Folks! Long-time fantasy football connoisseurs and newcomers alike, welcome in and thank you for joining us for another Saturday edition of the Rotowire Training Camp Blog. Anticipation builds as big-time storylines continue to break around the league, and preseason football comes more and more into focus. We're now just six days away from the Falcons and Broncos kicking off in Canton. Today's column discusses Ezekiel Elliott no-showing for the first day of Cowboys camp, injury questions surrounding two of the most accomplished wide receivers in the game, and turmoil in the Meadowlands with a slew of injuries and suspensions afflicting the Giants.
Ezekiel Elliott has officially ghosted the Cowboys for the start of training camp, neglecting to arrive at the team facility in Oxnard, California for Friday's physical evaluations and conditioning tests, or Saturday for the first practice session. It was reported by NFL Network's Jane Slater that the team has extended an offer to Elliott, but his representation has yet to provide a counter-offer of any sort to this point. With two years left on his rookie deal and a mandatory report date of August 6 to avoid losing an accrued season towards free agency, Elliott's leverage is significantly enfeebled in this scenario. Locking up one of the league's elite running back talents is certainly perceived to be a priority for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys' front office, but deals for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper will likely come first, with each of those players coming up on the final year of their current contracts.
Coming into the week, Big Blue boasted a promising group of veteran wide receivers in Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Corey Coleman, who together seemed capable of gelling with Eli Manning's short-to-intermediary passing game, and consistently making plays after the catch. Manning completed a career-high 66 percent of his attempts last year, but finished 28th in average air yards per completion among quarterbacks with at least seven starts. Boy, what a difference three days can make – Shepard suffered a broken thumb Thursday and likely will sit out the entirety of the preseason, Coleman tore his ACL in practice Friday and landed on injured reserve, while Tate received a four-game suspension Saturday as result of violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy. T.J. Jones signed a contract with New York on Saturday after spending five seasons in Detroit, but it remains to be seen if he can be a statistically-prolific player at the highest level. Jones could prove to be an interesting DFS start over the first quarter of the regular season with Tate sidelined, but the case for Evan Engram being the fourth-best fantasy tight end becomes stronger day by day, as he and Saquon Barkley are the only proven pass-catchers currently on the field for the G-Men.
Speaking of former Lions, Theo Riddick was released by Detroit on Saturday morning after being an integral part of the offensive game plan over the past four seasons – most notably piecing together an 80-catch, 697-yard campaign in 2015. The move corresponded to Friday's surprise signing of Mike Daniels, who joins forced with Damon "Snacks" Harrison, Da'Shawn Hand, A'Shawn Robinson and Trey Flowers to comprise perhaps the most formidable defensive front in the NFL. Riddick will certainly carry value on the open market, with there being a number of teams around the league who could benefit from adding a serviceable pass-catching back. The Buccaneers and Texans immediately come to mind as potential suitors for the 28-year-old Riddick, but a number of other teams could be in the mix as well.
Staying with the cats theme, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took a scheduled day off from passing drills Saturday as the team looks to keep their prized signal caller on a "pitch count" after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in January. Following a 6-2 start to last season, Newton aggravated his shoulder in a Week 10 defeat to Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football, and the season continued to spiral out of control from that point forward. With Newton suddenly dealing with a bum shoulder and self-admittedly unable to throw the ball further than 30 yards downfield, Carolina limped to a 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the NFC South. Competing in one of the league's toughest divisions and possessing no proven backup option behind Newton, the Panthers are going to ease him back into the mix, and cross their fingers that he can suit up for all 16 regular-season games.
Migrating to Oakland, year two of the Jon Gruden era is getting off to a precarious start with superstar wideout and hot-air balloon conductor Antonio Brown (undisclosed) landing on the non-football injury list to begin training camp. The setback is reportedly of minor concern to the organization, as a league source informed NBC Sports California that Brown is project to miss only one week of practice time. In what is a make-or-break year for Derek Carr, the presence of AB on the field is absolutely imperative. If the 28-year-old quarterback is unable to show marked improvement with one of the greatest receiving talents of all time now on his team, it's possible that Gruden and the Raiders' brass look to acquire one of a number of promising young signal callers in the 2020 draft class – potentially including Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia's Jake Fromm and Oregon's Justin Herbert.
In other wide receiver news, Cincinnati's A.J. Green had to be carted off the practice field Saturday with what is believed to be a sprained ankle. It appears that Green should recover in time for the Bengals' Week 1 matchup against the Seahawks, but the proverbial faucet keeps on dripping for the seven-time Pro Bowl wideout. He's missed 13 contests over the past three years after sitting out just four games during his first five years in the league. Green's production Weeks 1 and Week 8 last season would have yielded him the second-greatest yardage output of his career if extrapolated out to 16 games, meaning if the MRI comes back clean and he's back to 100 percent by September, he could be an excellent fantasy value at what will surely be a discounted average draft position.
Staying in the division to close things out, Donte Moncrief is lining up as the Steelers' No. 2 receiver opposite Juju Smith-Schuster to begin training camp. Of course much is yet to play out in this position group between now and Week 1, but it's certainly worth noting that Moncrief was the first man asked to step up in practice. Eli Rogers and third-round draft choice Diontae Johnson each has an opportunity to assume the role if capable of putting together an impressive preseason, but second-year man James Washington may be the best bet to overcome Moncrief for the starting gig. He's coming off a tremendously inefficient rookie campaign in which he logged a catch rate of 42.1 percent, but he was not truly granted the opportunity to spread his wings and become an integral offensive contributor (fielded just 47 percent of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps). It should be noted that there may not exist a franchise that's identified and developed receiver talent better than the Steelers, and this team invested the 60th overall pick in Washington just 15 months ago. The 23-year-old Washington put up 103 receiving yards per game with 34 total touchdowns over his final three seasons at Oklahoma State, and still has immense upside working within a Pittsburgh offense that led the NFL with 689 pass attempts last year.