do -- especially in passing situations. But Elliott will still get the large majority of work. And veteran Alfred Morris could become the odd man out.
Denver Broncos: Emmanuel Sanders has looked “every bit like a No. 1 wide receiver” over the past month after his impressive recovery from last December’s Achilles tendon injury, according to Jeff Legwold.
Houston Texans: The trade for Hyde was probably a little bit of a bummer for Duke Johnson Jr.’s owners, who were hoping Johnson might finally get a chance to be more of an every-down back than he was in Cleveland in the wake of Lamar Miller’s season-ending knee injury. But Sarah Barshop pointed out that this just allows the Texans to use Johnson in more of the third-down/pass-catching role they intended when they traded for him this summer. And it’s still a net gain for Johnson, since Houston coach Bill O’Brien stressed that Hyde won’t just step in and take over Miller’s old workload.
“It’s hard to replace Lamar,” O’Brien said. “We’re not trying to do that. We’re just trying to add depth to that position.”
Kansas City Chiefs: In addition to their crowded backfield, the Chiefs also have the “Legion of Zoom” in their receiving corps, Teicher wrote. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman make up perhaps the fastest trio in the league.
Los Angeles Chargers: Eric D. Williams wrote about how receiver Mike Williams is still ascending after he started to fulfill his first-round promise last year (43 catches, 664 yards). “To me, he’s never really covered,” Chargers QB Philip Rivers said of the big-bodied Williams, whose catch radius helped him reel in 10 touchdown passes last year. “When most guys might look covered and you see him, you go, 'Well, maybe he has a chance.'"
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook could wind up being one of the best bargains in fantasy if he finally puts together a healthy season. And as Courtney Cronin wrote, Cook said he has felt great all offseason, with no rehabilitation or workload restraints. “It’s the year that I get to be me again,” Cook said.
Cronin said she believes Cook can be a top-five fantasy running back given the number of touches he is expected to get in both the run game and passing game. “They might try to reel him in early so he doesn’t wear out,” said Cronin, who pointed out that the Vikings love an RB room that also includes rookie Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah. “Still, Dalvin is the guy in this offense.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Second-year receiver James Washington has been making big plays “left and right” this summer, as teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster noted. Although veteran Donte Moncrief appears to have solidified the other starting outside receiver job opposite Smith-Schuster, Jeremy Fowler wrote that Washington looks like an X factor the offense needs.
San Francisco 49ers: Nick Wagoner said it would be reasonable to project a 60/40 timeshare between Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida now that Jerick McKinnon has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. Coleman was generally the first to get opportunities with the starters in the preseason, but Breida had more success in limited snaps. So Wagoner expects them to work in tandem, with neither emerging as a 20-touch guy. Wagoner also stressed that No. 3 RB Raheem Mostert can’t be ignored after flashing his potential last year. He said Mostert could steal a handful of snaps when all three are healthy and see an expanded role if one of them isn’t.